Chapter XXII. A New Adventure
 

There was considerable excitement in Hillcrest over the capture of the two robbers. Never before had such a thing happened in their quiet community, and it formed a choice subject of conversation for many weeks. The city papers made much of it, and commended Captain Josh and the scouts upon what they had done. One morning paper which was very favourable to the Scout movement, had a special editorial on the subject, under the heading of "The Lone Patrol." It pointed out how much good a few boys in outlying districts could accomplish when properly organised and trained. It told also of the visit of Anna Royanna to this patrol, and how she had sung at their entertainment.

All this was very pleasant reading to the people of Hillcrest, and the ones who had looked with disfavour upon the movement were now anxious to assist. A number of parents who had formerly refused to allow their boys to join came to the captain, and asked him to undertake the training of their sons.

"Not jist now," the captain told them. "I have all that I kin handle at present. I must git the ones I have licked into shape before tryin' my hand upon any more."

These requests were most gratifying to Captain Josh, and he smiled grimly at the thought of the change which had come over the people. It was sweet revenge, as well, to be able to refuse the very ones who had talked most against the scouts when they were first organised. But this had nothing to do with his not taking the boys, for the captain was too big a man for that. He really desired first of all to train the few scouts he had to the best of his ability. It was not quantity he wanted, but quality, and he was determined that his one patrol should be looked upon with pride by all in Hillcrest, and to belong to it would be considered a great honour by any boy.

Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal were much pleased at the part Rod had taken in the capture of the robbers. They talked it all over with the captain when he came over to see them the very next day.

"The boys did fine," the old man proudly remarked. "They know how to hold their tongues and obey orders, which is more than many older people kin do."

Rod fairly walked on air, and held his head very high. The thrill of adventure now filled his soul, and he longed for something more to happen. It was a long quaint letter he wrote to Anna Royanna in reply to the one she had sent him. He told all about the adventure on the island, the capture of the robbers, and how he and Phil had gone to the city with the captain as witnesses. He mentioned, also, that they had received the one hundred dollars' reward, and had put it in the bank with the rest of the scout money. It seemed so easy and natural for him to write to this woman. He was sure that she was interested in everything that went on at Hillcrest. "I hope you will come to see us again," he wrote in conclusion. "Whyn speaks about you every day, and so do all the rest of the scouts." Mrs. Royal smiled at these words when Rod showed her the letter he had written. It was true in a way that Whyn was really a scout, in fact, a very vital part of the patrol.

The letter which Rod wrote to his mother was very different from that to the singer. It was brief, and not bubbling over with information as was the other. He found it hard to tell her about the things which interested him, and he did not ask her to come soon. He was too much afraid that she would arrive and take him away.

A woman far away smiled sadly as she read these two letters, with different addresses on the envelopes. She could see at a glance the boy's interest in the singer, and what a pleasure it was for him to write that letter. But the other, to his mother, was a task, a mere duty, the sooner done, the better. But then, she knew that it was only natural, and she longed for the time to come when letters would not be needed, and Rod would know the truth.

No one in the whole parish of Hillcrest was more interested in what had taken place than Whyn. She was never tired of talking about the capture, and the winning the reward. It was a great letter which she wrote to Douglas, telling him all that had recently happened in the little Hillcrest world. Whenever the scouts gathered in her room, she discussed plans with them, and listened to their various experiences. These latter were now confined to drill, studying for the new badges, and sailing with the captain on the river.

By this time the scouts had one hundred and fifty dollars in the bank, which to them seemed a great sum. Several were quite satisfied with the amount. But Whyn was of a different opinion. "We must make it two hundred, at least," she told them. "It is time to get to work and raise that other fifty, for it will not do to stop when we have made such a good start."

Summer passed, and fall came in with the long evenings, and still the scouts had not hit upon any plan of increasing their bank account. They had all kinds of suggestions, but after they had been thoroughly discussed, they were found to be of little value. Some were too foolish, while others were beyond their power.

It was Whyn who at last solved the problem. In reality, it was her mother who made the suggestion to her during her recent visit. The invalid was delighted, and could hardly wait for the scouts to come to see her.

"I know what you can do," she told them, when they had settled themselves about the room in their usual manner. "You can make wreaths for the churches in the city. They will need them for Christmas decorations."

"Make wreaths!" was the surprised exclamation of all.

"Yes. Don't you understand? You have them in the church here every Christmas, don't you?"

"Certainly," Rod replied. "We make them out of hemlock, and club-moss. But I didn't know you could sell them."

"You can in the city," Whyn explained, "for mamma told me so. They will bring from four to five cents a yard. Wouldn't it be great for us to make up a whole lot, say five hundred yards? Let me see, that would be twenty or twenty-five dollars. Just think of that!" and the girl's eyes danced with excitement.

Then followed an animated discussion as to the kind of wreaths they should make, and the best time to do the work. All this was settled by the entrance of Captain Josh. He entered heartily into the plan, much pleased at the interest of the scouts in raising more money.

"Guess we'd better begin upon the club-moss first," was his decision. "The snow'll be here soon, so while the ground is bare we kin gather as much as we'll need. We kin git the hemlock any old time. We kin work at nights, and on Saturday afternoons, and Betsey'll be glad to give a hand. I'm afraid I don't know much about sich things. If there is any splicin' to do, or special knots to tie, jist call on me. If it had anything to do with sailin' vessels I could help considerable. But riggin' up churches is not in my line. Howsomever, I'll help all I kin."

The very next Saturday Captain Josh led his scouts into the woods to gather their first supply of club-moss. He carried his rifle with him. There was a black fox in the neighbourhood, which had been seen by several, and the captain longed to get sight on it "jist fer one little instant," as he had remarked.

Phil had his small dog with him, which annoyed the captain.

"I wish ye'd left that critter home," he growled. "It'll scare away everything fer miles around. What's the use of bringin' my gun when that thing's along?"

"Gyp wouldn't stay," Phil explained. "I tied him up, but he chewed through the rope."

"H'm," the captain grunted, "I guess he'd eat through a chain by the looks of him. He's about the toughest brute I ever set my eyes on. Does he ever eat people?"

A hearty laugh from the boys was the only reply to the captain's sarcastic remark. They were in great spirits, and the tramp through the woods filled them with joy. It was merely a winter-road they followed, used by farmers for bringing out their logs and fire-wood. It was very crooked, too, and rough, but in a short time the deep snow would cover up the latter defect, and the jingle of bells would echo among the trees. Now it was the talk and laughter of the boys which alone disturbed the peaceful silence.

After having walked a little over half an hour, they came to a place, somewhat open, and here they found club-moss in abundance lining the ground. To their left, the rippling of the brook could be heard flowing on its way to the river. Ahead of them stood the thick forest of pine, fir, and spruce. It was a cool November day, and when the boys started from home their warm mittens had felt good. But the brisk tramp had set their blood in rapid circulation, and with bare hands they now gathered the moss and stuffed it into bags which they had brought with them. They worked with a hearty good-will, vying with one another, each striving to have his bag full first.

Their task was almost finished, when Gyp's savage barking up among the thick trees arrested their attention.

"Let's go and see what he's got," Rod suggested.

"Oh, it's only a squirrel he's treed," the captain contemptuously replied, straightening himself up for an instant from his bent position. "It's all that critter's good fer. If he'd something big it'd be worth while."

For a few moments longer the boys worked in silence. But they could not keep their attention away from Gyp, whose barks were now becoming more savage and insistent than ever. That he was in a great state of excitement was quite evident. Even the captain was at last forced to take notice.

"It does seem that he has something more'n a squirrel," he remarked. "Maybe it's a coon he's got up a tree. They're thick over there along that bank. Guess we might as well go and see what's up, anyway."

At this the boys were delighted. They wanted to explore the deep recesses of that forest, and now that there was some excitement there made the longing all the greater. They followed in Indian fashion after the captain, who strode rapidly forward, with his rifle in his right hand.

Gyp's barking sounded louder the nearer they approached. The boys as well as the captain strained their eyes ahead, anxious to find out what was the matter with the dog. For awhile they could see nothing through the net-work of trees and branches. But as they came close to the high steep bank overhanging the brook, they peered forward and caught their first glimpse of the excited dog. In front of him was a huge fallen spruce tree, with its roots projecting outward, like spokes in a great wheel. This tree had been lying there for years, and across it had fallen numerous small saplings and dead branches, until from a distance it assumed the appearance of a native African hut.

The roots of this tree were only a few feet from the edge of the steep gravelly bank, and this, together with a furious gale, had been the cause of the spruce's fall. Between two of the perpendicular roots, which were partly embedded in the ground, was a large hole, before which Gyp was making all the fuss. The stiff hairs on his back stood straight on end, and he kept leaping constantly forward and backward, wild with excitement.

With considerable difficulty the captain thrust the dog aside, and with the rifle firmly clutched in his hands, he stooped in order to obtain a view of what was within. Scarcely had he done so, ere a deep growl and roar startled him, while at the same time a large black bear hurled itself like a catapult from among the roots.

Taken by complete surprise, the captain reeled backward, dropping the rifle as he did so in an effort to maintain his balance. Before he could do this, however, he had gone over the edge of the bank, and after him went the bear. Down that steep incline man and beast rapidly ploughed their way, taking with them a small avalanche of stones and gravel. At the bottom of the bank was a pool of water about two feet deep, and into this they plunged, the captain in a sitting position, and the bear upon its back. Then followed a wild scramble as each endeavoured to get out first. The bear succeeded better than the man, for the captain had injured his knee, which made it difficult for him to move quickly.

Had this been a young bear he would have taken to his heels at once, and disappeared among the trees. But being an old-timer, and not a bit cowardly, he had no intention of running away. He was very angry at being disturbed when he had his house all ready for his long winter sleep. Then that tumble down the bank into the water was more than his bearish nature could stand, and he was ready for fight. He scrambled out of the water, and rushed toward the captain. The latter had no chance at all with his injured knee, and with nothing to defend himself. It was a critical moment, but he braced himself up, fumbled in his pocket for his clasp-knife, and then faced Bruin, who was now standing, on his hind legs ready for the attack.

When Captain Josh and the bear disappeared over the bank the boys stared in amazement, which soon changed to fear when they saw what the animal really was. They crowded together, and it needed but a word to cause most of them to rush panic-stricken from the place.

It was Rod who saved the situation. No sooner had the captain and the bear reached the water, than he sprang forward, seized the rifle, and leaped down the bank. He had much difficulty in keeping his feet, and several times he thought that he would lose his balance and tumble head-long into the pool below. He managed, however, to keep from falling by digging his feet into the gravel, and thus step by step moved quickly downward.

Rod knew something about the captain's rifle, as on several occasions he had been shown how it worked, and once, which was a red-letter day to him, he had been allowed to fire it off. It was quite fortunate that the boy had this slight knowledge, which now served him in good stead. Rod saw the bear rise on its hind legs, and he knew from stories he had read that this was the ordinary method of attack. He could not afford to lose a moment, he was well aware, if the captain was to be saved.

Creeping close to where the bear was standing, he drew back the hammer, took steady aim at the brute's body, and pulled the trigger. At once there was a loud report, and Rod was sent reeling backward as if hit on the shoulder by a huge rock. For an instant he imagined that the bear had struck him with its paw, but a shout from the captain caused him to scramble to his feet. Then his eyes rested upon the black form of the bear lying upon the ground but a short distance away.

"Is it dead?" he asked, hurrying over to where the captain was standing.

"Dead! Doesn't he look like it?" was the reply, as the old man laid a heavy hand affectionately upon the boy's shoulder. "That was a great shot, lad, and jist in the nick of time. My! I was sure he was goin' to have me fer dinner. That would have been a slower and more painful death fer the brute, ha, ha!"