Alan Douglas.

Boy Scouts: Tenderfoot Squad: or, Camping at Raccoon Lodge



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CHAPTER I
SURVEYOR RUFUS AND HIS FRIENDS

"All aboard for Raccoon Bluff. Those who can't get aboard take the rail route! Hi! Elmer, squeeze in!"

"On deck, Lil Artha; but do you expect me to climb on top of that mountain of camp duffle, and other luggage you've got piled up, so that your car looks like a tin peddler's outfit?"

"Oh! we've reserved just one crack for you, Elmer. That's right!" sang out the khaki-clad boy at the wheel, "work your way in alongside George Robbins, who's holding down the rear seat with Lil Artha. I've got Alec McGregor beside me here. And after all, worse luck, I had to leave some things behind that I wanted to take the worst kind."

"What's this sticking out – a gun? You ought to know that it's the off season for most kinds of game, Lil Artha," expostulated the latest passenger, as, following directions, he painfully forced his way into the heavily laden car.

"Yes, I know, and I don't intend to do any great stunts at hunting, Elmer. I only thought it might be good policy to fetch my little reliable Marlin along, because sometimes it's mighty pleasant to know you've got some means of defense handy in case of trouble."

"Hear! hear!" ejaculated the boy answering to the name of George Robbins, and who it may be said in passing – for the reader would soon find it out anyway – was a regular born "Doubting Thomas," who nearly always had to be shown, and seldom believed any statement unless it were backed up with abundant proof. "Sometimes there are other beasts abroad in the wild woods besides the common four-footed kind. I believe now we've all had our experiences with tramps and yeggmen of the Weary Willie species. For one, I'm glad you fetched your gun along, Lil Artha."

Meanwhile the driver had once more started the car, and they were moving along the streets of the home town. Several groups of boys, some of whom also wore the well-known khaki of the scouts, called out to them in greeting, and even waved their hats with a salute. Envious eyes followed the car as it sped along in a cloud of dust; for it was pretty generally known that the lucky five were starting off on a week's camping trip; and those fellows of the Hickory Ridge group of Boy Scouts could anticipate a glorious time ahead for the favored ones.

While the big old seven-passenger touring car, which the father of Rufus Snodgrass had loaned them for the occasion, is speeding along, doing very good time as long as the road is fair, a few words connected with these lively lads may not come in amiss.

Elmer Chenowith was the leader of the well-known Wolf Patrol, and those boys who have had the good luck to own some of the previous stories in this series do not need to be told that he was a capable and resourceful lad, who through his merits as a first-class scout had received from Headquarters the privilege of acting as assistant scout-master, a r?le only filled by the most efficient in a troop.

"Lil Artha" was really Arthur Stansbury.

When he was very young he had been given this nickname, and even after he suddenly shot up like a mushroom, so that he now measured a full head taller than any of his mates, he could not shake off the ridiculous appellation. People always smiled when hearing it for the first time; but then Lil Artha treated the matter as a huge joke, and often joined in the laugh when the subject came up.

George Robbins was a pretty good sort of a chap, only he did worry his chums by his continual fault finding, and that everlasting desire to have everything proved before he could "swallow" it. At one time he had been inclined to be thin, and a rather poor hand at meal times; but of late his folks seldom had to ring the dinner bell twice for George; indeed, as a rule he was keeping an ear to the ground listening for the welcome sound.

The other two boys were new members of Hickory Ridge Troop, and had not as yet progressed beyond the greenhorn stage. Indeed, it was partly with the hope that various opportunities for teaching the "tenderfoot squad" – as Lil Artha persisted in calling the pair – all sorts of useful knowledge that scouts must sooner or later acquire, that had induced Elmer to give up another partly formed plan and consent to accompany the expedition into the woods.

Rufus Snodgrass was a rather peculiar boy, taken in all. Elmer believed he had never up to that time come in contact with just such an odd fellow. He had been somewhat spoiled by a doting mamma, though Elmer believed he possessed many good qualities about him, if only some revolution could only bring them forward.

In the first place Rufus lacked self-reliance to a remarkable extent. He could not seem to feel confidence in himself when some sudden or alarming emergency arose. On this account he turned out to be somewhat of a failure as a baseball player, for when he saw a high ball driven to his outfield his heart always sank "to his shoes," as he told himself he never could get that fly in the wide world; and lacking confidence he seldom did hang on to it.

Elmer had faith to believe he could cure Rufus of this grievous fault if only he associated with him in camp for a time. He would show him a score of things such as go to make good scouts, and teach him how to "hit the knot squarely in the centre," when chopping wood, to begin with.

Alec McGregor was a boy who had not been a great while in America. His folks, needless to say, hailed from Scotland, and freckle-faced and red-headed Alec had a delightful little "burr" to his tones when talking. Like so many of his kind he was inclined to be a bit pugnacious, and hot-tempered; still Elmer believed him to be both warm-hearted, and as true as steel. After he had been with the scouts a while, and picked up a few lessons in the broad principles of the craft, the patrol leader fancied that Alec would prove one of the smartest members of the troop.

He had a little sister named Jessie at home, a pretty rosy-cheeked Scotch lassie, who was the pride of his heart. The boy never tired of chanting her praises, and often sang ballads, in which "Sweet Jessie, the Flower of Dumblane," occupied the leading part. And Alec had a robust tenor voice in the bargain, which his mates always liked to hear when seated about the camp fire.

Now as to their reason for taking this thirty-mile trip, laden down with tent, camp duffle, edibles enough for a regiment, and all sorts of traps in the bargain, so that the car did resemble a moving van, just as Elmer had remarked when it stopped at his gate for him to work his way aboard.

Mr. Snodgrass was a rich man who had latterly taken up his residence in the town. He had come into possession of a large tract of land, partly heavily wooded, and lying up along Raccoon Bluff, a place the boys had often heard of, but none of them ever visited.

Now, it seemed that Rufus had just one great ambition, which was to become a civil engineer when he grew up. His mother had supplied him with all the necessary instruments for the calling of a surveyor, and for several years now Rufus had associated himself at odd times with some people engaged in the business, doing very hard work for a boy of his customary easy habits, simply because his heart was enlisted in the game.

He now believed that he could carry out the lines about a tract of ground as well as the next one; and upon hearing his father say that he distrusted the accuracy of a recent survey that had been given him of the new territory purchased, Rufus became possessed of an idea which he was now engaged in carrying out.

His folks had readily given their consent that he should get several of his scout chums to accompany him up to Raccoon Ridge, and assist him to re-survey the ground. Indeed, Mr. Snodgrass, who was not blind to the failings of his only son and heir, insisted that he coax Elmer Chenowith to go along, as a necessary preliminary to his loaning the big car and also paying all the expense in the way of provisions.

The real-estate man was a good reader of human nature, and after hearing all the fine things that were being said about the Chenowith boy he took occasion to have a heart-to-heart talk with Elmer, in which he told the patrol leader how much he hoped association with a fellow like him would be worth to Rufus, and actually begged him to consent to be a member of the little company.

So that was the way things stood. Rufus, of course, did not know about this secret understanding between his father and Elmer; had he done so he might have rebelled, for he was exceedingly high-spirited. As it was he felt that all these good fellows were only keeping him company because of their love for outdoor life.

It was that sly rascal, George, who had managed to get possession of the ear of Rufus, and gain his consent to make out the list of edibles they would likely want while away. Which fact accounted for the "young grocery store," as Lil Artha termed it, that was taken along. But then, no healthy boy has ever been known to be dismayed at a superabundance of good things to eat; and as Rufus's father did not object to the size of the bill, none of them felt he really ought to say a single word.

They made no attempt to speed, for what did thirty-odd miles amount to when in a car, with an abundance of gasolene to take one through? An hour saw them well on their way. Farmhouses were now becoming "as scarce as hens' teeth," to quote Lil Artha. As they had not started until nearly ten in the morning, owing to various causes, it was now getting well on toward noon.

"What say we pull up at the next farm-house we strike, and get dinner, if the good woman of the place will agree?" asked the driver of the expedition, who had in the beginning laid down the law that no one was going to spend one cent except himself, for his father had insisted on this.

"Suits me, all right," said George, with alacrity. "You see, I had breakfast pretty early this morning, and right now I'm feeling about as empty as Si Hunker's hen-coop was that morning after the gypsies camped near his place."

Some ten minutes afterwards they found a wayside farm-house, and the woman, for a consideration, agreed to cook dinner for the crowd. Elmer on his part took occasion to pick up considerable useful information concerning the region which generally went under the name of Raccoon Bluff, possibly because there chanced to be an unusually large number of those "ring-tailed varmints" so destructive to corn fields, and poultry flocks, making their dens in hollow trees around that vicinity.

Among other things the farmer warned Elmer to keep an eye out for Jem Shock. The oddity of the name impressed the boy, and he asked what there might be about the said Jem to give them any cause for uneasiness.

"Well, Jem has been a thorn in the flesh of folks up in this neck of the woods for nigh ten years now, I guess," was what the tiller of the soil told him. "He c'n work when he wants to, but he'd a heap rather loaf, with a gun over his shoulder. He fishes and hunts out of season. I've seen him spearing trout, and more'n once heard how he was known to be taking meat home in the close season, that couldn't have been sheep or veal. Besides that, he's a quarrelsome man, and a desperate character. I wouldn't trust him out of my sight, for I believe he'd steal from a camp as quick as anything. But I hope you don't have any trouble with Jem."

Elmer hoped so, too. At the same time he found himself wondering whether, after all, some of those country people might not be judging the man harshly. Perhaps Jem Shock might not be such a bad character, on better acquaintance. And Elmer decided that if the opportunity should come to him he would take occasion to know the old poacher at close range, so as to study him well.

Once more they were on the move, and as this farm-house would be the last they expected to run across, all of them were keenly on the lookout for signs of the ridge which would mark their arrival at Raccoon Bluff.

They had possibly gone six or seven miles since eating that glorious farm dinner, when suddenly as they were passing slowly through a piece of woodland where the road was a bit soft and wet, there rang out the nearby report of a rifle, startling them all, and causing George Robbins to involuntarily duck his head, as though his first suspicion was that some one had fired at them.

Then came a crashing in the bushes, and across the road sprang a buck, whose antlers were just reaching their full growth after the late rutting season.

Never had the boys seen a prettier picture than when that buck bounded lightly across the road. Lil Artha mechanically reached out a hand toward his gun, though, of course, he never would have thought of using the same while the law protected the game. Then the frightened animal plunged into the thick copse on the opposite side of the woodland road, and could be heard bounding swiftly away.

CHAPTER II
THE GAME POACHER, JEM SHOCK

Rufus had involuntarily halted the car at the very instant the shot was heard, so that the boys were stationary at the time the deer leaped past them.

"Oh! what a beaut!" exclaimed George Robbins.

"The equal of any Scotch stag I ever saw in the preserves!" echoed Alec, who had stared with eyes that were round with wonder.

"But somebody shot at him, all the same, don't you know, and the close season on in the bargain," Lil Artha hastened to say, indignantly.

"Hush! here he comes!" observed Elmer.

They all heard a hasty trampling sound, as though someone might be hurrying through the bushes close by. It came from exactly the same quarter from which the alarmed buck had appeared.

Then a moving figure caught the gaze of the five scouts. A burly man, roughly dressed, strode into view. He stared at the car and its occupants, as though he considered the boys to be mostly responsible for his recent ill-luck.

"Howdye, mister," sang out Lil Artha, not to be cowed by angry looks; "are we on the right road for Raccoon Bluff, would you mind telling us?"

Suspicion lay in the look which the man was now bending on them. He acted as if he imagined they might be more than they seemed; for a guilty conscience can discover a game warden in every inoffensive traveler, especially when the culprit is suddenly caught in the very act of trying to kill a deer out of season.

"Raccoon Bluff ain't far ahead o' ye, if that's whar ye happen tuh be headin' fur," he told them grumblingly; "but might I arsk what yuh a-doin' away up here in this forsaken kentry?"

"Oh!" Lil Artha told him blithely, "we're off on a little trip, and mean to spend a week or so under canvas around this section. You see, the father of the young fellow at the wheel here, Rufus Snodgrass, of Hickory Ridge, has lately come into possession of some property up this way, and we're going to find out if it's been surveyed right and proper. If you see our smoke some time or other, drop in and have a little chin with us, stranger. We nearly always have the coffeepot on the fire, and the latch-string is out."

Perhaps the man may have understood this sort of a genial invitation, but all the same he gave no indication of being pleased because of it. The look of suspicion could still be noticed about his dark face, and he twisted his rifle about in his hands kind of nervously, as though he wished he could keep it from being seen.

"I reckon I ain't a-goin' tuh bother ye much, strangers," he mumbled. "I got my own business tuh look arter. Yuh see, I'm the assistant game warden o' this region, an' it takes a heap o' trampin' tuh kiver my territory."

With an odd sort of chuckle and grin he nodded his head toward them, and then whirling on his heel vanished amidst the scrub. They soon lost track of his retreating footsteps.

Lil Artha laughed in his peculiar way.

"Huh! smoked the coon out, didn't I? Game warden, did he call himself? Whoo! to think of his colossal nerve! I bet you any warden in the State would give a month's salary to have been here, and caught him in the act of shooting at a deer when the law is on."

"Then he was a braw poacher, was he?" burst from Alec. "Aweel, I can feel for him in a way, because, to tell you the truth, lads, I've snared my hare more than a few times across the big water. But then it's different there, because all the game country is owned by rich dukes and lords, and the poor man hasn't any show; while over here all he has to do is to tramp off into the wild woods for a couple of days, and take his chances.

"Elmer, do you think that could have been Jem Shock?" asked Rufus just then.

The patrol leader showed his surprise, for up to then he did not know that Rufus had ever heard that name; at least, the other had kept his knowledge to himself, for some reason or other.

"I'm pretty sure that's who he is," he told the boy at the wheel; "but how did you know about him and his ways; when the farmer only told Lil Artha and myself?"

Rufus chuckled, and looked wise.

"Oh! I plead guilty," he acknowledged. "I heard stories about Jem Shock before I left home, but I wasn't silly enough to pass them along to the rest of the party, because some of you might have changed your minds, and found an excuse for not coming on the trip."

Lil Artha snorted indignantly.

"Now, don't get mad, Lil Artha," said Rufus, promptly.

"Oh! I'm not riled so much because you kept your knowledge to yourself, Rufus," the tall scout told him; "but on account of you thinking Elmer, George and myself could be shooed off by such a little thing as that. If you looked back at the history of the Wolf Patrol you'd find that the boys belonging to it have all been through a heap of excitement. We've exposed so-called ghosts, had adventures with ugly hobo bands, been in forest fires, fought floods and – well, time wouldn't allow me to enumerate one-half of the things that have befallen us."

"That's enough, Lil Artha," said Elmer, seeking to soothe the long-legged scout, and pour oil on the troubled waters. "Rufus will come to know us better after he's graduated from the tenderfoot class. But suppose we start on again. That incident is closed. We may and we may not see more of Jem Shock. For myself, I'm half hoping I do, because he's something of a character, and opens up a new type for a fellow to study."

"So far as I'm concerned," observed Rufus, scornfully, "I hope we never run across him again. He looked like a bad egg to me, and his eyes had a wicked stare in them, that I didn't like."

"Oh! that can be easily accounted for," said Elmer, as the car once more commenced to glide along the rough woods-road. "You see, in the first place he had that feeling of guilt that makes a rascal look at all the rest of the world as his enemies. Then again I half imagine Jem thinks the game wardens are back of our coming up to this neck of the woods."

"Game wardens, Elmer!" exclaimed Alec; "how could that be, and what would scouts have to do with the officers of the State?"

"Well, scouts seem to have a hand in a good many things that are connected with keeping the laws, and making communities live on a higher standard," the patrol leader explained. "I could tell you of dozens of things our troop has been connected with along those lines. And why shouldn't they enter into an arrangement with the head warden to get evidence against some of these guides who kill deer out of season, and hotel proprietors who offer it to their guests as 'mountain sheep'?"

Alec apparently was a bit puzzled to understand all this, and so Lil Artha, leaning forward, took occasion to explain it more fully as they continued on.

They were passing into an even wilder section of country than any thus far encountered. Not a sign of the white man's presence could they see except in some sections where the original timber had been cut away years back, and a second growth now covered the land; with here and there an old forest monarch left to overtop its neighbors like a giant looking down on a pigmy host.

"This just suits me to a fraction," Lil Artha was saying, as they began to ascend what seemed to be another rise of land. "Why, it's as free from the restraints of civilization as that Adirondack region where we went with Toby Jones last winter, to visit his hermit uncle, Caleb, who was living all by himself in the heart of the wilderness. My lands! if only I thought we'd have half as much fun on this trip as we ran across then, I'd be happy as a clam at high tide."

"Perhaps we will," Elmer told him. "You never can tell what's ahead of you when starting out on one of these trips."

He was thinking at the time of Jem Shock, and wondering whether the poacher might not take it into his head to make things interesting for them during their stay along Raccoon Ridge. Secretly Elmer was almost hoping he would see something more of the strange man. He wondered how Jem lived; what his ambition, providing he had any, might be; whether he cared for a single human creature besides himself in all the wide world – these and many more thoughts were gripping Elmer's mind, and he could not shake them off.



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