B.-P. Tells a Story On Signs
The Leader, January 1976
When a Scout has learned to notice "signs", he must then learn to "put
this and that together", and so read a meaning from what he has seen. This is called
Here is an example which shows how the young Scout can read the meaning from
"signs", when he has been trained to it.
Old Blenkinsop rushed out of his little store near the African Kaffir village.
"Hi! Stop thief!" he shouted. "He's stolen my sugar. Stop him!"
Stop whom? There was nobody in sight running away.
"Who stole it?" asked the policeman.
"I don't know, but a whole bag of sugar is missing. It was there only a few
A police tracker was called in --and it looked a pretty impossible job for him to
single out the tracks of the thief from among dozens of other naked foot prints about the
store. However, he presently started off hopefully at a jog-trot, away out into the bush.
In some places he went over hard stony ground but he never checked his pace, although no
footmarks could be seen.
At length the tracker suddenly stopped and cast around, having evidently lost the
trail. Then a grin came on his face as he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder up the
tree near which he was standing. There, concealed among the branches they saw a man with
the missing bag of sugar.
How had the tracker spotted him? His sharp eyes had seen some grains of sugar sparkling
in the dust. The bag leaked, leaving a very slight trail of these grains. He followed that
trail and when it came to an end in the bush the
tracker noticed a string of ants going up a tree. They were after the sugar, and so was
he, and between them they brought about the capture of the thief.
I expect that Old Blenkinsop patted the tracker on the back for his cleverness in using
his eyes to see the grains of sugar and the ants, and in using his wits to see why the
ants were climbing the tree.
The Lost Soldier
A cavalry soldier was lost in India, and some of his comrades were hunting all over to
find him. They came across an Indian boy and asked him if he had seen the lost man. He
"Do you mean a very tall soldier, riding a roan horse that was slightly
They said, "Yes, that was the man. Where did you see him?"
The boy replied, "I have not seen him, but I know where he has gone."
Thereupon they arrested him thinking that probably the man had been murdered and made
away with, and that the boy had heard about it.
But eventually he explained that he had seen the tracks of the man. He pointed out the
tracks to them, and finally brought them to a place where the signs showed that the man
had made a halt. Here the horse had rubbed itself
against a tree, and had left some of its hairs sticking to the bark, which showed that it
was a roan (speckled) horse. Its hoof marks showed that it was lame, that is, one foot was
not so deeply imprinted on the ground and did not take so long a pace as the other feet.
That the rider was a soldier was shown by the track of his boot, which was an army boot.
Then they asked the boy, "How could you tell that he was a tall man?" and the
boy pointed to where the soldier had broken a branch from the tree, which would have been
out of reach of a man of ordinary height.
Deduction is exactly like reading a book.
A boy who has never been taught to read, and who sees you reading from a book, would
ask, "How do you do it?" You would point out to him that a number of small signs
on a page are letters. These letters when grouped form words. And words form sentences,
and sentences give information.
Similarly, a trained Scout will see little signs and tracks. He puts them together in
his mind and quickly reads a meaning from them which an untrained man would never arrive
From frequent practice he gets to read the meaning at a glance, just as you do a book,
without the delay of spelling out each word, letter by letter.
Instances of Deduction
I was one day, during the Matabele War in Africa, out scouting with an African over a
wide grassy plain near the Matopo Hills.
Suddenly we crossed a track freshly made in grass, where the blades of grass were still
green and damp, though pressed down -- all were bending one way, which showed the
direction in which the people had been traveling. Following up the track for a bit it got
on to a patch of sand, and we then saw that it was
the spoor (footprints) of several women (small feet with straight edge, and short steps)
walking, not running, towards the hills, about five miles away, where we believed the
enemy was hiding.
Then we saw a leaf lying about ten yards off the track. There were no trees for miles,
but we knew that trees having this kind of leaf grew at a village 15 miles away, in the
direction from which the foot marks were coming. It seemed likely therefore that the women
had come from that village, bringing the leaf with them, and had gone to the hills.
On picking up the leaf we found it was damp, and smelled of native beer. The short
steps showed that the women were carrying loads. So we guessed that according to the
custom they had been carrying pots of native beer on their heads, with the mouths of the
pots stopped up with bunches of leaves. One of these leaves had fallen out; and since we
found it ten yards off the track, it showed that at the time it fell a wind was blowing.
There was no wind now, that is, at seven o'clock, but there had been some about five
So we guessed from all these little signs that a party of women and boys had brought
beer during the night from the village 15 miles away, and had taken it to the enemy in the
hills, arriving there soon after six o'clock.
The men would probably start to drink the beer at once (as it goes sour in a few
hours), and would, by the time we could get there, be getting sleepy and keeping a bad
look-out, so we should have a favorable chance of looking at their position.
We accordingly followed the women's tracks, found the enemy, made our observations, and
got away with our information without any difficulty. And it was chiefly done on the
evidence of that one leaf.
So you see the importance of noticing even a little thing like that.
Dr. Bell of Edinburgh is said to be the original from whom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle drew
his idea of Sherlock Holmes.
The doctor was once teaching a class of medical students at a hospital how to treat
people. A patient was brought in, so that the doctor might show how an injured man should
be cared for. The patient in this case came in limping, and the doctor turned to one of
the students and asked him:
"What is the matter with this man?"
The student replied, "I don't know sir. I haven't asked him."
The doctor said: "Well there is no need to ask him, you should see for yourself --
he has injured his right knee--he is limping on that leg. He injured it by burning it in
the fire--you see how his trouser is burnt away at the knee. This
is Monday morning. Yesterday was fine, Saturday was wet and muddy. The man's trousers are
muddy all over. He had a fall in the mud on Saturday night."
Then he turned to the man and said: "You drew your wages on Saturday and got
drunk, and in trying to get your clothes dry by the fire when you got home, you fell on
the fire and burnt your knee -- isn't that so?"
"Yes, sir," replied the man.
I saw a case in the paper once where a judge at the county court used his power of
"noticing little things", and "putting this and that together". He was
trying a man as a debtor.
The man pleaded that he was out of work, and could get no employment. The judge said:
"Then what are you doing with that pencil behind your ear if you are not in
The man had to admit that he had been helping his wife in her business, which, it
turned out, was a very profitable one. The judge thereupon ordered him to pay his debt.
Example of Practice in Deduction
A simple deduction from signs noticed in my walk one morning on a stormy mountain path
in Kashmir. SIGNS OBSERVED: Tree-stump, about three feet high, by the path. A stone about
the size of a cocoanut lying near it, to which were sticking some bits of bruised walnut
rind, dried up. Some walnut rind also lying on the stump. Farther along the path, 30 yards
to the south of the stump, were lying bits of walnut shell of four walnuts. Close by was a
high sloping rock, alongside the path. The only walnut tree in sight was 150 yards north
of the stump.
At the foot of the stump was a cake of hardened mud which showed the impression of a
What would you make out from those signs?
My solution of it was this.
A man had gone southward on a long journey along the path two days ago carrying a load
and had rested at the rock while he ate walnuts.
My deductions were these.
It was a man carrying a load, because carriers when they want to rest do not sit down,
but rest their load against a sloping rock and lean back. Had he had no load, he would
probably have sat down on the stump, but he preferred to go 30 yards farther to where the
rock was. Women no not carry loads there, so it was a man. He broke the shells of his
walnuts on the tree stump with the stone, having brought them from the tree 150 yards
north -- so he was traveling south. He was on a long journey, as he was wearing shoes,
and not going barefooted, as he would be if only strolling near his home. Three days ago
there was rain, the cake of mud had been picked up while the ground was still wet -- but
it had not been since rained upon, and was now dry. The walnut rind was also dry, and
confirmed the time that had elapsed.
There is no important story attached to this, but it is just an example of everyday
practice which should be carried out by Scouts.
Patrol Practices in Deduction
Read aloud a story in which a good amount of observation of details occurs, with
consequent deductions, such as in either the Memoirs or the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Then question the boys as to which details suggest certain solutions, to see that they
really have grasped the method.
Make tracks on soft ground of different incidents- such as a cyclist meeting a boy on
foot, getting off his bicycle to talk to his friend, then setting out again. Let the boys
study the tracks and deduce their meaning.
Place on a tray a collection of articles which might come from a man's pockets. Ask the
Scouts to deduce what kind a man he was, his interests, etc.
Games in Deduction - Strangers
Get some people who are strangers to the boys to come along as passers-by in the street
or road, and let the boys separately notice all about them. After an interval ask each boy
for a full description of the passers-by as to appearance, peculiar recognizable points,
and what he guesses their business to be.
Or let each boy have two minutes' conversation with some stranger, and try to find out
what he can about him in that time by questioning and observation.
Set a room or prepare a piece of ground with small signs, tracks, etc. Read aloud the
story of a crime up to the point when the signs are made and let each boy in turn examine
the scene for a given time, and then privately give his solution of it.
The very simplest schemes should be given at first. They can gradually be elaborated.
For instance, have a number of footmarks and used matches by a tree, showing where a
man had difficulty in lighting his pipe, etc.
For a more finished theme take a mystery like that in Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes called
"The Resident Patient". Set a room to represent the patient's room where he was
found hanging, with footprints of muddy boots on the carpet, cigar ends bitten or cut in
the fireplace, cigar ashes, screw-driver and screws etc. Put down a strip of newspapers
for "stepping stones" on which competitors shall walk (so as not to confuse
existing tracks). Let each Scout (by patrol) come in separately and give him three minutes
in which to investigate. Then give him half an hour to make up his solution, written or
"Track the Assassin"
The assassin escapes after having "stabbed his victim", carrying in his hand
the "dripping dagger". The remainder, a minute later, start out to track him by
the "drops of blood" (represented by confetti) which fall at every third step.
His confederate (the umpire) tells him beforehand where to make for. If he gets there
without being touched by his pursuers, over eight minutes ahead of them, he wins.