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Tom Slade on the River By Percy K. Fitzhugh Characters: 8277

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Believe me, it was good to get our feet on terra-cotta-I mean terra firma. I don't want any more life on the ocean wave for at least two weeks. I'm sorry we didn't christen that boat the Sardine Box. Good Turn-you can't even turn around in it!"

"You shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth," someone laughed.

"You can look a gift boat in the cabin, can't you," continued Roy. "We were crowded in the cabin, not a soul would dare to move. That boat is all right for three scouts like last year, but for three patrols-go-o-d night! There wasn't even room to flop a rice cake over-we had to eat them browned on one side-there was a wrong and a right to them. Never again! What we want is a sump-tu-ous yacht like that one moored at Catskill Landing!"

"Wal, ye did hev quite a crowd aboard, sure enough," laughed Jeb, who always enjoyed Roy's nonsense.

"Sure, pick out the one you want and I'll drown the rest," said Roy; "except Pee-wee, we're going to keep him till he gets his eyes open."

Pee-wee Harris, Silver Fox and troop mascot, splashed the oar from his seat in an adjoining boat, giving Roy a gratuitous bath.

"Did you have any adventures?" Raymond managed to ask.

"Oceans of them-I mean rivers. We got three points out of our course and went twenty miles up a tributary."

"That's some word," someone called.

"That's a peach of a word, comes from the Greek word Bute, meaning beautiful, and the Irish word Terry. It was all on account of Pee-wee's ignorance of geography. He thought the Hudson rose in Roseville, Pennsylvania."

"What!" shouted Pee-wee.

"I'll leave it to our beloved scoutmaster."

"Our beloved scoutmaster," who was rowing one of the skiffs, only smiled.

"I know more about geography than you do," shouted the irrepressible Pee-wee; "he thought Newburgh was below Peekskill," he added, contemptuously.

"He thought Sandy Hook was a Scotchman," retorted Roy. "Well, what's the news, Jeb, anyway?"

"Yer didn't give us no chance ter tell yer," drawled Jeb, as they drew the boats up on shore. "Mebbe yer think yer wuz the fust arrivals, but yer wuzn't."

It was good to hear Roy's familiar nonsense; Raymond, who was quiet and easily amused, saw with joy that the ancient hostilities between Roy and Pee-wee were still in full swing; and for all Roy's dubious picture of an overcrowded boat (and so it must have been) they had found it possible to stop down the river for Garry Everson and bring him along.

"Last of the Mohicans," said Roy, as he dragged Garry forward; "all that's left of the famous Edgevale troop-left over from last summer. The only original has-been. Them wuz the happy days."

There was Tom Slade, too, quiet and stolid as he always was and with no more sign of the scout regalia than he had shown when he was a hoodlum down in Barrel Alley. His gray flannel shirt and last year's khaki trousers were in odd contrast to the new outfits which the other members of the Bridgeboro Troop wore. But then Tom was in odd contrast with everything and everybody anyway.

Two troops which had come up by the train had joined them at Catskill Landing so the new arrivals descended like an all-conquering host upon the quiet monotony of the big camp.

"And I'm going to stay till September," said Raymond, clinging to Garry and talking to both Garry and Roy. "Mr. Temple sent the money. Do you remember how I couldn't raise the flag last summer?"

"You were about as tough as a Welsbach gas mantel last summer," laughed Roy.

"Well, now I can raise it with one hand and I can hike to Leeds and back. But listen-listen; we've got a mystery-it just happened--"

"Give it to Tom," laughed Roy. "He's the fellow for mysteries."

But in another minute he had abandoned his gay tone as the little company stood gazing down upon the dead hawk, while Jeb held a lantern, and listened to Raymond's breathless account of what had happened.

It had a sobering effect upon them all, and as Mr. Ellsworth, the Bridgeboro Troop's scoutmaster, held that pathetic note and read it in the lantern light, with the scouts clustering about him, he shook his head


The note was passed about among the boys, who fingered it curiously.

"It's a stalking blank, isn't it," said Tom, as he handed it to Westy Martin, of the Silver Foxes, who wore the stalking badge. "The printed part has been torn off so's to get it into that little holder. See?" he added, rubbing his finger along the edge, "it came off a pad-a stalking pad-one of--" and he named the sporting goods concern which made them. "It's the same kind you and I used at Salmon River."

The announcement, made in Tom's usual stolid, half-interested way, fell like a bombshell among them.

"Oh, can we find them? Can we find them?" cried Raymond.

"I'm afraid that doesn't do us much good," said Mr. Ellsworth. "We already knew that the message was sent from some isolated place or help would have been procurable. That being the case, I don't see how the sender happened to have a pigeon handy."

"He had more than one, don't you see?" said Tom, quietly, "but the other died-Spotty. It must have been sent by some one who's stalking and a fellow who's that much interested in birds would be just the kind of a fellow that might have carrier pigeons-it's good sport."

"Yes, but where is he-or they? There's two of them, anyway," said Doc Carson.

"That's for us to find out," said Tom. "I'm not going to sit down here and eat my supper with someone dying." He kicked the body of the hawk slightly as if to express his disgust that this insignificant creature could cause such trouble and baffle even scouts. "We don't know much about it but we'll have to use what little we do know. I know that when people try out carrier pigeons they always get a high ground, and I know that up on that hill over there-in the woods-there were chalk marks on the trees last summer. Maybe someone was stalking there then. Anyway, I'm going to get to the top of that hill and see if I can find anyone up there. I want Doc to go with me. Anybody else can go that wants to. If there's anybody there we'll wigwag or [1]smudge it to you in the morning."

For a moment there was silence. It was exactly like Tom to blurt out his plans with a kind of stolid bluntness, and if he had contemplated a trip to the moon he would have announced it in the same dull way. He seldom asked advice and as seldom asked authority. He was a kind of law unto himself. If anyone knew how to take Tom it was Roy Blakeley, but Roy often threw up his hands in despair and said he gave it up-Tom was a puzzle. He stood there among them now, his face about as expressionless as an Indian's-coarse gray flannel shirt open halfway down to his waist, a strap by way of a belt, and his shock of thick hair down on his forehead. Why he had eschewed the scout regalia while the others came resplendent in their new outfits was a mystery. What advantage over a belt the thin strap had, no one knew.

"Oh, I'll go with you! I'll go with you!" shouted the irrepressible Pee-wee. "I'll--"

"You'll just sit down and have some supper," laughed Mr. Ellsworth.

It is to be feared that the scoutmaster had small hope of anything coming from Tom's proposed expedition, but he was not the one to discourage his scouts nor obtrude his authority. So the little party was made up (for whatever slight prospect of success it might afford) of Tom, Doc Carson, Raven and First Aid Scout, Connie Bennet of Tom's patrol, and Garry Everson who, though not a member of the troop, was asked because of his proficiency in signalling. Roy, who would naturally have gone, was asked by Mr. Ellsworth to remain at camp to help him get the troop's baggage distributed in the several cabins that had been reserved for them.

So the four scouts, having taken a hasty bite of supper, set out in the darkness on their all but hopeless errand. Tom carried a lantern; across Doc Carson's back was slung the folding stretcher; Connie Bennet carried the bandages and first-aid case, and all wore belt axes, for the hill which they meant to climb was covered with a dense thicket and even in the lower land between it and the camp there was no sign of path or trail after the first mile or so.

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