Every chance that offered the scouts were abroad, as busy as bees in the honey season; only instead of laying up sweets these energetic chaps sought new information. They followed the trails of fox, ’coon and rabbit; they watched the habits of the noisy crows holding a caucus in the woods; they kept company with the red squirrel and the frolicsome chipmunk as they stored away the chestnuts and juicy hickories for their winter’s supply of food.
And on every occasion they labored to make themselves perfect in those branches of wood lore, and the knowledge of useful things, which they expected would play a prominent part in the approaching competition.
Just as Paul and Wallace had predicted, it was found that nearly every fellow had a love for Nature and her wonderful secrets somewhere in his system; even though with a few this breath had to be fanned vigorously in order to keep it alive.
Of course they were annoyed again and again by Ted Slavin and his envious followers; for the bully of the town had drifted back to his old ways, as might have been expected.
When peaceful tactics failed to stop these malicious tricks, the scout master personally appealed to the authorities, and a warning was issued that, for a time at least, dismayed the disturbers of the meetings. But when they could do so in secret, they never lost an opportunity to play some sly trick.
Another thing that had been anticipated came to pass. This was the utter failure of Ward’s cronies to maintain any interest in the duties of scouts. Those twelve cardinal virtues that must at all times be held up before the fellow who expects to become and remain a Boy Scout in good standing, failed to appeal to these rough and ready chaps. It would indeed require a revolution in boy nature to make Ted Slavin, or his crony, Scissors, trustworthy, loyal, helpful to others, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient to his superior officers, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent!
Just a few days before Thanksgiving the scout master came to Paul with the distressing news that he had received an imperative summons from his firm to go out on the road; so that it would debar him from being present when the long-looked-for-competition took place.
“But,” said Mr. Gordon, as he shook Paul by the hand earnestly; “I firmly believe that you will be able to fill my place so well that my absence will not make the slightest difference,” and Paul, of course, simply said he would do his best.
The fellows of Stanhope Troop knew full well what that “best” meant.
But as the boys of Manchester Troop and that of Aldine as well, learned through some of their energetic scouts, what a strong bid these patrols of the Fox were going to make, in the hope of winning that coveted banner, they seemed to be stirred to make new endeavors.
Paul managed to keep advised of pretty much all that was going on; since this was a part of a scout’s duty; though no mean advantage was ever taken of the rival camps—he would not stand for that. In a quiet way he had learned how their meetings became more frequent, and the desire to excel, that had threatened to dwindle away for lack of rivalry, grew more keen.