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The Boy Scouts of Lenox - Or The Hike Over Big Bear Mountain
by Frank V. Webster
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"Oh! she says she'll have told Mr. Culpepper before then she doesn't want him to call again," explained Carl; "either that or else she'll have to keep all the rest of the children up, and get them to romping like wild Indians. You know Amasa is nervous, and can't stand noise."

Tom laughed at the picture thus drawn of three boisterous youngsters employed in causing an ardent wooer to take his departure.

"It's only a few days now before we can get started, you know, Carl. Nearly all the preparations have been made. Each scout will have his new uniform on, with a few extra clothes in his pack."

"We won't try to carry any tent, will we, Tom?"

"That's been settled," came the ready answer. "At the meeting when I was elected patrol leader we discussed this trip, and it took like wildfire. In the first place we haven't a tent worth carrying; and then again it would make too heavy a load. All of us have been studying up on how to make brush shelters when in the woods, and even if it rains I think we'll get on fairly well."

"Each scout has a rubber poncho, which can be made mighty useful in a pinch, I should think," said Carl. "Then besides our clothes and a blanket, we'll have to carry a cooking outfit, as light as it can be made, and what grub we expect to eat up."

"Oh! most of that we'll rustle for on the way," the patrol leader told him. "We'll find farms scattered along our route, and it'll be easy enough to buy eggs, milk, perhaps a home-cured ham, some chickens, and other things like bread and butter."

"That's a great scheme, Tom, and it makes my mouth fairly water just to talk about it. Sounds like an army foraging, only instead of taking things we'll expect to pay cash for them. How many are going along on the hike?"

"I have yet to hear of any member of the Black Bear Patrol who dreams of backing out; and there are several others who've told me they hope to join us. The way it looks now only a bad case of sickness would be able to keep any scout from being in line on that wonderful morning when Lenox Troop marches out of town headed for Big Bear Mountain."

"One good thing, we don't have to pack any heavy guns along with us," declared Carl.

"No, that's absolutely forbidden," the patrol leader declared; "we can take a fishing rod if we feel like it, because there's a chance to pick up some trout or bass before we come back on the down-river boat ten days later."

"I like that idea of making the return trip by water," Carl continued. "It will be great after so much tramping and camping. Besides, some of the boys have never been fifteen miles up the river before, and so the trip is going to be a picnic for them."

"Come over to-night and do your cramming for the exam with me," suggested Tom.

"I'd like to the worst kind," the other boy said with a grimace; "but this is the night Mr. Culpepper generally pops in, and you see I'm on guard. But I'm hoping mother will give him his walking papers pretty soon now."

"You would have to put a bomb under his chair to convince Amasa that his space was more desired than his company," laughed Tom, as he strode off toward his own comfortable home.

The days passed, and since school would be over for the year at the end of the week, in the bustle of examinations and all that they meant for each boy scout, the intended outing was over-shadowed for the time being.

When, however, several of the scouts got together of course the talk soon drifted toward the subject of the hike, and many were the wonderful projects advanced, each of which seemed to give promise of a glorious prospect ahead.

So Friday night finally came.

School had been dismissed with all the accustomed ceremonies that afternoon, and there were few of the boys who had not gone up to a higher grade, so that when the last meeting before their expected vacation trip was called to order by the president of the organization it was a care-free and happy assemblage that answered the roll-call.

Mr. Witherspoon, the scout master, was on hand, but he seldom interfered with the routine of the meeting. It was his opinion that boys got on much better if allowed to manage things as much as possible after their own ideas. If his advice was needed at any time he stood ready to give it; and meanwhile he meant to act more as a big brother to the troop than its leading officer.

Of course Mr. Witherspoon expected to start out on the hike with the boys. His only fear was that he might not be allowed to finish the outing in their company, since he was liable to be called away at any time on urgent business.

The usual routine of the meeting was gone through with, and then a general discussion took place in connection with the anticipated hike. They had laid out the plan of campaign as well as they could, considering that none of the boys had actually been over the entire route before.

"That makes it all the more interesting," Tom had told them; "because we'll be apt to meet with a few surprises on the way. None of us would like to have anything all cut and dried ahead of time, I'm sure."

"It's generally the unexpected that gives the most pleasure," declared Josh Kingsley, who was known to have leanings toward being a great inventor some fine day, and always hoped to make an important discovery while he experimented in his workshop in the old red barn back of his home.

"Well," remarked George Cooper, getting slowly to his feet, "there may be some things that drop in on you unexpected like that don't seem to give you a whit of pleasure, and I can name one right now."

"Oh come, George, you old growler, you're just trying to throw cold water on our big scheme," complained Felix Robbins, trying to pull the other down.

"I've seen him shaking his head lots of times all evening," asserted Billy Button, "and I just guessed George was aching to make us feel bad. He's never so happy as when he's making other folks miserable."

George refused to take his seat. He even shrugged his shoulders as though he thought his comrades were hardly treating him fairly.

"Listen, fellows," he said, solemnly and ponderously; "I don't like to be the bird of ill omen that carries the bad news; but honest to goodness I'm afraid there's a heap of trouble looming up on the horizon for us unless we change our plans for a hike over Big Bear Mountain."

"What sort of trouble do you mean, George?" asked the patrol leader.

"Only this, Mr. President," said George, "on the way here I learned that Tony Pollock, Wedge McGuffey, Asa Green and Dock Phillips had started off this very afternoon, meaning to spend a week or more tramping over Big Bear Mountain; and I guess they've got it in for our crowd."



CHAPTER IX

NO SURRENDER

"It looks like a set-up job to me!" declared Josh Kingsley, with a ring of honest indignation in his voice.

"They've been hearing so much talk about what a great time we meant to have, it's just made them green with envy; that's what I think," ventured Horace Crapsey.

"Yes, but why pick out Big Bear Mountain," Felix wanted to know; "unless they meant to spy on the scouts, and give us all the trouble they could?"

There were signs of anger visible on every side. Scouts may be taught that it is noble to forgive those who wrong them, but all the same they are human, and deep down in their boyish hearts is the resentment any one with spirit feels at being imposed upon.

"We haven't lifted a finger to interfere with anything that crowd wanted to do," said Walter Douglass, aggressively; "and they have no business to upset our plans."

"Huh! just let them try it, that's all!" grunted Josh, shaking his head.

"We had an experience something like this over in Winchester, where I belonged to the scouts before moving to Lenox," remarked Rob Shaefer, one of the two new boys.

"Do you mean some rowdies tried to make trouble for you?" asked Carl.

"In every way they could," the new boy replied. "We stood it as long as we could, and then acted."

"What did you do to them?" asked Mr. Witherspoon, with an amused smile, for he liked to see these wide-awake lads figure out their own plans, and was greatly interested in listening to their discussions as they worked them out.

"When it became unbearable," said Rob, gravely, though his eyes twinkled, "we ducked the whole five in a frog pond, and after that they let us alone."

"Cooled 'em off, eh?" chuckled Josh, whom the account seemed to amuse very much. "Well, that isn't a bad idea, fellows. Frog ponds have their uses besides supplying messes of delicious frog-legs for eating. Anybody know of a pond that's got a nice green coating of scum on the top? That's the kind I'd like to see Tony and his bunch scrambling around it."

"Oh! the pond will crop up all right when the time comes," asserted Felix Robbins, confidently; "they always do, you know."

"But what are we going to do about this thing?" asked Tom, as the chairman of the meeting. "Motions are in order. Somebody make a suggestion, so we can get the sense of the troop."

"One thing certain," observed George, "we've got to give up the plan we've mapped out, and change our programme—or else count on running foul of Tony and his crowd. Which is it going to be?"

A chorus of indignant remonstrances immediately arose.

"Why should we take water when we laid our plans first?" one demanded.

"There are only four of them, all told, while we expect to number ten, perhaps a full dozen!" another scout announced.

"I don't believe in knuckling down to any ugly lot of fellows that chooses to knock up against us," and Josh must have expressed the feelings of most of those present when he said this, for there was a chorus of "my sentiments exactly," as soon as he finished.

Then, somehow, all eyes began to turn toward the scout master. They had come to think a great deal of Mr. Witherspoon. He seemed to have a great love for boys implanted in his heart, and was thus an ideal scout master; for there was always an exchange of sympathy between him and his charges.

"You want to know what I think of it, boys?" he started to say.

"It would have a heap of influence on our actions, sir—even if we did hate to play second fiddle to that crowd," admitted Felix.

"But I can see no reason why we should do that," the scout master immediately told them, and at this the anxious look on many faces gave way to one of satisfaction.

"Then you don't want us to give up the Big Bear Mountain hike, and make up another programme; is that it, Mr. Witherspoon?" asked Tom, who had not been quite so much concerned as some of the others, because he believed he knew the nature of their efficient scout master, and that he was not one of the "back-down" kind.

"Why should we do that?" replied the other, quietly. "We are not supposed to be aware of the fact that these four rowdies have gone off in that direction. Our plain duty is to follow out our original plans, go about our own business, interfering with no one, and at the same time standing up for our rights."

At hearing this some of the boys turned and exchanged expressive grins; others even shook hands with each other. Fair play was something they admired above all things; and this manly stand on the part of their scout master pleased them immensely.

"We're all glad to hear you say that, Mr. Witherspoon," the chairman of the meeting told him. "I'm sure I voice the sentiments of every scout present when I say that while we'll try to avoid trouble up to a certain point, there's going to be a limit to our forbearance."

"And the frog-pond cure is always available as a last resort," added the new boy from Winchester.

"Now let us try to forget all about this disagreeable topic, and go on with the discussion concerning the things we should take with us," the scout master suggested. "Scouts should always be able to meet an emergency, no matter how suddenly it is forced on them. We'll be prepared, but at the same time not borrow trouble."

Accordingly all mention of Tony Pollock and his scapegrace cronies was avoided as they once more entered into a warm but perfectly friendly argument.

There was one among them, however, who seemed to still look troubled. This was no other than Carl Oskamp. Glancing toward his chum several times, Tom could see the lines on his forehead, and he was also able to give a pretty good guess why this should be so.

Of course, it was all on account of the fact that when George made his announcement concerning the movements of Tony Pollock he had stated that Dock Phillips was one of the group that had left town, bent on spending a week on Big Bear Mountain.

This meant that the new scheme which Carl had expected to "try out" on the coming Saturday night could not be attempted, because the object of his attention would be far away.

Tom meant to comfort his chum after the meeting, when they were walking home together. He could see further than Carl, and would be able to find more or less encouragement in the way things were working.

Scout affairs were certainly picking up in Lenox of late. Perhaps the coming to town of Rob Shaefer and Stanley Ackerman, who had both belonged to troops in the past, may have had considerable to do with it.

At any rate the new Wolf Patrol numbered five, and other boys were showing a disposition to make application for membership. Rob Shaefer was booked for the patrol leader, because of his previous experience along those lines, as well as the fact that he was becoming well liked in Lenox boy circles.

The other new boy, while a pretty fair sort of fellow, did not have the same winning qualities that Rob did. Some of them even thought he felt envious because of Rob's popularity, though if this were true, he took the wrong means to supplant his rival in the affection of their new friends.

As this would be the last chance to talk things over, every little detail had to be settled before the meeting broke up. Each boy who expected to accompany the expedition starting out to explore Big Bear Mountain was directed what to carry with him.

"And remember," Mr. Witherspoon told them as a final caution, "we expect to do much tramping under a hot June sun, so that every ounce you have to carry along will tell on your condition. Limit your pack to the bare necessities as we've figured them out, and if necessary the strong will assist the weak. That's about all for to-night, boys. Seven sharp on Monday morning outside the church here, unless it's stormy. The church bell will ring at six if we are going."

The boys gave a cheer as the meeting broke up. And it was a merry-hearted lot of lads that started forth bound for various homes where there would be more or less of a bustle and excitement until the hour of departure arrived on Monday morning.

Tom and Carl walked home together.

"I could see what ailed you, Carl," the patrol leader was saying as he locked arms with his chum; "you felt as though things were going against you when George announced that Dock had left town."

"Because now I'll not have a chance to try out that second plan we'd arranged for, and which I had great hopes might succeed," complained Carl, gloomily.

"Cheer up," urged the other, in his hearty fashion; "perhaps things are working your way after all. How do we know but that a glorious chance may come up and that you can win out yet? Dock has gone to Big Bear Mountain, where we expect to camp. In a whole week or more we're apt to run across him maybe many times. And Carl, something seems to tell me your chance is going to come while we're off on this hike. Dock hasn't settled with Mr. Culpepper yet, that's certain; and he's got that paper hidden away still. Keep up your hopes, and it's sure to come out all right yet. Besides, think what a grand time we're going to have on our outing!"



CHAPTER X

READY FOR THE START

On the following day, which was Saturday, there was considerable visiting among the scouts who so proudly wore their new khaki suits. Conferences were of hourly occurrence, blankets brought out for inspection and comment, packs made up and taken to pieces again, and all manner of advice asked concerning the best way to carry the same.

Each boy had a written list of what he was expected to provide. This was a part of the wonderful system Tom Chesney had inaugurated. He had told them it was copied from the methods in vogue in the German army, so that in case of a hurried mobilization every man capable of bearing arms in the whole empire would know exactly what his particular duty was.

This scout was to carry a generous frying-pan, made of sheet-steel to reduce the weight; another had to look out for the coffee-pot, which was also to hold enough for at least six thirsty campers. So it went on through the whole list of necessities.

There were to be two messes of five or six each, and the second had a duplicate list of cooking utensils, as well as food to look after. Nothing had been omitted that Tom, assisted by several others who had had more or less camping experience, could think of.

It was about eleven this Saturday morning when Tom, doing a little work among his vegetables in the kitchen garden, heard his name called. Glancing up he discovered Carl standing there by the fence that separated the garden from the highway.

Immediately Tom realized that something new must have happened to make his chum appear so downcast. His first fear was that Mr. Culpepper had been asked by Carl's mother for the securities, and had flatly denied ever having had them.

"Hello! what's gone wrong now, Carl?" he asked, as he hurried over to join the boy who was leaning both elbows on the picket fence, and holding his head in his hands.

"It seems as though everything is going wrong with us nowadays, Tom," sighed poor Carl.

"Anything more about that stolen paper?" asked Tom.

"No, it's something else this time," Carl replied. "Just as if we didn't have enough to worry about already."

"No one sick over at your house, is there?" demanded the other, anxiously.

"I'm glad to say that isn't the case," Carl told him. "Fact is, some bad news came in a letter mother had this morning from a lawyer in the city who manages her small affairs."

"Was it about that tenement house she owns, and the rents from which comes part of her income?" continued Tom, quick to make a guess, for he knew something about the affairs of Carl's folks.

The other nodded his head as he went on to explain:

"It burned down, and through some mistake of a clerk part of the insurance was allowed to lapse, so that we will not be able to collect on more than half. Isn't that hard luck though, Tom?"

"I should say it is," declared the other, with a look of sympathy on his face. "But if it was the fault of the lawyer's clerk why shouldn't he be held responsible for the loss? I'd think that was only fair in the eye of the law."

"Oh!" said Carl, quickly, "but my mother says he's really a poor man, and hasn't anything. Besides, he's been conducting her little business since father died without charging a cent for his labor, so you see there's no hope of our collecting more than half of the insurance."

"Too bad, and I'm mighty sorry," Tom told him.

"Coming on top of our losing that paper you can imagine how my mother feels," continued the other; "though she tries to be cheerful, and keeps on telling me she knows everything is sure to come out right in the end. Still I can see that while she puts on a brave face it's only to keep me from feeling so blue. When she's all alone I'm sure she cries, for I can see her eyes are red when I happen to come in on her unexpectedly."

"Nothing can be done, I suppose, Carl?"

"Not a thing," the other boy replied. "That is what makes me furious. If you can only see what's hitting you, and strike back, it does a whole lot of good. Unless something crops up to make things look brighter between now and fall there's one thing certain."

"What's that?" asked Tom, though he believed he could give a pretty good guess, knowing the independent spirit of his chum so well.

"I shall have to quit school, and go to work at something or other. My mother will never be able to meet expenses, even in the quiet way we live, now that part of her little income is cut off. A few hundred dollars a year means a lot to us, you see."

"Oh, I hope it won't come to that," said Tom. "A whole lot may happen between now and the beginning of the fall term. For all we know that missing paper may be recovered, which would put your folks on Easy street."

"That's about the last hope, then," admitted Carl. "It's all I'm counting on; and even then the chances seem to be against us."

"But you won't think of backing down about going on this grand hike over Big Bear Mountain, I hope?" remarked the patrol leader.

"I believe I'd lack the heart to do it, Tom, leaving mother feeling so bad; only for one thing."

"Meaning the fact that Dock Phillips is somewhere up there on the mountain; that's what you've got in your mind, isn't it, Carl?"

"Yes, and what you said last night keeps haunting me all the time, Tom. What if I did run across the chance to make Dock own up, and got him to give me that precious paper? It would make everything look bright again—for with the boom on in the oil region that stock must be worth thousands of dollars to-day, if only we can get hold of the certificate again."

"Well, you're going to; things often work in a queer way, and that's what is happening now. And I feel as sure as anything that Mr. Culpepper's stinginess in holding out against Dock's demands is going to be his undoing."

Such confident talk as this could not help having its effect on Carl. He had in fact come over to Tom's house knowing that he was sure to get comfort there.

"You make me feel better already, Tom," he asserted, as he took the hand the other boy thrust over the top of the garden fence; "and I'm going to try and look at it as a true scout should, believing that the sun is still shining back of the clouds."

"I'm about through with my work here in the garden," Tom told him, "so suppose you come around to the gate, or hop over the fence here. We'll go up to my room and take a look over the stuff that I expect to pack out of Lenox Monday A. M. I want to ask your opinion about several things, and was thinking of calling you up on the 'phone when I heard you speak just now."

Of course the main object Tom had in view was not so much getting Carl's opinion as to arouse his interest in the projected trip, so that for the time being he might forget his troubles.

The two boys spent an hour chatting, and consulting a map Tom produced that was supposed to cover most of the Big Bear Mountain territory. It had been made by an old surveyor some years back, simply to amuse himself, and while not quite up to date might be said to be fairly accurate.

Mr. Witherspoon had secured this chart and loaned it to Tom, for there was always a possibility of his receiving a sudden call on business that would take him away from town, when the duty of engineering the trip must fall to the leader of the Black Bear Patrol as the second in command.

That was going to be an unusually long and tedious Sunday for a good many boys in Lenox. Doubtless they would have their thoughts drawn from the sermon, as they sat with their folks in the family pews. And, too, looking out of the window at the waving trees they would probably picture themselves far away on the wooded slope of Big Bear Mountain, perhaps making their first camp, and starting the glorious fire around which, as the night drew on, they would gather to tell stories and sing school songs.

And it could be set down as certain that few of those who expected to join the adventurous spirits starting forth on the long mountain hike slept very soundly on the last night.

When the hour agreed on, seven o'clock, came around, there was a scene of bustle under the tower of the church, where the scouts had gathered, together with many friends both young and old who meant to give them a noisy send-off on their hike over Big Bear Mountain.



CHAPTER XI

ON THE WAY

Amidst many hearty cheers and the clapping of hands the Boy Scouts started off. Felix Robbins had been elected bugler of the troop, and as there was no regular instrument for him, he had thought to fetch along the fish horn the boys used in playing fox and geese.

This he sounded with considerable vim as the khaki-clad lads marched away, with a flag at their head, the scout master keeping step alongside the column.

Some of the older people had come to see them off. Others hurried to the open doors and windows at the sound of the horn and the cheers, to wave their hands and give encouraging smiles.

It was a proud time for those boys. They stood up as straight as ramrods, and held their heads with the proud consciousness that for the time being they were the center of attraction.

There were ten in all starting forth. More might have gone, only that no scout not wearing the khaki could accompany the expedition; and besides the members of the Black Bear Patrol, Rob Shaefer and Stanley Ackerman were the only two who could boast of a uniform.

A number of boys accompanied them for a mile or so, to give them a good send-off; after which they either returned home or else went over the river fishing.

For the first two miles or so every one seemed to be standing the tramp well. Then as it began to get warmer, and the pack, somehow, seemed to increase in weight, several scouts lagged a little.

Seeing this, and understanding that it is always an unwise thing to push a horse or a human being in the beginning of a long race, Mr. Witherspoon thought it best to slacken their pace.

They were in no particular hurry to get anywhere; and once heels began to get sore from the rubbing of their shoes, it would not be easy to cure them again. The wise scout master was a believer in the motto that "an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure."

Ahead of them loomed the lofty elevation that possibly from its shape had long been known as Big Bear Mountain. The boys had tried to learn just how it came by that name—and naturally this subject interested them more than ever as they found themselves drawing steadily closer to its foot.

"It doesn't look so very much like a bear to me," George Kingsley remarked, as the discussion waxed warmer. Though for that matter George always did find some reason to object to almost everything.

"I was told by an old settler who ought to know," ventured Tom, "that long ago numerous bears lived in the rocky dens of the mountain, and that's how it came to be called as it is."

"Must have been years and years ago then," said Josh, "because I never remember hearing about a bear being seen hereabouts. I often used to look for bear tracks when I was out hunting, but of course I never found one."

"Wouldn't it be a great thing if we did happen on a real bear while we were out on this hike?" suggested Billy Button, who was rather given to stretches of imagination, and seeing things where they did not exist.

So they beguiled the time away as they tramped along. Gradually they approached the great gloomy looking mountain, and it was seen that by the time they stopped for their noon meal they would probably be at its foot.

Tom and Carl were walking together, for somehow the boys seemed to pair off as a general thing. Carl was looking brighter now, as though in the excitement of the start he might have temporarily forgotten his troubles.

"There don't seem to be so many farms up this way as we thought," Tom observed as they found themselves walking close beside a stretch of woodland, with a gully on the other side of the road.

"That may make it harder for us to get the supplies we'll need, I should think," suggested Carl, who knew the leaders of the expedition had counted on finding hospitable farmers from time to time, from whom they could purchase bread, butter, and perhaps smoked ham or bacon, very little of which had been carried with them—in fact no more than would be required for a few meals.

"Yes," admitted Tom readily enough. "But then it will afford us a chance to show our ability as scouts—and if you look at it the right way that counts for a lot. When everything goes according to the schedule you've arranged there isn't much credit in doing things; but when you're up against it good and hard, and have to shut your teeth and fight, then when you accomplish things you've got a right to feel satisfied."

Carl knew full well there was a hidden significance beneath these words of his chum's—and that Tom was once more trying to buoy up his hopes.

Since they had struck a portion of country not so thickly populated, the observing scouts had commenced to notice numerous interesting sights that attracted their attention. Soon every boy was straining his eyesight in the hope of discovering new things among the trees, in the air overhead, or it might be amidst the shadows of the woodland alongside the country road.

The scout master encouraged this habit of observation all he could. He knew that once it got a firm hold upon the average boy he could never again pass along a road or trail in the country without making numberless discoveries. What had once been a sealed book to his eyes would now become as an open page.

About this time there were heard inquiries as to when they expected to stop and have a bite of lunch. Tom and the scout master had already arranged this, and when the third scout was heard to say he felt as hungry as a wolf, Tom took it upon himself to explain.

"If you look ahead," he remarked, so that all could hear, "you'll notice where a hump of the mountain seems to hang over the road. That's about where we expect to rest an hour or so."

"Must be something unusual about this particular place, I should say, for you to settle on it ahead of time this way," remarked wise Josh in his Yankee way.

"There is," Tom informed him. "According to my map here, and what information I've been able to pick up, there's a fine cold spring bubbles up alongside the road right there; and for one I'm feeling the need of a good drink the worst kind."

After that it was noticed that even the laggards began to show unusual energy, as if the prospect of soon being able to throw themselves down and slake their thirst, as well as satisfy their hunger, appealed forcibly to them.

It was close on to noon when finally, with a shout, they hurried forward and dropped their packs close to where the ice-cold spring flowed.

"Queer how heavy those old packs do get the longer you carry them," observed George, as he waited for his turn to lie down and drink his fill of the spring water.

"You're a suspicious sort of fellow, George," declared Felix; "I've seen you turn around as quick as a flash, just as if you thought some other scout might be hanging his pack on to yours, so as to make you carry double."

George turned redder than he had already become under the force of the sun; but he did not deny the accusation.

It was decided not to light a fire at noon. They could eat a cold lunch and wash it down with water.

"We'll keep our fire for this evening," said Mr. Witherspoon; "you know it is generally quite a ceremony—the starting of the first campfire when scouts go off on a long trip."

Waiting until the sun had started well on his way down the heavens, and there had arisen a little breeze that made it more bearable, the scout master finally had Felix sound his fish horn for the signal to "fall in."

Some of the boys did not show quite as much animation as on that other occasion. They were not accustomed to walking for hours, and would have to get used to it through experience.

An hour later they were straggling along, some of them on the other side of a wire fence that separated the road from the woods, as there seemed to be a chance of making interesting discoveries there.

"Look at that red squirrel hanging head down to the bark on the trunk of that tree!" exclaimed Billy Button; "I never noticed just how they did that stunt before."

"Huh! lots of us are seeing things through a magnifying glass since we joined the scouts," admitted Felix. "Seems as if the scales have been taken from my eyes, and I find a thousand things worth looking at all around me."

"Well, here comes one right now, Felix; and he's a bouncer at that!" cried the third of the group that had invaded the woods beyond the barbed-wire fence.

Even as he spoke there was a furious barking, and a savage-looking dog came tearing swiftly toward them, evidently bent on doing mischief.



CHAPTER XII

THE FIRST CAMP-FIRE

"Help, he's going to eat us all up!" shouted Billy Button.

Felix and Rob Shaefer did not like the looks of the oncoming dog any more than did Billy. Being more pugnacious by nature, however, instead of making a frantic dash over the wire fence, and trying to crawl through between the strands at the risk of tearing their clothes, they hurried to snatch up some clubs which would serve them as a means of defence.

The dog acted as if he meant business. They were trespassing on his master's territory, and as the guardian appointed to defend this ground he assailed the intruders without fear or favor.

They had quite a lively time of it, what with the shouting, the loud bursts of laughter from those scouts who were safe on the other side of the fence, and the agonized cries of Billy Button, caught fast in the grip of the barbed-wire, and expecting to be devoured.

Both Felix and Rob had luckily managed to secure fairly strong pieces of broken limbs from the trees. With these they boldly assaulted the dog, and kept him from jumping on the helpless comrade until some of the others came to Billy's assistance, and by raising the wires allowed him to crawl through.

Tom and George hastened to join in the fray for it was evident that the savage dog would have to be beaten off before those who were in danger could find a chance to reach the road again.

With four enemies against him the dog concluded that he had done all that could be expected of him, and that it was now no dishonor to beat a masterly retreat; which he accordingly did.

The boys pretended to chase after him, with loud shouts; but seeing their opportunity to escape made haste to put the wire fence between themselves and the owner of those cruel white fangs. As long as he could follow them from his side of the barrier the dog continued to bark savagely; but did not offer to leave his own domain.

After all Billy Button was the only one to suffer, and he had a fine big three-cornered hole in his coat.

"Going into the real-estate business, are you, Billy?" asked Josh, who could always see a chance for a joke.

"Oh! am I?" retorted the other. "What makes you think that, Josh?"

"Because you've got a sign up 'to rent,'" is what the other told him.

"Didn't I see that dog take hold of you by the leg, Felix, at the time you struck him so hard on the head with your club?" Mr. Witherspoon asked.

"Yes, sir, but he only dented my leggings, you see," the bugler replied, as he showed where the marks of the animal's teeth could be plainly seen; "that's the good of having extra-thick canvas leggings on; they save you from snake bites and all sorts of other things that you don't want."

"It was a pretty lively skirmish while it lasted, let me tell you," admitted Rob Shaefer, who had seemed quite to enjoy the affair.

Another hour or more passed, with the column straggling along, and some of the boys showing positive signs of fatigue. Mr. Witherspoon had been consulting with the leader of the Black Bear Patrol, and evidently they had reached a conclusion, for presently the welcome order was given to turn into the woods, as the day's hike was at an end.

Gladly did those tired lads obey the call. And one of the first things they discovered was that there was another cold spring nearby, the presence of which, of course, had been known to those who carried the chart of the region.

First of all they dropped down to rest themselves. Later on, when they were feeling more like doing things, they would start to put the camp in order, get the fires started, and perhaps erect some sort of rude shelter that to a certain degree would take the place of tents.

Finally some of the more enterprising began to stir around. Josh took it upon himself to provide a fireplace made out of stones which lay conveniently near. It was to be built according to the best formula he knew, something in the shape of a letter V, with the large end toward the wind; and across the top of the stones they would lay their iron rods, thus forming a gridiron on which would rest the frying-pan and the coffee-pot.

"I'll duplicate your cooking fire, Josh," said Rob Shaefer, who meant to show some of his new chums a few wrinkles he had learned when in camp on other occasions.

Half an hour before the sun went down both fires were crackling at a great rate; and when good beds of red embers should have formed operations looking to supper would be started by those in charge of the occasion.

Everybody took a deep interest in what was now going on. All sorts of suggestions were called back and forth as the ham was sliced and the potatoes put in the pots for boiling; while further along the fires the two coffee-pots began to emit a most delightful and appetizing odor that made the hungry boys wild with impatience.

The spot where they had determined to spend their first night out was in the midst of the woods. Around them the forest trees lay on every side, some being great oaks, others beeches, with drooping branches and smooth silvery bark—as well as other species, such as sycamore, ash and lindens.

Most of the scouts were bubbling over with enthusiasm concerning the outlook before them; but several of the less daring ones might be seen casting furtive glances about as though the prospect of passing the night amidst such lonely surroundings had already commenced to make them feel a little queer.

No doubt the pride of these fellows would carry them through the initial night; and after that by degrees they would become accustomed to their new experiences. Every soldier can look back to his first battle, remembering how he trembled in his shoes, and feeling that he would give all he possessed for the privilege of running away at top speed.

And when supper was ready, with the boys gathered around, each bent on doing the best he knew how to show his appreciation of the work of the cooks, it seemed to be the fitting climax to a most wonderful day. Would they ever forget that supper? Never had anything tasted so royally good at home.

"This is the life!" declared Josh Kingsley, buoyantly, as he passed his tin plate along for a second helping when he heard it mentioned that there was still a further supply not distributed.

"It certainly does taste pretty fine to me!" admitted Horace Crapsey, who had in times gone by been so finicky about his eating that his folks had begun to wonder what was going to become of him—yet who was now sitting there cross-legged like a Turk, wielding an ordinary knife and fork, and with his pannikin on his lap, actually doing without a napkin, and enjoying it in the bargain.

Mr. Witherspoon had the seat of honor, for the boys insisted that he should occupy the highest place on the log that had been rolled near the fires. He observed all that went on with satisfaction. Boys were close to his heart, and he never tired of his hobby of studying them. It was a constant source of delight to the scout master to listen to them chatter, and he noticed that a perceptible change was taking place in some of his charges since first joining the troop.

Finally when every youth admitted that he had had all he could eat, Mr. Witherspoon got up.

"Now it's full time we started our real campfire," he announced. "That was why I had you gather such a big heap of wood. Here's the right place for the blaze, as we must be careful not to scorch any of the trees, the branches of which hang down over us, because this property belongs to some one, and we must respect his rights."

He had no trouble about finding willing workers, because every one acted as if anxious to have a hand in the building of that first campfire, to be recorded in the annals of Lenox Troop as an event of unusual importance.

When finally the pyramid had been carefully built the scout master was asked to apply the match.

"Unfortunately I do not know the customary procedure on such momentous occasions," he told the boys, as they formed a circle around the pile; "and all I can say is that with this match I am about to dedicate this fire to the useful purpose of bringing all our hearts in tune with our surroundings. For to-night then, we will try to believe ourselves real vagabonds, or children of the forest, sitting around the sanctuary at which every camper worships—the crackling fire!"

Then the blaze began to seize hold of the wood, and amidst the cheers of the enthusiastic scouts the fire got fully under way.

High leaped the red flames, so that presently there was a general backward movement, on account of the heat. Had it been November instead of June, they would doubtless have enjoyed the cheery warmth much more.

Each boy managed to pick out a comfortable place, and then the talk began to grow general. Plans for the morrow and the succeeding days were being discussed with much ardor.

It was while this was going on, and the scouts were all feeling most happy that with but scant warning a discomforting element was suddenly injected into Camp Content. Moving figures, harsh voices, together with the half strangled barks of dogs held in leash startled the seated campers. Two rough-looking men, evidently a farmer and his hired man, armed with guns, and holding a couple of dogs by ropes, came in sight close by.



CHAPTER XIII

THE LIFE THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN SAVED

"Hey! what d'ye mean by trespassin' on my ground? I'll have the law on ye for darin' to build a big bonfire like that! No tramp convention c'n threaten to set fire to my woods, let me tell ye!"

The man in the lead was shouting this in an angry voice as he bustled forward, with his dog growling and straining to get free. Of course every one of the boys scrambled to his feet in a hurry. The sight of their khaki uniforms seemed to give the big farmer a decided shock, for they saw him come to a stop.

"What's this here?" he exclaimed, as he stared at the dozen lads. "Tell me, am I seein' things Bill Scruggs? Is it the State Militia dropped down on us? Is there a war on?"

Mr. Witherspoon, who was of course in uniform, stepped to the front and made the old fellow a military salute that must have gone far toward soothing his ruffled feelings.

"We're sorry if we've intruded on your ground, sir," he said in that convincing voice of his. "The fact is these are some of the Boy Scouts of Lenox, a troop that has lately been organized. I am Robert Witherspoon, the surveyor, and if I'm not mistaken I did some work for you a few months ago, Mr. Brush."

"That's a fact ye did, Mr. Witherspoon," declared the farmer, with less venom in his tone. "Seems like I didn't know ye with them togs on."

"I'm acting as scout master to these lads just now," continued the other, in his conciliatory way. "One of the rules of the organization is that each troop must have a grown person to serve with them, so that any undue boyish spirits may be kept within reasonable bounds."

"So I read in the paper, Mr. Witherspoon," continued the countryman.

"Won't you tie up your dogs, Mr. Brush, and come and join us here before the fire?" asked the scout master, who doubtless had more or less faith in the ability of a cheery blaze to curb animosity.

They saw the farmer rub his chin with his hand. He seemed to be debating within himself as to whether or not it would be advisable to comply with such a friendly invitation.

"Well, p'raps I mightn't git such a good chance to look scouts over again as this here one," he presently said, half to himself. "I've been reading a hull lot lately 'bout the doin's of the boys. Got three lads o' my own yet," and there he was seen to swallow something that seemed almost to choke him.

"Then for their sake you ought to be interested in this great movement, Mr. Brush," said the scout master; "I remember a bright boy of yours who was very much interested in the little surveying work I did for you that day. He helped me some, and said he thought he'd like to be a civil engineer when he grew up. If he joined the scouts that desire might be encouraged, sir, I assure you."

"Oh, they been pesterin' the life outen me to let 'em jine, but I ain't had no faith in the thing," Mr. Brush went on to say, with a stubborn shake of the head.

He had by this time tied up his dog, and was accepting a seat on the log close to the obliging scout master. The boys were satisfied to let Mr. Witherspoon do the most of the talking. They could see that he meant to open the eyes of this unbeliever, and show him a few things that he ought to know.

"Just why did you frown on the scout movement, may I ask, sir?" Mr. Witherspoon continued, quietly.

"Well, in the fust place I don't calc'late that my boys be brought up to be food for gunpowder," replied the farmer.

"Then like a good many people you think Boy Scouts in this country are intended to become a part of the military defences; is that it, Mr. Brush?"

"Do you mean to tell me it ain't so, Mr. Witherspoon?" asked the farmer.

"Nothing is further from the truth than that, as I'll prove to you in a dozen ways, if you care to listen," the scout master told him.

"Fire away, then," said the farmer. "I'm not hide-bound ye know, and allers open to conviction; so tell me why I orter let my three boys jine the scouts."

Mr. Witherspoon started in and explained the fundamental principles upon which the new movement was organized. He soon convinced the farmer that there was not the slightest intention on the part of those having the matter in hand to incorporate the scouts into a National Defence Movement.

"Was that the only objection you had, Mr. Brush?" he asked when the farmer frankly admitted that he had been wrong in his opinion.

"I reckoned that these boys only got together and wore uniforms for a big lark," was the reply to his question. "I ought to know what boys is like, havin' had four of my own."

"Then you have lost one, have you sir?" questioned the scout master, not from idle curiosity, either, Tom Chesney felt positive.

The old man heaved a great sigh.

"Yes, my youngest, and the darling o' his maw's heart, little Jim. Only last summer he was off swimmin' with several o' his chums, and got caught with a cramp. They got him out, brave enough, but—he never kim to agin."

Mr. Witherspoon cast a quick and meaning glance around the circle of eager faces. Several of the scouts nodded in a significant fashion as though they guessed what was flashing through the mind of their leader.

"Mr. Brush," said the scout master, gravely, "I'd like to tell you some things that to my own personal knowledge scouts have done; things that they never would have been capable of performing in the wide world had they remained outside of this organization that first of all teaches them to be manly, independent, helpful to others, and true to themselves. May I, sir?"

"Jest as ye please, Mr. Witherspoon," came the low reply, for the farmer had evidently been partly overcome with the sad remembrance of the vacant chair, and the face he missed so much at his table.

The scout master went about it in a very able manner. Again he explained the numerous duties of a scout, and how he was taught to render first aid to the injured in case, for instance, his services should ever be needed when some comrade cut himself with an ax, and was in peril of bleeding to death.

"There are other ways," Mr. Witherspoon continued, "in which the scout is instructed to be able to depend on himself should he be lost in the wilderness, caught in a tornado, tempted to take refuge in a barn, or under an exposed tree during a thunder storm."

"All o' that sounds mighty interestin', I must say, sir!" commented the farmer, deeply interested.

"To my own personal knowledge, Mr. Brush," finally said the other, "on three separate occasions I have known of cases where a boy in swimming was apparently dead when dragged from the water after having been under for several minutes; in every one of those instances his scout companions, working according to the rules that had become a part of their education, managed to revive the fluttering spark of life and save the lad!"

There was an intense silence as the last word was spoken. Every one of those boys realized how terribly the man was suffering, for they could see his face working. Presently he looked up, with a groan that welled from his very heart.

"Jest a year too late, sir!" he said, in an unsteady voice. "Oh, why didn't ye come last June? My little Jim was alive then, and the apple of my eye. If he'd jined the scouts he might a be'n with us right now. A year too late—it's hard, hard!"

"But you said you have three boys still, Mr. Brush?" said the scout master.

"So I have, and mighty dear they be to me too!" exclaimed the farmer, as he proceeded to bring down his ponderous fist on his knee, "and arter what you've told me this night, sir, they cain't be scouts any too soon to please me. I've had my lesson, and it was a bitter one. I'm right glad ye kim along to-night, and camped in my big woods, where we seen the light o' yer fire."

"And we're glad too, Mr. Brush," said the scout master, while several of the boys were heard to cough as though taken with a sudden tickling in their throats.

Long they sat there talking. Mr. Brush became an ardent advocate of the scout movement, and even made an arrangement for his boys to join the new patrol being formed, though it would mean many a trip in and out of Lenox for him in his new cheap motor car, in order that they attend the weekly meetings.

After all that was an evening long to be remembered. Tom Chesney, who kept a regular log of the outing, meaning to enter his account in a competition for a prize that had been offered by a metropolitan daily, found a fine chance to spread himself when jotting down the particulars.

The farmer could hardly tear himself away from the crackling fire. Three times he said he must be going, yet did not stir, which quite amused Josh Kingsley and Felix Robbins.

"Our scout master sure must have missed his calling when he set out to be a civil engineer and surveyor," whispered the former in the ear of Felix.

"That's so," replied the other, "for while he may be a pretty good civil engineer, he'd made a crackerjack of a lawyer or a preacher. When he talks somehow you just hang on every word he says, and it convinces you deep down. That old farmer on a jury would do whatever Mr. Witherspoon wanted. But it's been worth hearing; and I'm a heap glad to be a scout, after listening to what he's been saying."

Finally the owner of the woods shook hands all around with them, and accompanied by his hired man and the two dogs respectfully took his departure.



CHAPTER XIV

AT THE FOOT OF BIG BEAR MOUNTAIN

It took them a long time to get settled on that night. Some of the scouts were about to experience their first camp sleep. They had to be shown just how to arrange their blankets, and what to do about the customary pillow upon which they wished to rest their heads.

Tom, Josh and Rob Shaefer, having been through the mill before, explained these things. They even helped the tenderfeet fill with hemlock browse the little cotton bag, which had possibly once held flour, and which each scout had been advised to carry along in his pack.

"They'll be worth their weight in gold many times on the trip," said Tom, when even Mr. Witherspoon stood listening with interest, for he had not as yet learned everything, he was free to confess.

"But do we have to carry them along with us like that?" asked Horace as he held up the rather bulky object he had made of his cotton slip.

"Certainly not," he was informed; "you empty it before breaking camp, and in the evening fill it again. Plenty of hemlock or spruce handy, whenever you choose to stretch out your hand and pluck it."

"You must show me about all these things," Billy Button remarked. "To tell the truth I don't know the difference between balsam, fir, spruce, hemlock, larch and some other trees I've heard you talking about."

"I'll begin to-morrow, and you'll find it simple enough," Tom promised him.

After all the night really passed without any disturbance. Tom and Rob managed to wake up a number of times, and getting quietly out of their snug nests, they renewed the fire, thus keeping it going all through the night.

Had any one been watching closely they probably would have seen a head bob up occasionally, the owner take a cautious look around, and then drop back again as though convinced that all was well, with no danger of ferocious wild beasts raiding the camp.

These were the tenderfeet of the troop. They of course could not sleep save in snatches, and the strangeness of their surroundings caused them to feel more or less nervous. All they heard, however, was the barking of Farmer Brush's watch dogs or some little woods animal complaining because these two-legged intruders had disturbed the peace of their homeland.

With the coming of dawn there was a stir in camp. Then one by one the scouts crawled out from their blankets, all but two greenhorns.

"Let them sleep a while longer," said Mr. Witherspoon. "I fancy neither of them passed a very comfortable night."

And at this the other boys moderated their voices as they proceeded to get an early breakfast ready, though in no hurry to leave that pleasant Camp Content.

Of course both the laggards were up and ready by the time the call to breakfast was heard in the land. It may be that the smell of the eggs and bacon frying and the aromatic coffee's bubbling had much to do with arousing them.

While they were eating who should appear but the hired man of Farmer Brush. He had a big basket on his arm, also a note for the scout master.

"I have to go to town early this morning or I'd fetch these few things myself," the note ran; "I want you to accept them from me with my compliments, and my hearty thanks for your entertainment last night. I have hardly slept a wink thinking about what you told me; and next meeting me and my boys will be on hand.

"EZRA BRUSH.

"P.S. The chickens my wife sends you, and she says they are tender enough to fry."

Besides the four chickens, all ready for cooking, there was a fine print of new butter, as well as a carton of several dozen eggs fresh from the coop.

"Three cheers for Mr. Brush, fellows!" cried Tom, after the scout master had read the note aloud; and they were given with a will, much to the entertainment of Bill, who stood there and grinned broadly.

It was about eight o'clock when the column started once more. They meant to leave the main road they had been following up to this time, for it did not run in the direction they wanted to go.

There was another smaller one which they expected to follow, for that day at least, and which skirted the base of the mountain, even ascending it in several places, as their map showed.

"It will be our last day on any sort of road, if we follow out the programme as arranged," Tom Chesney explained, as they sat around at noon munching the "snack" each scout had been commissioned to prepare at breakfast time against his being hungry in the middle of the day, when they would not care to start a fire in order to do any cooking.

"You mean we expect to push right up the mountain and begin exploring the country, don't you, Tom?" asked Josh between bites.

"Yes, and three of the fellows intend to make maps as we go, for practice," the leader of the Black Bear Patrol explained.

"All I hope is," commented Billy Button, anxiously, "that we don't manage to get lost. I've got a very important engagement a week from Friday that I wouldn't want to miss."

"Huh, guess I'm in the same box," chuckled Josh; "anyway I promised to be sitting in my usual chair with my feet under our dining table on that same day; and it'd grieve my heart if I missed connections."

The middle of that June day proved to be very warm, and the boys decided to lie around for several hours. When the sun had got well started down the western sky perhaps there might be a little more life in the air. Besides, they were in no hurry; so what was the use of exerting themselves unduly?

"I hope it isn't going to storm!" suggested Carl, as they sprawled under the shady tree where they had halted for the noon rest, each youth in as comfortable an attitude as he could assume.

"Oh, is there any chance of a terrible storm dropping down on us, do you think?" asked Horace Crapsey, looking troubled; for although none of the others knew it, the crash of the thunder and the play of lightning had struck terror to his soul ever since the time he had been knocked down, when a tree near his house was shattered by a bolt from the clouds.

"Not that you can see right now," Josh informed him, a little contemptuously; with a strong boy's feeling toward one who shows signs of being afraid; "but when it's summer time and when, in the bargain, a day has been as hot as this one, you never can tell."

"That's so, Josh," George Kingsley remarked, wagging his head as though for once he actually agreed with something that had been said; "a simmering day often coaxes a storm along. It may hit us toward night-time, or even come on any hour afterwards when we're sleeping like babes in the woods."

"But what can we do for shelter?" asked Billy Button; "we haven't got even a rag for a tent; and once we get soaked it'll be a hard job to dry our suits, you know."

"Leave that to us, Billy," Tom told him, confidently. "First of all every scout has a rubber poncho; two of these fastened together will make what they call a dog tent, under which a couple of fellows can tuck themselves, and keep the upper part of their bodies dry. Soldiers always use them."

"Yes," added Rob Shaefer; "and if it looks like rain to-night we'll raise several brush shanties. By making use of the rubber blankets they can be kept as dry as a bone. Scouts must learn how to meet every possible condition that can rise up. That's a big part of the fun, once you've begun to play the game."

Billy seemed to be much impressed by this cheering intelligence; and even Horace smiled again, having recovered from his little panic.

It was almost three o'clock when the signal was given for a start. They took it slowly, and in the next two hours had probably covered little more than two miles. They were still loitering along the road that skirted the foot of the Big Bear Mountain.

"As we have some extra cooking to do to-night, boys," the scout master told them, "we had better pull up here where we can get fine water. That's one of the things you must always look for when camping, remember."

Nothing pleased the scouts better than the prospect of stopping, and starting supper, for they were tired, and hungry in the bargain.

"If we didn't want to eat these fowls right away," Tom remarked, "I'd suggest that we bake them in a hot oven made in the ground. That's the original cooker, you know. But it takes a good many hours to do it."

"Another time, perhaps, when we're stopping several days in one camp we'll get some more chickens, Tom," said the scout master, "and have you show us just how it is done. I've heard of the old-time scheme, but never tasted anything cooked in a mud oven."

Everything looked calm and peaceful just then, but after all that was a deception and a snare. Even while the cooks were starting in to cut up the chickens so that the various parts might be placed in the two big frying-pans, after a certain amount of fat salt pork had been "tried out," and allowed to get fiercely hot, Josh, who happened to be seen coming from the spring with a coffee-pot of water called out:

"Well, here comes your storm cloud all right, Horace; only instead of a ducking we stand a chance of getting a licking from another enraged tiller of the soil!"



CHAPTER XV

NOT GUILTY

"Whew! but he looks even madder than Mr. Brush did!" exclaimed Billy Button, when he saw the advancing man snap his whip furiously, as though to warn them what to expect on his arrival.

Every scout was now on his feet and watching.

"There's his wagon over on the road," said Carl; "he must have been passing and have seen us here. I wonder if we've trespassed on his private property now. Mr. Witherspoon, you'd better get ready to hypnotize another mad farmer."

"He's got his eye on our chickens, let me tell you!" urged Josh, as he moved over a few paces, as though meaning to defend the anticipated treat desperately if need be.

The man was a big brawny fellow, and very angry at that. Mr. Witherspoon faced him without a sign of alarm, even smiling, because conscious of having given no reasonable cause for an assault.

"That cracking of his whip isn't going to scare us a bit," muttered the pugnacious Josh; "he'd better not lay it on me for one, or any of my chums, that's what!"

The man could hardly speak at first, from the effect of his anger, together with his hasty rush from the road up to the camp. Then holding his threatening whip in one hand he pointed a quivering finger straight toward the fowls that they were expecting to have for their supper, and which could no longer be concealed by Josh.

"So," bellowed the man, "now I know where the chickens that were stolen from my coop last night went. Raidin' the farms up this way, are you? I want to tell you it's going to be a bad job for every one of ye. I'll have the law on ye if I have to go to Lenox and look every boy in town over. And I'll know ye all again, if its a month from now."

He snapped the whip viciously as he stopped talking; but Mr. Witherspoon did not seem to shrink back an inch. Looking the excited farmer squarely in the eye the scout master started to speak.

"I judge from what you say, sir, that you have had the misfortune to lose some of your poultry lately? I'm sorry to hear of it, but when you come and accuse us of being the guilty parties you are making a serious mistake, sir."

"Oh, am I?" demanded the other, still as furious as ever, though the boys noticed that he made no effort to use the dreadful whip he carried. "I lost some fowls, and you're expecting to have some chickens for dinner. Anybody with hoss sense could put them facts together, couldn't they? I ain't to be blarnied so easy, let me tell you."

"You seem to talk as though no one owned chickens up this Bear Mountain way but yourself, sir," said Mr. Witherspoon, calmly. "These lads are Boy Scouts. They are a part of the Lenox Troop, and I can vouch for every one of them as being honest, and incapable of stealing any man's fowls."

"You don't say, mister?" sneered the man; "but tell me, who's a-goin' to vouch for you, now?"

"My name is Robert Witherspoon," replied the scout master, showing wonderful self-control the boys thought, considering the insulting manner of the angry farmer. "I am a civil engineer and surveyor. I love boys every way I find them; and it is a pleasure to me to act as their scout master, accompanying them on their hikes when possible, and seeing that they behave themselves in every way. You can find out about my standing from Judge Jerome, Doctor Lawson or Pastor Hotchkiss in Lenox."

The man still looked in Mr. Witherspoon's calm eyes. What he saw there seemed to have an influence upon his aroused feelings, for while he still shook his head skeptically there was not so much of menace in his manner now.

"Boys will be boys, no matter whether they have scout uniforms on or overalls," he said sullenly. "I've suffered mor'n once from raids on my orchards and chicken coops, and found it was some town boys, off on what they called a lark, that made other people suffer."

"But I assure you there is not the slightest possibility of any boy here having taken your chickens, sir," continued the scout master.

"We've been on the move all day long," added Tom, "and only arrived here half an hour back. Last night we were several miles away in camp."

"But—you got chickens, and I was robbed last night," faltered the farmer, as though that fact impressed him as evidence that no argument could keep down.

"If we could prove to you," continued Mr. Witherspoon, "that we came by these four fowls honestly, I hope you will be frank enough to apologize to my boys for unjustly suspecting them of being hen thieves?"

"Go on then and do it, mister; but I warn you I'm sot in my ways, and hard to convince. It's got to be a mighty likely yarn that'll fotch me over."

"You've lived around here some time, I take it?" asked Mr. Witherspoon.

"Man and boy forty-seven years," came the reply.

"Then you must know Ezra Brush, for he was born in the farm house he occupies to this day?" suggested the scout master.

"I know Ezra like a book. Him and me have always been good friends, except for that boundary dispute which took us to court; but I reckon Ezra don't hold no grudge agin me 'cause I won out.

"We had Mr. Brush sitting beside our campfire for two hours last night, while I told him all about the things Boy Scouts are taught. He means to have his three boys join the troop at the next meeting; for he knows now that if his little Jim and some of his companions had been scouts, the boy's life in all probability would have been saved last summer."

"It might have been," admitted the farmer, "if them other lads had knowed what to do, but before a man got there it was too late. And Ezra certainly sot some store by that bright-faced little Jim; everybody keered for him, he was so winnin' in his ways."

"Well," continued Mr. Witherspoon with a smile, for he was certain of his ground by this time, and the whip hung listlessly alongside the farmer's leg; "we made so good an impression on Mr. Brush that early this morning his man Bill came over with a basket, and also this note. Please read it, sir."

He placed the paper in the other's hand; and leaning down so that the waning light of the setting sun might fall on the writing the farmer seemed to take in the contents of the note.

When he looked up he no longer scowled, but let his eyes rove around at the faces of the scouts, all filled with eager anticipation.

"Well, I was wrong to say what I did, I owns up," he commenced, making a wry face, as though it was rather an unusual thing for him to admit being anything but right; "and since I promised to apologize to ye, boys I'm ready to do it. Chickens all looks alike after they've been plucked and the heads cut off; but 'cordin' to what that note reads these here are Brush fowls and not from the Perkins coop."

Mr. Witherspoon nodded his head, and his eyes twinkled.

"Are you satisfied to accept Mr. Perkins' apology, boys, in the same spirit in which it is given?" he asked, looking at his charges.

Of course there was an immediate response, and in the affirmative too. Boys are not apt to harbor any deep resentment, once the accusation is withdrawn.

"There, you see these boys are not the ones to hold it against you, Mr. Perkins," the scout master continued.

"Did you see the thieves who were in your hen house last night, Mr. Perkins?" asked Tom, as though he had some object in making the inquiry.

"Wall, no, though I heard the racket when my chickens got to squawkin', and run to the coop with a gun; but the pesky rascals had cleared out with half a dozen of my best young fowls. I reckoned to larn where they was, and I'm on my way to town right now with a load of stuff, meanin' to make a few inquiries in the mornin'."

He grinned as he fumbled at the pocket of his coat.

"What have you got there, Mr. Perkins?" asked Tom.

"It's a boy's cap as was left in my coop last night," declared the farmer; "and a queer lookin' one at that. Guess they might tell me who it fits in Lenox."

Every eye was focused on the cap which he held up. It was indeed of an odd color, and very likely the only one of the kind in that section.

Josh Kingsley laughed out loud.

"Guess we ought to know that cap, fellows!" he exclaimed. "The last time I saw the same it was perked on the red head of Tony Pollock."



CHAPTER XVI

WHAT TO DO IN A STORM

"Would you mind letting me see that cap for a minute, Mr. Perkins?" asked the leader of the Black Bear Patrol.

The farmer seemed to hesitate as though loth to let his only evidence go out of his hand; but after one good look at the smiling countenance of Tom Chesney apparently he felt ashamed of suspecting that so clean-looking a boy could mean to deceive him in any way. So he passed the head-gear over.

Knowing that Tom must have some object in making this request the other scouts pushed closer and watched eagerly. They saw him turn the cap partly inside out.

"I thought as much," Tom remarked laughingly, at the same time carefully picking several tiny objects up, which he held before the eyes of the admiring farmer, who had doubtless never before heard of such a thing as "scoutcraft."

"Look for yourself, Mr. Perkins," Tom said exultantly; "you will have no difficulty in recognizing these as fiery red hairs. The boy mentioned by my chum here, has a brick-top like that. I should say the evidence is about as conclusive as anything could be."

Mr. Perkins' mouth had opened wide. He was apparently thunder-struck by the cleverness displayed by this stripling in clinching the guilt of the party who had stolen his spring chickens.

"Tell me his name again, Bub," he said turning to Josh; "I calc'late makin' it some warm for him unless I gets pretty good pay for them fowls."

"His name is Tony Pollock," he was told with a grin, for somehow Josh seemed to be tickled over the retribution that was likely to overtake the boy who had for so long a time acted as a bully in Lenox.

After some talk the farmer withdrew, taking with him his evidence in the shape of the queer checked cap, and also the best wishes of the assembled scouts, who gave him a cheer as he drove away.

He had even promised to drop around at a couple of their houses with messages hastily scribbled, to the effect that the boys were very well, and having the time of their lives.

Needless to say that those who sent these were the tender feet of the troop. Horace and Billy, who imagined that their respective mothers must be lying awake nights in mortal fear lest something dreadful had happened to the heretofore pampered darlings. Most of the other boys were accustomed to being away from home, and prided themselves on being able to show the spirit of veteran campers.

The fowls turned out to be the peer of any the boys had ever tasted. Indeed with the chicken cooked a delicate brown by those in charge, and seasoned with the keen appetites a day in the open air is apt to give a boy, that supper must always linger in their memories as a bright spot never to be excelled.

By now the greenhorns would be getting more accustomed to seeing the woods all around them, and probably sleep better than they did before. The second night in camp always does find everybody feeling more at ease, and settling down for a good rest.

They had no reason to find fault with anything that happened to them after the departure of Mr. Perkins. The stars came out in the heavens and there was apparently no sign of rain.

To satisfy the more timid boys, Tom and Rob Shaefer had started on a brush shanty, which they so far completed that it could be changed into a fair shelter by making use of their rubber ponchos. It was not really needed, though several of the boys chose to make up their beds under its arched roof, mentioning that they might feel the dew if it happened to prove heavy.

Again they prepared breakfast, and then started off with a day's tramp ahead of them that would differ in many respects from anything as yet encountered. This was because they expected to strike boldly up the side of the massive mountain that reared its head far above them, its slopes covered for the most part with a heavy growth of timber. This, however, thinned out the nearer one came to the summit, which in turn was composed of bald rocks, grim and silent, save when some eagle gave its shrill scream from a projecting crag.

They took their last look at the little road, and then Tom led the way into the heart of the wild growth. Just as they had anticipated it was a great deal more difficult going now, for there was no trail save an occasional cowpath which might lead down to the creek, or anywhere else; and to which, for this reason, they could not pay any attention.

When noon came there was a loud call for a halt. While every boy was too proud to confess that his muscles were beginning to feel sore from the continual strain, he tried pretty hard to find some plausible excuse for wanting to make a good long halt.

While they were eating and fanning themselves, for it was very warm, Walter Douglass noticed Tom glancing off toward the southwest. Upon looking in that direction himself he burst out with an exclamation:

"It's going to strike us this time, boys, as sure as anything!"

"What another irate farmer?" cried Josh, laughingly. "Whatever have the scouts been doing this time to raise trouble? We've been accused of trespassing, and stealing chickens; p'raps they'll try to make out we have evil designs on some country bank."

"It looks like a storm," admitted Tom; upon which Billy Button began to stare at the clouds in plain sight, and Horace seemed to be listening anxiously to catch the first distant mutter of thunder in the air.

"If you are all through eating," said Mr. Witherspoon, "perhaps we had better move out of this. I'm not the best judge of such things, but I think we could find a better spot than this to stay during the storm."

"There! listen to that, will you?" exclaimed George as they heard a heavy boom that seemed to throb on the heavily charged air like the roar of a monster siege gun.

Horace was looking a little pale, though he set his teeth hard together, and apparently had made up his mind to at least refrain from showing the white feather, no matter how frightened he felt.

They did up their packs, keeping the rubber ponchos out, according to the advice of the patrol leader.

"At the worst we can put our heads through the slit in the center," he explained to them; "and then it serves as a waterproof to keep the upper part of you dry. But perhaps we can find an overhanging shelf of rock under which all of us can crawl."

"But how about that fine big tree yonder, couldn't we take shelter under that?" asked Horace, pointing to a massive oak with wide-spreading branches that made a canopy through which even a downpour of rain could hardly penetrate.

"Never!" Tom told him hastily. "A tree standing apart like that is always one of the most dangerous places you can select when seeking shelter from an electrical storm. Far better stay out and take your little soaking than to take chances in a barn, or under an isolated tree. In the forest it is not so bad, where there are hundreds of trees; but then you ought to be careful which one you select. Lightning loves a shining mark, you know."

"But that big tree has stood for one or two hundred years and never been hit by lightning," objected Horace, who could not understand exactly.

"So have others that I've seen shattered to fragments," Mr. Witherspoon told him, "but their time came at last, and without warning. We can't afford to accept the risk. There is only one safe way, and that is to avoid dangerous places."

The thunder grew louder with every peal. There were vivid flashes of lightning, too, each of which caused Horace to start and close his eyes, though he bravely suppressed the groan that seemed ready to burst from his lips.

Tom, as well as Mr. Witherspoon, Josh and Rob Shaefer, was constantly on the lookout for some sign of shelter. The ground seemed to favor the possibility of finding something in the line of overlapping lines of rock, which, forming a mushroom ledge, would screen them from the violence of the expected downpour.

After all, the honor of making the discovery went to Carl.

"Look over yonder between those bushes, sir; doesn't that seem to be about the kind of place you're after?" he called out, clutching the scout master by the arm.

So impressed was Mr. Witherspoon by what he saw that he immediately directed all of his charges to make for the spot pell-mell. The first big drops were coming down as they arrived, to find that, sure enough, the ledges of stone cropped out as much as six or seven feet.

"Crawl under wherever you can find a good place, and lie quiet!" ordered the scout master; and in several detachments they proceeded to get out of the rain, now commencing to fall heavily.

The wind rushed through the branches with a furious shriek; the thunder crashed; they heard several trees fall under the strain; and then without warning came a blinding flash, with a terrific ear-splitting roar of thunder accompanying it.

Horace, who with a number of others was in the cavity Tom had chosen, shrank close to the leader of the Black Bear Patrol.

"Oh, Tom!" he cried, when his voice could be heard, "didn't that sound right from where that magnificent big oak tree stood that I wanted to get under?"

"Just what it did!" Josh Kingsley told him, vehemently, while Tom said:

"We'll investigate after the storm is over, Horace; but right now I'm of the opinion your fine oak is lying shattered into fragments by the bolt that fell!"



CHAPTER XVII

THE LANDSLIDE

"Whether that's so or not," said the trembling Horace, "I feel that I've learned a lesson. I own up that I'm terribly afraid of lightning; but after this I'm going to face it, even if I have to lie out in the storm, rather than take chances."

It became difficult to carry on any sort of conversation, what with all the racket around them. The wind blew, the rain fell in sheets, and the thunder boomed so continuously that one deep-toned roll hardly died away before there would come another crash that made everybody start.

Still they were a thankful lot of boys as they lay under the ledges and counted the minutes creep past.

"We've managed to keep our jackets tolerably dry after all," announced Josh, at a time when there happened to be a little slackening of the gale; "and that's what everybody couldn't have done under the same conditions."

"Well, I should say not," another scout declared; "I know lots of fellows who think themselves extra smart around town, and yet put them up here and they'd either have been knocked out hiding under a tree that was struck, or else soaked through to the skin."

"It takes scouts to figure things out when the supreme test comes," said Josh.

"Yes, some scouts," added Felix, drily; as much as to tell Josh not to plume himself too highly, because this was not his bright thought.

A more terrific peal of thunder than any they had yet heard except that one outburst, stopped their talking for a brief time.

"I really believe the old storm is coming back to try it all over again!" cried Billy Button, in dismay.

"They often seem to do that," remarked another boy. "That has puzzled me more'n I can tell. What's the explanation, Mr. Witherspoon?"

"Well, as near as I can say," replied the scout master, "it's something like this. Most storms have a regular rotary movement as well as their forward drift. On that account a hurricane at sea has a core or center, where there is almost a dead clam."

"Yes, I've read about that," interrupted Josh. "Sea captains always mention it when they've found themselves in the worst of a big blow. It slackens up, and then comes on again worse than ever."

"But always from exactly the opposite quarter," the scout master continued.

"You can see how this is, for the wind coming from the east up to the time the core of the gale strikes them, is from the west after the center has passed by. We may be about to get the other side of this little storm now."

"Listen to it roaring, up on the mountain?" cried Horace.

"I wonder what those other fellows are doing about now?" Josh was heard to say, in a speculative way.

"Of course you mean Tony Pollock and his crowd," observed Tom. "Unless they've been as lucky as we were they're feeling pretty damp ground this time. Still Tony is a shrewd fellow, and may have discovered some sort of shelter before the downpour came."

"I hope so," Horace went on to say, for he was not at all cruel by disposition; "because I wouldn't want a dog to be out in this blow, much less boys I've known all my life, even if they have been an ugly lot."

There was a short interval of violent downpour. Then all at once the storm again slackened, and soon the rain ceased.

Horace had been whispering to Tom, and the pair of them now started to crawl out from under the shelter.

"Where are you going, Tom?" asked Josh, wondering what the strange move meant.

"Just mean to take a little walk over here," was the reply; "we'll be back in a few minutes. Horace is curious to see if it was the big oak that was struck."

"I'll go along, if you don't object," said the always ready Josh.

"Me too," called out a second scout.

Accordingly several of them followed Tom and Horace out from under the ledges. There were at least six in the group that hurried along toward the spot where the splendid oak had been noticed an hour before.

They were compelled to pick their way along, for little streams of water flowed in almost every direction; besides, the trees were shedding miniature Niagaras that would be very unpleasant if received in the back of the neck by any one passing underneath.

In this fashion they neared the place. Every boy was keenly on the lookout.

"Why, I don't see anything at all of the tree, and yet it certainly stood high above those smaller ones over there!" exclaimed Horace, presently, with a curious little quiver of awe in his voice.

Ten seconds later they had advanced far enough to pass the barrier formed by those lesser forest trees. Then the entire group of scouts came to a sudden stop and simply stared. Horace even rubbed his eyes as if he half believed he might be dreaming.

The big oak was gone!

Where it had stood they saw a shattered trunk not more than twenty feet high. Upon the ground in every direction lay torn and twisted limbs and smaller branches, just as they had been violently hurled when that terrible electric bolt struck with such amazing force.

"Whew!" gasped Josh, "there's an object lesson for you, Horace!"

"It's the same for each one of us," added Tom, gravely; "and for every scout who ever hears of it."

"Supposing we had taken refuge under that fine old oak," suggested Felix, with a shrug of his shoulders; "not one of us would have ever known what hit him."

"I've seen all I want to, Tom; let us go back," said Horace, who looked rather white by now. "Besides, I think it's going to pour down again shortly."

"That's right," added another scout; "you can hear it coming over there. Everybody scoot for the home base."

They lost no time in retracing their steps, and just managed to reach the friendly shelter of the ledges when the rain did come down, if anything harder than ever.

"There'll be a big boom in the river after this!" remarked Felix, when the rain had been falling in a deluge for ten minutes.

"I think it must be next door to what they call a cloud burst; wouldn't you say so, Mr. Witherspoon?" asked another boy.

"It seems like it," he was told by the scout master. "Meantime we ought to be very thankful we're so well provided for. No danger of being floated away this far up on the mountain. But the rain is going to stop presently."

"Getting softer already!" announced the watchful Josh.

"I didn't have any chance to ask you about the big oak?" Mr. Witherspoon continued.

"There isn't any," remarked Felix; "only a wreck that would make you hold your breath and rub your eyes."

"Then it was struck by that terrible bolt, was it?" asked the scout master.

"Smashed, into flinders," replied Josh. "You never in all your life saw such a wreck, sir."

"We'll all take a glance at it before we leave this place," the leader of the hiking troop told them. "But from the way things look there's a good chance we may think it best to put in the night right here, where we can be sure of a dry place for sleeping."

"That strikes me as a good idea, sir," said Tom, promptly, for he had been considering proposing that very plan himself, though of course he did not see fit to say so now.

"All I hope is that the river doesn't sweep away a part of Lenox," one of the boys was heard to say. "You remember that years ago, before any of us can remember, they had a bad flood, and some lives were lost."

"Oh yes, but that was in the spring," explained Josh, "when the heavy snows melted, and what with ten days of rain the ground couldn't take up any more water. It's a whole lot different in June. Besides, we've been having it pretty hot and dry lately, remember, and the earth can drink up a lot of water."

"Still, you never can tell what a flood will do," George was heard to say; but as they all understood his way of looking at the worst side of things none of the other boys took much stock in his gloomy predictions.

"We must hustle to find some dry wood, so as to cook our supper, and keep warm afterwards," Felix told them.

"Leave us alone to do that," Josh announced. "No matter how hard it has been raining you can always get plenty of dry stuff out of the heart of a stump or a log. And thank goodness we brought an ax along with us."

"Say, did you feel anything then?" called out one of the other boys. "Seemed to me the rocks might be trembling as they did when it thundered extra loud. There it goes again! Get that, fellows?"

They certainly did, and a thrill of wonder and sudden anxiety passed over them when the trembling sensation became even more pronounced. Then they realized that a strange rumbling sound had arisen. It came from further up the mountain, and yet drew rapidly closer, increasing in intensity, until it began to assume the proportions of a terrible roaring, while the rocks vibrated in a sickening way.

"Oh! it must be an earthquake!" shrilled one scout, in alarm.

"Lie still, everybody!" shouted Mr. Witherspoon; "don't think of crawling out. It's a landslide coming down the side of the mountain!"



CHAPTER XVIII

CAMPING ON THE LAKE SHORE

For several minutes the scouts lay there and fairly held their breath in the grip of that sudden fear that had come upon them. As the rumbling noise and the sickening sensation of the rock trembling under them passed away they regained in some degree their former confidence.

"The worst is over, I think," said Mr. Witherspoon; "but we'll stay where we are a while longer."

Content to abide by his judgment, and glad that they had escaped being caught in that avalanche of earth and rocks, the boys kept quiet until finally, as there was no repetition of the landslide, they were allowed to issue forth.

Investigation showed them where the slip had occurred. Some fault in the formation of the mountain side had allowed it to happen, the conditions being just right.

Later on the rest of the scouts went over to view the wrecked oak, bringing back some of the splinters of wood to use in making the fire they expected to have going presently.

Considering the two narrow escapes they had passed through recently, one from lightning and the other from the avalanche, the boys all felt that they had reason to be thankful.

"You'll have some remarkable things to set down in that log book of yours for this particular day, Tom," said the scout master; "and I think you can do the subject justice. I hope to read an account of this trip in print one of these days."

"Oh! there's a small chance of my account taking the first prize, I'm afraid Mr. Witherspoon," laughed the leader of the Black Bear Patrol; "I imagine there'll be scores of competitors in the race, and plenty of them can write things just as well as I can, perhaps even better."

"Yes," remarked Josh, "but don't forget that every account of an outing trip has to be absolutely true. No wonderful imaginary stories will be allowed in the competition, the rules said."

"Yes, that's just what they did state," added Felix; "you've got to have things authenticated—wasn't that the word the paper used?"

"Attested to in due form by the scout master who accompanied the troop," Mr. Witherspoon explained, smiling; "and in this case I can do that with an easy conscience."

"And if things keep going as they have been lately," declared another boy, "there never was and never can be a trip so crowded with interesting happenings as this same hike of Lenox Troop over Big Bear Mountain."

The fire was made without any particular trouble, just as Josh and some of the others had predicted. The boys knew how to get dry fuel out of the heart of a stump, and once the fire was roaring it hardly mattered what kind of wood was used, since the heat quickly dried it out.

Then supper was cooked as usual, only on this occasion they dispensed with some of the conditions that were not absolutely necessary, such as having two separate fires.

On the whole they managed to get on, and every one admitted he could dispose of no more when finally the meal was concluded.

Later on the boys sat around, and while most of them compared notes regarding their experiences during the exciting day just closed, others proceeded to attend to certain duties they did not wish to postpone any longer.

As for Tom Chesney, it was an aim with him to write out his account of daily events while they were still fresh in his mind. He was afraid many of the little details might be forgotten if he delayed; and in the end those were what would give most of the charm to the narrative of the scout doings.

The storm had passed on, and above them they saw the stars peeping out once more. Long into the night the steady drip of water could be heard, telling of numerous little rivulets that still ran down the side of Big Bear Mountain, though by morning most of these would have dried up.

They slept under the friendly ledges. It was, after all was said, a pretty "rocky" bed, as Josh termed it; but since the ground outside was so well soaked, and there was always more or less peril in the shape of another landslide, none of the boys complained, or expressed his feelings in more than sundry grunts.

With the coming of morning the strange camp was astir, and one by one the boys painfully crawled out, to try to get some of the stiffness from their limbs by jumping around and "skylarking."

About nine o'clock the hike was resumed Mr. Witherspoon did not think it advisable to go on up the mountain any further after that avalanche; he believed they would have just as good a time passing around the base, and in the end making a complete circuit of the high elevation.

The day turned out to be a delightful one after the storm. It seemed as though the air had been purified, and even in the middle of the day it was not unpleasantly warm.

"We ought to make that little lake by the afternoon, oughtn't we, Tom?" the scout master asked, as he plodded along at the side of the patrol leader.

Another consultation of the map Tom carried followed, and it was decided that they must be within a half a mile of the water. Ten minutes later Josh declared he had caught a glimpse of the sun shining on dancing wavelets; and shortly afterwards a sudden turn brought them in full view of the pond.

It was hardly more than that, covering perhaps ten acres; but the boys declared they had never set eyes on a prettier sight as they arrived on the near shore, and proceeded to make a camp there.

"If we only had a canoe up here what a great time we'd have fishing," said Josh, who was particularly fond of casting a fly for a trout or bass, and scorned to use the humble angleworm, as ordinary fishermen do.

"What's the matter with taking a log and straddling the same?" asked Tom. "Three of us could manage it, one to troll with a spoon, another to cast near the shore and the third to paddle the log."

"Let's try that in the morning," suggested Josh, eagerly; "it's too late in the day to have any great luck now. But I like the looks of that pond—and I think we might get a good string of fish from it, if the wind's right."

That night their fire glowed upon the border of the water. It was a new experience, and the boys, seeing Tom busily engaged in writing, told him to do full justice to the theme, for it deserved to be recorded exactly in the way they saw it.

It was a comfortable night they spent by the pond, in sharp contrast to the preceding one when flattened out under the rocky ledges. Every one got a good sound night's sleep, so that when morning came they were in prime condition for the work of the day.

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