Read CHAPTER XI - ON THE WAY of The Boy Scouts of Lenox / The Hike Over Big Bear Mountain, free online book, by Frank V. Webster, on ReadCentral.com.

Amidst many hearty cheers and the clapping of hands the Boy Scouts started off.  Felix Robbins had been elected bugler of the troop, and as there was no regular instrument for him, he had thought to fetch along the fish horn the boys used in playing fox and geese.

This he sounded with considerable vim as the khaki-clad lads marched away, with a flag at their head, the scout master keeping step alongside the column.

Some of the older people had come to see them off.  Others hurried to the open doors and windows at the sound of the horn and the cheers, to wave their hands and give encouraging smiles.

It was a proud time for those boys.  They stood up as straight as ramrods, and held their heads with the proud consciousness that for the time being they were the center of attraction.

There were ten in all starting forth.  More might have gone, only that no scout not wearing the khaki could accompany the expedition; and besides the members of the Black Bear Patrol, Rob Shaefer and Stanley Ackerman were the only two who could boast of a uniform.

A number of boys accompanied them for a mile or so, to give them a good send-off; after which they either returned home or else went over the river fishing.

For the first two miles or so every one seemed to be standing the tramp well.  Then as it began to get warmer, and the pack, somehow, seemed to increase in weight, several scouts lagged a little.

Seeing this, and understanding that it is always an unwise thing to push a horse or a human being in the beginning of a long race, Mr. Witherspoon thought it best to slacken their pace.

They were in no particular hurry to get anywhere; and once heels began to get sore from the rubbing of their shoes, it would not be easy to cure them again.  The wise scout master was a believer in the motto that “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

Ahead of them loomed the lofty elevation that possibly from its shape had long been known as Big Bear Mountain.  The boys had tried to learn just how it came by that name-and naturally this subject interested them more than ever as they found themselves drawing steadily closer to its foot.

“It doesn’t look so very much like a bear to me,” George Kingsley remarked, as the discussion waxed warmer.  Though for that matter George always did find some reason to object to almost everything.

“I was told by an old settler who ought to know,” ventured Tom, “that long ago numerous bears lived in the rocky dens of the mountain, and that’s how it came to be called as it is.”

“Must have been years and years ago then,” said Josh, “because I never remember hearing about a bear being seen hereabouts.  I often used to look for bear tracks when I was out hunting, but of course I never found one.”

“Wouldn’t it be a great thing if we did happen on a real bear while we were out on this hike?” suggested Billy Button, who was rather given to stretches of imagination, and seeing things where they did not exist.

So they beguiled the time away as they tramped along.  Gradually they approached the great gloomy looking mountain, and it was seen that by the time they stopped for their noon meal they would probably be at its foot.

Tom and Carl were walking together, for somehow the boys seemed to pair off as a general thing.  Carl was looking brighter now, as though in the excitement of the start he might have temporarily forgotten his troubles.

“There don’t seem to be so many farms up this way as we thought,” Tom observed as they found themselves walking close beside a stretch of woodland, with a gully on the other side of the road.

“That may make it harder for us to get the supplies we’ll need, I should think,” suggested Carl, who knew the leaders of the expedition had counted on finding hospitable farmers from time to time, from whom they could purchase bread, butter, and perhaps smoked ham or bacon, very little of which had been carried with them-in fact no more than would be required for a few meals.

“Yes,” admitted Tom readily enough.  “But then it will afford us a chance to show our ability as scouts-and if you look at it the right way that counts for a lot.  When everything goes according to the schedule you’ve arranged there isn’t much credit in doing things; but when you’re up against it good and hard, and have to shut your teeth and fight, then when you accomplish things you’ve got a right to feel satisfied.”

Carl knew full well there was a hidden significance beneath these words of his chum’s-and that Tom was once more trying to buoy up his hopes.

Since they had struck a portion of country not so thickly populated, the observing scouts had commenced to notice numerous interesting sights that attracted their attention.  Soon every boy was straining his eyesight in the hope of discovering new things among the trees, in the air overhead, or it might be amidst the shadows of the woodland alongside the country road.

The scout master encouraged this habit of observation all he could.  He knew that once it got a firm hold upon the average boy he could never again pass along a road or trail in the country without making numberless discoveries.  What had once been a sealed book to his eyes would now become as an open page.

About this time there were heard inquiries as to when they expected to stop and have a bite of lunch.  Tom and the scout master had already arranged this, and when the third scout was heard to say he felt as hungry as a wolf, Tom took it upon himself to explain.

“If you look ahead,” he remarked, so that all could hear, “you’ll notice where a hump of the mountain seems to hang over the road.  That’s about where we expect to rest an hour or so.”

“Must be something unusual about this particular place, I should say, for you to settle on it ahead of time this way,” remarked wise Josh in his Yankee way.

“There is,” Tom informed him.  “According to my map here, and what information I’ve been able to pick up, there’s a fine cold spring bubbles up alongside the road right there; and for one I’m feeling the need of a good drink the worst kind.”

After that it was noticed that even the laggards began to show unusual energy, as if the prospect of soon being able to throw themselves down and slake their thirst, as well as satisfy their hunger, appealed forcibly to them.

It was close on to noon when finally, with a shout, they hurried forward and dropped their packs close to where the ice-cold spring flowed.

“Queer how heavy those old packs do get the longer you carry them,” observed George, as he waited for his turn to lie down and drink his fill of the spring water.

“You’re a suspicious sort of fellow, George,” declared Felix; “I’ve seen you turn around as quick as a flash, just as if you thought some other scout might be hanging his pack on to yours, so as to make you carry double.”

George turned redder than he had already become under the force of the sun; but he did not deny the accusation.

It was decided not to light a fire at noon.  They could eat a cold lunch and wash it down with water.

“We’ll keep our fire for this evening,” said Mr. Witherspoon; “you know it is generally quite a ceremony-the starting of the first campfire when scouts go off on a long trip.”

Waiting until the sun had started well on his way down the heavens, and there had arisen a little breeze that made it more bearable, the scout master finally had Felix sound his fish horn for the signal to “fall in.”

Some of the boys did not show quite as much animation as on that other occasion.  They were not accustomed to walking for hours, and would have to get used to it through experience.

An hour later they were straggling along, some of them on the other side of a wire fence that separated the road from the woods, as there seemed to be a chance of making interesting discoveries there.

“Look at that red squirrel hanging head down to the bark on the trunk of that tree!” exclaimed Billy Button; “I never noticed just how they did that stunt before.”

“Huh! lots of us are seeing things through a magnifying glass since we joined the scouts,” admitted Felix.  “Seems as if the scales have been taken from my eyes, and I find a thousand things worth looking at all around me.”

“Well, here comes one right now, Felix; and he’s a bouncer at that!” cried the third of the group that had invaded the woods beyond the barbed-wire fence.

Even as he spoke there was a furious barking, and a savage-looking dog came tearing swiftly toward them, evidently bent on doing mischief.