Alan Douglas.

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



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"Yes, it couldn't be helped," the scout-master told him, "and besides, a fellow need hardly ever be ashamed of making way with a wildcat, because they are mighty destructive to all game. Why, this one beast would, in the course of a year, devour more young partridges, quail, rabbits and squirrels than half a dozen human hunters. And besides, I was afraid she might get inside Alec's guard, though he did swing that stick of his in great fashion."

"A few scratches is all the beastie managed to gi'e me," admitted the still panting Alec, and then, as he looked down on his now quiet adversary, he shook his head, continuing: "faith I tauld ye to tak yersil' awa' and leave me alone, but ye knew best. I'm awfu' sorry ye had to be kilt, but it was no fault o' mine."

Elmer and Lil Artha exchanged satisfied glances. They both felt that for a tenderfoot, Alec had proven a credit to the troop, and this was encouraging. After all, this outing seemed bound to be the making of a couple of embryo scouts; it would bring out whatever good qualities they possessed, and show what sort of foundation there might be for their immediate future.

"Come back to camp with me right away, Alec," Elmer told the other, who was still curiously examining the dead cat, especially interested in its savage looking claws and the cruel teeth that were exposed in the snarl that death had set upon its face. "I want to take a look at those same little scratches you mention. They may appear harmless enough, but many a fine hunter has died from such simple things."

Of course Alec was astounded. He stared hard at his hands, and shook his head in a skeptical way.

"I ha'e nae doot but that ye knaw best, Elmer," he finally said, "but would ye tell me the noo how such a wee bit o' scratches could mean so much?"

"Blood poisoning is apt to set in," explained the other, readily enough, as he locked arms with the Scotch lad and hurried him off toward the camp. "You see, carnivorous animals that live upon the flesh of their prey are apt to have their claws contaminated. Even a slight abrasion caused by those claws is impregnated with just so much danger. Nothing might come of it; but scouts believe in taking as little chances as possible. I've got a phial of permanganate of potash along for just such purposes, and we'll daub some of it on. You'll resemble a wild Indian with the splotches, for it stains a deep purple, but safety first before looks."

Indeed, Alec did look rather odd after his several slight injuries had been duly attended to, for Elmer did not spare the "painting."

"I wish me mither could see me the noo," chuckled the Scotch boy, after he had surveyed his mottled appearance in a tiny hand mirror one of them had been thoughtful enough to fetch along. "Ye ken, she's often tauld me aboot the Highland chiefs in their war-paint in the gude auld days of lang syne. I warran ye she'd think her son and heir had copied after the McGregor, Rob Roy, ye remimber, our outlaw ancestor."

Lil Artha was to fetch along the defunct wildcat, for it was designed to save the skin, and present it, when properly tanned, to Alec, who could use it in his den at home for a small mat.

Every time he looked down at it he must be forcibly reminded of his stirring adventure, and it would serve to encourage him in his endeavor to become a first-class scout.

It was perhaps half an hour afterwards that Elmer heard voices, and looking toward the spot where Lil Artha had been working with the pelt of the bobcat, he was both surprised and thrilled to discover that the long-legged scout was talking with a small party in whom Elmer immediately recognized Conrad Shock!

CHAPTER XIII
A CALL FOR HELP

"What's this mean?" Elmer heard George saying, which proved that the other had also discovered Conrad's presence. "I reckon that must be your Boy Wonder with the fiddle and the bow, Elmer. Now, whatever brought him away over here to visit us, do you think? Perhaps his folks don't know that scouts are at home in the woods, no matter what sort of gay storm crops up. Mebbe now they were afraid some of us had suffered. Well, it was nice of them to send a messenger, anyhow."

But Elmer was disposed to view the matter differently. He could see that there was a look of considerable apprehension visible on the peaked face of Conrad. Elmer scented some kind of trouble at once. The boy had sought them out, possibly sent with a message by his mother.

Lil Artha had entirely suspended operations with the pelt which he had been engaged in fastening to a crude but effective stretching board, fashioned after the directions he had received from the old scientist and trapper some of the boys had visited a while before.22
  See "The Hickory Ridge Boy Scouts Storm-Bound."


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Lil Artha loved good music, in which he differed from George. Hence he had felt considerable interest in all Elmer told them about Conrad being the direct descendant of the famous violinist, Ovid Anderson, of whom he had often heard. He was in truth quite eager himself to hear the child play, though ready to take Elmer's word for it that Conrad was the possessor of wonderful genius.

As Elmer hastened toward the spot Lil Artha looked around and discovered him.

"Hi! here's your young friend come to hunt you up, Elmer!" he called out. "He is just telling me that his mother sent him. I hope now there's nothing gone wrong over at their place. If we can do anything, of course we'd be only too willing."

The boy shot him a look of gratitude at hearing Lil Artha say this. Then he turned eagerly toward Elmer.

"Mother sent me over to see you," he went on to say in a voice that quivered a little despite his manly effort to control his feelings.

"I hope she isn't sick, Conrad?" ventured the scout-master, anxiously.

"No, it's father," the boy said after he had gulped several times. "You see, he hasn't come home; and we're so afraid something dreadful has happened to him."

Elmer looked doubly concerned.

"Do you mean he was away from home during that awful storm last night?" he went on to ask.

The other nodded his head, and then managed to explain further. Even the proximity of Elmer seemed to have already done him much good; for there was a certain atmosphere connected with the resolute scout-leader that inspired the utmost confidence.

"He started to go to the lake that is farthest away, for there are two small ones, you may not know," Conrad explained. "He had some set lines there that needed attention, and we wanted the fish for eating, too. But father backed out once, for he said he had wrenched his leg and felt a little lame. But in the end he decided to start, though mother didn't just like him to go."

"About what time was that, Conrad?" asked Elmer, in his methodical way, eager to grasp the full details so he could figure out the answer.

"Just about an hour before the storm came along," the boy told him. "Father said he believed it would hold off long enough for him to get there and back, but his leg must have kept him from walking as fast as he generally does. So the storm broke, and we kept watching through the window when we could see anything, for the rain and the flying leaves. But night came, and oh! what a night we had, mother and I. It never seemed to end. I did fall asleep somehow, but I don't believe she once shut her eyes – poor mother."

Elmer was fearful of the worst. A sturdy man like Jem Shock, accustomed to buffeting the rough storms to be met with in the woods of a summer, was not likely to stay away from those he loved unless something terrible had happened to him. Elmer shivered as he remembered those dreadful crashes in the depth of the forest, each signaling the collapse of some mighty tree that had breasted the gales of a century, perhaps, only to meet its fate in the end.

"And then your mother thought we might help find your father, did she?" asked the sympathetic Lil Artha; while the others crowded around, listening with white faces to the conversation; for even the two tenderfeet could realize how serious the conditions must prove to be.

"Yes, that is why I am here," said the manly little fellow, whose correct manner of speech astonished Lil Artha, himself apt to be more or less "slangy," and even ungrammatical, in his careless boyish way. "She knew of no one else close by to turn to; and Elmer was so kind, she said. Oh! please come with me, and help find father. We are afraid that he was caught under one of the falling trees; or he may have tripped in the darkness, with that lame leg giving way under him, and fallen into some terrible hole."

Elmer's mind was of course made up on the instant. Indeed, such an appeal never came to a scout camp without being immediately accepted; for every fellow who so proudly wears the khaki has it implanted in his heart that he must eagerly grasp such golden opportunities to prove his worth, and be of assistance to those who are in distress.

Elmer knew, too, that he could depend on his comrades to back him up. Lil Artha, of course, must go along, for the tall scout's excellence as a tracker was well known, and this might come in very handy before their end was accomplished.

Then it would be of more or less benefit to the tenderfeet to have a share in his rescue work; Elmer hailed the opportunity to increase their fund of woodcraft knowledge with eagerness. They could pick up more valuable points through practical experience than by means of any books or technical advice.

As for George, he must stay by the camp. Elmer remembered just then that George had been limping, more or less, and complained of having stubbed his toe since breakfast. Then it would be best for him not to walk so far, or he might be lamed for the balance of their stay in camp.

The scout-master quickly explained his plan of campaign. George, of course, frowned at first, and took on the look of a martyr; but then that was his customary way, and Elmer paid very little attention to it except to say that "a stitch in time saves nine"; and that George might thank his lucky stars he did not have to go along, but could rest himself, and let that injured foot have a chance to get well again.

Conrad was wild for them to get started, and so Elmer lost as little time as possible. Before he went, however, he made sure to carry along with him several things he thought might be needed in case they found Jem with a broken leg – he only hoped it would be no worse than that, for many a man had had his back broken by the fall of a tree.

"Lil Artha, be sure not to forget the camp ax," he called out.

Of course that excited the curiosity of the two greenhorns, and seeing the look of bewilderment which they exchanged, Elmer took occasion to explain just a little.

"If Jem has been badly hurt in any way, and lies several miles away from home," Elmer told them, "we would want to make some sort of stretcher so as to carry him back to his cabin. A hatchet or an ax is indispensable under such conditions; and you may have a chance to see just how it's done."

George saw them go away with a wry face, for he did not like to be cheated out of any pleasure; still, when he stepped around and found how his foot hurt if he made any unusual exertion, he must have realized on second thoughts that Elmer knew best.

Elmer had an idea at first of getting Conrad to head toward home, when they were well upon the trail leading toward the lake, and which the boy had said he could show them. Upon suggesting such a thing, however, he immediately met with a prompt refusal.

"No, mother told me to take you to the second lake, and I shall," Conrad said firmly. "Oh! I can stand much more than you would believe; I am stronger than I look. And I have been over the trail with father, many times. What does a few miles matter when father may be lying there, and suffering terribly? Besides, mother depends on me to take you there. What if you went alone and could not find it, for, you see, it is hidden in the woods, and not at all easy to see if you haven't been over the trail before. He might lie there for hours if that happened. So I must go."

Of course that settled it. Elmer could not have the heart to deny the lad the privilege he demanded. Besides, he knew that on the whole it would be much better for them to have some one along who was acquainted with the lay of the land. They might go astray, experienced though two of them were in the secrets of woodcraft; for confusing trails might deceive them, especially after the storm had washed away Jem's late footprints.

And so they hurried along. Little Conrad walked as though eager to even run; and more than once Elmer had to restrain the anxious lad. He saw that Conrad was worked up to a feverish pitch that was not good for him; and accordingly Elmer made it his business to try and reassure the little fellow.

"Depend on it we'll find your father, Conrad," he went on to say in that steady tone of his that carried weight, and could soothe even the most troubled breast like "balm of Gilead," as Lil Artha slily told Rufus, trotting along at his side. "And the chances are a broken leg will be the extent of his injuries. Why, he may not even be so badly off as that, you know. Perhaps he was called on to help some other unfortunate family in that storm, and has been held up on that account."

But Conrad sadly shook his wise little head. He knew Elmer only meant to encourage him; and that even he could have little hope such a strange thing had happened.

"Oh! I'd like to believe that, Elmer," he said, with half a sob, "but there is no other family near enough for such a thing to happen. But I'm still hoping for the best. Mother told me to keep thinking that way. She will not believe he could be taken away from us while we need him so much. Yes, we must find him, poor, poor father!"

All this while they were heading in a certain direction that Elmer knew would, in due time, unless they changed their course, take them to the cabin in the clearing, where he had met Conrad's father and mother.

Just as he expected, however, eventually the boy brought them to a halt.

"See," he called out, as he pointed ahead, "there is where the trail lies. One way is home, the other the first lake, with the second one farther away. Now we must keep right on, and listen as we go. I shall call out, too, ever so often, for if he hears my voice and can answer he will let us know where he lies."

As they started to follow what was a plain trail, every one had his senses on the alert, expecting to make some sort of discovery sooner or later. Rufus and the other tenderfoot scout were very much excited. It was their first experience on missionary work, and it gripped their hearts with an intensity they may never have felt before.

CHAPTER XIV
SCOUTS TO THE RESCUE

Every step they took now was carrying them on toward the twin lakes that nestled amidst the woods and valleys, their presence really unsuspected by the vast majority of people living in towns within thirty miles of the place. Elmer himself was wild to try the fishing there, for he fancied that the bass must be enormous fellows, and as gamey as could be found anywhere. Lil Artha, too, would be sure to want to make more than one trip across country, and spend a few hours casting in the almost virgin waters in the solitudes where sportsmen had possibly seldom invaded.

Conrad kept up amazingly, but then it was love that gave him additional strength, and Elmer knew full well what that could do for any one. Many times they heard some slight sound that gave them a start, for their nerves being on edge they imagined every such noise to be a feeble cry for help. The snappy bark of a red squirrel as he clung head downward to the lower trunk of a tree, and watched the intruders of his sacred realm; the sudden cawing of a startled crow; the rasping cry of a bluejay; or it might be the distant screech of an eagle poised above some fish-hawk that had darted down and secured its dinner which the bald-headed robber of the air would snatch away from him presently, after a swift pursuit upwards – all these they heard, and many times did one of the greenhorns ask to be told what it meant.

Still nothing was seen or heard to indicate that Jem Shock had been overtaken by a falling tree while on his way from the first lake. They did come across several such overthrown monarchs of the forest that had fallen close to the trail; and once the way was really blocked by a mass of broken limbs, together with the heavy trunk of a tree that had come crashing down.

Conrad darted hastily forward before Elmer could interfere, and was looking, oh, so eagerly, and with such an expression of anxiety, for any sign to indicate that the dear one he sought might be lying under the wreckage.

"Father, father!" he called out, with such a plaintive ring to his voice that Rufus felt something rising in his throat; while Alec McGregor might have been seen to turn his head aside, and then violently blow his nose, as though he had taken cold.

But there was no response. Elmer and Lil Artha went all around the fallen tree, and even crawled underneath the same to make positive that Jem was not there. Finally even Conrad became assured as to this, for he expressed an eagerness to once more go on.

So they proceeded. From the lay of the land, and other signs that his quick eye caught, Elmer guessed that they could not be far away from the first lake. Perhaps he was guided somewhat in making this decision by the sight of that fish-hawk or osprey, which he knew would be apt to hover over a body of water, since it must obtain its whole sustenance from the lakes.

"What's that glistening in the sunlight yonder, Elmer?" suddenly asked Alec, who, it seemed, possessed a pair of incredibly keen eyes.

Lil Artha laughed.

"That's one on us, Elmer," he remarked, "when a tenderfoot is the first to discover the presence of water. I reckon now, Alec, you've got the making of a pretty good scout in you, if you stick at it; and they do say the Scotch are the most persevering chaps going. That's the lake, the first one Conrad told us about, I should say."

"Yes, that's the first one," hurriedly admitted the boy, "and we'll soon reach its border. You will say that it's a lovely little sheet of water, too. Father told me he had never set eyes on one that struck him as more beautiful. And I love to sit and look out over it when the wind dimples the surface, or it is so quiet that you can see a picture all along the shore, with the trees reflected in the water like a big looking-glass."

"Then we'll have to call it Mirror Lake," said Lil Artha, struck by the wonderful poetic way in which the small boy described things, which may in part have come to him through his mother.

"Yes, that is what my mother calls it," Conrad instantly told him; "for once she crossed over with me to see the water. We shall be there very soon now, in less than ten minutes I think."

Nothing further occurred to startle them during the balance of the time that was consumed in covering the ground separating them from the shore of the lake. When Elmer and his three comrades found themselves staring out upon that wonderfully clear and altogether charming body of water, they felt that words must fail to describe it and do justice. Elmer had looked upon a good many pretty lakes, both large and small, but never one the equal of this.

As for Lil Artha, he knew now what would be occupying considerable of his spare time during the balance of their stay in camp. Why, even as he looked he could see big bass "break" here and there, as though they might be feeding on flies, late though the season was. All the sporting blood Lil Artha possessed was on fire at the sight. He had resolved to give up much of his love for hunting, because of the change that had taken place of late in his ideas concerning the cruelty of such sport; but nothing would ever cause him to lose that eager desire to match his wits and a slender line with a fly attached to the leader against the strength and cunning of a bronze-backed black bass, and see which could win in the struggle for supremacy.

"Oh! listen, please!" exclaimed the boy, anxiously, his very soul in his voice.

"That was only a kingfisher calling," said Lil Artha, who knew all about such things; "see, there he flits across that little bayou, and perches on the limb that overhangs the water. He's after his dinner, I guess, and was calling to his mate. But lead the way, Conrad, and we'll keep along after you."

They began to follow the uneven indentations of the shore. Elmer knew that this must be the favorite course taken by the fish poacher when going to see what his set lines held. A plain trail it was, and even Rufus or Alec might have followed it most of the way; though at times they would have hard work to pick it out, since the heavy rain had washed things pretty badly.

But Conrad knew where he was going, and just at which point they were to turn their backs on Mirror Lake, heading for its mate near by.

"We'll like as not run across the intake or outlet of this water," Lil Artha told the two new scouts, "because, of course, the lakes are connected by a little stream. And sure enough, there it is right now."



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