Alan Douglas.

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



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Elmer made his way back to camp, and arrived long before noon came, so that he had plenty of time to rest and think over the situation. He wondered whether he had succeeded in making any progress by his morning's expedition. He had met Jem, for one thing, and told him how much he was interested in Conrad's playing. Yes, Elmer concluded that the game he meant to play had been advanced more or less since the coming of another day.

The surveyors came trooping into camp along about noon, heated and tired. Rufus was apparently getting quite enough of that hard work, for the time being. Besides, he admitted that he had gone sufficiently far by then to make sure that the previous survey had been a failure, and that the job would have to be done over again in order to get the right lines.

Elmer was not sorry to hear him say that, and for several reasons. First of all, he wanted the tenderfeet to have further opportunities for picking up more or less useful knowledge of woodcraft, while in camp; and this could not be done if most of their time was spent in using those instruments, and worrying about backing new lines through the thickets and swamps that beset their course.

Then again Elmer did not like the looks of the weather. It was beginning to act suspiciously, as though a big storm might be brewing. The sun still shone up there in the sky, and both Rufus and Alec only thought it insufferably hot; but to one more experienced in such things, there was a deeper meaning in the heavy atmosphere, the strange silence on the part of birds and smaller animals, and the peculiar bank of clouds that lay low along the distant southwestern horizon.

Lil Artha sensed danger, too, for he spoke of it as they were eating lunch.

"Perhaps, Elmer," was the way he put it, "we'd be sensible if we took an extra reef or two in our sail this afternoon, while we have the chance. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, I always did believe; and scouts are taught that it's wise in time of peace to prepare for war."

"Hey! what's all this talk mean?" demanded the bewildered Rufus. "To hear you, Lil Artha, a fellow would think we had something terrible hanging over our heads. It must be you're prognosticating a storm, but I don't see what makes you think that, when the sun never shone brighter. Do the birds carry the secret, and have you fellows found a way to understand their lingo?"

"Well, in a way that's correct, too, Rufus," chuckled the lanky scout. "When you get on familiar terms with everything that lives in the woods, you can tell a heap. It does seem that insects, birds and animals are given instinct in place of reasoning powers. So the squirrel knows when it promises to be a severe winter, and he lays in an extra big store of nuts. And in the same way something warns these little creatures when a storm is coming, although human beings see no sign. Well, from the change that's taken place all around us we scouts can give a good guess that these same birds and insects are making ready for trouble; and it's bound to come from that quarter yonder, where you can see a bank of dark clouds hugging the horizon."

"But, Lil Artha," protested Alec, strenuously, "I noticed yon bank o' clouds mair nor two hours back, and I gie ye my word it hasn't moved a wee bit in a' that time."

"Oh! that's often the way a storm comes along," the other assured him, in a positive fashion, as though he had no doubt concerning the accuracy of his prediction.

"Clouds will lie low for half a day, and then suddenly with a shift of the wind spread out over the whole heavens like magic. I promise you that before two hours have gone by you'll be stopping your ears with your fingers so's to shut out the crash of thunder."

Of course, as both Elmer and George seemed to agree with what Lil Artha said – and it was really wonderful to have "Doubting George" let an opportunity to object pass him by, the greenhorns had to believe what they heard.

When lunch had been disposed of, Elmer gave orders that set the whole five working to improve the security of the camp. Extra pegs were driven deep down so as to hold the tent more firmly; and some bits of strong rope were also brought into play with this same end in view.

Rufus could not restrain his amusement, and finally burst out with:

"Well, from the way you're carrying on, fellows, it must be you expect a regular old hurricane to break loose in this region. I guess it would take a whole lot of wind to tear that tent loose from its moorings now. Besides, we're sheltered somewhat by those trees over yonder."

"Wait and see, that's all," warned Lil Artha, not one whit abashed. "You've never been caught in a big storm, and so you can't know how the wind tears at a tent as if it had a special spite against the canvas. I've seen more'n one tent carried away like a big balloon, and lodged far up in a tree. This is only following out the scout rule of preparedness. It's better to err on the side of safety, Rufus; just remember that as you pass along the road. It's no sign of timidity to get ready for trouble; the wisest of business men always insure their property, and when the storm comes they weather it, where the more reckless go to the wall."

"That's sound logic, Lil Artha," commented Elmer, smiling to hear the other give such splendid advice; for, as a rule, the lengthy scout was a bit inclined toward that same recklessness himself.

In many other ways did they prepare for the coming storm, particularly in seeing that a small stock of wood was placed so that it might be kept dry; since they might be glad of a fire later on. Their stock of provisions, too, had to be provided for; and Rufus also covered the old car with a tarpaulin which he had fetched along for that purpose.

During the last half hour of work even the most skeptical found himself forced to admit that there was no longer any doubt about the approach of bad weather. As the dark bank of clouds advanced up the heavens the birds again made their appearance, and flew wildly about, uttering warning cries that impressed Rufus visibly.

Then they began to hear distant muttering of heavy thunder that was soon causing a distinctly felt vibration of the earth under their feet. The wind had entirely ceased, and there seemed to be an ominous calm upon Nature. Rufus and Alec had an apprehensive expression on their faces as they waited for further developments.

"Don't you think it might be safer over among the trees than here, Elmer?" asked Rufus at one time, after the thunder had temporarily died away.

"Not on your life!" burst out Lil Artha, taking it on himself to answer. "If the gale gets half as severe as I expect, you'll hear trees crashing down like toothpicks. It'd be all your life was worth to be caught in the woods then. An experienced hand might manage to escape, but often the best of them get caught under a falling tree and killed outright. That's one reason why we built our camp away from all trees but this dwarf one that isn't apt to go down, and serves as a sort of wind-break, you see. But listen, everybody!"

A distant but terrifying sound stole to their ears. The lack of a movement in the atmosphere had prevented them from catching it sooner.

"Is that the storm coming?" asked Rufus, trying to keep his voice steady, though there was a distinct quaver to it, despite his efforts.

"Yes, that's the wind, and back of it is the first burst of rain," advised Elmer. "It will be on us in a jiffy now, so we'd better get inside, and lace the opening up. We faced the tent to the north purposely, you see, because we knew that any storm at this time of year was likely to jump out of the southwest."

Hardly had they made the flap secure when the gale broke upon them.

CHAPTER XII
SCOTCH BLOOD

Among other things, Lil Artha had seen to it that a pot of coffee was made ready just before he scattered the fire, and put out the last ember. This would keep warm for a long time, and they could manage to make out a supper with some of the things that would not need cooking.

With a rush and a roar the storm burst upon them. Wildly did the stout tent sway as the wind broke against it. Rufus understood speedily enough why the scout comrades who had had experience went to so much extra pains to fasten it so securely. There were lots of times when, despite all the precautions, he feared the canvas could never hold out against that terrible wind that made playthings of forest monarchs, and seemed capable of sweeping everything from its path.

Never, so long as they lived, would the two tenderfoot scouts forget that night; it would always be marked with a white stone in their minds, such were the tortures they endured. Often Rufus would half squirm to his knees, his face turned pale with apprehension, as he clutched the sleeve of Elmer or Lil Artha's coat, in deadly fear that the worst was about to happen.

The rain descended in torrents, and the lightning flashed in a way to fairly cause them to shut their blinded eyes; while terrific bursts of thunder rocked the ground and made them think a salvo from the heaviest guns known to modern warfare was being fired.

So the time dragged wearily along, hour after hour. No one dreamed of trying to snatch a wink of sleep while this din was going on. They sat there, glad to know that, thanks to the admirable way in which the heavy canvas had been waterproofed, and the addition of a fly over the tent, they were able to keep the rain out. Of course a small amount did seep under certain portions of the tent, despite all their precautions, and the drain that had been dug above to carry the flood off; but they were able to keep pretty dry, all things considered.

With the storm came a cool air that chilled them to the bone. They had a couple of lanterns, one of which was kept lighted all the time, and this enabled them to see what was going on. Lil Artha set a good example, after night came on, by wrapping his warm blanket about his shoulders, as he sat there Indian fashion. Rufus was indeed glad to copy this example, and found it well worth while for the additional comfort he secured thereby; and in the end all of them did the same thing.

Every now and then they heard awe-inspiring sounds that Lil Artha told the tenderfeet were produced by falling trees. Each crash gave Rufus cause for a fresh shiver; he could not help thinking of what he had proposed concerning their being likely to find more safety if they took up their station under the forest growth. He was glad now in every atom of his being that those more experienced scouts had frowned down upon such a silly proposition.

Along about midnight, however, Elmer discovered positive signs that the worst was over. His announcement brought a feeling of relief to Rufus and Alec; indeed, even Lil Artha was heard to give expression to his gratitude. George, however, grumbled, as was his habit of old.

"Tough luck, that's what I call it, fellows," he went on, as though wholly disgusted with the freaks of the weather. "Why couldn't this old storm have held off till we got back home again? What business did it have coming down on us right in the midst of our camping? Why, we haven't begun to enjoy ourselves much yet; it's been all work so far; and now everything's going to be soaking wet, the mud'll bother us, and like as not a second rain'll follow the first. Things pretty nearly always do happen in threes, you notice."

"Oh! well, we're all alive, George, for one thing," Lil Artha told the grumbler. "And we've still got heaps and heaps of good stuff to eat along. Things might have been a whole lot worse than this, let me tell you."

"Huh! I can't just see that," continued the other, though in a fainter tone, as if really half ashamed of his complaining manner; which had become second nature with George, so that he often spoke in that way without thinking how badly it sounded.

"If only this terrible storm will stop, all would be forgiven," said Rufus. "We may get a few winks of sleep yet before dawn comes. And I guess the ground will dry up pretty well by noon. Besides, I'm done creeping through the woods and among the thickets, trying to follow those slashes made by the fake surveyors. We can lie around camp here, until it's fit to go abroad."

"Spoken like a true scout, Rufus," Elmer told him, encouragingly. "That's what a fellow ought to learn the first thing after he dons the khaki – that things are never so bad but what they might be worse. George here never did learn his lesson in the right way, more's the pity. If you keep on, Rufus, you'll be a better specimen of a true scout than George is today, with all his experience."

George did not say anything, but Elmer hoped the seed might have fallen on fallow ground, so that it would take root and grow; for there were times when, like most of the other fellows in the Hickory Ridge Troop, he did get mightily tired of hearing the remarks of a natural-born "croaker," as Lil Artha called the other.

But Elmer was right when he said the backbone of the storm had been broken. Inside of another half hour even Rufus was fain to admit that the thunder had lost considerable of its fierceness, while even the flashes of lightning came less frequently, nor were they so vivid as before.

"The rain has stopped, fellows!" announced Lil Artha, as he sidled along over to one side of the tent, and cautiously began to undo the securely fastened flap; after which he thrust his head out so as to take an observation.

When he drew back again the others eagerly awaited his report.

"Why, the clouds are breaking, and I even saw a star right overhead," announced the tall member of the little party, enthusiastically; "which proves that the end of the concert is close by. That last thunder-clap was some distance away. Guess we may be getting a little snooze inside of another half hour. For one I'm going to hunt out a dry place and make ready."

There was considerable of a scurry on the part of everybody, with this end in view. Rufus was heard to wish most ardently that he had still another blanket to huddle under, for that night air, after the violent battle of the elements, seemed to be very chilly and piercing, since they could not enjoy the luxury of a fire.

Nevertheless, in spite of all this, when another hour had crept along all of the boys were sound asleep. No longer did the harsh voice of the thunder disturb them; and the fitful glow of lightning came from far off. The lantern had been extinguished, for they might need what small allowance of kerosene they had fetched along with them; and therefore darkness reigned within the sheltering tent.

They had some hours of sleep before morning found them stirring. There was more or less disinclination to be the first out, but Lil Artha proved to be the martyr and presently the crackle of a fire tempted Rufus and Alec forth; while even that sly old fox, George, opened one eye, and began to sniff the air, as though he fancied he had gotten the first whiff of sweet bacon frying in the pan.

Elmer had been close upon the heels of Lil Artha, of course, and between the two of them some of the ravages of the storm in the camp had been repaired long before the rest put in an appearance.

A warm and bountiful breakfast seemed to put new animation in them all. Even that born grumbler, George, admitted the sun did shine "fairly well," and that coffee, bacon and flapjacks with syrup, all served lavishly as regarded quantity, made life worth living again.

"I don't believe I was ever so hungry as this morning," Rufus candidly declared, as he gulped down his third cup of coffee, and eyed the last flapjack as if tempted to gorge himself, though already as full as prudence dictated.

"That's because so far in life you've lived on Easy Street," Lil Artha told him, "and never have known what it meant to miss a single meal. Some of us have gone a day without a bite, and we know how it goes on an empty stomach. I warrant you right now some woods animals are feeling that way too, because they couldn't get around last night as usual."

It was strange that this casual remark on the part of Lil Artha should be fully confirmed before a great while had passed, and in a most convincing fashion.

Alec chanced to be the one fated to bring the thing about. None of them meant to wander away from camp until noon had come, and the warm sun had had a chance to dry things out; but being a little restless, and, moreover, inspired with a desire to ascertain if any of those ill-fated trees had fallen close to the camp, he picked up a heavy walking stick and stepped out.

"Be sure you don't go farther than you can hear Lil Artha chopping with the ax," cautioned Elmer, seeing him about to take a stroll; "and if you fail to catch any sound, or need help, just give a whoop. We'll answer right away."

"Hoot, mon," said the Scotch lad, a bit sarcastically, "d'ye ken I've cut me eye-teeth the while as a scout? I'm observing all aboot me, and I find it mair interesting than I ever believed could be possible. I'm o'er glad now I made up my mind to join the troop. Now I'll gang awa' and be verra careful. And if some fearsome beastie jumps up in front o' me ye'll hear me shout at the tap o' my voice."

He went away, still laughing, as though he thought it a good joke. Lil Artha continued to ply his ax industriously, meaning to lay by a good store of firewood while at the job; though Elmer warned him that task should really fall to the greenhorns, since neither of them seemed to be much of a cook, and it was only fair the various duties about the camp should be impartially shared alike by all the party.

Hardly had ten minutes passed when the four by the fire heard a shout. Elmer instantly answered it, thinking, of course, that as Lil Artha had dropped his ax Alec wanted some sound to serve as a guide to locating the camp. To the astonishment, and also consternation of the others, they heard the Scotch lad calling:

"Here's a hungry cat facing me, and growling like everything. Aye, but he's wild to get at me, and I don't know just what a braw scout should do under the circumstances. Shall I gi'e the gillie a rap o'er the head wi' me stick; or beat a retreat like a wise general? I'm no' so taken wi' his looks I confess that I'm wishin' to make his further acquaintance. Hey; ye would bite me, eh? Tak' that, then, and learn better manners!"

Elmer snatched up another stick, while Lil Artha darted over to the tent and immediately reappeared bearing his trusty Marlin. They knew what it meant to be attacked by an angry bobcat, even if it was far in the morning, and these animals usually hide during the better part of the day, preferring the shades of night for their prowling.

Even as the pair started toward the spot, followed in turn by George and Rufus, as soon as the others could manage to find some sort of crude weapon, they heard a most terrific crashing going on. There were also short cries, now of pain and again of momentary triumph, to tell how Alec was progressing in his task of beating off the savage attack of the hungry wildcat.

There was no trouble in locating the spot where all this disturbance was taking place; the scuffling of Alec's feet, his jerky cries, and now and then a plainly heard snarl from the enraged cat led them as truly as the magnetic needle of the mariner's compass points out the North Star.

When they finally came in sight of the little woods drama they were thrilled to see how the brave Scotch lad managed to keep his four-footed enemy at bay by means of his clever strokes with his stick. Even as they looked he gave the beast a good blow upon the head that rolled it over; but instantly the cat was on its feet once more, and leaping at him. The performance was repeated, with the same result; but in case Alec failed in his stroke, he stood a good chance of having the animal land on his breast, when its claws and teeth would do terrible damage.

"Get the beast, Lil Artha!" cried Elmer, seeing that even their bursting on the scene did not appear to intimidate the enraged feline adversary that Alec was battling with.

He had hardly given the word than a report sounded. Lil Artha had once been quite a smart hunter, though of late his ambition to excel along those lines had waned. On this occasion his aim was particularly true, for the cat was seen to be writhing on the ground, as though fatally injured. Lil Artha immediately ran up and dispatched the dying beast with several blows from a stone; for although a hunter by instinct, Lil Artha could not be cruel and see anything needlessly suffer.

"I sure hated to have to do it the worst kind," he told Elmer, as he looked down at the now quiet beast, ferocious even in death, "because I reckon now she's got kits somewhere near by, which was what made her act so savage like. She smelled the food in camp, and was sneaking around in hopes of stealing something, when Alec, he chanced to run across her, and I guess waved his stick in a way she didn't just like. But I had to shoot her, and you thought the same, Elmer, you know."



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