Once this had been started, Paul distributed a dozen tin kettles that had been brought along. These were all of the same size. Moreover, they had a plain mark two-thirds of the way up, which was to limit the amount of cold water from the near-brook which they must contain.
“Here are five matches for each one of you. Every fellow is placed on his honor not to have a single other one in his possession. You are not to use any kind of paper in kindling your fires. Just imagine that you are adrift in the wilderness, where a newspaper is never seen. And in the end when a kettle begins to boil the owner of it must shout and raise his hand. I will have inspectors appointed whose duty it will be to see that all is fairly done.”
“Don’t we get more than these five matches?” asked one of the contestants.
“That is all. And remember, that if two are tied when the quart of water boils, the fellow who can show the most unused matches comes in ahead. That is a valuable point, for it proves that he knows how to conserve his resources. A match is sometimes of priceless value to a man lost in the big timber.”
“Tell us again what we must do, Paul.”
“Form a line right here. When I say ‘go,’ every fellow dart off to some place he has in mind. With your hatchets you are to chop wood, and get a fire started as quick as you can. Then place your kettle on it, and keep on adding fuel until the water boils. I will time every contestant myself, and keep a record. But this is just a preliminary trial. We’ll have another later on. Ready, all?”
The twelve contestants lined up, while the others watched operations. Even the two outsiders had kept getting closer, so as to understand all that was done. And as Ward had his gold watch in his hand it was evident that he intended to do a little timing himself.
“He wants to see how our best compares with what some of his fellows will do,” remarked Jack, to Paul.
“All right. He’s welcome. The more the merrier. If they have any fellow who is more at home in the woods than Wallace Carberry for instance, I’d just like to know it,” returned the other, promptly.
“How about you, Paul? I guess Wallace would stand a mighty poor show if he ran a race with the head scout,” returned the second in command.
“That’s something we’ve never settled yet. Wallace and I must have a chance at each other some day; but not yet. Now watch them scurry around. Every fellow has his mind made up where he can cut wood easiest. I’ve made them bring in all loose stuff, you see, so that they start on an even thing. Here goes!”
Paul raised his hand, and exclaimed:
Immediately the dozen lads darted frantically off. Several came near having a collision right in the start, which would have been fatal to their chances for winning out; since the water in their kettles must have been spilled; and according to the rules of the contest they could not refill the same without journeying to the creek, which Paul had made sure was fully fifty yards distant.