Boy Scouts: Tenderfoot Squad: or, Camping at Raccoon Lodge
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Accordingly, Elmer sat down on a convenient log, it being a part of the very same tree the stump of which the boy had utilized as his rostrum, when playing his sad airs to an imaginary audience.
"Come and sit beside me, please," he went on to say, encouragingly; "and first, before I start talking, I ought to introduce myself. My name is Elmer Chenowith, and I live in the town of Hickory Ridge. Would you mind telling me your name, because, you see, it's rather awkward for two boys to chat without knowing how to speak to each other."
"I'm Conrad!" the boy said simply, as he took the designated seat, and carefully placed his precious violin on the ground beside him.
"Conrad Shock?" continued Elmer, at which the boy shut his teeth hard, and then almost defiantly said:
"Yes, and Jem Shock is my father, too, if you want to know it!"
"That's all right, Conrad," the other told him. "I have heard a lot about Jem, but I don't believe much of what is told me. Besides, it's none of my business, and I don't mean to meddle with anybody else's affairs. Now I want to be friends with you. I must hear about your gift of playing, because you have got it without a question. After I've told you all about scouts, and what they aim to do in the world, I hope you'll tell me about yourself, Conrad."
"Perhaps I will, Elmer," the other replied, calmly.
So once again the story of scout craft was told in simple language. The boy hung upon every word as though he felt the keenest interest in all he heard. And never could there have been a more zealous narrator than the leader of the Wolf Patrol; for Elmer's heart was wrapped up in his present calling as typified in the khaki, and he fairly fascinated his young auditor by relating how the scouts took upon themselves so many uplifting resolutions; how they learned new things every day by observing, and remembering what they saw and heard; also how the movement was widening in its scope continually until even the Government at Washington had taken notice of its beneficial effect upon the youth of the land, and was at last legislating in behalf of the organization.
"And now," he said in conclusion, "you understand who and what we are. I have four chums along with me, two of them new beginners whom we call tenderfeet, because they know so little about the great book of Nature, and have so much to learn. We came up here, partly to camp out and enjoy ourselves as scouts always do when they get the chance. Then it happens that the father of one of the boys has bought a big tract of land around Raccoon Bluff, and his son wanted to survey it over, not being satisfied with the original work. We chanced to see your father while we were on the road, and told him this, but I'm afraid he didn't wholly believe us; but, Conrad, I give you my word of honor as a scout that we haven't the least idea of spying on him, or doing him any harm. Do you believe me?"
The boy looked him in the eye, and doubtless soul spoke to soul in that exchange of looks, for he presently said, slowly but positively:
"Yes, you could never tell a lie if you wanted to, Elmer.And I'm going to tell you that my father has been acting queer ever since he met you boys on the road. I don't know what ails him, but I heard him saying a name over and over again, and looking ever so black."
"What was the name; can you tell me, Conrad?"
"It was a funny one – Snodgrass," the boy replied, and Elmer shivered when he heard him say this, for it came to him like a flash that possibly Jem Shock might have some reason to think of that name with anything but pleasant memories.
"That is the name of the new boy whose father owns this property up here," he admitted; "but he came from some other section of the country, and has only been in our town a few months. Tell me about your mother, for you say she showed you how to hold the bow. Did she used to play the violin herself long ago?"
"Oh! no, it was her father, the celebrated player, Ovid Anderson. He is long since dead, you know. And this was his violin, too, with which he used to charm so many thousands of people. My mother has often told me how they would take him on their shoulders and march up the street shouting that he was the greatest player in all the wide world. And some day I mean to be his equal; I feel it in here," and as the boy said this most solemnly, he placed a hand on his bosom, where his heart beat most tumultuously, and called upon him for deeds worthy of the name his ancestor had made famous.
For Elmer had himself heard that name of Ovid Anderson. He remembered that the player, long since dead, had been a Swedish violinist of international reputation. How it came that his daughter should ever mate with a man like Jem Shock, and be lost to the world in this wilderness, was a puzzle too much for Elmer to understand.
But he hoped that all in good time he might find the explanation; for now that he had made the acquaintance of Conrad he was more determined than ever to meet that mother, even if in doing so he had to run the gauntlet of Jem Shock's anger.
But Conrad was showing evidences now of a desire to depart. Elmer would have liked to ask to accompany him to his cabin home, but he hesitated. Still he meant to pave the way to a future meeting, and then it might be time to ask to meet the boy's mother.
"Our camp is up on the bluff, where the road runs. You can see the smoke of our fire, and perhaps the tent under the trees, if you look that way. And we'd be glad to have you and your mother, yes, and Jem Shock, too, visit us any time, Conrad, if you felt inclined that way. Do you often come here to play the things that you feel in your soul?"
"Every morning when it isn't raining, and then the day is very long to me, for I believe I would die if it wasn't for the music," the boy hurriedly replied. "But I want to thank you for saying what you did about my father. I know people all say he is a terribly bad man, that he gets drunk, and beats us; but it's a whole pack of lies, that's what it is. He never drinks a drop. He seems to hold a grudge against the whole world for something that happened a while ago, but he is good to my mother, and he loves me, he says, like the apple of his eye."
"I'm mighty glad to hear that, Conrad, sure I am!" exclaimed Elmer. "Lots of times people are given bad names when they don't deserve them one whit. I made up my mind that I wanted to know your father, and some day I mean to drop in at your cabin and introduce myself. Yes, and tomorrow I'll be coming over here again as sure as anything, to listen to you play some more. Some day you will get your chance to take lessons from some big professor, who will fit you for taking the place your famous grandfather filled. And perhaps I may be able to start the ball rolling; you wait and see."
Conrad turned white with the wild hope that surged through his ambitious young heart. He wrung Elmer's hand eagerly as he said goodbye. The scout leader watched him going on through the aisles of the forest, and noticed that his course took him directly toward the place where the smoke came from.
Fully satisfied with the adventure of the morning, and filled with a growing ambition to be the one to interest music-loving friends in the wonderful genius of the great Ovid Anderson's grandson, Elmer turned in his tracks, and commenced to head for the camp.
"I never dreamed of such a thing happening to me, when I consented to come up here and help Rufus make his new survey," he was telling himself, as he walked on, never forgetting to note his surroundings, as a true woodsman always must, no matter what his mind may be occupied with. "And wouldn't it be a great thing, though, if we did manage to get that boy's mother to bring him down to town, so the folks who love music could only hear him play. Why, they'd go crazy over him, I'm sure, and the rest would be as easy as falling off a log."
Somehow Elmer failed to pay as much attention to animated nature around him on his return trip as he had when going out; but then that was not to be wondered at. He had really run across a most remarkable thing; and it crowded most other matters out of his mind.
When he reached camp, he found George still "up to his eyes" in work, and enjoying every minute of the morning. The fixing up of camp was such a pleasure to him that for the time being he seemed transformed into a real sociable fellow, quite different from his usual complaining self.
Elmer told him of his adventure, and George was mildly interested. He did not happen to be much of a lover of music himself, and perhaps thought Elmer might be overestimating the ability of a boy player.
"Oh! there are plenty such cropping up from time to time, I reckon," he remarked, scornfully; "but they seldom amount to a row of beans. You thought this little chap was some punkins just because you happened to hear him amidst peculiar surroundings. Now, the chances are when you listen to him in a concert hall you'll be bitterly disappointed in his genius, as you like to call it."
"You're jumping at conclusions too fast, as usual, George," the scout leader told the objector. "In the first place, Conrad will never be heard on the concert stage while he is as green as he is along the lines of musical culture. He will show what is in him to genuine critics, and then if they prove as wild over him as I believe they are bound to be, he'll be put under the charge of the best teacher in New York City, to begin along the proper lines."
As George was so busily employed, and Elmer had nothing else to do, he started getting lunch ready later on. There was an abundance of material to choose from, and it was really a pleasure to make the selection. So presently savory odors began to arise in the vicinity, that, when wafted to the olfactories of the three boys coming wearily back over their morning trail would be sure to hasten their footsteps.
It was easy to see that Rufus had made more or less progress along the lines of carrying out his plans for checking up the previous survey.
"Of course it's a whole lot too soon," he told Elmer, when he came into camp and threw himself down to rest, "to say that the job was pretty much of a bungle; but I'm beginning to believe that same. And before two suns have set I'll have the figures to prove it, too."
"What object do you suppose those civil engineers could have had in rushing it all through, and doing a rotten job in the bargain?" demanded George. "Could it be possible there was some crooked work back of the survey, and that they took a money bribe to falsify the figures? In other words, has your respected dad been stung when buying some square miles of ground up here along Raccoon Bluff?"
"Oh! I'm hardly prepared to go as far as that," said Rufus, hastily. "I'd be more inclined to believe that the men who came up here just slouched at their work and failed to do what they should. They made a slash three-quarters of the way back in one place, we found, and then probably guessed the rest. It's going to turn out a bad piece of work, and they'll hear from my dad, you can wager. The Snodgrass pluck and vim won't stand for such monkey shines one minute, as any person who knows my father can tell you."
Elmer suddenly remembered how the lad with the flaxen hair had said that his father, Jem Shock, seemed to cherish a singular antipathy toward some one by the name of Snodgrass; and that ever since meeting them on the road, he had kept repeating it to himself, and frowning as though furious. He wondered again whether that rich father of Rufus could at some time in the past have wronged the same Jem in a real estate deal. It would be very unfortunate if such proved to be the case; and might spoil some of the plans he, Elmer, had been building up, connected with the wonderful boy musician.
Later on, while they were discussing the lunch, he started in and told Lil Artha, Rufus and Alec what he had run across. All of them were greatly interested; but the scout-master, for reasons of his own, failed to mention that the man who was called a "poacher," and who had somehow gained the name of a bad man, seemed to hold hard feelings against a Snodgrass.
Rufus was loud in his desire to help the "cause" along.
"If ever you can coax these woods people to let the boy come to town, Elmer," he went on to say loftily, though also with considerable feeling, "I'll promise to interest my folks in him. And my father thinks a lot of anybody who has musical talent. I know he took a heap of pleasure in helping to send one young lady to Europe to complete her voice culture; she's now singing in opera, and thinks she owes considerable of her dazzling success to what he did for her. She's often been at our house when we lived nearer New York."
"That sounds good to me, Rufus," Elmer told him; "and if the opening comes I may call on you to redeem your promise."
At the same time, Elmer wondered whether it might not be the irony of fate if the same man who had helped "down" the father, were to stretch out a helping hand to the son. He also figured that Jem Shock would indignantly refuse to accept any aid from that source. But then the whole thing was wrapped in mystery; and Elmer, like a wise boy, decided that it would be foolish to try to figure things out until he had a better grip on the conditions.
After lunch, the surveying party, considerably refreshed by their meal, and the hour of loafing about the camp, went off again to take up the work where they had dropped it. George, too, had found some other things which he might as well do while his hand was in; and so Elmer had to cast around him for some means of passing the long afternoon away.