Alan Douglas.

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

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"That will do for now, Alec," said Lil Artha. "You have done splendidly for your first real lesson in wood-chopping, and I can see with half an eye that you bid fair to beat us all at the game, given a little time, and more experience. You've got a great swing, and seem able to hit a space the size of a dime, every time you let fall. That's half of the battle in chopping, to be able to drive true to the mark; because there's energy wasted in false blows."

Alec looked pleased. A little praise judiciously bestowed is always a great accelerator in coaxing reluctant boys to take up their tasks cheerfully; and wise Lil Artha knew it.

Just then Alec happened to catch a glimpse of something moving amidst the branches of the tree over his head. Lil Artha had turned aside, and did not chance to notice what the other was doing, as the Scotch lad, stooping down, snatched up a stout cudgel, and hastily threw it aloft.

His aim must have been excellent, judging from the immediate results. Lil Artha heard him give a satisfied cry, which, however, almost immediately changed to a howl of alarm. Whirling around, the tall scout saw something that might have amused him at another time, for it possessed the elements of comedy rather than tragedy.

Alec in hurling that stick aloft must have succeeded in dislodging some animal from its hold on the limb. The beast in falling had alighted fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the astonished Scotch boy, and given him a severe case of fright. Lil Artha saw that it possessed a long ringed tail, and hence he knew instantly that it was only a harmless raccoon, and not a fierce wildcat, as he had at first feared.


"Whoo! tak' him off, Lil Artha! It's a mad cat, it is, I'm thinkin'!"

The 'coon being presently dislodged, after having only given Alec a few trifling scratches, proceeded to retreat in hot haste. The angry Scotch lad, snatching up another billet of wood, was about to rush after the frightened animal as though to vent his fury upon it, when Lil Artha barred the way.

"Don't do it, Alec!" he called out, holding up a restraining hand; "let the poor thing trot along. He's more scared than you were, take it from me."

"But he bit me, ye ken; and I don't let any fearsome wild beastie do that with impunity, I tell ye!" snapped Alec.

"Well, who's really to blame, Alec?" said Lil Artha, promptly. "That's only a harmless raccoon. He must have his nest in a hollow limb of this tree we're under. Hearing all the talk going on below here, can you blame him for peeking, and trying to pick up a few points about eating, and the like? He was within his rights, and you had no business to knock him down with that chunk of wood. He happened to fall on your shoulders, and commenced scratching and clawing when you jabbed at him so with your hands. He only scratched you a little, and drew the blood. Elmer has the stuff to put on that, and prevent any chance of blood poisoning setting in.

But surely you wouldn't kill that inoffensive little runt because he allowed you to knock him out of the tree."

Alec hung his head.

"Aweel, it may be you're right, Lil Artha," he muttered, being conquered by the arguments advanced by the other. "Anyway, it's too late now to chase after him, for the beastie is lang out of sight. Perhaps I was o'er hasty to throw. Next time I'll try to hold my hand."

"It pays not to be too fast while in the woods," he was assured. "If now that had happened to be a bobcat, you'd have been in a nice pickle, let me tell you; and he might have scratched out both your eyes before the rest of us could lift a hand to save you. Better go slow but sure, Alec. And try to look at things once in a while from the standpoint of the woods animal. You'll find it mighty interesting to put yourself in their place, and figure just what you would do."

Again Alec scratched that tousled red head of his. Plainly he was puzzled to exactly grasp what Lil Artha meant; but then, as time passed and he became more accustomed to this strange camp life, now so new to him, the boy would doubtless understand many things that in the beginning looked very mysterious.

When, a short time later, Lil Artha began to initiate him into the mysteries of fire-making, Alec displayed more or less fresh interest. He knew he was going to like that sort of thing first-rate, he told the other; which acknowledgment caused the tall scout to grin with pleasure, since it repaid him tenfold for all the trouble he had taken thus far.

The fire was soon burning cheerily. Somehow it seemed a great source of joy to everyone, especially Elmer, Lil Artha and George. As veteran scouts the crackle of a blaze instantly called up fond memories of numerous former occasions when in the woods, and camping amidst the solitudes they had met with all sorts of interesting and even thrilling adventures, never to be utterly forgotten, even when they had grown to manhood, and gone forth into the world upon their appointed life missions.

Next in order came the preparations for cooking the camp supper. Here Lil Artha had fresh and glorious opportunities to show the tenderfoot squad all sorts of things that it was of prime importance they should early manage to acquire, if they expected to make good scouts.

And when the ham had been nicely browned in the skillet; the potatoes and onions thoroughly cooked; the coffee allowed to settle, after being brought to a boil; and the rudely-built table set with all sorts of good things besides, from cookies, jam, home-made pies, pickles, and such articles as the crafty George had prevailed upon his dupe, Rufus, to include in the bulky stores, it seemed as though there was hardly room to allow their plates a chance to find crevices for lodgment.

By this time the sun had set in a blaze of glory that called forth loud words of sincere admiration from the entire party. Twilight was upon the land as they sat down to enjoy that glorious spread; and both Rufus and Alec vowed they had never in all their lives felt one-half so hungry as right then and there.

That supper would never be forgotten by those tenderfoot scouts. Every fellow once new to the woods can look back to the first meal under such conditions, and remember how wonderfully good everything did taste. The food at home never had such tempting qualities, and his one great fear was that the supply would not be equal to the enormous demand.

After supper came the dish washing. That was not quite so fine, especially since Rufus and Alec had fairly gorged themselves. But Elmer knew that it was good to start out right.

"Oh! what's the use bothering with the old dishes tonight?" complained Rufus, spoiled at home by a doting mother; "I'm feeling too fine to be disturbed. Please don't spoil it all by doing anything disagreeable, Elmer."

His wheedling tone had no effect. The scout-master was determined that these two new recruits must learn that duty always precedes pleasure with a scout. After all work has been finished is the proper time to "loaf," and take things easy.

"We have a rule in camp that is as unbending as that of the Medes and the Persians, Rufus," Elmer went on to say, positively. "That is, the dishes must be cleaned up immediately after supper, by those who are delegated with the task. I'll be only too glad to show you and Alec how to go about it, in case you haven't had any experience; but the pot of hot water is waiting, and none of us can settle down to an evening's enjoyment until things are cleared away. All of us mean to take our turns at the job, remember, but we thought the new beginners ought to be the ones to start first."

Rufus looked as though inclined to rebel. Just then Alec jumped up, being more ready to give in than the boy who had always had his own way.

"Coom alang, Rufus, and we'll wrestle with the pots and pans!" he called out. "Between the baith of us we should be able to manage, I ken. And then for a lang evenin' listenin' to the stories Lil Artha, here, has promised to spin, that will, nae doot, mak' Robert Louie Stevenson's wildest tales tak' a back seat."

Well, after that Rufus could not hold out. He even grinned sheepishly a bit as he got up from his comfortable position, and followed the Scotch lad and Elmer over to where the dishpan was hung on a convenient nail, together with a supply of towels, and several dish cloths, all seen to by Lil Artha, who knew by long experience how necessary such things are in a well conducted camp.

So by slow degrees Elmer and his mates might make progress in educating the tenderfoot squad along the lines that every well drilled scout has to follow. Of course they would meet with many discouragements, and sometimes feel that the task was beyond their strength, especially in connection with Rufus, who had allowed such a multitude of tares to grow amidst the good seed that would have to be rooted out; but it is astonishing how much persistence and patience will accomplish, and in the end surprising results might reward the laborers in the vineyard.

They sat up late that night and the fire continued to crackle merrily as fresh fuel was applied from time to time. How wonderful it all seemed to Rufus and Alec, experiencing their very first night in camp. The moon had already set, being young, and darkness hung over the scene. Strange sounds, too, welled up out of that gloom to thrill the greenhorns as they listened. Again and again did one of them interrupt the conversation or the story-telling to demand that some fellow tell what manner of queer creature could be making such and such a noise.

Now it was some night bird giving a hoarse cry; again a distant loon, doubtless out upon some lake, the presence of which they had not even suspected, sent forth a fiendish sound like the laugh of an evil sprite and which chilled the blood in the veins of the tenderfoot scouts; later on they heard tree frogs commence their weird chorus, and were relieved to learn the nature of the noisy sounds, for they half suspected a circle of ravenous wolves might be closing in around the camp.

And so it went on, one thing after another. Perhaps the most singular effect of all was produced by the hooting of a big owl, doubtless squatted in some dead treetop within a few hundred yards of the fire. The two greenhorns really believed some man was calling out and making fun of them. Rufus, on his part, jumped to the conclusion that the poacher, possibly under the influence of liquor, was daring them to come out and have a fight with him, for that tantalizing "whoo! whoo!" seemed to breathe defiance and scorn. Alec, too, showed symptoms of "firing up," much to the secret amusement of Lil Artha and George.

They both quieted down after being told what sort of a big-eyed bird was responsible for the weird noise; though from time to time as the hoots continued to be wafted to them on the night air, the tenderfoot scouts would move uneasily, and exhibit fresh traces of interest bordering on rank incredulity, since it was difficult for them to really believe any feathered creature could indulge in such a mocking monologue.

And later still, after they had crept into their warm blankets, and sought to go to sleep, while the three veterans after a while managed to find forgetfulness in honest slumber, the other pair tossed back and forth, changed their hemlock-filled pillows into new positions, sighed dismally, and put in one of the most trying nights they had ever known.

But then it would not be so bad on the next occasion; and before many nights passed they, too, would be "dead to the world a short time after hitting the hay," as Lil Artha expressed it. Every fellow has to be broken in before he can sleep, when camping out for the first time; the great wilderness around seems peopled with countless unseen, but nevertheless present, creatures, which his lively imagination pictures as seeking to steal a march upon the camp, and either to purloin all their possessions or else eat them alive.

Why, even experienced campers usually have a poor first night of it, until they can again grow accustomed to the difference between their own soft beds within the four walls of home, and this canvas covering, or perhaps only the starry heavens above for a canopy.

That long night seemed never to reach an end, to Rufus at least; for even after the Scotch lad had passed into slumberland the other squirmed about uneasily, sat up and looked around him many times; and even crept out twice to throw additional fuel on the fire, because he hated to see it getting so dismally dark around, with all those queer sounds welling up in chorus – the said chorus being produced in part, if Rufus only knew it, which he didn't, by katydids, crickets, tree-frogs, and such harmless little creatures.

But even the longest night must come to an end at last. Rufus, having finally fallen into a doze, found himself aroused by some one talking, and opening his eyes discovered to his surprise that it was broad daylight, with breakfast cooking near by.


One thing, at least, pleased Rufus when he crawled forth and stretched himself, giving a yawn at the same time – it promised to be a fine day. To a fellow who expected to do considerable prowling around in the vicinity of Raccoon Bluff this was a matter of material importance; for a heavy rain must have put a damper on his cherished plans.

By the time the latest up had finished dressing the welcome call to breakfast was sounding. Lil Artha performed this sacred rite, and in the customary camp way, wishing to initiate the two tenderfoot chums in all the mysteries that went with the ceremony. Taking the biggest frying-pan they had fetched along, he rattled a lively tattoo upon it with a heavy cooking spoon. And during the course of their stay it may be said in passing that never was there a more eagerly anticipated racket, in the opinion of Rufus and Alec, when their camp appetites developed, than that same summons to the "festive board," as Lil Artha dubbed the rude makeshift table.

While they enjoyed the fruits of the cook's skill in wrestling with the culinary outfit, and made the bacon and fried eggs vanish in a most remarkably swift fashion, the boys also laid out their plans for the first day.

Of course Rufus was eager to get busy looking up the lines of the survey; and he had already bound Alec to the task of being his helper. The latter did not object in the least, though after a day or two had elapsed, and the fever calmed down somewhat with Rufus, the Scotch lad anticipated having his time more to himself; for he was eager to learn a great many scout secrets which the accommodating lanky Lil Artha had promised to impart to the new fellows.

Elmer, however, had no intention of allowing those two greenhorns free swing for a whole day. The chances were ten to one they would get lost the first thing; and it would be too bad if a good part of their limited stay at Raccoon Bluff was taken up in hunting missing comrades.

"I appoint you, Lil Artha, as supervisor," he went on to say, with a smile; "and your duties today will be to stick to Rufus and Alec like a porous plaster. Don't let one of them get out of your sight for a minute. You can lend a hand as much as you please; and fetch them back to camp at midday, when we'll have lunch, leaving the big meal until the day's work is all done."

Rufus looked as though about to rebel. He was so accustomed to having his own way that it came hard with him to be ordered to do anything. Then he suddenly remembered his scout vow, and that he had solemnly promised to bow to superior authority. Elmer was the "boss," and his word was law while they were away from home; so, making a virtue of necessity, Rufus shrugged his shoulders and grinned.

"Just as you say, Elmer," he observed, a bit ungraciously, "but I never was lost in all my life."

"That's nothing to boast of, Rufus," remarked Lil Artha. "It only goes to prove how many splendid opportunities you've missed. On my part I was just as proud of my ability to look after myself as you are; and yet I used to get twisted in my bearings a heap until I got the hang of things. I can remember several times when I walked straight away from camp, under the belief that I was heading for it. You see, while I could easily tell which was north and east, I didn't know which way the camp lay; because my faculty for observation hadn't yet been developed to any great extent. It'll all come to you by degrees, if you really want to learn."

"Well, what am I to do this morning, Elmer?" asked George.

"That's an easy one," chuckled the leader. "As you're such a stickler for having everything so neat about the camp, George, with things handy to the reach, I'll appoint you camp warden for today. You can fuss around all you please, and by night I expect we'll find that Camp Comfort well deserves its name."

George looked pleased. His good qualities often more than counterbalanced his poor ones; and being neat is something no scout should ever feel ashamed of.

Elmer did not mention what he meant to do himself. In fact, he had not wholly determined that point, though he fancied that he might take a wide turn around, and see what the country about Raccoon Bluff looked like.

Although Elmer had not said anything about it to the others, the fact is he had made a little discovery that aroused his interest considerably. Just before they sat down to breakfast he had chanced to step over to a point where the best view was to be had, and using a pair of field-glasses which had been brought along, took a casual survey of the country.

In one particular spot he believed he could see a faint column of pale blue smoke climbing straight skyward from amidst the thick growth. Elmer was a pretty good woodsman, and he did not have to be told that such smoke always comes from well seasoned wood, while black smoke springs from greener stuff.

Some one had a fire over there, that was evident, and knew what sort of fuel to select in the bargain; which fact made it patent that he was educated in the ways of the woods. Elmer's curiosity was excited. He wondered who their neighbor could be. Was it some fishing party, perhaps camped on the shore of the unseen lake on the bosom of which that loon they had heard cry had been swimming at the time?

Of course there might be numerous answers to the question Elmer was asking himself. Perhaps lumbermen were looking over the property which had lately come into the possession of Mr. Snodgrass, with an idea of making him a proposition for the right to cut off the big timber. Then again, charcoal-burners sometimes worked in the season; or it might be game wardens were abroad, with the idea of catching detested poachers at their work.

Then last of all Elmer thought of Jem Shock, the slippery customer whom no warden had thus far been able to catch red-handed, breaking the game laws; and who, it seemed, had gained an unenviable reputation for boldness as well as knavery, so that his name, bandied about from lip to lip, had gradually become a synonym for everything that was bad, whether the fellow deserved it or not.

Well, they knew that this same Jem lived somewhere in the wilderness, since he seldom appeared in any town; and what more likely than that his camp lay over yonder, where the blue trail of smoke lifted toward the sky?

Elmer felt an enticing temptation beginning to assail him. It has been said before that he had found himself attracted toward Jem Shock, simply because of a curiosity to know what the real man might be like; for Elmer was loath to believe all he heard about any one, knowing how stories are magnified in the telling.

And by the time breakfast was over with, the scout leader had decided that he would take a little stroll, which might, there was no telling, carry him in the direction of the blue column of smoke.

It happened that Rufus was so busy getting ready to start out with his surveying instruments that he had given no thought to looking around. Lil Artha on his part would, of course, take note of the general lay of the land; but with the ridge to serve as a guide he believed he could always make a bee-line back to camp whenever the necessity arose.

All was soon ready, and Alec, laden with the heavier material, called out a cheery goodbye to the two who were being left behind.

"I'm glad this day that I've got on the braw khaki breeks," he was saying, "for if they were woollen ye maun rest assured it would tak all my time picking off the beggars' lice, as ye call these little burrs. We'll be back the noo and expectin' lunch to be served, George, remember, lad."

"Well, stick by Lil Artha then, if you know what's good for you, Scotchy," called out the keeper of the camp. "And I'm glad Elmer made each one of you put a little snack of cheese and crackers in his pocket. If you have the misfortune to get lost that will be the only thing to stand between you and starvation."

Rufus sniffed in disdain.

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