Alan Douglas.

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



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"Talk away, George," he told the other, "we all know that you're one of these pessimists, and always seeing the black side of things. Who expects to get lost? Certainly neither of us. And besides, what do we have a guardian angel like Lil Artha along with us for? Not because of his good looks, that's sure."

"Oh! come along, and don't talk so much, Rufus!" the said "guardian angel" called out, though smiling broadly at being so highly complimented.

"Just see Lil Artha feeling of his shoulders, will you?" George jeered. "Now you've gone and spoiled him for any decent sort of work, Rufus; after this he'll be spending most of his time looking for his angel wings to sprout. But goodbye, and good luck, fellows. Look for you about noon, remember."

So they went off, seemingly as happy as boys could well be; for Rufus was about to test his superior knowledge of survey work. Alec saw a chance of having many little talks between whiles with the tall guide, upon whom he was leaning more and more as an exponent of the jolly times to be had in the open; while Lil Artha, himself, was always supremely happy when he could shoulder his Marlin gun, and stalk abroad, no matter whether he meant to do any hunting or not.

Elmer knew very well that nothing would tempt Lil Artha to fire his gun with the intention of breaking the law. The only reasons he insisted on taking it along were that it might come in handy in case they met a wildcat, always a possibility, of course; and that he loved to feel its familiar touch upon his shoulder, where his khaki coat was well worn from contact with it.

For some little time afterwards Elmer busied himself in fixing certain things of his own. George had already cleaned up the mess of breakfast pans and dishes, so that he could devote himself to other matters. He had already sized things up, and made a list of certain improvements that were calculated to add to the comfort and peace of mind of the campers.

"While we're only going to be up here at Raccoon Bluff for a matter of seven days or so," he had remarked in the hearing of the tenderfoot squad, "that's no reason we ought to let things run along in a slipshod fashion. It's a pleasure to me to have the camp look spic and span to begin with, no matter if it does get littered up somewhat as the days go by."

That is just the way with scouts, as a rule. No one of them unites all the virtues in his single person; but while owning up to certain faults, at the same time he will be found to possess a number of splendid qualities that add to the comfort and health of his comrades. George could make himself one of the most disagreeable chaps going, when his argumentative and unbelieving mood was upon him; then again, he would suddenly blossom out in another phase, and cause all his chums to bless him as a real public benefactor.

Finally Elmer strode forth from the tent.

"I'm going to take a little turn around, George," he remarked casually, "and see what this part of the country looks like."

"All right, Elmer," the busy one told him, "I can manage alone, I guess, because I've got a heap to do before I'm satisfied with the way things look.

No use telling you to not get lost; because that'd be next to impossible."

"Nevertheless," the scout-master assured him, "I mean to keep on the alert, for when you're in the woods constant vigilance is the price of safety. I always take observations as I go along; and notice many queer-shaped trees, so that I'll know them again when I see them. I also look back considerably, too, because it pays to notice how things appear from the other side."

"It certainly does," agreed George, very amiably; "I've had that experience myself more than once. Thought I had taken stock of bent-over trees and rock formations, yet on trying to follow the trail back, they all looked vastly different from what they had before. Taught me a lesson I've never forgotten either. Well, so-long, Elmer. I'll expect you when you turn up. I hope though you don't happen to run foul of that ugly poacher chap, Jem Shock. I didn't much fancy the cut of his jib when we met him on the road; and I reckon he'd be a bad one to rile up."

Elmer only laughed lightly and walked off. He had cut a stout cane, and this was the only kind of weapon he cared to carry along. It would serve him in good stead should he happen to come across a rattlesnake, for this was likely to happen at any time, since they had been warned by the friendly farmer that such venomous reptiles abounded along Raccoon Bluff. And in case a bobcat should turn up, Elmer fancied he could defend himself against attack with that choice staff. Besides, it was not often that a cat was to be met with in broad daylight, since they prefer to do most of their wandering about in search of food after nightfall comes.

He stopped and looked back at the camp. It had a very picturesque appearance just at that time, with the fire casting up a spiral of smoke toward the clear heavens, George bustling around in the capacity of campkeeper; and the whole overhung by those magnificent trees.

Elmer dearly loved this sort of thing. Something implanted in his nature, coming down possibly from far-back ancestors who used to hunt game for a living, caused the boy to possess an earnest yearning to spend a season every year in the primeval wilderness, close to Nature's heart. It was as near the "call of the wild" as the ordinary boy ever gets, since school duties, as well as home ties, have dominion over him most of the year.

Elmer prepared to enjoy himself to the full. The air was certainly delicious at this time in the morning, though growing rapidly warmer as the sun climbed higher. All outdoors seemed to be rejoicing with him. He could hear the merry voices of insects all around; the croaking of frogs in a nearby marshy spot he passed; and the constant cawing of crows in the treetops, as they prepared to sally forth bent on finding a late breakfast, or possibly teaching their young how to use their wings in short flights around the home nests.

"This is the life!" said Elmer, exultingly, as he walked along with a brisk step, and used his eyes to notice a thousand and one things around him, most of which would of a certainty never be seen at all by an ordinary boy, until his senses had been sharpened, brought about through practical scout activities.

CHAPTER VI
A LITTLE WOODS MINSTREL

Nothing seemed to escape the trained eyes of the scout-master, as he walked on through the woods, across open glades, and sometimes crossing ravines where little brooks gurgled along in a happy care-free fashion, after the habit of wandering streamlets in general.

One of the first things that came to his attention was the unusual number of wild bees that seemed to be working in the flowers that dotted some of these open places. This interested Elmer very much; and as he stopped to watch them going in and out of the flowers, busily adding to their stores of sweets or pollen, he was rubbing his chin reflectively while saying to himself:

"It looks as if there might be a hive or so around this region, away up in some hollow tree. I'd like mighty well to spend a morning trying to locate it, and if nothing hinders I'll get one of the boys to help me track these little chaps to their hiding-place. I've done it before, and ought to be able to again, if I haven't forgotten the trick that old woodsman showed me. And I should think Alec, perhaps Rufus in the bargain, would be pleased to see how the thing is done."

Then as he went on a little further he discovered small tracks, plainly outlined in the hardening mud alongside one of the streams that trickled down toward the lower levels.

"Hello! good morning, Mr. Mink!" said Elmer, as he bent over to examine the tracks which he easily guessed were made by the fur-bearing animal he had mentioned. "Been out late for a stroll, haven't you? Visiting around, perhaps, to see how your relatives are getting on; and dodging in and out of all these holes along the bank. Well, all I can hope is that no bad trapper covets your sleek coat, and lies in wait for you next winter with his sharp-edged steel trap."

Next he discovered another track quite different in design.

"Why, how do you do, Brother Fox?" Elmer chattered, amusing himself by this manner of monologue, just as though the animal might be within sound of his voice. "You were also abroad during the night, I see, and carrying home some sort of game in the bargain, for the little foxes in the den, judging from the scratches alongside your own tracks. Let's see if I can find out what it was you managed to grab."

He followed the trail fully fifty yards before making any discovery. Then the observant boy triumphantly snatched something up from the ground.

"A fine, fat young partridge, I wager, you caught, old lady," he chuckled, as he twirled the feather between forefinger and thumb, and then stuck it in the band of his campaign hat. "Well, it was a sorry night for the poor bird; but those little foxes just had to have something to devour ever so often. Now, I'd like to find out whether this was a red fox; one of those dandy blacks like we took out of the trap when we were up at Uncle Caleb's woods cabin;11
  See "The Hickory Ridge Boy Scouts Storm-Bound."


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or a gray rascal. I'll see if I can settle that part of it and satisfy my curiosity."

It did not take long for a boy of such wide experience as Elmer to find a clue on which to build his theory. Inside of three minutes he came to a place where the returning four-footed hunter had to pass through close quarters, in pushing under some brush. Elmer knew just where to look, and was speedily laughing as he held up several hairs he had found caught on a thorn.

"As red as any fox that ever crept up on a sleeping partridge, and snatched her from her nest in the thicket!" Elmer declared, also placing the evidence away, for he would want to show it to the tenderfoot squad, when telling the simple story of the wonderful things he had come across while just taking a little ramble through the woods.

And so it went on. One thing followed another in endless procession. The red-headed woodpecker tapping the rotten top of a tree; the bluejay hunting worms or seeds amidst the dead grass; the chipmunk that switched around to the other side of a stump and then with sharp eyes watched the two-legged intruder on its haunts curiously; the harmless garter-snake that glided from under his foot, though giving him a certain thrill as he remembered the stories about these deadly rattlers – all these, and many other things arrested the attention of the boy who long ago had become possessed of the magical key that unlocks the storehouse of knowledge in Nature's own kingdom.

And yet Elmer did not forget to always pay attention to the course he was taking. He placed numerous landmarks down in his memory, so that he would know them again later on. Now it might be an odd freak in the way of a bent-over tree, that had the appearance of a drawn bow, with some unseen giant of the woods standing back of it, drawing the cord taut; then again a cluster of white birches would be impressed on his mind, to be readily recognized again in case the necessity arose.

All this time he was heading in a direct line toward that region where the blue spiral of smoke had been noticed in the still morning air. Elmer, too, fancied, when an hour had passed, that he must by now be drawing well along toward the origin of the smoke column.

Possibly he may have questioned whether he was exactly wise in thinking of invading the precincts of the camp, that might prove to be the home of the man who possessed the evil reputation.

"But my motives are all right," Elmer told himself, when this arose to annoy him; "and I mean no harm to Jem or his people, if so be he has any family, which somehow no one ever bothered to tell me, even if they knew. I guess Jem's been something of a mystery to the people up here. He seems to have no friends, and it may be nobody ever did penetrate to his camp. Well, then, I'll be the pioneer in the game. I'm not afraid of Jem, for all his black looks. I'd just like to get to know him, and find out if he's as tough as they say."

And accordingly Elmer, instead of taking warning from his fears and turning back, continued resolutely along the course he had marked out for himself. He would beard the lion in its den, and try to convince this same poacher Jem that he had nothing to fear from a party of boys out on a holiday. Perhaps Elmer may have also had some little scheme in mind whereby they could do more or less good by utilizing some of those superabundant stores which George had cleverly advised Rufus to lay in, under the possibility of their being storm-bound up in the woods, with a great need for much provisions. A little present of excellent tea might quite win the heart of Jem's wife, provided he had one; and Elmer had even known of a case where the fragrant odor of coffee had entirely disarmed a woods bully, who had been half inclined to clean out the camp previous to his inhaling that delicious perfume.

Now and then the boy would pause and commence sniffing the air. He knew that he had been walking directly up the wind for quite a while now, and hence more than half expected that he might catch the whiff of hard-wood smoke, telling of the presence of a fire not far distant, and dead ahead.

It was when Elmer was standing still and looking about him that he suddenly heard a sound that sent a peculiar thrill through his whole person. There was nothing so strange about the sound in itself, only the oddity of hearing it under such peculiar conditions.

"Why, upon my soul, I do believe that's a violin being tuned up!" he whispered, straining his ears still more while speaking. "Yes, it is, for I can hear the plain chords now. Perhaps some fiddler who plays at country barn dances is passing through the woods, and has stopped over night at Jem's shack. Why, he seems to have a knack for striking wonderfully fine chords, it seems to me. I'll just push on and see what it means."

This he accordingly did, and as he began to catch the sound of music more plainly as he kept advancing, Elmer found his curiosity rising to fever heat. Now the notes of the weird music came floating to him on the soft air, more and more distinctly. It seemed to the boy as though the violin fairly sobbed with the spirit of the one whose fingers trailed the bow across those taut strings.

"It's wonderful, that's what!" Elmer was telling himself for the tenth time as he kept on walking, and straining his hearing more and more. "Why, I've heard some pretty fine players, but never anything like that! Whoever can it be! I'd wager a heap that the gift of inherited genius is back of that playing. I can see that he isn't an educated violinist at all; but the notes are meant to express the language of the soul within. Oh, I'm glad now I decided to start out; because I wouldn't have missed this for anything!"

He knew that he was by now close to the spot, for the sounds came very distinctly. As he continued to advance, Elmer kept watching, wondering what manner of person he was going to see. Could some professional violinist have taken a notion to spend his summer up here amidst the solitudes, communing with Nature, so as to secure new inspiration for his work? It would not be improbable, though there was that about the playing to suggest an utter lack of training.

Now only a screen of bushes seemed to intervene. Once he had crept to the further edge of these and Elmer would be able to see the one who handled that bow so eloquently.

Three minutes later and he found himself looking eagerly out of his leafy screen, to receive a fresh shock. Instead of a man with the looks of a professor, or even a lady performer, he discovered that the party responsible for those sweet chords and sad strains that pierced his heart, was only a flaxen-haired boy not over ten years of age!

He sat there with his slender legs coiled up on a stump, and drew the wonderful notes from his fiddle without any apparent effort, just as though the music was in him, and had to find an outlet somehow. He was barefooted, and dressed shabbily. Yet, despite these evidences of poverty, Elmer could note what seemed to be a distinguished air about the lad that fairly stunned him. He thought at once of Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper." Was this a real prince masquerading in dingy apparel?

He lay there and drank in the wonderful harmony for a full quarter of an hour, hardly daring to move lest his actions frighten the little chap, and cause that flood of music to cease. All the while Elmer was trying to figure out what it could mean. Was this boy Jem Shock's child; and, if so, how in the wide world could the child have come into such an amazing musical inheritance? Who was his mother, and had she sprung from some genius known to the world of melody?

"No matter what the answer is," Elmer told himself, "that child has genius deeply planted in his soul; and it will be a burning shame if he never has a chance to be educated along the right channel. I'm bound to bring this up before some of the good people at home, and see what can be done. Oh! if only they could hear him as I am doing right now, it would be easy to collect a sum of money to start him on the road to becoming the most famous of American violinists. I never heard such wonderful music in all my life. He mustn't get away from me now."

Elmer said this last because he saw that the boy was apparently about to cease playing. He had tucked his violin away in a much-soiled bag of once green baize, and was climbing down from the stump, as though to depart from the theatre he apparently liked above all other places for his daily concert.

So Elmer stepped forth and swiftly approached. The boy did not hear his footsteps at first, for Elmer knew how to tread softly; but presently he looked around and for a moment the scout leader feared he meant to dart away.

CHAPTER VII
MAKING A BARGAIN WITH CONRAD

"Hold on, please, don't go away; I'd like to talk with you, and tell you how much I've enjoyed listening to your playing."

Upon hearing the stranger say these kind words, the boy apparently reconsidered his intention of running off. He drew himself up proudly, and waited. Elmer saw that while he was a very handsome little fellow, there was no trace of weakness about his face; he had just as resolute a chin as Jem Shock himself; and his blue eyes could evidently flash fire if his spirit were aroused.

So Elmer walked forward and joined the other. Standing there barefooted, and with his clothing well worn, though neatly patched, the boy presented a strange appearance, hugging his cherished violin in its faded case close under his arm. Elmer would never forget the picture he had made as he sat there drawing all those remarkable sounds from the wooden case; he would have labeled such a painting simply "Genius," and let people catch the idea according to their bent.

"You play very sweetly, my boy," he told the other. "I have been listening for a long time. Where did you learn how to handle the bow? Who taught you to make a violin talk, and tell all the things that you have been hearing the birds and the little woods folks saying?"

"My mother showed me how to hold the bow, and the rest I just picked up like, mister," the boy replied.

Elmer was further astonished. He had expected to hear this woods boy speak most ungrammatically; but few lads of his age, who had gone to school for five years or over, could have expressed themselves one-half as well. But then the same mother who had shown him how to grasp the bow must have taken pains to teach him other things that went with the education of a growing boy. His observation had done the rest; for just as Elmer himself was accustomed to doing, this boy had ever heard a thousand voices in the solitudes where he dwelt; and these elements he was weaving into music as he dreamily drew his bow again and again across the responsive strings.

"Do you live near here?" next asked Elmer, who saw that the boy was curiously looking him over, and seemed to be visibly impressed with his khaki suit, as well as his leggings and his campaign hat.

He noticed the glint of suspicion suddenly shoot into the blue eyes.

"What do you want to know that for?" he asked sharply. "Are you a warden, or a revenue officer?"

Elmer laughed in his customary cheery way that usually proved so catching, and made him so many friends.

"Well, I should say not, my friend," he hastened to assure the other. "This is the regular uniform of the Boy Scouts. Have you ever heard of the scouts, and would you like me to tell you some interesting things about them?"

The boy looked him all over again, and when he saw what a frank and engaging face Elmer had, he seemed to make up his mind that really he ought to have no fear from so friendly a boy.

"Yes, I would, if you didn't mind telling me," he went on to say. "Once, a year or so ago, mother took me to a town to have my teeth looked over – I've got better clothes than these at the cabin, you know – and while we were there I saw a boy dressed like you are. He had a drum, and was beating it ever so hard, making music that nearly killed me, it was so terrible. But I didn't know he was a scout. So I'd like to hear about them, if you don't mind."



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