Read CHAPTER XIV - AT THE FOOT OF BIG BEAR MOUNTAIN of The Boy Scouts of Lenox / The Hike Over Big Bear Mountain, free online book, by Frank V. Webster, on ReadCentral.com.

It took them a long time to get settled on that night.  Some of the scouts were about to experience their first camp sleep.  They had to be shown just how to arrange their blankets, and what to do about the customary pillow upon which they wished to rest their heads.

Tom, Josh and Rob Shaefer, having been through the mill before, explained these things.  They even helped the tenderfeet fill with hemlock browse the little cotton bag, which had possibly once held flour, and which each scout had been advised to carry along in his pack.

“They’ll be worth their weight in gold many times on the trip,” said Tom, when even Mr. Witherspoon stood listening with interest, for he had not as yet learned everything, he was free to confess.

“But do we have to carry them along with us like that?” asked Horace as he held up the rather bulky object he had made of his cotton slip.

“Certainly not,” he was informed; “you empty it before breaking camp, and in the evening fill it again.  Plenty of hemlock or spruce handy, whenever you choose to stretch out your hand and pluck it.”

“You must show me about all these things,” Billy Button remarked.  “To tell the truth I don’t know the difference between balsam, fir, spruce, hemlock, larch and some other trees I’ve heard you talking about.”

“I’ll begin to-morrow, and you’ll find it simple enough,” Tom promised him.

After all the night really passed without any disturbance.  Tom and Rob managed to wake up a number of times, and getting quietly out of their snug nests, they renewed the fire, thus keeping it going all through the night.

Had any one been watching closely they probably would have seen a head bob up occasionally, the owner take a cautious look around, and then drop back again as though convinced that all was well, with no danger of ferocious wild beasts raiding the camp.

These were the tenderfeet of the troop.  They of course could not sleep save in snatches, and the strangeness of their surroundings caused them to feel more or less nervous.  All they heard, however, was the barking of Farmer Brush’s watch dogs or some little woods animal complaining because these two-legged intruders had disturbed the peace of their homeland.

With the coming of dawn there was a stir in camp.  Then one by one the scouts crawled out from their blankets, all but two greenhorns.

“Let them sleep a while longer,” said Mr. Witherspoon.  “I fancy neither of them passed a very comfortable night.”

And at this the other boys moderated their voices as they proceeded to get an early breakfast ready, though in no hurry to leave that pleasant Camp Content.

Of course both the laggards were up and ready by the time the call to breakfast was heard in the land.  It may be that the smell of the eggs and bacon frying and the aromatic coffee’s bubbling had much to do with arousing them.

While they were eating who should appear but the hired man of Farmer Brush.  He had a big basket on his arm, also a note for the scout master.

“I have to go to town early this morning or I’d fetch these few things myself,” the note ran; “I want you to accept them from me with my compliments, and my hearty thanks for your entertainment last night.  I have hardly slept a wink thinking about what you told me; and next meeting me and my boys will be on hand.

    “Ezra brush.

    “P.S.  The chickens my wife sends you, and she says they are
    tender enough to fry.”

Besides the four chickens, all ready for cooking, there was a fine print of new butter, as well as a carton of several dozen eggs fresh from the coop.

“Three cheers for Mr. Brush, fellows!” cried Tom, after the scout master had read the note aloud; and they were given with a will, much to the entertainment of Bill, who stood there and grinned broadly.

It was about eight o’clock when the column started once more.  They meant to leave the main road they had been following up to this time, for it did not run in the direction they wanted to go.

There was another smaller one which they expected to follow, for that day at least, and which skirted the base of the mountain, even ascending it in several places, as their map showed.

“It will be our last day on any sort of road, if we follow out the programme as arranged,” Tom Chesney explained, as they sat around at noon munching the “snack” each scout had been commissioned to prepare at breakfast time against his being hungry in the middle of the day, when they would not care to start a fire in order to do any cooking.

“You mean we expect to push right up the mountain and begin exploring the country, don’t you, Tom?” asked Josh between bites.

“Yes, and three of the fellows intend to make maps as we go, for practice,” the leader of the Black Bear Patrol explained.

“All I hope is,” commented Billy Button, anxiously, “that we don’t manage to get lost.  I’ve got a very important engagement a week from Friday that I wouldn’t want to miss.”

“Huh, guess I’m in the same box,” chuckled Josh; “anyway I promised to be sitting in my usual chair with my feet under our dining table on that same day; and it’d grieve my heart if I missed connections.”

The middle of that June day proved to be very warm, and the boys decided to lie around for several hours.  When the sun had got well started down the western sky perhaps there might be a little more life in the air.  Besides, they were in no hurry; so what was the use of exerting themselves unduly?

“I hope it isn’t going to storm!” suggested Carl, as they sprawled under the shady tree where they had halted for the noon rest, each youth in as comfortable an attitude as he could assume.

“Oh, is there any chance of a terrible storm dropping down on us, do you think?” asked Horace Crapsey, looking troubled; for although none of the others knew it, the crash of the thunder and the play of lightning had struck terror to his soul ever since the time he had been knocked down, when a tree near his house was shattered by a bolt from the clouds.

“Not that you can see right now,” Josh informed him, a little contemptuously; with a strong boy’s feeling toward one who shows signs of being afraid; “but when it’s summer time and when, in the bargain, a day has been as hot as this one, you never can tell.”

“That’s so, Josh,” George Kingsley remarked, wagging his head as though for once he actually agreed with something that had been said; “a simmering day often coaxes a storm along.  It may hit us toward night-time, or even come on any hour afterwards when we’re sleeping like babes in the woods.”

“But what can we do for shelter?” asked Billy Button; “we haven’t got even a rag for a tent; and once we get soaked it’ll be a hard job to dry our suits, you know.”

“Leave that to us, Billy,” Tom told him, confidently.  “First of all every scout has a rubber poncho; two of these fastened together will make what they call a dog tent, under which a couple of fellows can tuck themselves, and keep the upper part of their bodies dry.  Soldiers always use them.”

“Yes,” added Rob Shaefer; “and if it looks like rain to-night we’ll raise several brush shanties.  By making use of the rubber blankets they can be kept as dry as a bone.  Scouts must learn how to meet every possible condition that can rise up.  That’s a big part of the fun, once you’ve begun to play the game.”

Billy seemed to be much impressed by this cheering intelligence; and even Horace smiled again, having recovered from his little panic.

It was almost three o’clock when the signal was given for a start.  They took it slowly, and in the next two hours had probably covered little more than two miles.  They were still loitering along the road that skirted the foot of the Big Bear Mountain.

“As we have some extra cooking to do to-night, boys,” the scout master told them, “we had better pull up here where we can get fine water.  That’s one of the things you must always look for when camping, remember.”

Nothing pleased the scouts better than the prospect of stopping, and starting supper, for they were tired, and hungry in the bargain.

“If we didn’t want to eat these fowls right away,” Tom remarked, “I’d suggest that we bake them in a hot oven made in the ground.  That’s the original cooker, you know.  But it takes a good many hours to do it.”

“Another time, perhaps, when we’re stopping several days in one camp we’ll get some more chickens, Tom,” said the scout master, “and have you show us just how it is done.  I’ve heard of the old-time scheme, but never tasted anything cooked in a mud oven.”

Everything looked calm and peaceful just then, but after all that was a deception and a snare.  Even while the cooks were starting in to cut up the chickens so that the various parts might be placed in the two big frying-pans, after a certain amount of fat salt pork had been “tried out,” and allowed to get fiercely hot, Josh, who happened to be seen coming from the spring with a coffee-pot of water called out: 

“Well, here comes your storm cloud all right, Horace; only instead of a ducking we stand a chance of getting a licking from another enraged tiller of the soil!”