Alan Douglas.

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



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Both tenderfeet were visibly impressed with this show of knowledge on the part of the elongated scout. Doubtless they mentally determined that eventually they too would be able to tell just such things by using the power of deduction that a scout's education puts into his head.

Conrad turned sharply upon arriving at the small stream. Elmer noticed that it ran from the lake they were just in the act of leaving; and this fact told him the other must set somewhat lower down, and have an outlet of its own.

All these things were interesting enough to fellows who had made a habit of observing whatever took place around them; nevertheless, Elmer wished the main object of their coming might be attained without much further loss of time. He was himself beginning to grow exceedingly nervous from the long-continued strain; and could understand just how poor Conrad must feel.

Lil Artha was more and more amazed to learn what a wild bit of scenery lay within thirty miles of the home town. He never would have believed it possible, had he been told about it by any one; but seeing is a convincing way of settling things, and Lil Artha certainly knew he could depend on his own eyes.

Through small openings among the trees they quickly caught glimpses of the other sheet of water. The second lake was about the same in size as the first, but lacked of the wonderfully rugged surroundings that made the other so beautiful. Still, had they not set eyes on Mirror Lake, the boys would have quickly called this one a spot well worth a long tramp just to see, not to mention its potentialities along the line of fishing.

Once again they had come across a fallen tree that lay close to the trail, even bridging the little stream with its trunk, and forming a picture that Elmer immediately resolved to take with his snapshot camera before leaving the region.

"Looks to me," remarked Rufus shrewdly, "as if the old storm must have hit this particular section a whole lot more violently than any place we've struck so far. Right from where we stand I can see three, yes, four trees that have been uprooted, and tumbled over, all lying in the same direction, too, which is odd, I should think."

"Oh! that's a common occurrence," said Lil Artha, "I've seen hundreds of fallen trees in a place where a hurricane passed through the timber, and they lay like a sheaf of matches, all in the same identical direction. You see, the same wind took them down, as it did here. But so far as I can notice, there's no sign of anybody under this tree; how about it, Elmer?"

"No, he wasn't here when this fellow crashed down," admitted the other, in a satisfied tone. "He had either passed farther along, or else had not reached this place."

"Then let's go on farther," pleaded Conrad.

Lil Artha knew that their chances of finding Jem were gradually getting less and less, as they covered more of the ground he must have passed over. He wondered what they should do if after all their efforts they could manage to obtain no trace of the missing man.

Perhaps it would be good policy to head for the cabin, in the hope that since Conrad had left, his father might have managed to make his way home, and consequently they would find him there, too weak and exhausted to start out again.

"We must go around the lake, to make sure," the boy was saying in a strained tone that cut Elmer to the heart, because he could understand how Conrad must be beginning to fear that his father was dead, since he did not answer any of his cries.

As they began to circle the new sheet of water, Conrad again lifted his childish treble and kept calling that one word: "father!" He seemed to have faith to believe that if only he could reach the ears of Jem Shock, an answer of some kind would be immediately forthcoming.

Again his appeals were mocked by some of the startled birds, unaccustomed to having their solitary haunts invaded by two-legged creatures that gave forth such doleful sounds. Step by step the little party persevered along their course, following the shore of the second lake. It was harder going than before, because of the density of the growth surrounding this body of water; but Conrad kept along, always on the lookout for signs or sounds that would assure him success was near at hand.

After all, it was Lil Artha who gave the word, and he thrilled them when he went on to say:

"I think I heard a voice just then, fellows, and it seemed to come from over on the other side of that little bayou just ahead of us. Get a good grip on yourself, Conrad, because mebbe we're going to find him right away."

The boy was really beyond the power of making any verbal reply, but the look he threw Lil Artha, because of those cheering words, was full of gratitude. To gain the other side of the indentation, they must go around for quite some distance. Conrad, too, had by now managed to remember something; and finding his voice he weakly remarked:

"Oh, yes! I know now where we are. Father told me he always had the best luck with a line set from that point over there. The fish seem to be larger than anywhere else about the lake, too. Oh! and I can see that there is another big tree down, right in sight!"

Elmer knew that this was so, for he himself had already made the same significant discovery. He raised his voice and gave a lusty shout.

"Jem – Jem Shock, are you there?" was what he called.

Then they all listened eagerly. A woodpecker tapped noisily on a dead stump; but even the breeze seemed to temporarily stop rustling through the tops of the tall trees, as though sympathizing with their anxiety, and bent on giving all possible chances for their hearing any reply to this hail.

"There, somebody answered you, Elmer," snapped Rufus, delightedly.

"We've found him," said Elmer, gravely. "Be brave now, my boy," as he laid a hand affectionately on the shoulders of poor trembling Conrad. "For one thing, he's alive, and that's enough to be thankful for."

"Yes, oh! yes, I am thankful!" cried the boy, "but please hurry, Elmer. Oh! what he must have suffered; but he did answer you, didn't he, and so he must be alive! Poor father. We're coming!" he tried to call aloud, though the effort only resulted in a screech; "I'm here, father, your own Conrad! Mother sent me to find you. Just be patient, and we'll soon reach you. Oh! if only I had wings how glad I would be!"

Elmer and Lil Artha led the way. They quickly started around the tongue of marshy land bordering the little bay, for the ground was low there; and doubtless the natural outlet of the twin lakes would be discovered somewhere in that section, the scouts concluded.

Now they were advancing upon the fallen tree. They could see it was a big one, and that it reached almost to the water's edge as it lay there, a derelict of the recent storm.

Every eye was keenly on the alert to discover a first sign of the unfortunate poacher who had been caught, not by the stern hand of the law, but through a freak of the storm, and pinned to the ground, so that he was utterly helpless to free himself from the toils.

Then Conrad gave a sudden shriek.

"I see him!" was the burden of his shrill cry. "Oh! there, he moved and tried to wave his hand at me! Elmer, did you see him do that? He's really alive, and that is enough for me!"

CHAPTER XV
RUFUS MAKES A STAND

They were quickly at the tree, for every one just had to keep up with Conrad, who fairly flew along, such was his eagerness. Elmer saw immediately that they had a pretty tough job before them, for the tree in falling had caught Jem Shock fairly and squarely in a trap. A good-sized limb bore him down so that he could hardly do more than breathe.

His face was streaked with blood from various scratches, and so he looked considerably worse than might otherwise have been the case. At sight of Conrad, however, he actually smiled, which was enough to prove what a hold the lad had upon the father's heart.

"We'll get you out of that in short order, Jem," said Elmer, promptly. "You see, we fetched our ax along for just such a purpose. Lil Artha, get busy, and start a cross-cut of this limb. Strike in about here. I'll spell you if you want me to."

"Shucks! watch the chips fly, that's all!" jeered the tall fellow, as he immediately set to work; and the lively ring of steel smiting hard wood rang through the aisles of the adjacent forest as well as out upon the water of the second lake, where a loon was swimming, and watching these newcomers suspiciously.

Elmer noted the fact that the limb seemed to have fallen directly across only one of Jem's legs, a rather peculiar circumstance, by the way, he considered. There was not the least doubt in his mind but that the leg must have been broken; indeed, he could already see that this was so. Apparently, then, they must be ready to make that stretcher which had already been mentioned to the greenhorns; but then such a task presented few real difficulties to experienced scouts, trained in all the ways of the woods, where every one had to know how to do things.

Conrad was fondling his father, who had one free arm about the shoulders of the little chap. No doubt Conrad took occasion to tell Jem how kind these new friends of his had been, and how readily they had responded to his appeal for assistance.

The scout-master wondered just how Jem would take it. That proud spirit of his was bound to show itself. He might feel indebted to the others, and not mind so much, but to realize that one of his rescuers was the son and heir of the very Snodgrass whom he believed he had such abundant cause to despise and hate, would gall him, and "cut to the quick."

Yes, Elmer, watching, could see the different shades of feeling crossing the strong face of the injured man, just as sometimes he had observed clouds chasing athwart the blue sky in fleecy array. Love for the child; pain because of his injury and long wait there by the lakeside; suspicion concerning the presence of Rufus Snodgrass, and something like genuine gratitude toward the rest of the scouts – all these varying emotions Elmer could detect as they passed in review across the face of the other.

In the endeavor to take Jem's thoughts from his late precarious condition, Elmer now started to talk with him, asking how it happened that a woodsman of his long experience should be caught by a falling tree in a storm.

The man laughed a bit harshly, as though disgusted with himself.

"It was an accident, pure and simple, boy," he went on to say. "Jem Shock never believed he would be caught like a rat in a trap; but I ducked the wrong way, my foot slipped, and before I could recover I was down. So I've lain here for hours, hoping my Conrad might come along, for he knew about the lakes, and where I went to look after my fish-lines. I never once thought about you boys. Yes, I'm glad, of course, you came, because Conrad never could have got me out alone; only it hurts me to be beholden to his son."

And Rufus, hovering near by, heard this. His face flushed painfully, and he bit his lips until the blood came, while his eyes flashed indignantly. With an effort, however, he managed to get a grip on himself. Perhaps it was the look he caught on the face of the scout-master that brought this about. At any rate, when Rufus spoke, his voice was fairly calm; and, moreover, there was a note of entreaty in it.

"Jem Shock," he said, in thrilling tones, while the methodical "chunk" of Lil Artha's ax told how its sharp edge was biting deeply into the hard wood of that limb by which the man was pinned down, "please listen to me. I can understand just how you must feel while you believe my father did you a great wrong. I don't blame you a particle either, for feeling mean toward him. But you must know that sometimes terrible mistakes do happen, and that even the best of men may blunder. I tell you I am dead sure such a thing came about, and that at this day my father is utterly unconscious of the fact that you believe he wronged you."

"Not quite that, youngster," said the man grimly. "He knows before now what my opinion of Hiram Snodgrass is; because, after I learned that he'd come to a town near by to live, I sent him a letter."

Rufus refused to be disconcerted by this startling intelligence.

"All right," he said, "I'm real glad you did, Jem. My father ought to know what a cloud his name is under. I meant to tell him all about it myself just as soon as I got home from this trip. Make your mind up you'll hear from him before long, Jem. He'll never rest easy until he's investigated the thing to the bottom, and found out the whole truth. If some men bamboozled you, and let you believe he was in the bunch, my father'll fix them, all right. They'll do the right thing by you when he gets after them with a sharp stick, or I'll eat my head. I guess I ought to know my dad better than anybody else could, and he's straight as a die, even if he is a real estate speculator."

Elmer was visibly impressed with the splendid way in which Rufus stood up for his father. He only hoped the elder Snodgrass might prove to be just the kind of man the boy claimed. Jem Shock, too, could not but be somewhat affected by the sturdy championship of the accused man's cause; though a sneer found a place on his blood-streaked face, and his eye still showed signs of coldness and unbelief.

At least, he allowed the subject to drop as though he did not wish to say anything further in that line, which was so unpleasant. He confined himself to petting Conrad, and giving Lil Artha further directions as to just how to finish his task; for, as a competent woodsman, Jem Shock knew all about the use of an ax. Elmer could see that, despite his agonizing condition, the man had kept his wits about him.

Finally, the limb separated, and after that the boys, by uniting their strength, were enabled to raise the portion that still held Jem pinned down. He wriggled free, although the pain was so great that he almost fainted.

After that, Elmer took charge again. Water was brought, and a fire made to warm it in the pail Alec had been told to carry along. Once it was heated, Elmer proceeded to cleanse first Jem's face, so that he might not look so terribly grim; and after that he started to get at the broken leg.

He found that it was indeed pretty serious, for it had swollen dreadfully on account of the neglect; but Elmer was a pretty good amateur surgeon, as his chums all knew, and understood just how to go about setting the fractured bone, after carefully washing the limb.

Alec and Rufus had their hands full just about that time. They did not want to lose a single thing of all that was going on around them, and were often called upon by Elmer to lend a helping hand. It was noticeable that Rufus was always the one to do this. Jem seemed to visibly shrink from the touch of the boy's fingers, as though they affected him somehow; but even this aversion failed to prevent Rufus from persevering. Evidently, he was determined that Jem should know that the Snodgrass family did not have all the bad traits with which he, Jem, had in his mind endowed them; and, besides, Rufus was bound to keep in close touch with the man who had so long believed ill of his father.

It pleased Elmer more than a little to notice this trait in the tenderfoot. He believed Rufus had the making of a good scout, and that association with the other fellows of the troop would in time serve to cast out the bad traits in his character mainly produced through the mistaken weakness of his adoring mother, who had always given in to his every whim.

But the wonderfully clever way in which Elmer managed to handle that broken leg, and then bind it up carefully, was not the only thing Rufus and Alec had to watch in their ardent desire to acquire practical knowledge of what a scout should know.

There was the industrious Lil Artha, working away like a trooper, and making a rude but amply sufficient stretcher, on which the wounded man could recline, while four sturdy boys bore him toward his home, since it would be utterly impossible for Jem to even hobble, with that injured limb under him.

Both greenhorns watched the stretcher grow, and marveled at the skill displayed by the accomplished Lil Artha, who felt proud to be the one to show them how easy it was for a fellow who had been taught to bring his knowledge into play when the emergency arose.

Finally everything was done. Elmer had bound the leg up so firmly that Jem was full of praise for his work.

"I want to say that you boys sure know your business," he told Elmer, still refusing to look at the persistent Rufus, who continued to hover near him, despite all these rebuffs, for he was a stubborn fellow, it seemed, and would not abandon his plans easily. "I've heard some about scouts, and thought they didn't amount to much, but I reckon I'll have to change my mind after this. A regular sawbones couldn't have done the job neater, Elmer. I'm thanking you for it too; and I calculate that a lot Conrad's been telling us about you must be true."

"Oh! it is, father, it is!" ejaculated the pleased boy, with tears in his eyes. "Elmer is just a grand fellow; and besides, he promised me that I'd get a chance to be taught by some one who would know what to do with me. You'll not set your foot down on that, will you, father?"

The man smiled grimly, though this changed to a tender look as he smoothed the fair hair of his little son.

"We'll see, Conrad, we'll see," he told him. "Just now it don't look like I could set one of my feet down on anything for a month or more. But they're going to have a hard job of it getting a heavy man like me all the way home."

"Oh! don't you worry about that, Jem Shock!" sang out Lil Artha, blithely enough; "we know just how to go about it; and besides, it isn't going to be such a very tough task divided among four of us. Now, Rufus, you can take the upper left end, and I'll look after the right. Elmer and Alec will manage the foot of the stretcher easy enough."

Rufus shot him a look of gratitude, showing that he readily understood how the wise Lil Artha had purposely allotted him one of the holds that would be apt to keep him as close to Jem's face as possible. The elongated scout evidently considered it good policy to force Jem to grow accustomed to the proximity of a Snodgrass; while familiarity is said to often breed contempt, in this case Lil Artha meant that it should be the cause of a growing confidence.

So they gaily started forth. Conrad ran alongside, and at times persisted in keeping hold of his father's hand. He would now and then utter words calculated to cheer the other up, as though he feared that the strain of the trip, on top of his father's condition after lying there so long unattended, might cause him to show signs of a relapse.

But they got along famously. The first lake was soon reached and put behind them. Lil Artha cast several longing glances over his shoulder as they left, and it did not need the aid of a prophet to tell that he was making up his mind to be back there the first thing in the morning, to test the voracity of the bass fighters that dwelt in those waters.

Following the plain trail, they continued to put much ground between themselves and the spot where they had found Jem. The man bore the journey well, all things considered, though many times Elmer could see him compress his jaws as if to better stand the acute pain that shot through his bruised body.

So they finally drew near the clearing where the cabin stood. Elmer, who had been there once before, as will be remembered, saw familiar signs to tell him of this fact, for he had impressed certain landmarks on his memory.

"Oh, listen!" suddenly exclaimed Conrad, "I hear voices, and they are men talking, too, strangers. What can it mean, father?"

The man on the stretcher winced painfully, and then smiled grimly.

"Well, things generally come with a rush, Conrad," he said. "There are some men that have been wanting to interview me for a long time now. I reckon they've found the nerve to come away up here, just to see what's going on. But they've got to have proof in order to convict a man of poaching game out of season. Anyhow, I'm in no condition to resist now; and I don't believe they'll stir up any evidence around the cabin. Woods mutton is scarce these days."

It was Rufus who now uttered a cry.

"There, I can see several men now in front of a cabin," he went on to say, "and oh! as sure as you live, one of them is my own father! Do you hear that, Jem Shock, the Snodgrass you've been believing cheated you in a land deal has come straight up here to see you just as soon as he got that letter of yours. Does that look like guilt, tell me? Oh! something is going to happen, and before long you'll be changing your mind about the Snodgrass tribe!"

Quickening their pace, the little procession hastened to reach the cabin, where several men stood watching their coming, with both wonder and interest showing on their faces. The good wife ran out to meet them, and was soon crying copiously over the figure on the stretcher, though Jem told her it was all right, and not to worry.



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