Camp Fire Yarn No. 11
OBSERVATION OF "SIGN"
Details of People "Sign" Round a Dead Body Details in the Country
of Eyes, Ears, and Nose by Scouts Night Scouting
"Sign" is the word used by Scouts to mean any little details, such as footprints, broken
twigs, trampled grass, scraps of food, a drop of blood, a hair, and so on-anything that may help as clues in getting the information
they are in search of.
Mrs. Walter Smithson, when travelling in Kashmir, was following up, with some Indian trackers,
the "pugs" of a panther which had killed and carried off a young buck. He had crossed a wide bare slab of rock which, of course,
gave no mark of his soft feet. The tracker went at once to the far side of the rock where it came to a sharp edge. He wetted
his finger, and just passed it along the edge till he found a few buck's hairs sticking to it. This showed him where the panther
had passed down off the rock, dragging the buck with him. Those few hairs were what Scouts call "sign".
Mrs. Smithson's tracker also found bears by noticing small "sign". On one occasion he
noticed a fresh scratch in the bark of a tree evidently made by a bear's claw, and on the other he found a single black hair
sticking to"the bark of a tree, which told him that a bear had rubbed against it.
One of the most important things that a Scout has to learn, whether he is a war scout
or a hunter or peace scout, is to let nothing escape his attention. He must notice small points and signs, and then make out
the meaning of them. It takes a good deal of practice before a "tenderfoot" gets into the habit of really noting everything
and letting nothing escape his eye. It can be learnt just as well in a town as in the country.
And in the same way you should notice any strange sound or any peculiar smell and think
for yourself what it may mean. Unless you learn to notice "sign" you will have very little of "this and that" to put together,
and so you will be no use as a Scout.
Remember, a Scout always considers it a great disgrace if an outsider discovers a thing
before he has seen it for himself, whether that thing is far away in the distance or close by under his feet.
If you go out with a really trained Scout you will see that his eyes are constantly moving,
looking out in every direction near and far, noticing everything that is going on.
Once I was walking with one in Hyde Park in London. He presently remarked, "That horse
is going a little lame". There was no horse near us, but I found he was looking at one far away across the Serpentine Lake.
The next moment he picked up a peculiar button lying by the path. His eyes, you see, were looking both far away and near.
"Have You Seen a Man?"
In the streets of a strange town a Scout will notice his way by the principal buildings
and side-streets, and by what shops he passes and what is in their windows; also what vehicles pass him.
Most especially he will notice people-what their faces are like, their dress, their boots,
their way of walking-so that if, for instance, he should be asked by a policeman, "Have you seen a man with dark overhanging
eyebrows, dressed in a blue suit, going down this street?" he should be able to give some such answer as "Yes-he was walking
a little lame with the right foot, wore foreign-looking
boots, was carrying a parcel in his hand. He turned down Gold Street, the second turning
on the left from here, about three minutes ago."
Information of that kind has often been of the greatest value in tracing out a criminal.
You remember in the story of Kim how Kim was taught observation by means of a game in
which he had to describe from memory a trayful of small objects shown to him for a minute and then covered over.
We use this "Kim's Game", because it is excellent practice for Scouts.
There was a revolutionary society in Italy called the Camorra, that used to train its
boys to be quick at noticing and remembering things. When walking through the street of the city, the Camorrist would suddenly
stop and ask his boy. "How was the woman dressed who sat at the door of the fourth house on the right in the last street?"
or, "What were the two men talking about at the corner three streets back?" or, "Where was the cab ordered to drive to, and
what was its number?" or, "What is the height of that house and what is the width of its upper-floor window?" and so on. Or
the boy was given a minute to look in a shop window, and then describe all that was in it.
A Scout must also have his eyes on the ground, especially along the edge of the pavement
against the houses or the gutter. I have often found valuable trinkets that have been dropped, and which have been walked
over by numbers of people, and kicked to one side without being noticed.
Every town Scout should know, as a matter of course, where the nearest chemist's shop
is (in case of accidents), and the nearest police "fixed point", police station, doctor, hospital, fire alarm, telephone,
ambulance station, etc.
DETAILS OF PEOPLE
When you are travelling by train or bus, always notice every little thing about your fellow-travellers.
Notice their faces, dress, way of talking, and so on, so that you could describe them each pretty accurately afterwards. And
try to make out from their appearance and behaviour their probable business, whether they are happy, or ill, or in need of
But in doing this you must not let them see you are watching them, else it puts them on
their guard. Remember the shepherd-boy I told you about in Yarn No. 2, who noticed the gipsy's boots, but did not look at
him, and so did not make the gipsy suspicious of him.
Close observation of people and ability to read their character and their thoughts are
of immense value in trade and commerce, especially for a shop-assistant or salesman in persuading people to buy goods, or
in detecting would-be swindlers.
It is said that you can tell a man's character from the way he wears his hat. If it is
slightly on one side, the wearer is supposed to be good-natured; if it is worn very much on one side, he is a swaggerer; if
on the back of his head, he is bad at paying his debts; if worn straight on the top, he is probably honest but very dull.
The way a man (or a woman) walks is often a good guide to his character-witness the fussy,
swaggering little man paddling along with short steps with much arm action; the nervous man's hurried, jerky stride; the slow
slouch of the loafer; the smooth, quick, and silent step of the Scout, and so on.
With a little practice in observation, you can tell pretty accurately a man's character
from his dress.
The shoes are very generally the best test of all the details of clothing.
Sometime ago, I was with a lady in the country, and a young lady was walking just in front
"I wonder who she is?" said my friend.
"Well," I said, "maybe you will know if you know whose maid she is."
The girl was very well dressed, but when I saw her shoes I guessed that the dress had
belonged to some one else, had been given to her and refitted by herself-but that as regards shoes she felt more comfortable
in her own. She went up to the house at which we were staying-to the servants' entrance-and we found that she was one of the
I once was able to be of service to a lady who was in poor circumstances. I had guessed
it from noticing, while walking behind her, that though she was well dressed the soles of her shoes were in the last stage
of disrepair. I don't suppose she ever knew how I guessed that she needed help.
But it is surprising how much of the sole of the shoe you can see when walking behind
a person-and it is equally surprising how much meaning you can read from that shoe. It is said that to wear out soles and
heels equally is to give evidence of business capacity and honesty; to wear your heels down on the outside means that you
are a man of imagination and love of adventure; but heels worn down on the inside signify weakness and indecision of character,
and this last sign is more infallible in the case of man than in that of woman.
It is an amusing practice, when you are in a railway carriage or omnibus with other people,
to look only at their feet and guess, without looking any higher, what sort of people they are, old or young well-to-do oV
poor, fat or thin, and so on, and then look up and see how near you have been to the truth.
I was speaking with a detective not long ago about a gentleman we had both been talking
to, and we were trying to make out his character.
I remarked, "Well, at any rate, he is a fisherman."
My companion could not see why-but then he was not a fisherman himself.
I had noticed a lot of little tufts of cloth sticking up on the left cuff of his coat.
A good many fishermen, when they take their flies off the line, stick them into their cap to dry; others stick them into their
sleeve. When dry they pull them out, which often tears a thread or two of the cloth.
Remember how Sherlock Holmes met a stranger and noticed that he was looking fairly well-to-do,
in new clothes with a mourning band on his sleeve, with a soldierly bearing, and a sailor's way of walking, sunburnt, with
tattoo marks on his hand. What should you have supposed that man to be? Well, Sherlock Holmes guessed, correctly, that he
had lately retired from the Royal Marines as a Sergeant, his wife had died, and he had some small children at home.
SUN ROUND A DEAD DODY
It may happen to some of you that one day you will be the first to find the body of a
dead man. In such a case the smallest signs that are to be seen on and near the body must be examined and noted down, before
the body is moved or the ground disturbed and trampled down. Besides noticing the exact position of the body (which should,
if possible, be photographed exactly as found) the ground all round should be very carefully examined-without treading on
it yourself more than is absolutely necessary, for fear of spoiling existing tracks. If you can also draw a little map of
how the body lay and where the signs round it were, it might be of value.
I know of two cases where bodies have been found which were at first supposed to be of
people who had hanged themselves. But close examination of the ground round them-in one case some torn twigs and trampled
grass, and in the other a crumpled carpet -showed that murder had been committed, and that the bodies had been hanged after
death to make it appear as though the people had committed suicide.
Finger-prints are some of the first things the police look for on all likely articles.
If they do not correspond to those of the murdered man they may be those of his murderer, who could then be identified by
comparing the impression with his fingers.
There was the case of a learned old gentleman who was found dead in his bedroom with a
wound in his forehead and another in his left temple.
Very often after a murder, the murderer, with his hands bloody from the deed and running
away, may catch hold of the door, or a jug of water to wash his hands.
In the present case a newspaper lying on the table had the marks of three blood-stained
fingers on it.
The son of the dead man was suspected and was arrested by the police.
But careful examination of the room and the prints of the fingermarks showed that the
old gentleman had become ill in the night. He had got out of bed to get some medicine, but near the table a new spasm seized
him and he fell, striking his head violently against the corner of the table, and made the wound on his temple, which just
fitted the corner. In trying to get up he had caught hold of the table and had made the bloody finger-marks on the newspaper
lying on it. Then he had fallen again, cutting his head a second time on the foot of the bed.
The finger-prints were compared with the dead man's fingers and were found to be exactly
the same. Well, you don't find two men in 64,000,000,000,000 with the same pattern on the skin of their fingers. So
it was evident there had been no murder, and the dead man's son was released as innocent.
In a Russian city a banker was found murdered. Near the body was discovered a cigar-holder
with an amber mouthpiece. This mouthpiece was of a peculiar shape and could only be held in the mouth in one position, and
it had two teeth marks in it. The marks showed that the two teeth were of different lengths.
The teeth of the murdered man were quite regular, so the cigar-holder was evidently not
his. But his nephew had teeth which corresponded to the marks on the mouthpiece. He was arrested, and then further proof came
up and showed that he was the murderer.
There is a similar story in Sherlock Holmes' Memoirs called "The Resident Patient". Here
a man was found hanging and was considered to be a suicide till Sherlock Holmes came in and showed by various signs-such as
cigar ends bitten by different teeth, footprints -that three men had been in the room with the man for some time previous
to his death and had hanged him.
DETAILS IN THE COUNTRY
If you are in the country you should notice landmarks, that is, objects which will help
you to find your way or prevent you getting lost, such as distant hills, church towers, and nearer objects such as peculiar
buildings, trees, gates, rocks, etc.
And remember, in noticing such landmarks, that you may want to use your knowledge of them
some day for telling someone else how to find his way, so you must notice them pretty closely to be able to describe them
unmistakably and in their proper order. You must notice and remember every by-road and foot-path.
Then you must also notice smaller signs, such as birds getting up and flying hurriedly,
which means somebody or some animal is there. Rising dust shows animals, men, or vehicles moving.
Of course, when in the country you should notice just as much as in town, all passers-by
very carefully-how they are dressed, what their faces are like, their way of walking-and examine their footmarks and jot down
sketches of them in your notebook, so that you would know the footmarks again if you found them somewhere else, as the shepherd
boy did in the story at the beginning of this book.
Also notice tracks of animals, birds, wheels, etc., for from these you can read valuable
Track reading is of such importance that I shall give you a yarn on that subject by itself.
USING YOUR EYES
Let nothing be too small for your notice. A button, a match, the ash from a cigar, a feather,
or a leaf, might be of great importance.
A Scout must not only look to his front, but also to either side and behind him; he must
have "eyes at the back of his head", as the saying is.
Often, by suddenly looking back, you will see an enemy's scout or a thief showing himself
in a way that he would not have done had he thought you would look round.
There is an interesting story by Fenimore Cooper called The Pathfinder, in which the action
of a Red Indian scout is well described. He had "eyes at the back of his head", and, after passing some bushes, caught sight
of a withered leaf or two among the fresh ones. This made him suspect that somebody had put the leaves there to make a better
hiding-place, and so he discovered some hidden fugitives.
A Scout has to be able to notice small details by night as well as by day.
At night he has to do it chiefly by listening, occasionally by feeling or smelling.
In the stillness of the night, sounds carry farther than by day. If you put your ear to
the ground or place it against a stick, or especially against a drum, which is touching the ground, you will hear the shake
of horses' hoofs or the thud of a man's footfall a long way off.
Another way is to open a knife with a blade at each end; stick one blade into the ground,
hold the other carefully between your teeth and you will hear all the better.
The human voice, even though talking low, carries to a great distance, and is not likely
to be mistaken for any other sound.
I have often passed through outposts at night after having found where the pickets were
posted by hearing the low talking of the men or the snoring of those asleep.
PATROL PRACTICES IN OBSERVATION
In town: teach your boys first, in walking down a street, to notice the different kinds
of shops they pass and to remember them in their proper order. Then to notice and remember the names on the shops. Then to
notice and remember the contents of a shop window after two minutes' gaze. Finally to notice the contents of several shop
windows in succession with half a minute at each.
Make the boys notice prominent buildings as landmarks, the number of turnings off the
street they are using, names of other streets, details of cars passing by, and especially, details of people as to dress,
features and way of walking. Take them out the first time to show them how to do it. After that send them out and question
them on their return.
Make the Scouts learn for themselves to notice and remember the whereabouts of all fire
alarms, police points, hospitals, etc.
in the country: take the Patrol out for a walk and teach the boys to notice distant prominent
features as landmarks, such as hills, church steeples, and the like, and as nearer landmarks such things as peculiar buildings,
trees, rocks, gates, etc. Also have them notice by-roads or paths, different kinds of trees, birds, animals, tracks, and also
people and vehicles.
Send the boys out on a walk. On their return examine them one by one, or have them all
in and let them write their answers to, say, six questions which you give them with reference to certain points which they
should have noticed. It adds to the value of the practice if you make certain small marks on the ground beforehand, or leave
buttons or matches, etc., for the boys to notice or to pick up and bring in, as a means of making them examine the ground
close to them, as well as distant objects.
At Troop meeting, arrange for an "incident" to take place without warning, such as this:
A man rushes in, "knocks down" the Scoutmaster, and escapes. Then each Patrol writes a report of what happened, a description
of the man, etc.
GAMES IN OBSERVATION
Thimble Finding (Indoors)
Send the Patrol out of the room.
Take a thimble, ring, coin, bit of paper, or any small article, and place it where it
is perfectly visible, but in a spot where it is not likely to be noticed. Let the Patrol come in and look for it. When one
of the Scouts sees it, he should go and quietly sit down without indicating to the others where it is.
After a fair time he should be told to point it out to those who have not succeeded in
Far and Near (For town or country)
Umpire goes along a given road or line of country with a Patrol in patrol formation. He
carries a scoring card with the name of each Scout on it.
Each Scout looks out for the details required, and, directly he notices one, he runs to
the umpire and informs him or hands in the article, if it is an article he finds. The umpire enters a mark accordingly against
his name. The Scout who gains most marks in the walk wins.
Details like the following should be chosen, to develop the Scout's observation and to
encourage him to look far and near, up and down. The details should be varied every time the game is played, and about eight
or ten should be given at a time.
Every match found...1 point
Every button found...1 "
Bird's tracks...2 points
Grey horse seen...2 "
Pigeon flying...2 points
Sparrow sitting...1 point
Broken window...1 point
(And so on).
Shop Window (Outdoors in town)
Umpire takes a Patrol down a street past six shops and gives them half a minute at each
shop. Then, after moving them to some distance off, he gives each boy a pencil and card, and tells him to write from memory
what he noticed in, say, the third and fifth shops. The Scout who sets down most articles correctly wins. It is useful practice
to match one boy against another in heats-the losers competing again, till you arrive at the worst. This gives the worst Scouts
the most practice.
Room Observation (Indoors)
Send each Scout in turn into a room for half a minute. When he comes out, take down a
list of furniture and articles which he has noticed. The boy who notices most wins.
The simplest way of scoring is to make a list of the articles in the room on your scoring
paper, with a column against them for marks for each Scout. The marks can then easily be totalled up.
Smugglers Over the Border
The "border" is a certain line of country about four hundred yards long, preferably a
road or wide path or bit of sand, on which foot-tracks can easily be seen. One Patrol watches the border with sentries posted
along this road; with a reserve posted farther inland, about half-way between the "border" and the "town". The "town" would
be a base marked by a tree, building, or flags, about half a mile distant from the border. A hostile Patrol of smugglers assembles
about half a mile on the other side of the border. They will all cross the border, in any formation they please, either singly
or together or scattered, and make for the town, either walking or running, or at Scout Pace. Only one among them is supposed
to be smuggling, and he wears tracking irons The sentries walk up and down their beat (they may not run till after the "alarm"),
waiting for the tracks of the smuggler. Directly a sentry sees the track, he gives the alarm signal to the reserve and starts
himself to follow up the track as fast as he can. The reserve thereupon co-operates with him and they all try to catch the
smuggler before he can reach the town. Once within the boundary of the town he is safe and wins the game.
Prepare squares of cardboard divided into about a dozen or more small squares. Each Scout
should take one, and should have a pencil and go off a few hundred yards.
The leader then takes a large sheet of cardboard, with the same number of squares ruled
on it of about three inch sides. The leader has a number of black paper discs, half an inch in diameter, and pins ready, and
sticks about half a dozen on to his card, dotted about where he likes. He holds up his card so that it can be seen by the
Scouts. They then gradually approach, and as they get within sight they mark their cards with the same pattern of spots. The
one who does so at the farthest distance from the leader wins.
Give five points for every spot correctly shown, deduct one point for every two inches
nearer than the furthest man.
Scout's Nose (Indoors)
Prepare a number of paper bags, all alike, and put in each a different-smelling article,
such as chopped onion in one, coffee in another, rose leaves, leather, aniseed, toilet soap, orange peel, etc. Put these packets
in a row a couple of feet apart, and let each competitor walk down the line and have five seconds' sniff at each. At the end
he" has one minute in which to write down or to state to the umpire the names of the different objects smelled, from memory,
in their correct order.
Each Scout in the Patrol has a round disc of white cardboard with a number printed plainly
upon it, pinned on to the back of his shirt.
One member of the Patrol is then chosen as the "fugitive", while the rest act as hunters.
The "fugitive", who wears tracking-irons, or leaves some kind of trail behind him, is
given, say, ten minutes' start. The rest of the Patrol then start out and endeavour to track him down.
As soon as a "hunter" can get near enough to the "fugitive", without being seen, to take
down his number, the latter is caught. But if the "fugitive" can, by any means, turn the tables and get any of his pursuers'
numbers, the latter are out of action.
As soon as a number is taken down, the Scout who takes it must call it out, to let his
captive know he is out of action.
This game necessitates some careful stalking. A sharp Scout in the Patrol should be chosen
for the "fugitive", as he has not only to elude perhaps six or seven pursuers, but he must also endeavour to "capture" them,
unless he wishes to get killed himself.