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Tom Slade on the River By Percy K. Fitzhugh Characters: 17510

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"That's what you get for being small," sighed Pee-wee to Raymond Hollister, as they strolled about together while waiting for supper. "When you say you want to go with them or tell them about an idea you have, they just laugh at you, or don't pay any attention. It just goes in one ear and out the other-because there's nothing to stop it, as Roy says. Gee, you have to laugh at that feller. He makes me awful mad sometimes-when he gets to jollying-but you have to laugh at him."

"Do you know what he told me last summer?" said Raymond; "he was telling me about the echoes and he said if I called Merry Christmas good and hard it would answer Happy New Year!"

"That's just like him," said Pee-wee, "you have to look out for him. When I first joined his patrol he told me a lot of stuff. He said if a feller had a malicious look it was a sign he belonged to the militia. He'll be jollying you and me all the time we're here-you see if he isn't. He calls me a scoutlet. And it'll be the same with you, only worse, because you're even smaller than I am. What do you say we stick together?"

"I'll do it," said Raymond, "but I like Roy," he added. "I like him better than any of your patrol-I like him better than Tom Slade-a good deal."

"Tom isn't so bad," said Pee-wee, "but he's kind of queer."

"He doesn't look like a scout at all-not this year," said Raymond.

"He's thinking mostly about his patrol," said Pee-wee, "he's nutty about his patrol. He needs one more member. Roy and two or three others-Westy, he's pretty near as bad-they made a big rag doll with a punkin for a head and brought it to scout meeting as a new member for Tom's patrol. Coming up the river there was a scarecrow in a field and Roy said, 'There's your new member for you, Tom.' Oh, gee, but we did have some fun cruising up. Sometimes I got mad when they kidded me, but most of the time I had to laugh-especially when Roy gave an imitation of a dying radiator-gee, that feller's the limit!"

Raymond enjoyed these tidbits of gossip about the Bridgeboro Troop, the members of which were all more or less heroes to him.

"I like Garry best of all," he suddenly announced.

"Everybody likes him," said Pee-wee.

"He's just as smart as any scout in your troop," Raymond added, with the faintest note of challenge in his tone.

The welcome sound of the supper horn brought their talk to an end. It was a merry company that gathered about one of the three long boards (the other two were as yet unused) and to the scouts who were visiting Temple Camp for the first time this late evening meal, served by lantern light under the sombre trees with the still, black lake hard by and the frowning hills encompassing them, was most delightful.

There were few among them (least of all Jeb and the scoutmaster) who believed that anything would be accomplished by Tom's expedition but even a hopeless enterprise seemed more scoutish than doing nothing and Mr. Ellsworth was certainly not the one to deny his scouts any adventure even though it offered nothing more than a forlorn hope.

After supper some one suggested campfire and soon the cheerful, crackling blaze which seems to typify the very spirit of scouting was luring the boys back from pavilion and cabin and they lolled on the ground about it as it grew in volume and glittered in the black water.

"What d'you say we tell riddles?" suggested Pee-wee.

"All right," said Roy, who was poking the fire. "Riddle number one, How much is twice?"

"Do you stir your coffee with your left hand?" shouted Pee-wee.

"No, with a spoon," said Roy; "no sooner said than stung!"

"Tell a story, Roy," some one called, and half dozen others, who had already fallen under Roy's spell, chimed in, "Sure, go ahead-story, story!"

"Well," said Roy, drawing his knees up and clasping his hands about them. "Once there was a scout-anybody got a harmonica for some soft music? No? Well, once there was a scout and he was tracking. He came to a stone wall and in climbing over it he fell."

"Scouts don't fall," shouted the irrepressible Pee-wee.

"Who's telling this?" said Roy. "As he was climbing over the stone wall he fell. He fell on his face-and hurt his feelings. He was self-conscious-I mean sub-conscious-I mean unconscious. He shouted for help."

"When he was unconscious?" ventured Raymond.

"Sure. But no help came. The sun was slowly sinking. The scout was a fiend on first-aid. He opened his case and got out a bottle of camphor. He smelled it. He opened his eyes slowly and came to--"

"You make me sick!" shouted Pee-wee.

"There was a big scratch on his knee," Roy continued. "There was a hole in his stocking-about as big as a seventy-five cent piece. He looked about but could not find the piece of stocking the size of a seventy-five cent piece that had come out of the hole. Where was it? The hole was there-the whole hole; but where was the part of the stocking that had been in the hole? He looked about."

"Topple him over backwards, will you!" called Pee-wee, in a disgusted appeal to Roy's nearest neighbor.

"He looked about some more. Then he sat up. Then he sat down. He was a scout-he was resourceful. He happened to remember that once he had eaten a doughnut. The doughnut had a hole in it. The hole disappeared. He said to himself--"

But he was not allowed to go further, for somebody inverted him according to Pee-wee's suggestion, and when the general laugh had subsided a boy who had said very little spoke up, half laughing but evidently in earnest and greatly interested in Roy.

"While we were rowing across the lake," he said, "you made some remark about your motor-boat being overcrowded on the trip up and I got an idea from some things that were said that two or three of you came up here alone last year. It struck me that you might have had some interesting experiences from the way you spoke. I wanted to go with your friends off to that hill, but I didn't just like to ask--"

"That's the trouble with him," a smaller boy beside him, who was evidently his friend, piped up. "He doesn't like to butt in-gee, you'd never think he was a hero from the way he acts-or the way he talks either."

The older boy took the general laugh good-naturedly. "I was just wondering," he said, "if you wouldn't tell us something about your trip."

"He's had a lot of adventures, too," piped up the smaller boy, "and saved people's lives-and things-and won plaudits--"

"Won what?" someone queried.

"Plaudits," he repeated; "they are things like-like-well, applause, kind of. But he don't know very much about girls, though."

"And what is your name?" asked Mr. Ellsworth, amid the general laughter.

"Gordon Lord-and his is Harry Arnold-he can swim two miles and back and he can-he can-he can make raisin pudding," he concluded, lamely. "And he's got a tattoo mark on his arm."

"Delaware?" Roy queried, smiling across the blaze at Arnold.

"No, New Jersey-Oakwood, New Jersey-First Oakwood Troop-Hawk Patrol, we are. I guess we're a little bit ashamed of our patrol name just now."

There was silence for a minute as all thought of the tragic message which had fallen into the camp.

"You should worry about the name," said Roy.

"I don't suppose there's anything we can do," said Mr. Ellsworth, voicing the thought which held all silent, "but sit here and wait, and if we're sensible we won't hope for too much. Come, Roy, let our new friends hear about you boys coming up in the Good Turn."

"It isn't that big cruiser down at Catskill Landing, is it?" Arnold inquired. "We saw that as we got off the train."

"No, that's the kind of a yacht boys have in twenty-five cent stories," said Roy; "I saw that one; it's a pippin, isn't it? Guess it belongs to a millionaire, hey? No, ours is just a little cabin launch-poor, but honest, tangoes along at about six miles an hour and isn't ashamed. Do you want the full story?"

"If there aren't any stockings and stone-walls in it," someone suggested.

"All right, here goes," said Roy, settling, himself into his favorite posture before the fire, with his hands clasped about his drawn-up knees and the bright blaze lighting up his face.

"You see, it was this way. Pee-wee Harris is the what'd you say his name is-Lord? Pee-wee Harris over there is the Gordon Lord of our troop. And Tom Slade is our famous detective-Sherlock Nobody Holmes.

"Well, Tom and Pee-wee and I started ahead of the others last summer to hike it up here. Pee-wee got very tired (here he dodged a missile from Pee-wee) and so we were all glad when we got a little above Nyack and things began to happen. They happened in large chunks.

"On the way up Pee-wee captured a pet bird that belonged to a

little girl (oh, he's a regular gallant little lad, he is); he got the bird down out of a tree for her and to show how happy she was she began to cry."

"Gee, they're awful funny, ain't they?" commented Gordon Lord.

"Well, we beat it along till we hit the Hudson, then we started north. The shadows of night were falling."

"You read that in a book," interrupted Pee-wee.

Little Raymond was greatly amused. So was Mr. Ellsworth who poked up the fire and resumed his seat on the old bench beside Jeb Rushmore.

"Team work," someone suggested, slyly, indicating Gordon and Pee-wee.

"The kindergarten class will please be quiet," said Roy. "I repeat, the shadows of night were tumbling. It began to rain. And it rained, and it rained-and it rained.

"Suddenly, we saw this boat-we thought it was a shanty at first-in the middle of a big marsh. So we plowed our way through the muck and crawled into it. Pity the poor sailors on a night like that!

"Well, believe me, it was too sweet for anything in that old cabin. Pee-wee wasn't homesick any more (here Roy dodged again) and we settled down for the night. The rain came down in sheets and pillowcases and things and the cruel wind played havoc-I mean it blew-and shook the old boat just as if she'd been in the water. But what cared we-yo, ho, my lads-we cared naught!

"Well, in the morning along came an old codger with a badge and said he was a sheriff. He was looking for an escaped convict and we didn't suit. He told us the boat was owned by an old grouch in Nyack and said if we didn't want to be arrested for trespassing and destroying property we'd better beat it. He told us some more about the old grouch, and I guess Pee-wee and I thought the best thing to do was to hike it right along for Haverstraw and not wait for trouble. We had chopped up a couple of old stanchions for firewood-worth about two Canadian dimes, they were, but our friend said old What's-his-name would be only too glad to call that stealing and send us to jail. Honest, that old hulk was a sight. You wouldn't have thought anybody would want to admit that he owned such a ramshackle old pile of junk and that's why we made so free with it.

"Well, zip goes the fillum! Here's where Tom comes on the scene. He said that if that was the kind of a gink Old Crusty was we'd have to go and see him and tell him what we'd done. He just blurted it out in that sober way of his and Pee-wee was scared out of his--"

This time Pee-wee landed a wad of uprooted grass in Roy's face.

"Pee-wee, as I said, was-with us (dodging again). The sheriff must have thought Tom was crazy. He gave us a-some kind of a scope-what d'you call it-when they read your fortune?"

"Horoscope?" suggested Arnold, smiling.

"Correct-I thank you. He told us that we'd be in jail by night. You ought to have seen Pee-wee stare. I told him he ought not to kick-he'd been shouting for adventures and here was a good one. So we trotted back to Nyack behind Tom and strode boldly up to Old Crusty's office and-here's where the film changes-"

"Go ahead," said Arnold. "You've got me started now."

"Well, who do you think Old Crusty was?"

"Not the escaped convict!"

"Not on your life! He turned out to be the father of the little girl whose pet bird Pee-wee had captured the day before."

"The plot grows thinner," said someone.

"Well, he had all the signs of an old grouch, hair ruffled up, spectacles half-way down his nose-but he fell for Pee-wee, you can bet.

"When he found out who we were (the girl must have told him about us, I suppose) he got kind of interested and when Pee-wee started to explain things he couldn't keep from laughing. Well, in the end he said the only way we could square ourselves was to take the boat away; he said it belonged to his son who was dead, and that he didn't want it and we were welcome to it and he'd send us a couple of men to help us launch it. He seemed to feel pretty bad when he mentioned his son and we were so surprised and excited at getting the boat that we just stood there gaping. Gee, how can you thank a man when he gives you a cabin launch?"

Arnold shook his head.

"Well, we spent a couple of days and eight dollars and fifty-two cents fixing the boat up and then, sure enough, along came two men and Mr. Stanton's chauffeur to jack the boat over and launch her for us. The girl came along, too, in their auto, and oh, wasn't she tickled! Brought us a lot of eats and a flag she'd made, and stayed to wish us-what do you call it?"

"Bon voyage?"

"Correct-I thank you. Understand, I'm only giving you the facts. We had more fun those three days and that night launching the boat than you could shake a stick at. Well, when we got her in the water I noticed the girl had gone off a little way and kept staring at it. Gee, the boat did look pretty nice when she got in the water. I thought maybe she was kind of thinking about her brother, you know, and it put it into my head to ask one of the men how he died. She didn't come near us while we talked, but stood off there by herself staring at the launch. You see, it was the first time she'd seen it in the water since he was lost, and she was almost crying-I could tell that.

"Well, this is what the man told me. They said this Harry Stanton and another fellow named Benty Willis were out in the launch on a stormy night. There was a skiff belonging to the launch, and people thought they must have been in that, fishing. Anyway, the next morning, they found the skiff broken and swamped to her gunwale and right near it the body of the other fellow. The launch was riding on her anchor same as the night before. The men said Mr. Stanton was so broken up that he had the boat hauled ashore and a flood carried her up on the marsh where she was going to pieces when we found her. He would never look at her again. They said Harry Stanton could swim and that made some people think that maybe they were run down by one of the big night boats on the Hudson and that Harry was injured-killed that way, maybe.

"Anyway, when the girl got in the auto and said good-bye to us I could see she'd been crying all right, and she said we must be careful and not run at night on account of the big liners."

"Hmph," said Arnold, thoughtfully.

"Gee, I'll never forget that night, with her sitting in the auto ready to start home and the boat rocking in the water and waiting for us. I can't stand seeing a girl cry, can you? I guess we all felt kind of sober when we said good-bye and she told us to be careful. Tom told her we'd try to do a real good turn some day to pay her back, because we really owed it to her, you know, and there was something in the way he said it-you know how Tom blurts things out-that made me think he had an idea up his sleeve.

"Well, it was about an hour later, while we were sitting on the cabin roof, that Tom sprung it on us. We were going to start up river in the morning; we were just loafing-gee, it was nice in the moonlight!-when he said it would be a great thing for us to find Harry Stanton! Go-o-d ni-i-ght! I was kind of sore at him because I didn't like to hear him joking, sort of, about a fellow that was dead, especially after what the fellow's father and sister had done for us, but he came right back at me by pointing to the board we had the oil stove on. What do you think he did? He showed us the letters N Y M P H under the fresh paint and said that board was part of the launch's old skiff and wanted to know how it got back to the launch. What do you know about that? You see, we had run short of paint and it was thin on that board because we'd mixed gasoline with it. We ought to have mixed it with cod liver oil, hey?

"So there you are," concluded Roy; "Pee-wee and I just stared like a couple of gumps. Those fellows had been out in the skiff and they couldn't have used it with that side plank ripped off. And how did it get back to the launch?"

"Sounds as if the man might have been right about the skiff being smashed by a big boat," said Arnold. "Maybe Harry Stanton was injured and clung to that board. But why should he have pulled it aboard the launch? And what I can't understand is that nobody should have noticed it except you fellows. Was it in the launch all the time?"

"Yup-right under one of the lockers. Pee-wee and I had hauled it out to make a shelf for the oil stove."

"But how do you suppose it was no one had noticed it till you fellows got busy with the boat?"

"A scout is observant," said Roy, laughingly.

"Hmph-it's mighty interesting, anyway," mused Arnold. He drummed on a log with his fingers, and for a few moments no one spoke.

"Some mystery, hey?" said Roy, adding a log to the fire.

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