The test of manhood is the ability to meet an emergency squarely, to put fear one side, think clearly and act sanely. The man who does not know fear may make no claim to bravery. Courage he may possess, courage that may lead to mighty deeds, but the spirit of true heroism is not his until he has tasted of the bitterness of fear and conquered it.
Of the two boys sitting with blanched faces under the first shock of realization that they were indeed lost in the great forest, with night fast closing in, Spud was some two years the older, stocky in build, well muscled, apparently fitted in every way to be the leader. Billy, on the other hand, was rather under size, wiry, quick moving, with the activity of nervous energy, and highly imaginative. The sudden fear that whitened Spud's sun-browned face clutched at Billy's heart as well and prompted him to leap to his feet and plunge after Spud in response to the latter's panic shaken. " Come on ! We better keep going, and maybe we'll come out somewhere ! "
For a few minutes they tore along in frantic haste. Then Billy showed the stuff of which he was made. " Stop, Spud!" he yelled sharply.
It was the voice of authority. It cut through the terror of the fleeing boy in front and brought him up short. Billy had taken command. He began to speak rapidly.
" We're a couple of idiots. This ain't goin' to get us nowhere unless it's into more trouble, maybe. We're doin' just what always gets lost people into trouble and gets 'em more lost. The thing to do is to sit down and talk it over and try to decide just what we ought to do. Pretty Scouts we are, running like a couple of silly hens at the first scare! Wonder what the big chief would say if he could see us, after all the lectures he's given on what to do when you get lost. Here we are, and the question is, What are we going to do about it ? What do you say ? "
" I—I don't know," confessed Spud miserably. He was shaking a bit. " They'll send out searching parties when we fail to show up to-night. Do you s'pose they'll come over this way ? "
Billy made a wry face that instantly resolved into a grimace of pain because of his swollen features. " No, I don't," he replied. " You see I let some of the fellers think that we was goin' over toward Old Baldy, and you know some of 'em saw us start out on the Baldy trail. They'll go huntin' over that way. Spud, we might just as well make up our minds right now that we've got to spend the night in the woods. In the mornin' we can shin up a tall tree and p'raps get our bearings. What we want to do now is to make ourselves as comfortable as we can, and the first thing I'm goin' to do is to get some mud."
"Mud! What for?" asked Spud in surprise.
" To plaster on these blamed stings,"replied Billy. " Jerusalem, how my face aches! Just a little bit back there we came across a swampy place. Come on and see if we can find it."
Retracing their steps in the direction from which they had made their last mad flight they soon found the place Billy had noticed.
With hasty fingers he dug up the wet black muck and plastered it thick over his swollen face and on his hands and legs. Somewhat gingerly Spud followed his example. The cool, moist plasters brought almost instant relief, and with the easing of the smarting wounds a measure of steadiness returned to the shaken nerves. Spud even so far forgot his fears as to grin as he looked at Billy.
" Gee, you are a sight! Say, the fellows wouldn't do a thing if they could see you now ! The wild man of Borneo would be a beaut 'side of you."
" Can't have much on you," replied Billy. " That eye of yours looks as if it was about closed up, and mud ain't becoming to your style of beauty. Now let's make camp before it gets so dark we can't see nothin'."
" Where'll we make it, right here ? " asked Spud.
" No," replied Billy decidedly. " It's too wet. We've got to get on higher ground."
He stooped and began to make a big ball of mud.
" What's that for ? " demanded the puzzled Spud.
"First aid for the injured. These beauty plasters are goin' to dry out pretty quick and we'll want some fresh ones. You'd better bring along some too," replied Billy briefly.
The advice seemed good, and Spud followed Billy's example. Then they pushed on for drier ground, Billy in the lead. Already his active imagination had seized upon their predicament as savoring of real adventure. He pictured their return to camp the next day as heroes rather than culprits who had disobeyed one of the most stringent rules of the camp. He saw himself the center of admiring groups of his fellows because of his superior scoutcraft in knowing just what to do and how to do it in so severe a test as spending a night lost in the woods. The anxiety which would be caused by their absence never entered his head, or if it did was dismissed as of little consequence. He would show them that he was a real Scout, able to take care of himself under any conditions.
Presently they became aware that the ground was gradually sloping up. It was firm and dry under foot. By this time it was so dark that it was with difficulty they could make out their surroundings. In front of two trees standing some ten feet apart Billy stopped.
" We'll camp here," he said.
Carefully putting his precious ball of mud at the foot of one of the trees he singled out a tall two-inch sapling. " Here, Spud, you bend this over as far as you can," he commanded.
" What for?" asked Spud.
" Never you mind ; just get busy ! " replied Billy.
By this time Spud had accepted Billy's leadership without question and he meekly obeyed. With his stout scout knife Billy made a straight cut across the sapling at the point where the strain was greatest. The strained fibers of the wood yielded to the first pressure of the keen blade and in less than half a minute he had the tree in his hands with a clean square cut base.