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   Chapter 7 “UNDER WHICH KING ”

Tom Slade on the River By Percy K. Fitzhugh Characters: 6769

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"And, oh it was great the way you sent that signal. Gee, a smudge message is no cinch-I always said so. You can talk about your wireless and your wigwagging and semaphoring and fire signalling and all, but you got to admit smudging is hardest of all-gee, you got to admit that!"

"It's easy as pie," said one of the group, making an imposing smudge upon Gordon Lord's round face by way of proof.

"Because," continued Gordon, calmly wiping his cheek, "because you can't shut it off so sudden."

"Something like you, hey, kiddo?" smiled his tall friend, Arnold, who stood near him.

"It's hard to read," Gordon went on, undaunted, "but it's even harder to send. Of course, even if it had mistakes, he could read it," he added, indicating Harry Arnold, "because he can do pretty nearly anything. But you sure are a peach of a scout-gee, I got to admit that."

Having thus delivered his verdict, he gave a tug to his stocking which had a way of slipping down, as one might say, whenever his back was turned.

"A scout's got to be magmanigous," he concluded, as he tugged up the other stocking.

"Well, I thank you for the compliment," laughed Garry Everson, "undeserved though it be. I think the skill is always on the receiving end but we won't quarrel about it," he added, turning to Arnold.

Little Raymond Hollister clung to Garry as if he feared the crowd might kidnap him, his face beaming with pride at all this praise showered upon his hero.

"When we were a patrol last year," he ventured, "he received them as well as sent them. Anybody that was here last summer can tell you how he saved a fellow's life, too."

"Yes, but it was one of our troop that bandaged him," piped up Pee-wee Harris of the Silver Foxes; "it was Doc Carson."

"You'll lose your reputation," someone laughed at Arnold, "if you don't look out."

"Sure, watch your rep when the Bridgeboro Sprouts get started," said Roy Blakeley. "I guess we better put them to bed now, hadn't we?" he asked, winking at Jeb Rushmore. "The trouble with this blamed camp is, there are too many heroes."

"There isn't anybody here can beat Harry being a hero!" Gordon bristled, in prompt defense of his friend.

"Sure there is," said Roy.

"Who?" Gordon demanded.

"Do you know Fat Burns?"

"No."

"Well, put some on the fire and see," said Roy.

Gordon ignored the laugh at his expense. "Even girls say so," he said, "Gee, I hope a girl knows a hero when she sees one."

Little Raymond, still keeping close to Garry, laughed silently, but he did not venture again into the arena.

"I reckon the real hero o' this here business ain't said nuthin'? and ain't hed nuthin' said fur him, this far," drawled Jeb.

"Right you are!" said Doc Carson. "Tomasso Slade."

"Thou never spakest a truer word," said Roy.

Tom stood among them, his hair still frowzled, his faded gray shirt torn, his belt drawn much tighter than necessary, and a disfiguring scratch across his rather lowering countenance. He did not look at all like the scouts on the cover of Boy's Life.

"I don't see as anybody's a hero in particular," he said, disconcerted at being brought into the limelight. "I don't see's you can be a hero just climbing up a hill. That's all we did. That girl in the munition factory that stayed at her telephone when the shells were flying around-she was what I call a hero."

"S

he was a shero, Tomasso," corrected Roy.

"I think Hobson was a hero, too," Tom added soberly. "I'm satisfied to be at the head of my patrol and be a first class scout--"

"And to have the gold cross," someone interrupted, referring to his winning of this coveted medal the previous summer.

"Well, of course, I'm glad I've got that, too," Tom said. "Maybe if we get into a war with Germany we'll have a chance to be heroes, for sure-like the English scouts. I ain't neutral, anyway. I ain't neutral any more since last Tuesday."

It was exactly like Tom to announce his repudiation of neutrality in this sudden fashion and in face of his scoutmaster's admonition that all the troop should honor the President's express wish. It was also exactly like him to begin on one subject and to end with some blunt announcement on another. His mention of "last Tuesday" referred to the torpedoing of a ship by a German submarine.

"All right, Tom," said Mr. Ellsworth, who understood him perfectly, "but we mustn't shout about it, you know, because we're not in the war-"

"Torpedoing's kind of like hitting below the belt," said Tom, "but that ain't what I wanted to say. I didn't say anything about that fellow till they took his uncle away--"

"You mean Jeffrey here?"

"Yes-because it didn't seem right-sort of. But now he's here alone with us, I suppose he'll join one of the troops and I'd like to have him join my patrol because I need one more member and I think he'll be good on stalking and I want a stalking badge in my patrol. Maybe he could come back and live in Bridgeboro somewhere if his uncle should--"

"Surely, Tom," said Mr. Ellsworth, quick to prevent him from finishing his sentence.

"I don't mean I want it just as a reward-'cause I don't think I did anything special. But I got just one more member to get and--"

There was a slight movement in the group and Jeffrey Waring brushed past the others and grasped Garry's arm.

"I want to be in his club," said he, looking almost imploringly at Mr. Ellsworth. "I want to join his class; he can send a message even better than a pigeon can take it, and it's sure to get there. He can do it just with smoke. I want to join his class."

He was greatly excited, as he always became when he talked and Garry winking significantly at the Bridgeboro Troop's scoutmaster, strolled away with Jeffrey clinging to him and Raymond following.

Tom Slade stood motionless, stolid, and said not a word. Then, in a moment, Roy Blakeley went over and stood beside him, resting his arm on Tom's shoulder.

Once, a couple of years before, when Tom was a hoodlum and John Temple was an old grouch, the capitalist had strode down through a field where Tom was trespassing, shouting threats and imprecations at the waif, whose first impulse was to run. Turning to do so, he had found Roy Blakeley, scout, standing by him, and had felt Roy's arm on his shoulder. And Tom Slade, hoodlum, did not run. Goodness, it seems like ancient history now, with Tom head of a patrol and "Old Man" Temple founder and trustee of the big Temple Camp!

But Mr. Ellsworth and Doc Carson and Westy and others of the Ravens and Silver Foxes, remembered, and they noticed how Roy Blakeley stepped forward now and put his arm over Tom's shoulder, just as he had then.

"You should worry, Tomasso," they heard him say in an undertone.

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