The Young Wireless Operator--As a Fire Patrol
Lewis E. Theiss
Part 2 out of 5
water seemed to be filled with living objects.
"Gee whiz!" whispered Charley. "It's like going to an aquarium and looking
at the fish in glass cages. I never dreamed a brook could be so
With the utmost caution they moved along the bank of the run, looking for
crayfish of suitable size. Whenever they found one, Charley focused the
flash-light on it, moving the beam so as to dazzle the creature and keep
the space behind it in darkness. And Lew would slip the coffee-pot into
the water and move it cautiously up to the crayfish, ready for a final,
quick scoop. Sometimes he was successful and sometimes the intended victim
escaped. Always the click of the metal pot against the stony bottom sent
the little creatures in the water scurrying for cover. A second after Lew
tried for the crayfish not a living thing was visible. So it was necessary
to move on along the stream. From spot to spot the two boys proceeded, now
getting a good bait, now missing one, but ever keenly enjoying the
wonderful glimpses of the life in the brook. So they continued until they
had a goodly number of crayfish.
"I believe that's enough," said Lew. "Let's get back to camp. The fellows
will be at their instruments at nine, ready to talk to us." He glanced at
his watch. "I had no idea," he cried, "that it was so late. It's almost
nine now. We'll have to hurry."
So fascinating had been the glimpses of life in the brook that time had
sped much faster than either boy realized.
They hurried back to their camp. They had taken the precaution to sling
their grub high above ground on a piece of wire, but apparently nothing
had tried to molest anything. Lew rekindled the fire in the little stone
fireplace they had built and Charley uncovered the wireless instruments
and sat down on one pack bag. The other he flung to Lew. Then he slipped
the receivers on his head, threw over his switch, and sent the bright
sparks flashing between the points of his spark-gap.
"CBWC--CBWC--CBWC--CBC," he rapped out. (Camp Brady Wireless Club, Charley
Then he sat in silence, waiting for an answer. It came promptly.
"CBC--CBC--CBC--I--I--I--GA." (Charley Russell--We're here. Go ahead.)
"Got 'em," he cried. He answered and got a reply. "They want to know why
we didn't call up last night," Charley said to Lew.
The fire in the little fireplace burned clear and bright, making a circle
of light in the dark forest. Lew sat near the fire, cross-legged on his
pack bag, thrusting an occasional stick into the flames. Charley sat by
his instrument. Rapidly he pressed the key, and the sparks flew between
the points of his gap like tiny flashes of horizontal lightning.
"Hello! Is that you, Willie?" rapped out Charley.
"Sure," came the answer. "But we're all here. Why didn't you call up last
"Couldn't," answered Charley. "Didn't reach Old Ironsides camp site until
long after dark. Forest fires have burned up all the timber there. Spring
dried up, too. Had terrible time. Awful thirsty and no water to drink. Too
tired to put up aerial."
"Where are you now?"
"In the third valley east of Old Ironsides. Never been so far in the
mountains before. Grand stand of timber here. Great trout stream. Full of
big ones. Won't touch worms or flies. Just been catching crabs to try
"Get any yet?"
"One big one."
"Have any adventures?"
"Not unless you call our experience in the burned timber an adventure.
Toughest thing I've stacked up against in a long time. Timber burned for
miles. No fish. Raccoons catching 'em out of the little pools. Had to come
here to get any. What are you doing?"
"Everybody hard at work. I got a new job yesterday helping a fellow make a
"Right here. We're making it in my shop."
"Will you be there to-morrow?"
"Sure. All day."
"We'll call you."
"Good! I'll listen in every hour on the hour. Then you can get me almost
"Bully for you. We're going to fish to-morrow, but we may catch so many in
the morning that we won't want to fish after dinner. I'll let you know how
we make out. Good luck to you all. Wish you were here. We'll bring you a
nice mess of fish, anyway. Good-night."
"Good-night and good luck."
"I wish they were here," said Lew, as Charley covered the instruments to
protect them from dampness, and moved over near his chum. "It doesn't seem
right to be in the forest without the whole crowd. This makes me think of
our camp in the forest near the Elk City reservoir, when we were hot on
the trail of the dynamiters. I'd hate to camp out at this time of year
without any fire."
"Well, let's turn in. We want to get up early to-morrow and try those
crabs. I'll bet we get a bunch of trout."
"Bet we do, too," replied Charley.
Little did he dream that on the morrow he would be engaged in matters far
more serious than catching trout.
The Forest Afire
The earliest rays of light had hardly penetrated beneath the giant pines
the next morning before the two boys were astir. Their breakfast was
quickly cooked and eaten. Then they buckled on their bait boxes, now
bulging with worms and crayfish. They carried as well their books of
flies. And Charley slipped the little axe into his belt, to have something
to chop with in case they wanted to hunt for whiteworms.
"Let's go back where we caught that big fellow last night," said Lew.
"There may be some more like him in those deep pools."
"All right. Come on."
With nothing but their little rods to carry, they made fast time through
the forest, and had already reached the pool in which the big trout was
taken, before the first ray of sunlight came flashing among the tree
"We're going to have a fine day," said Charley. "It's my turn to catch a
fish. Here goes for a try."
He baited his hook with a crayfish, and cautiously made his way toward the
brink of the brook. Half-way he paused and straightened up, sniffing the
air. Then he turned and looked at Lew.
"Smell anything?" he asked.
Lew had also detected a taint in the fresh morning air. "Smells like
smoke," he said. "Probably some fisherman cooking his breakfast."
Charley turned toward the brook again, then once more faced his companion.
"People don't cook with leaves," he said soberly. "That isn't wood smoke,
that's burning leaves."
For a moment the two boys looked at each other in silence.
"You don't suppose----" began Lew, but Charley cut him short.
"Let's make sure. Which way is that smoke coming from?" He stepped to the
brook and dipped a finger in the cold water. Then he held his hand aloft.
"There's so little wind stirring I can't tell which way it's blowing," he
said. "One side of my finger feels as cold as the other."
Again he tried it. There was just a suggestion of an air current. "Seems
to be blowing straight up the valley," he said.
"I'll try a match," said Lew. He took his waterproof match box from his
pocket and drew forth a match, which he lighted on his heel. "You're
right," he said. "The flame blows up-stream a little. What shall we do?"
"It doesn't seem possible that the woods can be afire," answered Charley.
"But let's make sure. If the forest is afire and we can put it out, it
would be a crime if we don't. The memory of it would haunt me the rest of
"All right. We'll go down-stream. If there is a fire, we'll do our best to
put it out. If there isn't any fire, there's no harm done. We can probably
find as many fish down-stream as there are here. We'll save time if we
unjoint our rods."
Quickly the lines were reeled up and the rods packed in their cloth cases.
Then, with nothing to hamper them, the two boys hurried down the valley.
Gradually the odor of burning leaves grew stronger. A very little breeze
arose, blowing straight in their faces. It was heavy with the smell of
fire. Ahead of them the forest began to look gray and misty, as though a
heavy night fog still covered the earth. But both boys knew that the gray
blanket was no night mist. It was smoke. They quickened their pace. The
smoke cloud grew denser. Then a dull, reddish glow appeared. There could
no longer be any doubt. The forest was afire.
"Come on," cried Charley. "We've got to grab it quick."
As they started to run, Lew protested: "Not too fast. We'll tire ourselves
out before we get there. We may have a long fight before we put the fire
The smoke now rolled past them in dense clouds. The red glow grew
brighter. In a few moments they reached the fire itself. It was in an
opening where the timber had been cut and little but brush remained. It
was a ground fire that crept slowly along among the leaves. Yet it had
already spread until it seemed to stretch across half the valley.
"If we can only put it out before the wind comes up," said Charley, "we
can save the forest."
He looked about for a low tree, discovered a thick, young pine, rapidly
chopped off some bushy branches, and again sheathed his axe. Each boy
seized a branch.
"Our rods--what shall we do with them?" asked Lew.
"Throw 'em in the run. Fire can't hurt 'em there and we can get 'em at any
Lew rushed over to the brook and put the rods in the water. He set a flat
stone on them to keep the current from moving them. Then he dipped his
pine bough in the brook and began to beat out the flames, working straight
out from the bank. Charley joined him. Rapidly they rained blows upon the
fire. Rod after rod they advanced. The heat from even so small a fire was
great. The smoke was blinding and stifling. Heat and smoke and their own
exertions tired them rapidly.
"We've got to take it easier," said Lew, after a little, "or we'll be all
in before we get the fire half out."
Of necessity they slackened their efforts. As they wore out their weapons,
they cut new ones. Every little while they rested. They were tiring fast.
At the same tune, the wind was beginning to freshen. Here in the open
there was nothing to break its force. The flames leaped higher under its
breath and began to run over the ground instead of crawling. The fire
itself created a draft. The greater the draft, the hotter the flame
became, and the hotter the fire grew, the stronger blew the draft.
"We're never going to do it," panted Charley, after a while. "The wind is
blowing harder all the time. We must call help."
He looked at his watch. "Twenty minutes of seven!" he ejaculated. "How far
do you think we are from camp?"
"Two miles, anyway," answered Lew.
"If I can make it by seven, I may be able to get Willie. He said he would
listen in every hour."
"Hurry," said Lew sharply. "I'll keep at work here."
"If it gets too hot for you," said Charley, "go right back to the brook,
and come up along it to camp. That's the way I'm going back, and I'll
return that way after I get Willie. Good-bye."
He started off at a fast pace. But his exertions and the heat and smoke
had so weakened him that he quickly saw he could not maintain such a gait.
He dropped to a steady jog. Even that taxed his strength. But he gritted
his teeth and clenched his hands and kept on.
The forest was now full of smoke. The dense cloud completely hid the sun.
Among the great pines it was almost like twilight. Charley pushed on as
fast as his weary legs could carry him. More than once he tripped and
fell. He could no longer see distinctly. Fatigue and the smoke in his eyes
blurred his vision. He was scratched and torn and his hands were a mass of
little burns. Charley scarcely noticed them. His mind was wholly intent on
getting help and saving the forest. Nothing else mattered. So he staggered
on through the dusky woods. He glanced at his watch. Ten minutes had
passed. He felt sure he had been running an hour and that his watch had
stopped. He held it to his ear. The steady ticking somewhat reassured him.
After what seemed like another long interval he ventured to look at it
again. Five minutes more had elapsed. Five minutes remained before Willie
would be at his post waiting for a possible message. Charley crowded on
all the speed that was left in him. But his feet seemed to be made of
lead. His heart pounded painfully against his ribs. His lungs seemed nigh
"Five minutes more," he kept muttering to himself. "Only five minutes
more. I've got to make it. Only five minutes more."
Suddenly he came to their camp. In his weariness he had not recognized any
landmarks. He could hardly believe it was their camp. But there were the
grub bag hanging on a wire, the dishes piled by the fire, and the wireless
instruments protected by the pack bags.
"Thank God for the wireless!" gasped Charley, as he threw himself on the
ground beside his key. He tried to flash a call, but his hand trembled so
he could not form the letters correctly. He dropped flat on his back to
rest for a moment, glancing at his watch as he lay there. It lacked one
minute of seven.
For sixty seconds Charley lay prostrate, looking at the second-hand on his
watch as it went round. Then he sat up. The minute's rest had steadied him
wonderfully. He moved his switch, pressed his finger on the key, and sent
the bright sparks flashing between his gap points.
"CBWC--CBWC--CBWC--CBC," he called, then paused to listen.
There was no response. An anxious look crept into his eyes.
"CBWC--CBWC--CBWC--CBC," again he called.
No answering signal sounded in his ear. His face went white.
"CBWC--CBWC--CBWC--CBC," he rapped out anxiously. And without listening
for a reply, he repeated the message frantically half a dozen times. Then
a buzzing sounded in his ears. A look of relief came on his face. He
sighed. Willie was acknowledging his call signal.
"Good-morning," continued Willie. "Caught any trout yet?"
"The forest is afire!" flashed back Charley. "Get the district forester on
the telephone instantly. His headquarters are at Oakdale. Tell him the
fire is in the third valley east of Old Ironsides; that the message is
from the two boys he met yesterday; that we are trying to hold it. Ask
what we shall do. I'll wait for his answer."
For what seemed an endless period of time, Charley waited. Seconds were
like minutes. Minutes dragged like quarter hours. It seemed as though
Willie would never answer. There was nothing for Charley to do but sit and
wait. In his impatience he could hardly keep still. He could not take his
mind from the fire. He could think of nothing but that roaring line of
flame consuming the floor of the forest and destroying the young growths.
Would Willie never get the forester? Must the entire woods burn before the
forester knew of the fire? In his excitement Charley clasped and unclasped
his hands and nervously swayed back and forth as he sat on the ground.
Suddenly he sat up as steady as a stone image. The wireless was beginning
"Forester on wire now," came the message from Willie. "Wants know exactly
where fire is."
"A little south of east of where he met us, in the third valley beyond
Ironsides," flashed back Charley.
"How big is the fire?" came a second question, after a brief interval.
"Don't know. Too big for us. Lew still fighting it. I'm going back. What
shall we do?"
Again there was a pause. Then Willie answered: "Forester says find header
and back-fire. Try to hold it till fire crew arrives."
"Will do our best. Listen in often. May need call you. Good-bye."
Charley threw over his switch, covered the instruments with the pack bags,
and was off down the valley. He felt much refreshed by his rest. At a
steady jog he made his way along the brook.
Now he found it difficult to breathe. Smoke was rolling through the forest
in billows. Close by he heard the cries of terror-stricken animals. He
came to the edge of the burned space beside the brook, where they had
beaten out the flames. Here there was practically no smoke. He turned away
from the run and followed the black edge of the burned area. He knew this
would bring him to Lew, and he wanted to make sure that they had
extinguished every spark in the distance they had covered. Only at one
point did he find fire smouldering. He beat out the sparks and went on. He
could see almost nothing. The smoke grew thicker and thicker. Through it
he began to distinguish the red glare of the flames. Ever louder sounded
the crackle of fire. From a low, humming sound it grew, as he drew near,
into a subdued roar. Then all other sounds were lost in the greater tumult
of the forest fire.
Now he came close to the flames. The heat was terrific. The smoke choked
him. He could hardly breathe. The roar of the fire was terrifying.
Hitherto he had felt no fear. Now a feeling of alarm suddenly seized him.
What if Lew had been overcome by smoke and burned in his absence? The
possibility had never occurred to him before.
"Lew! Lew!" he shouted at the top of his voice, and started along the line
of the fire. There was no reply. At least Charley heard none.
"Lew! Lew!" he cried. "Where are you?"
But no voice answered through the smoke.
"If he's down, I'll find him or die trying," muttered Charley to himself.
His face was grim and set as he started along the line of the fire again,
paying no heed to the flames but looking only for his chum. Every few
yards he stopped and shouted. But no answer ever reached him.
On he went, rod after rod, keeping as near the flames as he dared. He saw
nothing of his friend. He came to a point where a tongue of fire had run
far in advance of the remainder of the blaze. It seemed to be traveling
twice as fast as the rest of the flames.
"The header!" he cried to himself. "Here's where we ought to be at work.
But I must find Lew first. He certainly never got beyond this header."
Charley stopped and called. Again and again he shouted. There was no
"Maybe he went back to look for me and I passed him in the smoke," thought
Charley. "I'll go back to the brook."
He turned to retrace his steps. Something suddenly flashed into flame
close beside him. It caught Charley's attention. He saw it was a pine
bough. Then he noticed that it had been freshly cut.
"It's Lew's brush," cried Charley. "He must have been here."
He sank on his knees close to the blazing bough, and heedless of smoke and
flame began to examine the ground carefully. He ran his fingers lightly
over the leaves, feeling for footprints. At first he found nothing. Then
he discovered the impression of a heel. He could not be certain which way
the footprint pointed.
With the heel mark as a centre, he began to feel about in a circle two or
three feet wide. He judged that would be the length of his chum's stride.
Twice he felt around the circle before he found a second footprint. It was
in the direction of the brook. He moved forward and searched where he
thought the third step should have fallen. Here he distinctly saw the mark
of a foot. When he rose to his feet his coat sleeve was beginning to smoke
and his face was blistered.
"Lew's gone back to the brook," he muttered. "I must have passed him in
the smoke. He's probably looking for me."
But he still felt vaguely uneasy and fearful. He walked rapidly toward the
brook. The trail he was following became distinct. The leaves had been
kicked up here and there by Lew as he walked. The track grew plainer and
plainer. It became more like a plow furrow. At first Charley did not
grasp the meaning of the shambling trail. Then it came to him.
"He's dragging his feet," he muttered. "He must be all in. Maybe he's
Charley took a quick look at the flames. They had crept frightfully close
to the trail in the leaves. Then he sprang forward at top speed. His face
"I've got to reach him before the fire gets him," he sobbed.
He kept peering through the smoke. "There's another header shooting out
toward that log," he said, "but I won't leave the trail. I might miss
The trail led straight toward the log. Charley increased his speed. As he
neared the log he gave a cry of terror and bounded forward like a shot.
What Charley had mistaken for a tree trunk was his chum's prostrate form.
The flames had almost reached it.
With his brush Charley fell on the fire savagely and beat it out for the
space of a rod or two on either side of Lew's body. Then he rushed back to
his chum and knelt beside him. Lew was unconscious but breathing
regularly. His nose was half buried in leaves and moss. That fact had
probably saved his life, for it had given him pure air to breathe.
Charley drew Lew over his shoulder until he had him doubled up like a
jack-knife, and could therefore carry him easily. Then, at a steady pace,
he set out for the brook. Soon he passed the end of the line of fire. In
a few minutes more he reached the stream.
He laid his chum close beside the run, felt his pulse and listened to his
breathing. Lew's heart was beating regularly and he was breathing easily.
Charley sighed with relief. "He's all right," he muttered.
Then he filled his hat with water and sprinkled some on Lew's face. Lew's
eyelids flickered. Then his eyes opened.
"Where am I, Charley?" he asked. "What are you doing?"
For a moment he lay still. Then suddenly he sat bolt upright.
"I know now," he said. "The forest is on fire. I was fighting it and you
went to call help. Did you get Willie? And how did you find me? I guess I
got too much smoke. I started for the brook. That's all I can remember.
I'm all right now. We're going back."
He got to his feet, but at first had to be supported. Charley made him lie
down again. In a few minutes his strength seemed to return to him. He got
"I'm all right now, Charley," he insisted. "I mightn't be awake yet if you
hadn't thrown that water on my face. Thanks, old man."
Charley did not tell Lew how near to death he had been. Instead, he said,
"Are you sure you're strong enough to tackle that fire again?"
"Sure as shooting," nodded Lew.
"Then come on. The fire has an awful start on us. The forester wants us to
try to hold the header by back-firing."
As they started toward the blaze Lew said, "We'll have to work some
distance in advance of it. If only we had rakes we might conquer it even
They made their way to a point well in front of the header. Then they cut
sticks and made little bundles of them to use like rakes.
"I'll clear away the leaves and you start the fire," directed Charley.
He began raking away the leaves, clearing a sort of path about two feet
wide straight across the line of the advancing header. Lew lighted the
leaves on the side of the cleared space toward the header, following close
upon Charley's heels. From time to time he ran back along the cleared
space to make sure the flames had not jumped across it. Wherever they had,
he beat them out with his brush. On the other side of the cleared space
the flames slowly worked their way toward the onrushing header, widening
with every minute the barren area where the flames could find no fuel to
Rod after rod Charley cleared a narrow lane and Lew kept close behind him
with his torch. With amazing rapidity they extended their line.
"If only we had the Wireless Patrol here," panted Lew, "we'd lick this old
fire to a frazzle."
On and on they went. To save their strength they exchanged tasks at
intervals. Every few minutes they faced about and ran back over their line
to make sure no flames had crossed the cleared space. The air was dense
with smoke, but the heat from their back-fire was trifling in comparison
with that of the main conflagration. The stand of timber grew thicker,
breaking the force of the breeze more and more. Their back-fire ate its
way into the wind much faster, and the real fire came on slower. It seemed
to be getting farther and farther away.
"We've passed the header," cried Charley exultantly. "We ought to be able
to hold the main fire."
They rested a moment, then went at their task with renewed hope and vigor.
Rod after rod they cleared a path and fired the leaves on the windward
side of this lane. Finally their line grew so long that they could no
longer guard it properly.
"If only we had half a dozen boys to patrol the line," sighed Lew. "I'm
afraid the flames will jump across somewhere. Then all we have done will
be in vain."
"We'll make a trip over the whole line," declared Charley, "and be sure
it's safe. Then we'll stop back-firing and beat out the flames again. It's
the only sure way I can think of."
He drew his axe and cut fresh boughs. Then they went back along their
line. In one place flames had already leaped across, but they fell on them
vigorously with their bushes and soon put them out. They patrolled the
line until they felt sure it was safe.
"If we can put out the flames between our back-fire and the brook," said
Lew, "it will make our job a great deal easier. We've already put out part
They began to work their way back to the brook, following the line of
flame and beating out the fire foot by foot as they advanced. There were
many things in their favor. The dense stand of trees at this point not
only checked the wind and made the fire less fierce, but the absence of
underbrush also helped to check it. There was little for it to feed upon
but leaves. So the two boys could work close to it and beat it out with
ease, though the smoke was stifling. Only lads of great determination and
courage would have stuck to the task.
With frequent pauses, necessary for rest, they went on, foot by foot, yard
after yard, rod upon rod. "We're going to make it," cried Lew presently.
"It's only a little distance to the end of the flames."
They increased their efforts. Quickly they reached the end of the line of
fire. Beyond that the woods had been saved by their first efforts.
"Now we'll go back over the line," said Charley, "and make sure the fire
doesn't start up anywhere."
"I'm dying of thirst," said Lew. "Let's get a drink first. We are not far
from the brook."
They hurried to the run and threw themselves flat on the bank, drinking
copious draughts of the cool and refreshing water.
"I wonder what time it is," said Charley, as they got to their feet again.
"It seems to me that we've been fighting fire for hours." He looked at his
watch. "We have," he cried. "It's after eleven o'clock. The fire crew has
been on the way four hours. They'll follow their fire trails and get here
in a fraction of the time it took us to come in. They certainly ought to
be here soon. If we can hold the fire for a little bit longer the forest
will be safe."
"Come on," called Lew. "We've got to do it."
Again they went along the line of their back-fire. For rod after rod the
fire was conquered. In other places it still burned; but the back-fire had
now eaten its way so far to windward of the cleared space that there was
no longer any danger of the flames leaping past the barrier. So they
covered the entire length of their line and found it safe.
When they reached the main fire again they began to beat it out with
branches. Rod after rod they continued to work their way. But at best
their progress was painfully slow.
"Lew," said Charley of a sudden, "while we are beating out these flames
here, there may be another header in front of us traveling like a
racehorse. I'm going to run ahead and see. You stay here. Call every
little bit and I'll answer. I'll be back in a few minutes."
He made his way along the line of the fire. Here in the thick timber it
still burned slowly and feebly. He could trace the line of fire far ahead,
and it seemed to have advanced with remarkable evenness. Nowhere could be
seen a header of flame jutting out far in advance of the main line.
"If the wind doesn't rise," he muttered to himself, "we're going to make
He went on, trying to locate the other end of the fire. Behind him he
heard Lew halloing. Before he could turn to answer, an echo came back from
the mountain in front of him.
"If only that were a real voice," muttered Charley to himself.
Then he stood stock-still. Shout after shout came ringing in his ears. "It
is a real voice," he cried. "The fire crew is coming."
A moment later a dozen forms became visible in the smoke. They were
running along the edge of the fire, evidently trying to determine where to
begin their attack on it. At their head was the forester. He came directly
toward Charley, but gave no sign of recognition. Nor, could Charley have
seen himself, would he have wondered at it. With his face blackened by
smoke and caked with blood from innumerable little cuts and scratches, his
hands grimy and almost raw, and his clothes torn in a hundred places,
Charley could hardly have been recognized by his own mother.
"How far across the valley does this fire extend?" asked the forester.
"You are almost at the end of it, sir," replied Charley.
"It's making a tremendous smoke for such a little blaze, then," said the
He turned to his men. "Get right at it and beat it out," he ordered. "This
is all there is to it."
Again he faced Charley. "Are you sure?" he demanded. "When we came over
the pass it looked as though the entire bottom was afire."
"It was," said Charley. "That is, everything this side of the run was
afire. We have got it all out but this."
"Have you seen anything of two boys with a wireless outfit? They notified
me of this fire."
"Why, I am one of them, sir. It was I who asked you yesterday for a job as
The forester looked at him narrowly for several seconds. "See here," he
said severely. "Did you boys set this forest afire?"
Charley looked aghast. "Set the forest afire!" he exclaimed in amazement.
"Certainly not. Why should we?"
"Are you telling me the truth?"
Even through the grime Charley's face was red. "See here," he said
angrily, "I don't care whether you are the forester or the President of
the United States. You are not going to call me a liar. If Lew and I
hadn't been here fishing, you wouldn't have any forest by this time. We've
fought this fire for hours and it's only a piece of luck that Lew isn't
dead. He'd have been burned to a crisp if I hadn't found him just when I
did. We've done everything we could to save the forest. I demand to know
your reason for suggesting that we started the blaze."
"Young man," said the forester, "more than one forest fire has been set by
persons who wanted a job fighting fire. You wanted a job. You told me what
an advantage your wireless would be.
"My ranger reported to me by telephone last night that excepting for
yourselves he had seen nobody in this region all day. This morning a fire
breaks out; you report it promptly by wireless; and when we arrive, you
have it almost out. Isn't that a suspicious chain of circumstances?
Doesn't it look as though you might be trying to show the forester
"A fellow who would set the forest afire just to prove his own
qualifications as a fire fighter ought to be put in prison," said Charley
indignantly. "Do you think I'm that kind of a skunk?"
"No, I don't," said the forester. "I believe you boys had no hand in
starting this fire and that you have risked your lives and done heroic
work to save the forest. But I had to be sure. There is something queer
about this fire. With no railroads near to shoot up sparks, no
thunder-storms to flash lightning, and no campers to be careless with
their fires, what did cause it? It isn't the first time mysterious fires
have started in this fine timber. You saw in the other valley what two of
these fires did before we got them out. This is the third fire that has
occurred in this tract. If it hadn't been for you boys, I hate to think
what would have happened. You have done a great service to the people of
Charley was suddenly abashed. He turned his glance on the ground. He did
not know what to say.
After a moment the forester spoke again. A new idea seemed suddenly to
have occurred to him. "Now that you have had a taste of real fire
fighting," he said, "would you still like to be a fire patrol--possibly a
"Better than anything in the world," replied Charley. "I love the forest."
"Are you sure you can be released from further school work?"
"I feel certain I can."
"Then I have a particular job for you, Mr. Fire Guard."
"Mr. Fire Guard," echoed Charley, his heart beating wildly. "What do you
"I mean," smiled the forester, "that you are here and now appointed a fire
patrol; that you are now a representative of the State of Pennsylvania,
and after you have been sworn in you will have the power of making
arrests. The particular job I have for you is to guard this forest.
Somebody wants to destroy this stand of virgin timber. Your job is to
Making an Investigation
The fire crew, hardy woodsmen and rangers, accustomed to severe toil, soon
beat out what was left of the fire. Then they went over the entire line of
the fire to make sure every spark was extinguished. The forester and
Charley found Lew, and the three crossed the valley to the brook where the
two boys had begun their battle with the flames. When the fire crew had
returned and the forester was satisfied that there was no further danger,
he turned and held out his hand.
"Report to me at my office at the earliest possible moment," he said. "If
I dared risk being away from my headquarters so long," he added
regretfully, "I'd stay here and make an investigation. But a fire may
start somewhere else, and here I'd be with my fire crew. A thousand acres
might burn over before I knew it."
"Isn't there anybody in charge at headquarters?" asked Charley.
"Sure. I have an assistant there. But if an alarm came in he wouldn't be
of much use without a fire crew."
"Send your fire crew back," said Charley. "You can stay here and make
your investigation, and we can keep you in touch with your office easily."
"Are you sure?"
"There isn't any doubt of it. Willie said he would listen in every few
minutes, and Willie always does what he says he will. You instruct your
fire crew to tell your assistant to keep in touch with Willie by
telephone, and we'll tell Willie to keep in touch with us by wireless.
It's as easy as rolling off a log."
The forester looked doubtful. "I'd like to stay," he said. "Are you
positive you can do this?"
"Of course," said Lew. "We do that sort of thing right along."
"Well," said the forester, still hesitating, "I'll risk it. It is of the
utmost importance that an investigation be made at once. It might be days
before the chief forest fire-warden could come here. You are absolutely
certain about this wireless business?"
Charley smiled. "Absolutely," he said. "But to make sure, we'll go to our
camp and talk to Willie. You can send a message to your assistant
"That'll settle it," said the forester.
He called his fire crew together. "Hustle right back to headquarters," he
said. "The motor-truck will hold you all, though you may be a bit
crowded. Leave my car where it is. I'm going to look around a bit. I'll
follow you as soon as possible. Tell the assistant forester to call up the
boy in Central City who telephoned us about the fire and arrange to keep
in communication with him. We will communicate with that boy by wireless.
If fire occurs anywhere, let me know at once."
The fire fighters looked their astonishment, but made no comment. They
were accustomed to obeying orders. Soon they were gone and the forester
and the two boys headed up the run toward the little camp by the windrow.
"I guess we might as well get better acquainted," said the forester. "My
name is Marlin--James Marlin."
"And mine," replied Charley, "is Charley Russell. This is Lew Heinsling.
As we told you yesterday, we are from Central City and belong to the Camp
Brady Wireless Patrol."
"That is why you are now a fire guard," said the forester. "You don't
suppose I would appoint an unknown boy to such an important post, do you?
To be sure, I don't know you personally, but I know about your
organization and some of the things you have done. I know your leader,
Captain Hardy, very well. You see your membership in that organization is
recommendation enough for me."
"But I thought you suspected us of setting fire to the forest," said
"I never said so," replied Mr. Marlin. "I merely asked you if you had
started the fire."
"It's pretty much the same thing," said Charley.
"Not at all, young man. Not at all. I did not really suspect you. But I
saw there was a possibility that you might have done just what I
suggested. I wanted to see what you would do when I suggested that you
were the culprit. I could have told if you had lied to me."
"How?" demanded Charley.
"Never mind now," smiled the forester. "But while we are on this subject,
I want to say this to you: when you are trying to solve a crime, you must
forget your prejudices. You must look at the facts and not at the people
concerned. You must take the attitude that anybody may be guilty until he
is proved innocent. In short, you must be ready to suspect anybody. You
must not assume, for instance, that because I am the forester I would not
set the forest afire, or because my rangers are connected with the Forest
Service they would never start a fire."
Charley looked almost startled. "Why, it would be the worst sort of crime
for a forest protector to set a fire in the woods," he cried.
"Of course it would," replied the forester. "But in this world almost
everybody acts according to his own interests or his own passions. If a
man could earn more money by setting fires than by preventing them, there
are many men who would take the chance. Or a man might set fire to the
forest to be revenged on somebody--possibly on me; for a forester can
hardly avoid making some enemies."
The forester paused. "Somebody has three times set this part of the forest
afire," he continued after a moment. "We have no clue as to who did it. So
it is our business to suspect anybody and everybody that circumstances may
point to. But that doesn't mean we must condemn a person merely because
circumstances point to him. We must study the facts and either condemn or
acquit him according to the facts. I say this to you because you have
probably had little or no experience in tracing crime and, like most young
folks, are prone to trust people too far."
Charley's face was very serious. He had not thought of detective work as a
possible part of his duties.
"Don't take what I say too seriously," laughed the forester, when he
noticed Charley's expression. "You will really have very little of this
sort of thing to do. Most fires come through the carelessness of campers.
To warn them to be careful, to try to put out fires as soon as you
discover them and notify me if you fail, will be about all you will
ordinarily have to do. The chief forest fire-warden will attend to
investigating fires. But in this case, I especially want to know how this
fire started. Sometimes boys, if they are shrewd enough, make the best of
all agents for watching folks. People don't take boys seriously, and will
often do or say incriminating things before boys that they would not
dream of doing in the presence of grown men. If you keep your eyes and
ears open and your mouth shut, you may be very useful. And the less you
appear to know, the more useful you will be."
Charley looked at his watch. "Willie will be at his instrument in three
minutes, sure," he said. "He might even be there now."
He drew the pack bags from the wireless instruments and sat down, watch in
hand, beside them. The forester looked on with keenest interest. He no
longer regarded the wireless outfit as a mere plaything. If the boys could
do what they said they could, he saw what a help wireless communication
might be in protecting the forest. He had always considered the telephone
as about the last step that could be made in quick communication in the
forest. But his telephone was miles away and he had to get to it before he
could talk with his office. Here was a boy who could sit down anywhere and
instantly talk to a wireless operator anywhere else within a reasonable
distance--that is, he could, if all that Charley said was true. Of course
the forester knew about radio-telegraphy, but he was like many other
people who have not actually seen persons talk by wireless. It seemed as
though it could hardly be.
But he was not to remain long in doubt. When the three-minute period had
elapsed, Charley threw over his switch, and sent Willie's call signal
flashing abroad. Hardly had he taken his finger from his key when the
answer buzzed in his ear.
"Got him," said Charley.
"Who?" asked the forester in astonishment.
"Willie Brown, at Central City. I'm telling him to get your assistant on
the telephone." And he made the sparks fairly tumble over one another, so
rapidly did he manipulate the key.
"Willie's going to get him," he announced, a moment later.
They sat silent for several minutes. Then a signal once more sounded in
"Willie's got your assistant on the 'phone," said Charley a little later.
"Tell him to tell my assistant that the fire is out, with little damage
done; that the fire crew is on the way home, and that I have decided to
remain here to look around a little. Tell him that if he needs me he shall
call your friend at Central City. He'd better arrange with the telephone
people for quick connections if he needs to talk to me. I guess that's
Charley flashed out the message to Willie and soon the assistant
forester's message came back. Everything was O.K. and he would do as
directed. Then Charley talked to Willie on his own account, telling him
they were going to move their aerial and asking Willie to listen in often.
Willie said he would sit by the wireless table and keep the receivers on
his ears so that Charley could get him at any time.
While Charley was talking with Willie, Lew had been collecting and
packing the camp utensils. Now the wireless instruments were quickly
uncoupled and stowed away in a bag, and the aerial taken down and loosely
rolled around the spreaders so that it could be hoisted in a moment's
time. Then the little party set off swiftly down the valley toward the
point at which the fire started.
Walking rapidly, they arrived at the edge of the burned area in half an
hour. Smoke was still rising from smouldering embers at various points in
the burned area; but there was no danger to be feared, for everything
inflammable about these embers had been consumed. Even should the wind fan
them into a flame again they could do no harm, for there was nothing for
them to feed upon. Along the entire edge of the burned area the fire crew
had made sure there was a wide belt of ground in which no spark remained.
Thus, though these glowing embers might continue to smoulder for hours,
they could do no harm. The quantity of smoke arising was still
considerable, but it did not shut off the vision as the dense clouds of
smoke had done during the fire. So the onlookers could get a fair idea of
the extent of the blaze.
The blackened area on which they looked, they were relieved to find, was
not of great width, though it stretched from the edge of the brook on one
side almost to the mountain on the other. Altogether, the fire had swept
over not more than a hundred acres. Had it not been for the presence of
the two boys, it might easily have destroyed thousands of acres. The fire
had started in a cut-over tract just below the edge of the virgin timber.
Had the morning proved windy, instead of calm, the flames would have gone
racing into the big timber, with the chances good for a disastrous
crown-fire, when the flames would have gone leaping from tree top to tree
top, utterly consuming the forest, as the previous fires had destroyed the
timber on Old Ironsides. A lucky combination of circumstances alone had
prevented a holocaust.
Climbing upon a high rock, the forester searched for the point at which
the fire had originated. Prom his pocket he drew some powerful
field-glasses, and again and again swept his vision over the farther edge
of the burned area. Presently he closed his glasses and leaped to the
"Come on," he said, and headed diagonally across the burned tract.
In a few minutes the three stood on the unburned forest floor on the
farther side of the strip of black.
"We must get our aerial up at once, Lew," said Charley. "It's been
three-fourths of an hour since we talked to Willie."
They glanced about, selected two suitable trees, and had the supporting
wires attached to them in no time, with the aerial dangling aloft between
the trees. It took only a moment more to couple up the instruments.
"CBWC--CBWC--CBWC--CBC," rapped out Charley, as soon as the outfit was in
Almost instantly Willie replied to the signal.
"Any message for us from Oakdale?" inquired Charley.
"Not a word. What are you doing?"
"We are investigating the cause of the fire. Have moved our aerial down
past the burned area. Forester and Lew and I alone. Fire crew on way back
"Have you found cause of fire?"
"No. Just got here. Haven't investigated yet. Will listen in every quarter
hour, beginning with the hour."
"All right. I'll be here. Good-bye."
The minute Charley finished talking with Willie, the three investigators
set about their work.
"We'll walk along the edge of the burned area," said the forester, "and
try to find the point of origin."
He went ahead, the two boys following. They were facing toward the brook.
The line was irregular, like a huge saw-blade, with little jutting, black
teeth here and there, where the flames had crept out in advance of the
main line. The wind that had come up when the boys were fighting the fire
had driven the flames back upon the area they had already consumed and the
blaze had died out of itself. It could not eat its way to windward out
here in the open, as it could have done in the dense timber where the wind
was broken. From their starting-point they walked to the brook, finding
nothing to enlighten them. They then retraced their steps, walking along
the windward edge of the fire. Yet they found nothing to show them how or
where the fire originated.
"Evidently the flames have eaten their way some distance to windward of
the point of origin," said the forester. "We shall have to look within the
As he started to cross the black strip, the forester continued: "Perhaps I
had better go through the burned strip alone. I want things disturbed as
little as possible, and three will stir up the ashes a good deal more than
one. You keep looking along the edge, and I'll search among the ashes."
"Is there anything in particular we are to look for?" asked Charley. "Is
there any special way to distinguish the starting-point of the fire?"
"If this blaze started at a camper's fire, there ought to be some trace of
that fire discoverable. If it began with a lighted match, the stem of that
match might not be entirely consumed. If blazing paper created the fire,
there may be a scrap of paper left unburned. And even the ashes might show
that paper had been burned. That's why I don't want the leaves disturbed
any more than we can help. We shall quite likely find our clue, if we find
it at all, in the ashes themselves."
The forester started slowly across the valley.
"I don't see where he has anything on us as observers," said Lew. "If our
drill at Camp Brady didn't make competent observers of us, I don't know
what it did do. Captain Hardy drilled us and drilled us in noticing even
the most minute things. Let's go along the line again and look more
carefully. We've got a better idea now of what we're looking for."
They started once more along the edge of the black belt. The forester was
walking well within the burned area. The two boys centred their attention
on the strip between the forester's tracks and the edge of the black area.
This was a strip roughly fifty to seventy-five feet wide. Practically
everything was blackened in this area. A piece of unburned paper would
have shown with startling distinctness. But there were no pieces to show.
The forester crossed the black belt from brook to mountain, and the boys
kept pace with him for a little. Then Lew turned back in order to listen
in, while Charley went on with the forester. For a long time the two
searched among the leaves, but found nothing to indicate where or how the
fire had started.
"The fact that we can't find where it started," said the forester at last,
"is what makes me suspicious. A fire can generally be traced. I guess
we'll have to give up. I'll get back to headquarters, and you go home and
make your arrangements as quickly as possible. Then report to me."
"We'll go right back with you," said Charley. "That is, we will if Lew is
willing. It would hardly be right to ask him to give up his fishing trip.
And, anyway, two of us could guard the forest better than one."
"That's true, but until you are regularly sworn in you will not have the
legal authority you should have as a fire patrol."
"Then if Lew is willing, we'll go right out with you. We can take the
train at Oakdale."
They returned to Lew and explained the situation. "Of course we'll go
home," protested Lew. "This is your chance, Charley. You don't think I'd
stand in your way, do you?"
"Thanks, Lew," said Charley, holding out his hand to his chum. "But I hate
to cut your trip short."
"That's easily fixed," said the forester. "Go home and make your
arrangements and bring Lew back with you for the rest of the vacation if
he wants to come. You can do your patrol work and still catch some fish.
And I'd feel a lot easier to know two of you were here. You've proved that
you are good fire fighters."
Charley called up Willie and told him they were about to leave the forest
and would be in Oakdale in about four hours. Then the wireless was quickly
dismantled and packed, and the little party started across the burned area
once more, on their way out to the distant road.
They did not forget to examine the ground as they went. They had gone
perhaps a hundred feet when Charley noticed a heap of burned leaves. They
were in the cut-over area, and the floor of the forest had apparently
been carpeted thinly and evenly with leaves. So the little mound caught
his eye. At first he thought nothing of it. But when his glance swept the
surrounding ground and he saw how very thin the ashy coating was, and what
a dense pile of ashes was in this little heap, he wondered why the leaves
should have collected in this way. Without as yet really suspecting
anything, he walked over to the heap and began to rake the ashes from one
side of it with a little stick. Many of the burned leaves still retained
perfectly their shape and outline. The serrated edges and the feathery
veining were distinct in the ashy residues. They were interesting to see.
Charley continued to level the burned leaves on one side of the pile. At
the touch of his stick they lost their shape and crumbled into formless
ashes, even as fairy crystals of snow turn to water beneath a warm current
Suddenly Charley stopped dead still. Among the ashes turned over by his
stick was a long, thin sheet of ash. Charley looked at it a moment in
astonishment. Then he knew that it was pasteboard. He sank to his knees on
the blackened earth and with his fingers carefully worked in the still
warm ashes, raking off the upper layers of leaves gently, so as not to
disturb the bottom of the pile. Carefully he worked, until he had laid
bare a long strip of what had been pasteboard. At his touch this, like the
leaves, crumbled. But one end of it did not disintegrate. A tiny piece was
unconsumed. From the ashes Charley drew forth a charred bit of greenish
pasteboard. Swiftly but carefully he raked aside the burned pasteboard.
Then he gave a little cry. On the ground, in the very bottom of the heap,
was some candle grease. His startled exclamation brought Mr. Marlin and
Lew running to his side.
"What have you found?" asked the forester sharply.
"A piece of unconsumed pasteboard and some candle grease," said Charley
slowly. "They were under this mound of burned leaves."
"We need look no farther for the starting-place of this fire," said the
forester, his face very sober. "It is just as I suspected. This fire was
of incendiary origin. Whoever set it, placed a lighted candle inside a
pasteboard box, partly filled the box with leaves, heaped some leaves on
top of it, and hurried away. The candle probably burned for hours before
it burned low enough to set fire to the leaves. By that time the culprit
was far away and could prove an alibi."
Charley drew from his pocket the little microscope he used in his class in
botany in the high school. Over and over he turned the scorched scrap of
pasteboard, studying it intently.
"The fibers are arranged in a peculiar way," he said, "and there's an
almost invisible machine marking of a peculiar pattern. The color of the
pasteboard was a dark green."
The forester took the microscope and examined the charred fragment,
handing both, when he had finished, to Lew.
"This is our clue to the incendiary," he said slowly. "We must find where
pasteboard like that comes from and who had some of it. Meantime, do not
breathe a word of this to any one. Do not let a soul know that we have
discovered how the fire originated. Let them think we know nothing. And
bear in mind what I told you before: suspect anybody that circumstances
point to, no matter who he is. Now remember! Not a soul outside of the
three of us must know about this. We've got a long trail ahead of us, but
we have at last got a clue. Sooner or later, if we keep our eyes and ears
open and our mouths shut, we'll find the man who set this forest afire."
Charley Becomes a Fire Patrol
Rapidly the three made their way through the forest. The forester led his
companions up the valley a distance to a fire trail. Along this they
traveled as rapidly as they could have done on a village sidewalk. By
several of these fire trails they made their way through valleys and over
hills, finally reaching the road. The forester's car was there, and an
hour's run brought them to the forester's office at Oakdale.
Charley was intensely interested in everything he saw in this office. On
the wall were huge maps of the forest areas under Mr. Marlin's control.
These maps showed the mountains, big springs, streams, roads, fire trails,
etc., and little tacks with heads of different colors were stuck here and
there in the maps to show where rangers, fire-wardens and game protectors
lived. The telephone was also shown.
Charley was interested to learn that he and Lew had been fully twelve
miles distant from the telephone. It had taken the fire crew, hardy men
experienced in mountain travel, three hours to cover those twelve miles,
even when they had fire trails most of the way. He wondered how much
longer it would have taken them if they had had to travel through the
rough forest. Many hours longer, he was certain. And that meant that it
would have taken one equally as long to get out to the telephone to notify
the forester of the fire. He felt sure there must be many places where one
might be more than twelve miles distant from the telephone; and he
realized more keenly than ever what a big part the wireless could play in
saving the forest. He resolved that he would keep his wireless outfit with
him when he went back into the forest as a fire patrol.
But the maps on the wall were not all that interested Charley. There were
fire-fighting tools of various sorts. There were double-bitted axes and
axes with short handles to be used in one hand. These were of the finest
steel, very sharp, and well balanced. There were implements that were
really potato-hooks, though in the forest they were used for clearing away
brush and leaves rather than for digging potatoes. Then there were
short-handled, four-toothed rakes, for use in back-firing. Also there were
lanterns, and finally a small compressed air sprayer, for wetting the
ground when back-firing. All these tools were painted a bright red. The
forester explained that the sprayer wasn't often used, but that sometimes
it came in very handy. The implements were red so that they could be found
easily. Otherwise many would be lost in almost every fight with a fire.
Particularly was Charley interested in the portable telephone. It was
like the one the ranger had had in the burned valley. Mr. Marlin handed
the instrument to Charley and let him examine it. The battery was
contained in a small box, and the mouthpiece and the receiver were in one
piece, which was held alternately to the ear and the mouth. Then there
were considerable lengths of wire to be attached to the telephone-lines.
If a ranger could not climb a pole and attach his wires to the
telephone-lines, Mr. Marlin explained, he could tie stones to his wires
and throw them over the lines. All that was needed was to have the two
wires touch the two wires of the telephone system. Then a connection would
be made and one could talk with the portable instrument. The battery, the
mouthpiece and receiver, and the connecting wires all could be packed
snugly into a little leather case and slung over the shoulder. It was an
At one time Charley would have been wild to try it. Now he could not help
seeing how really inferior it was to the wireless as a means of
communication. In order to talk with it, it must be connected with the
telephone-lines, and they must be in working order. Charley's quick mind
instantly saw that falling limbs or trees, heavy snows or ice-storms in
winter, or a pair of nippers in the hands of a miscreant, could put the
forest telephone out of commission for hours at a time. He rejoiced to
think that no one could tamper with the air and that he could always get
a connection with his wireless. More and more he saw the possibilities of
usefulness for the wireless in protecting the forest.
But the two boys had little time to examine the many interesting things in
the forester's office because their train was due within a short time
after they reached Oakdale. They made the acquaintance of the forester's
assistant, Mr. Franklin Conover, and soon started for the railroad
station, leaving their duffel at the forester's office.
Before they left, Charley called the forester aside. "How much pay am I to
receive as a fire patrol?" he asked.
The forester frowned.
"You mustn't think," said Charley hastily, "that the pay is all that I
care about. I want to be a fire patrol because I love the woods. But I
don't know whether Dad will let me be a fire patrol unless I can make as
much here as I could in the factory with him."
"How much could you earn there?"
"Dad says I ought to get two dollars and a half a day."
"Then you needn't worry. I have some leeway in the matter of pay. You have
already shown your worth, and I am going to pay you the highest rate
within my power. You will go on the payroll at eighty-five dollars a
month, which is as much as many of our rangers get."
Charley was so astonished at this unexpected good fortune that he was
hardly able to answer Mr. Marlin. He did not know how to express his
thoughts. All he could do was to thank the forester warmly and assure him
he would earn every cent he got. Then he and Lew hurried away to their
For some time after the two boys boarded the train Charley was silent. He
sat watching the forest through which they were rushing so fast. Never had
it appeared to him quite as it did now. Always he had known the forest was
an animate growth, but now he realized more vividly than ever before how
truly the forest was alive. Now he thought of the great growths of trees
more as one would think of a flock of animals that must be tended and
cared for. Many, many times he had seen the forest under happy conditions.
But never before this trip had he seen it in agony. Never before had he
heard the cries of fear and pain from the forest animals. Never had he
seen the charred remains of those that had been burned. Never had he
beheld the awful skeletons, not merely of burned trees, but of a burned
forest. He was deeply impressed. A tree had suddenly become in his
consciousness far more than a piece of timber. And a forest had taken on
new meaning. With all his mind he loved the forest and the innumerable
things of life and beauty within it. Beyond expression was his joy at the
thought that he could have a part in protecting and caring for the forest.
And when he thought of all the forest meant to mankind--more than any
other single gift of nature excepting food and water--he saw the forester,
the forest-ranger, and the fire patrol in their true light. He saw them as
real servants of the people, as real promoters and builders of
civilization, which could not have come into existence without wood. He
realized that the man in the forest as truly helps mankind forward and
upward as the statesman in the legislative halls, the chemist at his
test-tube, the physician at his operating-table, the engineer building his
bridges and roads, or any other of the constructive workers who make
civilization what it is; for the forester's work is the foundation for the
work of all the other builders of civilization. When he realized this, his
heart sang with pride to think that he was to have a part in saving and
perpetuating the forests for the countless generations of people who would
follow him in the world.
He tried to tell Lew something of what was in his heart, but words failed
him, and he sat silent until the train was far beyond the limits of the
forest. Then his thoughts drifted into other channels. Before he knew it,
the conductor shouted "Central City," and the two chums left the train.
When Charley told his father that he was to get eighty-five dollars a
month, he had no difficulty in winning his father's consent to the plan he
had in mind. Nor was it much more difficult to secure his release from
further work at school. Charley was a great favorite with his teachers.
Always cheerful and polite, a faithful worker, mentally quick, and liking
his instructors, he had their entire good-will. They wanted to help him
get on in the world as much as they had wanted to see him advance in his
studies. When they understood Charley's position at home, and his need of
earning money to help his father, and especially when they realized what
the present opportunity meant to Charley in the way of personal happiness,
they were more than willing to release him from further school duties.
So it came about that on the following day Charley and Lew took the train
back to Oakdale. The entire Wireless Patrol accompanied them to the
station, each boy carrying some part of the luggage. Thus divided, the
equipment did not seem large; but when it was all assembled, it appeared
entirely adequate. There was a good waterproof tent, a strong tick to be
stuffed with leaves, blankets, a coil of rope, additional cooking
utensils, and generous supplies of food. Charley took a light,
high-powered rifle and his revolver with plenty of ammunition. Their
comrades piled this luggage in a corner of the car, then hustled back to
the station platform and gave the Camp Brady yell, in honor of their
departing friends. In a moment more the train was speeding toward Oakdale,
where they found the forester in his office.
Mr. Marlin expressed his pleasure at the successful outcome of Charley's
effort to secure his release from high school.
"I don't believe much in talk," said the forester who himself was
distinctly a man of deeds, "but I am going to say this to you, Charley:
the fact that you have worked your studies off ahead of your class makes
you twice as valuable to me as another boy would be who was merely keeping
abreast of his class."
Charley looked his surprise. "Why?" he asked. "I don't know any more than
the others know or soon will know."
"What you know has nothing to do with it, young man. It's what you do.
It's your habits. Habit is the strongest force in the world. The mere fact
that you are ahead of your class tells me that it is your habit to be
forehanded, to be prepared. It tells me that you will keep your tools and
your records in their places and in good condition, and that you will be
prepared for almost any emergency that will arise."
"I don't understand," expostulated Charley, "how you can figure that out
from the mere fact that I kept a little ahead of my class."
"Of course you don't," smiled the forester. "They teach you about the laws
of gravity in school, but they don't bother to teach you about the laws of
life. But life has its laws, and one of the strongest is the law of habit.
A good habit is worth a million good resolutions. A man may possibly keep
a good resolution, but he can hardly fail to keep a good habit. Your good
habits are worth just about fifteen dollars a month to you now; for I
wouldn't be paying you the top rate if you were a lad of bad habits. Just
bear that in mind and be careful of the habits you form in future."
Charley was too much astonished for words. He had never thought of his
habits as having any bearing on his possible earning capacity.
But the forester gave him no opportunity to consider the matter just then.
"I want you to hurry back into the forest," he went on. "Get acquainted
with as much of the forest as possible."
He reached in a drawer and pulled out a map, which he gave to Charley.
"This is exactly like the big map on the wall," he said, "excepting that
it is on a smaller scale. Here is where you had your camp."
As he laid his finger on the map, he continued, "That was a good location
for a fisherman's camp, but a poor one for a fire guard. High up on this
hill," and again he laid a finger on the map, "there is a fine spring. A
dense rhododendron thicket surrounds it, and tall hemlocks grow above it.
Make your camp in that thicket. It is so dense that I think nobody could
possibly see a tent there. But make sure. If necessary, put hemlock boughs
or rhododendron branches around it. Nobody but Mr. Morton and I must know
that you are in camp in the forest or that you have any connection with
the forestry department. I will tell him where your camp is and he will
inspect it and give you more detailed instructions. But remember that
yours is a secret patrol. I would rather that nobody should learn of your
presence in the forest. But if you do meet any one, pose as a fisherman.
Don't, under any circumstances, let anybody suspect your real purpose."
The forester paused a moment, in deep thought. "Smoke," he said at last,
"would betray the location of your camp--at least in the daytime. Don't
make any fires unless it be at night. Then be sure they are small, well
concealed, and as smokeless as possible. Do your cooking with this."
He stepped to a closet and returned with an alcohol stove and a can of
fuel, and continued: "From your spring to the summit of the mountain it is
only a short distance. You can get a wide outlook there. Examine the
forest carefully in every direction as often as possible. But leave no
telltale marks to indicate that the place is a lookout point. And be sure
you don't do anything to draw attention to your camp."
The forester then swore Charley in as a fire patrol and gave him his
badge, with instructions to keep it out of sight.
"You'll need this, too," he said with a smile, handing Charley a portable
telephone. "Your friends can't be at the other end of the wireless all the
time, you know."
"Can we fish at all?" asked Charley. "I want Lew to have some fun on this
trip. He's going to help me a lot with the work."
"Fish as much as you like, as long as it does not interfere with your
duty. But remember that your business is to protect the forest. That comes
first. You will have to decide how to do it, according to circumstances."
The boys carried their duffel to the forester's car. Mr. Marlin telephoned
his assistant to look after things during his absence, and in another
minute Mr. Marlin and Lew and Charley were whirling along the highway.
They reached the point at which they were to enter the forest, jumped to
the ground and unloaded their duffel. Mr. Marlin said good-bye, turned his
car, and sped back to his office, leaving the two young fire guards alone
in the heart of the wilderness.
An Encounter with a Bear
Rapidly the duffel was made into two packs. These were both heavy and
"Gee!" said Lew, as he surveyed the packs, "I hope we don't meet any state
cops. They would arrest us for peddling without licenses."
There was small chance, however, of their meeting any one, unless it might
be some lone fisherman. On every hand the forest stretched, seemingly
"I guess we'd better get our bearings," said Charley.
He drew the map from his pocket and spread it on a flat rock. The two boys
pored over it for some minutes.
"We have to cross these two mountains," said Lew, "and camp just the other
side of the summit of the third. That's about the same as climbing over
three mountains. There are two valleys that we'll have to get across. I
judge we'll be just about as far from the road as our old camp was. That's
twelve miles or so."
"Gee!" laughed Charley. "That means I've got to hike twelve miles over
these mountains every time I want to talk to anybody on the telephone. I'm
glad Mr. Marlin doesn't care much for talk. The telephone is all right,
but compared to the wireless it's like a candle beside an electric light.
Mr. Marlin was right when he said the fellows couldn't be listening in for
me all the time, but you just bet I'm going to figure out some way to use
my wireless. Why, I've got to, if I'm going to make good. This whole neck
of the woods could burn up while I'm hiking twelve miles to call help and
twelve more to get back to the blaze. And I reckon I'd feel like putting
up a stiff fight after hiking twenty-four miles over these mountains. Mr.
Marlin is all right, but he isn't quite up to date. He still thinks the
wireless is a sort of plaything."
"What you need, Charley, is a battery powerful enough to carry a message
to some regular wireless station, where an operator is on duty all the
"I've been thinking of that, too, Lew. It wouldn't take so very much more
power to carry to the government station at Frankfort. I'm sure the
operators there would be glad to help us out. You remember how Henry
Harper helped Mr. Axton, the day operator over there, when he had
appendicitis. The operators have been mighty nice to us fellows of the
Wireless Patrol ever since. The difficulty would be to get the battery.
Things cost so much now that I don't see how I could ever save enough to
pay for it. You know I'll have to give Dad about all I earn."
"I'm going to talk to the boys about it, Charley," said Lew. "Maybe
somebody can think of a way out. Gee! We ought to be able to do something,
with Roy a regular steamship operator and Henry almost as good as a
substitute government wireless man."
By this time they were well into the forest. They were climbing through a
notch over the first range of mountains. When they reached the valley
beyond, they had to turn to their left and go up the valley two or three
miles, until they struck a fire trail. This trail led straight over the
second mountain, which was really the knob at the head of the burned
valley. It was on this knob that they had found the rude watch-tower after
their meeting with the ranger, Mr. Morton. Beyond this knob they had still
to traverse a wide valley and climb a third mountain before they reached
their camp site. But there was a good fire trail almost the entire
Traveling with such heavy packs on their backs, the two lads made but slow
progress. Every little while they had to stop to rest. During one of these
pauses they heard a low, whining sound.
"Listen! What is that?" asked Charley, who loved animals and was keenly
sensitive to their sufferings. "It sounds like a dog."
They stood motionless. Faint but distinct came the unmistakable cry of a
dog in distress.
Charley dropped his pack instantly. "There's a dog in trouble," he said,
"and we've got to help him."
He began to whistle. Then he called, "Here, boy! Here, boy!"
From somewhere ahead of them came a joyous bark, followed by a painful
Charley picked up his pack. "Come on," he said, and hastened toward the
sound. But he did not go far. Soon he caught sight of a dog, painfully
limping toward him. Charley ran up to the animal, which wagged its tail
violently and barked with joy.
"He's only a half grown pup," said Charley, noticing the big paws. "Isn't
he a fine young fellow?"
The animal leaped up against Charley and licked his hand. "Come here,
boy," said Charley, taking the dog in his arms. "Let's see what's wrong."
Charley began to examine the animal's paws. The dog submitted patiently.
"Nothing wrong with that one," commented Charley, dropping a fore paw.
But when he began to feel the other front foot the dog whined with pain.
"No wonder," said Charley with sympathy. "Look here, Lew," and he pointed
to an enormous thorn that had embedded itself in the paw.
"Hold him tight while I take it out," said Charley as he drew forth his
knife, opened the small blade, slit the skin slightly, and carefully dug
the thorn out. The foot was festered and swollen. Charley squeezed out
"Don't let him get that paw in the dirt," he said, and ran to his pack. He
fished out the first-aid kit and got some absorbent cotton and a
disinfectant. He wrapped a tiny bit of cotton around the end of a twig,
wet it with water from the canteen and swabbed out the little wound. Then
he soaked another bit of cotton with the disinfectant and stuffed it into
"We'll let that stay there a while," he said.
"The dog is probably lost. We'll keep him until we find his owner."
Relieved of the thorn, the little animal frisked about, limping but
slightly. He fawned upon Charley and seemed to be trying to express his
The two boys shouldered their packs again and started on. Charley whistled
to the pup, but the call was unnecessary. The pup stuck to their heels as
close as a sticking-plaster.
"They say two's a company, but three's a crowd," laughed Charley, "but I
guess it doesn't apply to dogs."
"You never can tell," replied Lew. "A pup of that age may get you into all
sorts of difficulty."
"I'll take a chance on it," smiled Charley, as he bent and patted the dog.
They went on. For a long time they traveled in silence, the little dog
trotting and frisking at their heels. From time to time they stopped to
rest. Their packs were growing heavy and neither felt like talking. They
settled to their tasks and plodded on. When they came to the fire trail,
they turned to their right and went straight over the first mountain. The
way was smooth enough, but the grade was very steep and it tested their
endurance to the utmost. Every few minutes they were compelled to rest.
Finally they topped the ridge and went down into the next valley.
The bottom here was very wide, for the mountains had drawn far apart.
Apparently the valley soil was rich. It seemed to be deep and black, and
the trees grew to massive size. Ordinarily the two boys would have taken
keen enjoyment in the sight of such fine timber, but by this time they
were too tired to care much about anything except reaching their
At the foot of the last ridge they took a long rest. They were just
starting on when Lew heard a peculiar little sound behind some bushes just
off the fire trail. Curious to know what might have made the sound, he
dropped his pack and went to investigate. Behind the bush he found a
cunning, little black animal that did not seem to be at all afraid of him.
He picked it up and rejoined his comrade.
"Charley," he said. "See what I have found. What is it?"
"It's a bear cub," said Charley. "You had better leave it alone. If its
mother came along, she might make it hot for us."
"I'm going to keep it for a pet," said Lew. "I knew a fellow who had a
pet bear cub once and----"
Lew never finished the sentence. A savage growl sounded close at hand and
a great black animal came rushing through the bushes. Lew dropped the cub
and took to his heels. The bear followed in hot pursuit. She was a great,
clumsy, lumbering beast, and yet she got over the ground with astonishing
speed. Lew ran as fast as he could, but the bear gained on him at every
"Climb a tree, Lew," cried Charley, slipping off his pack and starting to
his chum's assistance. "Be quick about it."
Lew headed for the first tree he saw that was small enough to climb. It
was a little pole, a foot in diameter. The lowest branch was seven or
eight feet above the ground. Lew raced toward it, gathered himself for a
leap and sprang upward. He caught the limb and swung himself up with all
possible speed. He was not a second too soon. As Lew's body shot upward,
the bear rose on her hind feet, and the vicious swipe of her paw barely
missed Lew's body. Lew drew himself erect and climbed upward a few feet,
where he paused to look down at the bear.
Meantime, Charley was following the animal. He hadn't the slightest idea
of what he should do. The law protected the bear at that season of the
year and he did not know whether he would be justified in shooting her
under the circumstances or not. And anyway, his rifle was back with his
pack. He had his little axe on his hip, however, and he drew it from its
sheath so that he would have it ready in case he had to use it.
The problem was settled for him, however, in a very unexpected manner. The
little dog, which had been playing with a stick at some distance from the
two boys, noticed Charley running and came tearing after him. Then he saw
the bear and went after her at full speed. The instant the bear heard the
dog, she turned to face him; then as quickly faced about again and started
to climb the very tree in which Lew had taken refuge.
"Get that dog away from here," yelled Lew in consternation, as he began to
climb frantically toward the top of the tree.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Charley burst into a roar of
laughter. But a second appeal from his chum stifled his laughter. He
grabbed the dog and started to carry it away. But he had not gone two rods
before Lew called frantically for him to bring the dog back. Charley
turned around and saw the bear climbing after Lew. As long as the dog was
under the tree, the bear had paid no attention to Lew. But when Charley
started away with the pup, the angry bear continued her pursuit. Charley
returned the dog to the base of the tree.
"Sick 'em," he cried. "Catch 'em."
The little pup made a terrific clamor and the bear paid no further
attention to Lew, who immediately began to look for a way out of his
predicament. Within two or three feet of the base of the tree which he
had climbed, a second tree had sprung up. But the two had grown away from
each other, much like the sloping sides of the letter V. At first Lew
thought he could cross over to the other tree, but a careful inspection
showed him that this would be impossible. Down where the bear was he could
have swung himself from one tree to the other; but the farther up the tree
he was the farther he was from the other tree and the smaller the limbs
were. And Lew was now as near the top of the tree as he dared to go. To
try to leap from his present position to the other tree was not to be
thought of. It would certainly mean a fall of thirty feet or more. And Lew
did not dare come down nearer the bear, lest the animal should again try
to claw him. There was no apparent way to get the bear out of the tree,
and Lew knew that he could not stay up where he was indefinitely.
Charley tried to divert the bear's attention to himself by reaching up the
tree with his axe and striking the trunk. The bear growled but made no
attempt to reach Charley. Her attention was centred wholly on the dog.
With her hair erect, her lips drawn back, her ears laid flat, and her
massive claws ready to tear and rend, the beast presented such a fearful
front that Charley did not dare take the dog away. One swipe of those
paws, or one crunch of the great jaws might cripple Lew for life, or even
kill him outright.
"Keep perfectly quiet, Lew," said Charley, "and maybe the bear will
forget about you. She's terribly enraged at this pup."
Charley felt in his pocket and found a piece of strong cord. He knotted it
around the pup's neck and tied the animal to the tree.
"I hope that bear won't come down and kill him while I'm gone," he
muttered to himself. To Lew he said, "I've got an idea. I'm going to get
the rope and see if I can lasso the bear from the other tree."
"Sick 'em, pup," he cried, urging the little dog to make another frenzied
outburst. And while the dog was making the valley ring with his clamor,
Charley raced to his pack and got the coil of rope. Back he ran and
hastily climbed the tree beside the one in which Lew and the bear were
resting. The bear eyed him angrily, but kept her attention centred on the
pup. Charley climbed to a point a little higher than the limb on which the
bear rested. Quickly he fashioned a noose and got his rope ready for a
throw. Then he realized that he could never make a successful cast among
An idea came to him. Drawing his little axe, he quickly cut and trimmed a
small limb, leaving a fork on the end of it. He put the noose on the
forked end and cautiously extended the pole. All the while he was urging
on the dog, which now began to jump up against the trunk of the tree. The
bear more and more centred her attention on the yelping dog. Her hair
bristled, and she growled continually. She bent her head down and got
ready to deal the dog a savage blow if he came up the tree. Her posture
could not have been better for Charley's purpose. Swiftly but quietly he
extended the pole until the noose was just beyond the bear's nose, then
lowered it swiftly and pulled back hard on the rope. Luck was with him.
The bear, taken utterly by surprise, was fairly noosed before she saw the
Charley's sharp jerk to tighten the lasso almost pulled the bear from her
perch. She grasped the trunk of the tree with her paws to avoid falling,
and that gave Charley an opportunity to tighten and secure his rope. To
keep from falling, the bear had to maintain her hold on the tree. Thus she
could not claw or bite the rope.
"I've got her," shouted Charley.
It was true enough. In a moment he was almost sorry that he had her. For
Lew could not reach the ground without climbing past the bear, and
although the animal was caught by the neck, he dared not trust himself
within reach of those fearful claws. It occurred to Charley that perhaps
he could strangle the bear, or even pull her from the tree. He did not
want to kill the animal lest he get into difficulty with the law and so
incur the displeasure of his chief. Nor did he want to tumble her to the
ground because that would certainly mean the breaking of his rope and the
probable loss of part of it.
"What are we going to do, Lew?" he called.
"There's a strong limb about four feet above her head," replied Lew,
peering down through the branches. "If you could get your rope over that,
we could drop her to the ground and strangle her until she's about all in.
Then we could cut the rope and beat it."
"That sounds all right," said Charley, dubiously, "and I guess we'll have
to try it. I see nothing else to do."
Fortunately his rope was long. He had taken a turn or two around a limb
before making his cast, and he now held the bear taut, with ease. The
loose end dangled down the trunk.
"I don't know about this," said Charley with a wry face. "It isn't as
simple as it looks. I'll have to unwind the rope from this limb and hold
it with one hand while I throw the loose end with the other. I don't know
whether I can do it or not. And how am I to get the end again?"
"Can't you catch it with your pole?"
Charley looked at the pole. He had let go of it when he noosed the bear,
but it had lodged in a branch within reach.
"Here goes," he said. "I'll try."
Cautiously he unwrapped one winding from the limb. Then bracing himself,
and pulling hard so as to keep the line taut, he unloosed the second coil.
The rope now hung free in his hand. The bear was not quiet for a moment.
She had struggled constantly from the instant she was noosed. She
continued to tug and pull at the rope. But she was at such a disadvantage
that she could not put her full weight into her struggles. Nevertheless
the strain on Charley's arm was terrific. To lessen the tension would give
the bear more leeway and so make the strain still greater. And to hold the
bear with one hand, while he cast his rope and got it in with the other,
Charley at once saw was impossible.
"I can't do it, Lew," panted Charley. "She's nearly pulling my arm off."
He gathered up the rope and put it back over the limb, preparatory to
taking a turn about the branch once more. While he was attempting to work
the rope around the limb, the dog suddenly increased his clamor.
The bear gave a terrific, convulsive jerk on the rope and jerked it
through Charley's hand. The sudden pull completely unbalanced him and he
fell from the limb. But instantly he tightened his clutch on the slipping
rope and in a second was dangling in air, frightened but safe. He slid to
the ground, and drew the rope taut. Now he had the rope over a limb, as he
wanted it, but the limb was on the wrong tree.
"I'll try it, anyway," he said.
He tied the end of the rope about the trunk of the tree in which Lew and
the bear rested.
"I'm going to pull her off her perch, Lew," he cried. "If I succeed,
she'll swing over toward the other tree. I may be able to pull her up on
her hind feet. Anyway, I think I can hold her, and if you come down as
quick as you can, the two of us can certainly pull her up. Are you ready?"
Lew came down the tree as far as he dared. "I'll be with you the second
she drops," he said. "Pull!"
Charley suddenly threw his entire weight on the rope. The bear, taken by
surprise, was jerked clear of the limb. She dropped downward and then
swung toward the other tree like an enormous pendulum. Lew slid down the
tree like a flash and landed in a heap beside Charley. He was up in an
instant, and, grabbing the rope, added his weight to Charley's. The bear
was fairly on the ground, but almost straight under the limb over which
the rope hung. She was clawing frantically at the noose.
"Let's give a jerk," said Charley. "Together--now!"
They strained suddenly at the rope and the bear rose to her hind feet to
ease the strain on her neck. Instantly they pulled in the slack.
"We've got her now," cried Lew. "Pull again!"
Once more they strained at the rope. It tightened about the neck of the
bear, shutting off her wind. She rose to her very tiptoes and the boys
pulled in a little more slack.
"We could choke her to death now," said Charley, "but we mustn't. How are
we going to get out of this?"
"Let's tie the rope fast and take our packs some distance away. She won't
strangle for a while. Then we can come back and free her. I think she
will not attack us, for she is too much afraid of the dog. We'll keep him
on a leash and beat it the minute we get the rope."
"But how are we going to get the rope?" demanded Charley.
"Gee! You've got me. Maybe we'll think of something while we're carrying
the packs away."
The two boys got their packs and hurried along their route for some
hundreds of yards. Then they laid their packs down and ran back. But
Charley carried his rifle on the return trip.
The bear was still pawing at the rope when they got back. The hair on her
neck was worn off by her violent struggles, and the skin was bleeding
"That bear will wear a collar on her neck for life," said Charley. "If we
ever see her again, we'll know her."
An idea came to him. "I've got it," he said. "I'll cut that rope with a
bullet. You stand ready with the dog, and I'll be ready for a second shot,
if necessary. We're not going to take a chance of being badly hurt, law or
Lew untied the dog from the tree and held the leash with his left hand.
Charley handed him the axe, and Lew stepped a little aside where he could
use it, if necessary. But it was one thing to talk about cutting the rope
with a bullet and another thing to do it, for the bear kept the rope in
motion continually. Charley leveled his weapon and tried to get a bead on
the rope. It seemed to him that the bear would never stand still. But the
beast had nearly reached the limit of endurance. Her tongue was protruding
from her mouth, her eyes seemed ready to pop from her head. She was
gasping pitifully. Her own struggles were slowly strangling her. Suddenly
she stopped fighting and hung limp. The rope stretched like a rod.
Instantly Charley's rifle cracked. The line was severed as though some one
had cut it with a sword. It flew upward into the tree and the bear dropped
to the ground. The noose about her neck came loose and she breathed
"Quick!" cried Lew. "She'll be on her feet in a second."
Charley untied the rope from the tree, drew the severed end to earth, and
gathering up rope and rifle, fled toward his pack, with Lew at his heels,
dragging the frantic dog by main force, for the animal was wild to charge
the fallen bear.
As they ran, they glanced back over their shoulders. At first the bear did
not move. Then she stirred uneasily and a second later, rose to her feet
and ran madly away. The boys stopped running.
"I guess both parties had a lesson," said Lew.
The Secret Camp in the Wilderness
Their encounter with the bear made the two lads forget for a while their
weariness. They made fast time along the fire trails. After a long tramp,
they topped the final ridge and paused to rest and study the country. This
they could do with ease, for the summit of the mountain was rather
sparsely timbered. A very little search disclosed a tree that was at once
tall and easy to climb, and that was surrounded only by low brush that
would not obstruct the vision. From this lookout they gained a wide view
in every direction.
"We can see for miles and miles," said Charley. "The forester was right in
telling us to come often to this lookout. We can discover more from here
in a minute than we could by a week of wandering about among the trees."
Slowly the boys swept their vision around the horizon. Everywhere the
mountains appeared to bask in the warm spring sunlight, seemingly as
secure as cats dozing by a fireplace. The fleecy clouds, passing across
the face of the sun, threw shadows on the hillsides, making beautiful
patterns of light and shade. The fresh, young growths gave forth a soft
green tint, in pleasing contrast to the darker colors of the pines.
Brooks sparkled in the bottoms. Far as the eye could reach this gorgeous
"Isn't it wonderful?" said Charley, after the two boys had surveyed the
scene in silence. "The forest is one of nature's very finest gifts. And to
think what we do to it by our carelessness. At any minute this green
paradise may become a very hell of roaring flame, just because some smoker
is too careless to blow out his match before dropping it, or some camper
too lazy to make sure his fire is extinguished. Why, it seems to me that a
murderer is an innocent angel compared to such a man. Think what he does!
He kills the fish and the birds and the animals and perhaps some human
beings, and he destroys not only the wood that civilization must have, but
he ruins the very ground so that it cannot produce another forest. It
seems to me that a man who does that ought to be punished more severely
than any mere murderer. Why, a murderer kills only a single being. The man
who starts a forest fire kills countless living things. I tell you, Lew,
it makes me mighty proud to have a part in protecting this grand forest."
The boys were silent, wrapped in thought, until Lew suddenly pointed to a
dense growth of evergreens directly below them, and not very far down the
ridge. "That must be our camp site," he said. And both boys examined the
spot with interest.
"That must be it," said Charley. "It's dense enough, goodness knows! And
there is a little stream of water stealing out of the lower side of the
thicket. So there is a spring in there. Let's go down and take a look at
They shouldered their packs, whistled the pup to their heels, and went
down to the thicket. In a space not less than a hundred yards in diameter
rhododendrons grew in indescribable density, while above them towered some
huge hemlocks. The two boys came close to the thicket and peered into it.
Even now, in the bright glare of the full sun, deep twilight reigned
beneath the rhododendrons. Evidently they were growths of great age. Their
stems were like young saplings. Their tops rose high and spread wide. And
their branches were laced and interlaced and twisted and grown together so
as to make a mass almost impenetrable.
"Great Ned!" cried Lew. "A passer-by would have about as much chance of
seeing us in there as we have of discovering China from this hillside. The
question is, how are we going to get into the place?"
Charley dropped on his hands and knees and crawled slowly under the low
"Keep right in my tracks, Lew, if you come in," warned Charley. "If there
are any snakes in here, they'd bite a fellow before he could see them.
I'll look sharp for them and if you follow me, you won't run any risk."
He picked up a fallen branch, trimmed it, and crept on, stick in hand.
Suddenly he crowded back hard on Lew, almost kicking him in the face. At
the same time he began to thrash about in the leaves ahead of him.
"Great Caesar!" he exclaimed. "I almost crawled on a big rattler. He was so
near the color of the ground that I didn't see him until he coiled and
raised his head. Gee! That was a close shave."
"As long as you didn't get bitten," said Lew, "It's a good thing it
happened. We'll be on our guard now."
"Yes, indeed. Did you put the potassium permanganate in the first-aid kit,
and the hypodermic syringe?"
"Surest thing you know."
"We'll just carry them with us, Lew. We won't take any chances on death by
snake-bite. These mountains are full of rattlers and copperheads."
"And we won't take any chances on being bitten in this thicket, either,"
answered Lew. "We'll put the pup in ahead of us."
They whistled in the dog and sent him scouring through the thicket. But
either there had been no more snakes within it or else all had fled, for
the dog raced eagerly about but found nothing to alarm him.
Confidently the boys now pushed into the interior of the thicket. At the
very heart of it lay the spring. It came bubbling up through pure, white
sand, and had formed a deep basin, over the lower edge of which the
crystal water went rippling away through the thicket.
"We'll put our tent right here," said Charley, indicating a level spot
beside the spring basin. "We'll have to clear away some of the bushes to
make room for it. We can use what we cut as a screen, though nobody would
ever see a tent away in here, especially one of brown khaki, like ours."
He drew his little axe and began clearing a space for the tent, cutting
the rhododendron stems a little below the surface of the ground. Lew piled
the branches at one side. Then the tent was dragged in and set up, the
rope being used as a ridge and tied to two strong saplings. The sides of
the tent were squared and pegged down.
"Drive the pegs tight, Lew," directed Charley. "We don't want to have
anything crawling under the sides. Thank goodness, we have a sod cloth."
After they had completed this task and set about bringing in the duffel,
Charley remarked, "We can't go in and out this way, on our hands and
knees. We've got to make a path. We'll find the best way out and trim the
bushes so that we can walk upright."
"We'd better not make the path straight," said Lew. "If we zigzag it,
nobody will know it really is a path."
After they had picked out a level route they trimmed back the rhododendron
branches so that they could walk through the thicket, though the branches
at the very edge were left undisturbed. The cut branches were added to
the screen about the tent. Then the duffel was carried in and stowed in
"What bothers me," said Charley, "is to know how to put up our aerial. We
don't dare hang it up where it can be seen, and I don't know how well it
will work among these hemlocks."
"All we can do is to put it up and try it," said the ever practical Lew,
"and the sooner we do it the better."
Quickly they had their wires suspended between two hemlock trees. The
aerial reached almost from trunk to trunk, and the wires were completely
hidden by the branches that stood out all about them.
"If she'll work," commented Charley, "it's a peach of an arrangement.
Nobody would discover that aerial in a hundred years. I can hardly wait
until evening to test it out."
"Willie might be listening in again to-day," suggested Lew. "It will take
him several days to get that new outfit made. We'll try him on the hour."
"Good idea, Lew." He looked at his watch. "It's ten minutes to the hour
now. If Willie is listening in, we'll soon know whether or not our aerial
They began putting the tent in order, stowing the duffel in neat little
piles. Just outside the tent Lew built a foundation for the alcohol stove,
by leveling the earth and setting a flat stone for the stove to stand on.
Meanwhile, Charley was stuffing the tick with dry leaves.
Exactly on the hour Lew sat down at the wireless key and sent a call
flashing into the air. Promptly; his receiver buzzed in response.
"Got him," said Lew, and while Charley went on filling the tick and
bringing in hemlock branches to use like springs under the tick, Lew
conversed with Willie. The latter was still working at the new wireless
set, and had listened in every hour during the day. All the other members
of the Wireless Patrol were likewise hard at work, and it was practically
certain that by the time the vacation was ended each would have earned his
share of the money needed to buy the desired battery.
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