Alan Douglas.

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



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In another moment Elmer was alongside Rufus.

"Don't tell me the thing struck you, Rufus?" he ejaculated, himself pale with apprehension.

"It's all right, Elmer," said Lil Artha, soothingly. "Nobody hurt the least mite, I give you my word. But if Rufus hadn't had the good sense to stand still when I called out, I really believe the critter would have struck at him. And it was close enough to make a hit, too."

"I don't deserve any credit, fellows, indeed I don't!" said Rufus, truthfully. "I was so scared that I seemed frozen stiff. Why, I couldn't have moved hand or foot for all the money in the world. Guess that's what they mean when they say a rattler charms people."

"It may be so," Lil Artha went on to say, "but I've known one to get birds to flutter within reach, just as if there was something magical in the whirr of that buzz rattle at the end of its tail. After all, I guess it was lucky that I did conclude to fetch my gun along this afternoon. The boys were laughing at me in the morning for lugging it when I didn't mean to fire a shot at any game. But say, a measly rattler hasn't any close season; he's a fit object for business, summer or fall."

"You made a cracking fine shot, Lil Artha," commented Elmer, after stepping closer to observe the result of the other's quick aim.

"Oh! middling, middling, partner," chuckled the tall scout, modestly; "I oughtn't to be proud of it; but then I own up I was some rattled for fear Rufus would move, and make the snake shoot forward with that poised flat head of his. But I stopped his fun all right, which ought to be enough for me."

"But how d'ye suppose I missed the fearsome de-il?" asked Alec, wonderingly.

"Oh! I happened to step aside while getting my bearings for that last sight," explained the trembling Rufus, "and must have drawn too near where the viper was coiled up for defense. First thing I knew was hearing what I took to be the whirr of a locust. Then I looked down and saw it! After that I seemed to turn to ice. I heard Lil Artha coming, and afterwards he said something. When he fired I nearly fell over, thinking I had been shot. Oh! I'll never forget my sensations; and after this I'm going to keep on the lookout all the time for snakes."

"It pays to be on the watch," assented Elmer. "The fellow who keeps his eyes about him in the woods is doubly armed. We must drag it back with us, and show George. He said he didn't believe there was any truth in that farmer's story about rattlesnakes up here. We'll have to show him."

"But, Elmer, supposing it had given me a crack, would I have had to die? Is there any remedy for a rattlesnake's poison?" asked Rufus.

"Oh! we'd have pulled you through all right, depend on it, Rufus," said Lil Artha, taking it upon himself to answer the question. "I'd have sucked the wound in the first place, making sure that I had no scratch or abrasion about my mouth so that I couldn't be infected by the poison that I ejected.

Then Elmer here, who is a pretty good surgeon when it comes right down to brass tacks, would have cut into the wound, and afterwards, when it had bled freely, he'd apply some stuff he always carries with him to neutralize the poison. Some people give whiskey, and perhaps it does help; but science and medicine have found a better remedy."

"Then why are there so many fatal cases of snake bites?" asked Rufus, determined to find out all he could on the subject.

"Well, most of them are neglected too long," Elmer told him. "The person who has been struck may be alone at the time; or if he has companions, they become panic-stricken, and only think of hurrying the poor chap to the nearest doctor as fast as they can. That's nearly always the worst thing they could do, for in the time it takes, the deadly poison has had a chance to circulate through the blood, and all the doctors going couldn't save the patient."

"That's where first aid to the injured comes in with the scouts," said Lil Artha, proudly. "All boys who wear the khaki are instructed how to act in order to save human life by prompt measures, whether it is in case of near-drowning, snake bite, injury by cutting an artery with an ax, swallowing some poisonous toadstool in place of delicious mushrooms, and a dozen other things too numerous to mention. You'll learn all about it in good time, Rufus."

"I mean to, Lil Artha, depend on it," the other assured him earnestly. "I give you my solemn word here and now that I'll begin right away. I never want to be taken unawares again, so that I feel as helpless as a kitten. I'm going to be aimed and equipped with the book of knowledge. I can see that it pays compound interest for all your time and trouble."

"Now I'm delighted to hear you say that, Rufus," Lil Artha told him; "and I promise to instruct you at the first opportunity; Alec, too, if he is so minded."

"I am verra curious aboot it, and ye can count on me being a listener whenever ye begin the lessons. Aye! it would hae been peetiful if Rufus had been struck. I'd hae sucked his wound with ye, Lil Artha, or done anything else ye asked."

Rufus laid a hand on the Scotch boy's shoulder fondly.

"I'm sure you would, Sandy," he went on to say, for sometimes he used that name in speaking to his comrade, though always with affection. "But after that fright I guess I'm done working for today. Let's go back to camp."

No one raised any objections, so they prepared to return. Lil Artha managed to fasten a strong cord to the tail of the rattlesnake, which Alec said he would drag after him. The long-legged scout had already shown the two tenderfeet the cruel looking curved fangs in the partly shattered head, as well as the sickly, green-hued poison that could be pressed from the sack by using a stick on a certain part of the said head. They had been greatly impressed, and likewise shocked to realize what a narrow escape both of them had had from near-death.

All the way back the talk was of the hidden perils that lie in wait for unsuspecting passersby in the woods. This ranged from wildcats to rattlesnakes and adders and scorpions. Lil Artha seemed to be a "walking encyclopedia" of knowledge along these lines; part of this he had picked up through personal experience, and the rest came through extensive reading, or hearing others tell about it. A scout may find scores of ways for learning useful things, if only he cares to bother about doing it.

Later on they approached the camp.

George, who had managed to get through with his numerous odd jobs and was resting, seemed surprised, to have them come back so soon.

"Huh! guess you got tired of the job quicker'n you expected, Rufus!" he called out lazily from his seat on the soft moss under a tree. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, they say. But what in the dickens is that you're dragging along after you, Alec? Great Scott! a rattler!"

George scrambled to his feet, filled with excitement. His eyes stared at the four-foot reptile, which still showed signs of life; and Lil Artha had assured Alec its tail would continue to jerk until sundown, even though its head be cut clean off.

"I hope it didn't strike any of you fellows?" George went on to add with a vein of fright in his voice.

The story was quickly told, and the convinced George had to measure the reptile with his tape line, finding it only an inch or two short of four feet.

"As big a rattler as I ever saw," Elmer told them. "They have them five feet long down in Florida, I understand, those diamond-back fellows; but as I haven't been there I can't say anything about it. For a Northern snake this one is certainly a whopper."

"Lil Artha has promised to get the rattle for me," remarked Alec. "Rufus had the first choice, but man, he said he'd never sleep easy nichts if he had it hangin' on the wall of his room at home, thinking about his narrow escape. But it's a verra curious thing to me, and I don't care a bawbee about the sound. It wasn't my ox that was gored, ye ken."

George was acting now in something of a mysterious manner. Elmer noticed this and was looking at the camp-keeper out of the tail of his eye, as though trying to guess what was in the wind. He felt certain that George had a secret of some kind or other, which he was holding back, just for the satisfaction it gave him.

Lil Artha was an observing chap, as we happen to know; and before long he too noticed the same thing. This, however, was after he had seen Elmer observing George closely, with a line across his forehead that told of a puzzled mind.

The tall scout was not the one to bother himself about trying to solve a thing when there was a short cut to the answer. He believed that the best way to get at the meat in a cocoanut was to smash the shell.

"Here, what's brewing with you, George?" he suddenly demanded, facing the other.

George grinned, and then hastened to say:

"What makes you ask that, Lil Artha?"

"Because I know right well you've got something of a surprise up your sleeve, and you're aching to spring it on us. What have you been doing since we left camp? Now don't you squirm, and try to keep us in the dark. Own up, George, and tell us."

So George, seeing there was no escape, apparently, determined to let the "cat out of the bag."

CHAPTER IX
THE STRANGE MESSAGE JEM LEFT

"Well, we've had a visitor in camp since you fellows all went away!" George confessed.

Of course every one was interested. Lil Artha seemed to immediately jump to the conclusion that the guest must have been a four-footed one.

"Bet you now, it was a measly wildcat," he hastened to exclaim. "It's too bad a fellow with a gun can't be in two places at the same time. I was needed out with the tenderfoot squad; and seems like I could have been made useful here at home. Did the varmint get away with any of our grub, George?"

The camp defender grinned as though amused.

"Go a bit slow, Lil Artha, can't you?" he complained, petulantly. "Don't rush as if you knew it all. Nobody said the visitor was going on four feet, did they? Why, it happened to be a biped, a man!"

"Then it was Jem Shock!" ventured Elmer, quickly, as though he had half guessed the answer before then.

"Just who it was," agreed George, nodding his head in the affirmative, and looking very important.

"What did he want?" demanded Lil Artha.

"Hold your horses!" continued Elmer; "don't keep jumping at conclusions so fast. In the first place, remember that we invited Jem to drop in on us any time he was near our camp. The invitation didn't seem to give him much joy, but later on he may have concluded to make a call. Now tell us what he said, and how he looked, George."

"Oh! he carried that gun of his just as we saw him before," the other explained. "And he certainly looked pretty savage, in the bargain."

"Savage?" echoed Rufus, "why should he act that way? Possibly because my father owns about all this property up here. Perhaps Jem believes he may be dispossessed of his cabin. I've heard that squatters always do get to thinking they own the land they build on, as if possession gave them a quit claim deed."

"Well," continued George, steadily, and keeping his eye fixed on Rufus, "to tell the honest truth, he seemed most of all interested about you, Rufus."

"Oh! is that so?" sneered the other; "well, that's just about in line with what I was telling you. He knows the name of Snodgrass, apparently."

"I guessed he did from the way he acted after I'd told him about your father," George went on to say.

"Now, what could you have to say about my dad?" snapped the touchy Rufus.

"Well, Jem asked me first of all if one of the boys in camp was a Snodgrass, and of course I told him yes," George explained. "Then he asked me if I knew what your father's first name was. I told him I had heard it, but just then, somehow, it seemed to have slipped my memory. At that he up and asked me if it was Hiram."

Rufus gave a little cry at hearing this.

"It might be this man knew my father once on a time, or they may have had some business deal together; though that's hardly likely, because Jem Shock, poacher and farm laborer, would hardly be the one my father would be friendly with."

"I don't know anything about that," said George, swiftly; "but when I told him I remembered, on his mentioning it, that Hiram was your father's name, he gritted those big white teeth of his like everything, and his eyes certainly looked wicked enough to give a fellow a shiver."

"But didn't he say anything to explain why he had come to the camp?" asked Lil Artha, deeply interested in the story.

"He asked no favor, neither would he sit down and have a cup of coffee when I offered to make him one," George went on; "but he asked me to give you a message which he wanted you to carry to your father when you went home. He said: 'Tell that Snodgrass boy to say to his father that Jem Shock never will forgive the rank treachery that handed him over to a gang of sharpers in the land speculating business. And tell Hiram Snodgrass, too,' he went on, 'that he ought to thank his stars his son wasn't treated by Jem Shock as he deserved. Only for the prayers of a good woman in his cabin, and the influence of a sweet child, Jem Shock'd be tempted to do something wicked to wipe out the debt he owed your father.'"

Rufus went white on hearing this. Then the color surged back to his cheeks and his eyes sparkled like twin fires.

"It's all wrong, I'm sure it must be!" he cried, angrily. "I know my father better than most people do, and I'm as certain as I breathe that he wouldn't deliberately betray anybody who trusted in his word. There must be some terrible mistake about it, don't you see, fellows? I'll bring you face to face with my dad when I'm telling him about this, and you'll hear for yourselves what he says. But nothing can shake my confidence in his integrity; I've seen it tested too many times to doubt him now, just because this poacher fellow dares accuse him of wrong doing."

It sounded very fine, this defense on the part of a loyal son, and Elmer could only admire Rufus for showing himself so faithful. At the same time, he knew real-estate dealers often have a peculiar code of morals, and frequently do things that others may not exactly approve of, salving their own consciences in some way. Elmer was a little afraid that Hiram Snodgrass might have been tempted to turn a client over to some combination of operators, some of whom were not just as scrupulous as an honest man would like to have them in his dealings.

"Was that all he said, George?" asked Lil Artha, out of pity for Rufus, who appeared to be suffering acutely from mental pain.

"Yes, and after delivering the message, he whirled around and walked away with the grand air of a lord of the realm," George explained. "Somehow, poacher that he may be, because he believes like a good many persons that wild game isn't the property of the State, there's something about Jem Shock that tells me he isn't a common dickey. He hates all human kind because his nature has been soured by some wrong he's endured, that's all."

"Well, I'm going to find out what it all means, and as soon as I get the chance," Rufus asserted, between his set teeth. "If it was a mistake, it shall be righted. I tell you my father is too big a man to play mean toward anybody. But while we're up here nothing can be done. I wish I had a chance to ask this fellow what it's all about, so I could get the hang of things."

"H'm! if I were you, Rufus," suggested wise George, "I'd go slow about showing myself to Jem Shock. He hates the sound of your name, and if you gave him half an excuse, why he might forget his good resolutions, and hurt you, with the idea of revenging himself on your dad. How about that, Elmer; is my logic sound?"

"Yes, there's no use taking unnecessary risks," admitted the scout-master, "and common prudence demands that Rufus should keep away from Jem. Later on, if he does find that a terrible mistake has been made, it would be easy to come back up here and square things up with the poacher. But it certainly pleases me to know that the home influence is working on Jem's revengeful mind. If the mother is anything like that splendid little clear-eyed chap I don't wonder at it, either."

Secretly, Elmer was more determined than ever to try and make the personal acquaintance of Conrad's mother, the daughter of that once famous Swedish violinist whose bow had thrilled countless thousands, and drawn genuine tears from their eyes.

The subject was by common consent dropped then and there, though, of course, it would remain to agitate the mind of Rufus long afterwards. Indeed, the boy seemed to be unusually quiet during the balance of that afternoon, and even while they sat around the crackling camp-fire after supper had been disposed of.

Elmer could guess the reason why. The tenderfoot had, in the first place, been under a most severe strain when he experienced that peril with the deadly snake. It would have an effect upon his nervous system for some little time; and possibly he might even awaken from sleep occasionally with a half-suppressed cry of horror, as though in his dreams he again saw that horrid reptile with its great coils, its flat square head drawn back for striking, and its tail elevated so that the monotonous danger signal at the tip could continue to buzz angrily.

Then again the boy had taken that accusation on the part of the poacher quite to heart. It could be easily seen that he had a great affection for his father, even though it was his fond mother who had always given in to his whims, and come near utterly spoiling Rufus by her favors.

"It galls him to have heard any one accuse his father of being a trickster," was what Elmer told himself, as he noticed the soberness of Rufus, while the others in the circle about the fire chattered away, and seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely.

He had not changed his own plans a particle on account of hearing about the visit paid to the camp by Jem Shock. If anything, his resolution was stronger than ever to see more of Conrad, and perhaps meet his mother.

All of them were pretty tired, and, of course, as the tenderfoot pair had secured so little sleep on the first night, it was likely they would soon be "dead to the world" after letting their heads fall on their crude pillows. These were made out of a slip filled with sweet hemlock browse stripped by hand fresh from the tree, and fragrant as could be, with the incense of the woods. This bosky odor in itself is said to be conducive to sound slumber; at least all who spend their vacations close to Nature's heart so affirm, and they should know.

The night passed without any sort of alarm. Indeed, Alec and Rufus, once they got to sleep, knew next to nothing up to the time Lil Artha aroused them by beating on his frying-pan gong, as "the first call to breakfast."

They were glad to see that again the weather favored them, since there were all the signs of a pleasant day ahead. Elmer, however, warned the new recruits not to be too optimistic, because after the warmth of the last few days, it was likely that some sort of storm might develop.

It was arranged that George should change places with Lil Artha on this day, and accompany the two surveyors as a guard. The tall scout insisted on his carrying the gun along with him.

"Of course you won't need it to shoot any deer you happen to scare up, George," the owner went on to tell him, "but, as we saw yesterday, there may crop up conditions that make the having of a shooting-iron mighty handy. You may not need a gun at all, but if you do you want it right there."

Lil Artha possibly had something in mind which he wanted to do while left behind. He kept his own counsel, however, and Elmer, knowing that the tall scout was to be thoroughly trusted, did not ask questions.

So along about nine in the morning, when he thought it likely he would be apt to find Conrad seated in his favorite nook and playing some of his dreamy airs, all of them creations of his own brain, Elmer started forth. Lil Artha of course could easily surmise from the direction he took that he meant to look the boy up again, but immersed in his own affairs, he said nothing, only waved a cheery goodbye after the other.

So Elmer strode along, and this time he paid a little less attention to the many interesting things that cropped up on this side or that, for his thoughts were mostly concerned with Conrad, and his quaint thrilling music, which he yearned to hear again.



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