Read CHAPTER XXIII - INTO THE BIG BOG of The Boy Scouts of Lenox / The Hike Over Big Bear Mountain, free online book, by Frank V. Webster, on ReadCentral.com.

“Is it worth our while to bother with that crowd, Tom?” asked Josh, with a look approaching disgust on his face.

One lad waited to hear what reply the patrol leader would make with more or less eagerness, as his face indicated.  Needless to say this was Carl Oskamp, who had so much at stake in the matter.

“There’s just this about it, Josh,” said Tom, gravely, “suppose after we arrived safely home from this splendid hike, the first thing we heard was that one or two of that crowd had been lost in the Great Bog up here, and it was feared they must have found a grave in the mud flats.  How would we feel about it, knowing that we had had the chance given to us to stretch out a helping hand them, and had failed?”

Josh turned red in the face.  Then he made a sudden gesture which meant he was ready to throw up his hands.

“Huh! guess you know best,” he replied, in a husky voice; “I didn’t think of it that way.  I’d sure hate to have such a thing on my mind nights.  Let’s start right away then.”

That was the way with Josh; when he had anything unpleasant to do he was always eager to get it accomplished.  For that matter, however, there were others among the scouts who wished to be astir, for the words of the patrol leader had thrilled them.

“What if they have gotten lost in that awful mud bog, and right now are stuck fast there, whooping for help?” suggested Felix.

Billy Button and Horace looked white with the very thought.  As usual George pretended to make light of the whole matter, though some of them fancied much of his disbelief was assumed, for George had a reputation to maintain.

“Oh! no danger of those Smart Alecks being caught so easy,” he told them; “they could slip through any sort of bog without getting stuck.  Like as not we’ll only have our trouble for our pains.”

“You can stay here at the cabin if you like, George,” Tom told him.

That, however, was far from George’s mind; if the others meant “to make fools of themselves he guessed he could stand it too”; and when they started forth George had his place in the very van.  Josh often said George’s “bark was worse than his bite.”

“Fortunately,” said the old naturalist, “the Great Bog isn’t more than a mile away from here, and as I’ve spent many a happy hour there observing the home life of the little creatures that live in its depths the ground is familiar to me.”

“But you still limp, I notice, sir,” remarked Tom; “are you sure you can make it to-day?  Hadn’t we better try it alone?”

“I wouldn’t think of letting you,” replied the other, hastily.  “I shall get along fairly well, never fear.  This limp has become more a habit with me than anything else, I must admit.  But if you are ready let us start off.”

Accordingly the entire party began to head in the direction taken by those four boys from Lenox.  Rob and Josh were keeping a close watch, and from time to time announced that those they were following had actually come along that same trail, for they could see their footprints.

“You know we took note of the different prints made by their shoes,” Rob told some of the other boys when they expressed surprise that this should be possible, “and it’s easy enough to tell them every once in a while.”

“They are really following my usual trail, which I always take when going to or returning from a trip,” explained the hermit-naturalist, looking pleased at this manifestation of scout sagacity on the part of the trackers.

Tom was keeping alongside his chum Carl, instead of being with those who led the procession.  He had a reason for this, too; since he had seen that the other was again showing signs of nervousness.

“Tom,” said Carl in a low voice as they walked steadily onward, “do you think I may have a chance to see Dock face to face, so I can ask him again to tell me what he ever did with that paper he took?”

“While of course I can’t say positively,” was Tom’s steady answer, “I seem to feel that something’s going to happen that will make you happier than you’ve been this many a long day, Carl.”

“Oh!  I hope you’re on the right track!” exclaimed Carl, drawing a long breath, as he clutched the arm of his faithful chum.  “It would mean everything to me if only I could go home knowing I was to get that paper.  Just think what a fine present it would be to my mother, worried half to death as she is right now over the future.”

“Well, keep hoping for the best, and it’s all going to come out well.  But what’s that the boys are saying?”

“I think they must have sighted the beginning of the Great Bog,” replied Carl.  “Do you suppose Mr. Henderson has brought that stout rope along with the idea that it may be needed to pull any one out of the mud?”

“Nothing else,” said Tom.  “He knows all about this place, and from what he’s already told us I reckon it must be a terrible hole.”

“Especially in that one spot where he says the path is hidden under the ooze, and that if once you lose it you’re apt to get in deeper and deeper, until there’s danger of being sucked down over your head.”

“It’s a terrible thing to think of,” declared Tom; “worse even than being caught in a quicksand in a creek, as I once found myself.”

“How did you get out?” asked Carl.  “I never heard you say anything about it before, Tom?”

“Oh! in my case it didn’t amount to much,” was the answer, “because I realized my danger by the time the sand was half way to my knees.  I suppose if I’d tried to draw one foot out the other would have only gone down deeper, for that’s the way they keep sinking, you know.”

“But tell me how you escaped?” insisted Carl.

“I happened to know something about quicksands,” responded the other, modestly, “and as soon as I saw what a fix I was in I threw myself flat, so as to present as wide a surface as I could, and crawled and rolled until I got ashore.  Of course I was soaked, but that meant very little compared with the prospect of being smothered there in that shallow creek.”

“But the chances are Tony and those other fellows know nothing at all about the best ways to escape from a sucking bog,” ventured Carl.

“Yes, and I can see that Mr. Henderson is really worried about it.  He is straining his ears all the while, and I think he must be listening in hope of hearing calls for help.”

“But none of us have heard anything like that!” said the other.

“No, not a shout that I could mention,” Tom admitted.  “There are those noisy crows keeping up a chatter in the tree-tops where they are holding a caucus, and some scolding bluejays over here, but nothing that sounds like a human cry.”

“It looks bad, and makes me feel shivery,” continued Carl.

“Oh! we mustn’t let ourselves think that all of them could have been caught,” the patrol leader hastened to say, meaning to cheer his chum up.  “They may have been smarter than Mr. Henderson thinks, and managed to get through the bog without getting stuck.”

Perhaps Carl was comforted by these words on the part of his chum; but nevertheless the anxious look did not leave his face.

They had by this time fully entered the bog.  It was of a peculiar formation, and not at all of a nature to cause alarm in the beginning.  Indeed it seemed as though any person with common sense could go through on those crooked trails that ran this way and that.

The old naturalist had taken the lead at this point, and they could see that he kept watching the trail in front of him.  From time to time he would speak, and the one who came just behind passed the word along, so in turn every scout knew that positive marks betrayed the fact of Tony’s crowd having really come that way.

By slow degrees the nature of the bog changed.  One might not notice that his surroundings had become less promising, and that the surface of the ooze, green though it was, would prove a delusion and a snare if stepped on, allowing the foot to sink many inches in the sticky mass.

In numerous places they could see where the boys ahead of them had missed the trail, though always managing to regain the more solid ground.

“It’s getting a whole lot spooky in here, let me tell you!” admitted Felix, after they had been progressing for some time.

“But it’s entirely different from a real swamp, you see,” remarked Josh; “I’ve been in a big one and I know.”

“How about that, Josh; wouldn’t you call a bog a swamp, too?” asked George.

“Not much I wouldn’t,” was the reply.  “A swamp is always where there are dense trees, hanging vines and water.  It’s a terribly gloomy place even in the middle of the day, and you’re apt to run across snakes, and all sorts of things like that.”

“Well, we haven’t seen a single snake so far,” admitted Horace.  “I’m glad, too, because I never did like the things.  This isn’t so very gloomy, when you come to look around you, but I’d call it just desolate, and let it go at that.”

“Black mud everywhere, though it’s nearly always covered with a deceptive green scum,” remarked Josh, “with here and there puddles of water where the frogs live and squawk the live-long day.”

“I wonder how deep that mud is anyhow?” speculated George.

“Suppose you get a pole and try while we’re resting here,” suggested Josh, with a wink at the scout next to him.

George thereupon looked around, and seeing a pole which Mr. Henderson may have placed there at some previous time he started to push it into the bog.

“What d’ye think of that, fellows?” he exclaimed, in dismay when he had rammed the seven foot pole down until three fourths of its length had vanished in the unfathomable depths of soft muck.

“Why, seems as if there wasn’t any bottom at all to the thing,” said Felix.

“Of course there is a bottom,” remarked the naturalist, who had been watching the boys curiously; “but in some places I’ve been unable to reach it with the longest pole I could manage.”

“Have we passed that dangerous place you were telling us about, sir?” asked Mr. Witherspoon.

“No, it is still some little distance ahead,” came the reply.

“If it’s much worse than right here I wouldn’t give five cents for their chances,” declared George.

“Hark!” exclaimed Tom just then.

“What did you hear?” cried Carl.

“It sounded like voices to me, though some distance off, and coming from further along the trail,” the patrol leader asserted.

“They may be stuck in the mire and trying every way they can to get out,” observed the naturalist.  “Let us give them a shout, boys.  Now, all together!”

As they all joined in, the volume of sound must have been heard a mile away.  Hardly had the echoes died out than from beyond came loud calls, and plainly they heard the words “Help, help!  Oh! come quick, somebody!  Help!”