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Tom Slade on the River By Percy K. Fitzhugh Characters: 14556

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Maybe I'm not much of a cook, but I'll make things hot for you if you don't get away from here!"

Roy Blakeley, from the cooking lean-to, despatched an eggplant (which had not stood the physical test, as he said) straight at the scampering form of Pee-wee Harris, who had raided the sacred precincts of the larder for raisins and was now departing with scurrilous comments on his patrol leader. And the eggplant, faithful to its trust, landed plunk upon Pee-wee's round, curly head.

"Plant that and raise some scrambled eggs," Roy called after him.

Roy was assisting the camp cooks, for it was the second anniversary of the forming of the Elk Patrol, and there were to be "doings."

"If that kid had got a hair-cut when he ought to have, he'd have felt that eggplant. That head of his is a regular shock absorber."

"How long is a hair-cut, anyway?" queried Roy, sitting on the table and stirring a bowl of batter.

"Never you mind them riddles," said the chief cook. "You git that batter ready-pour some more milk in from that pitcher."

"Then I'll have a batter and a pitcher both, hey?" said Roy. "Pretty soon I'll have a whole baseball team. But honest, this is what I mean. A boy gets a hair-cut. Is it a hair-cut the next day? It is a hair-cut the day after? When does it stop being a hair-cut? And here's another thing--"

"Never you mind," laughed the cook. "You git that stirred and then I'll let you make some raisin cakes-seein' as you say you can."

While Roy was busying himself in the cooking lean-to other scouts were forming the three mess-boards into one long table.

At five o'clock, an hour earlier than usual, the camp bugle sounded and patrols and troops, in formation, marched from their tents and cabins to the long board which was heaped with such a varied and bountiful repast as Temple Camp had never before seen. It was a pleasant scene as the boys came with their patrol pennants waving, and took their allotted places at the long rustic table under the trees.

Jeb Rushmore sat at the head of the table, one of the two visiting trustees on either hand. The scoutmasters sat each with his troop, and behind each patrol leader his staff bearing the patrol pennant was stuck in the ground so that one could easily distinguish the different patrols. Scouts who were visiting camp singly or in teams or small parties, like Harry Arnold and his friend, were seated toward the foot of the board. The three patrols of the well-organized Bridgeboro Troop, the Ravens, Silver Foxes and Elks, sat toward the head of the table on either side, close to the trustees. On the plate of each member of the Elk Patrol was a strip of ribbon bearing the words neatly printed by hand "Many Happy Returns."

"I've got two here stuck together," said Connie Bennet.

"That's because you think you're twice as good a scout as anyone else," piped up Roy. "You should worry."

The Elks were pinning these on amid much merriment when Garry Everson and his two companions came up the hill and took their seats near Harry Arnold, toward the foot of the table. Whatever show of coldness and resentment this odd trio (and particularly its leader) had borne lately, there was none visible now, save in a certain restraint on both sides and a lack of easy converse between Garry and those near him. Jeffrey seemed sober and half frightened, but little Raymond's face was wreathed in smiles. Jeb Rushmore waved pleasantly to them from the distant end of the long board and they acknowledged his salute.

Then the camp master drew himself together and lifted his long, lanky form to his feet.

"I dunno's I'm much on speechifyin'," he said, "'n' baout all I'm cal'latin' ter do is jes' ter set ye on the trail 'n' let ye folly it. Onct thar come out west a gent from that thar Smithson Institution in Wash'n'ton, 'n' hearin't I wuz used ter killin' grizzlies he sez, 'Pard, you're the man I want ter talk to 'baout grizzlies.' He wuz one o' them zoologist fellers. 'All I know 'baout grizzlies,' sez I, 'I can tell ye in two words-Don't miss! I leave it t'the other feller ter write 'baout 'em.' 'An' it's the same here likewise-ez the feller sez. I leave it to the others t'do th'talkin'-'cause if I try t'do it myself I'll sure miss. 'An' I reckon as Mr. Ellsworth is the proper one. I never stood behind nobuddy when anythin' wuz goin' on-Gen'l Custer cud tell ye that-but I reckon I'll have ter make fer shelter naow 'n' leave him on the firin' line."

He sprawled into his seat amid a very tempest of applause and cheering.

"Good old Jeb!" they called.

"Hurrah for Jeb Rushmore!"

"Bully for you, Jeb!"

He was forced to stand up three times in acknowledgement. Then Mr. Ellsworth, scoutmaster of the First Bridgeboro Troop, arose.

"It seems," said he, "that Mr. Rushmore has, as usual, hit the mark--"

"There's where you said something!"

"He uses no rifle nowadays, but scouts by the dozen fall for him. (Cheers) He may run for shelter, but he will never find any shelter from the love and the applause and the homage which every visitor at Temple Camp, young and old, has for him! (Great shouting.) He is a whole scout handbook in himself. I ask every scout at this board to stand and give three cheers for Jeb Rushmore!"

The boys were on their feet before the words were out of his mouth, and the lusty echo swept back from the hills across the lake as if nature herself would pay her homage to the man who knew and loved her so well.

"And while we are standing let us give three cheers for the man who discovered Jeb Rushmore and brought him from Arizona-by the ears. (Laughter.) You all know whom I mean-John Temple, the founder of Temple Camp!"

When the shouting had subsided, Mr. Ellsworth continued, "Scouts, we are not joining in this celebration to make a hero of any of our number. There is but one hero at Temple Camp. He sits at the head of the table. (Applause.) And if it were not for one fact I think I should have vetoed this merrymaking and the Bridgeboro Troop would have had its celebration by itself and not have obtruded its family joys upon others.

"We are here, scouts, to celebrate the second anniversary of the Elk Patrol of which Tom Slade is the leader-and organizer. It is not because Tom is a scout, but because he is a scout-maker, that we wish to honor him, and his all but completed patrol. And that is what I want every scout here to know and to take back with you to the several parts of the country from which you come. It is not enough to be a scout-one must be a scout-maker. He must reach out to the right and to the left-into the highways and byways-and muster his recruits. That is the only way that our great army-or rather, our great brotherhood-can grow. Do you get me?"

"We get you," they answered, laughing at his use of the slang which he was so ready to learn from them.

"Tom Slade holds the gold cross for an act of great bravery here last summer. He holds seven merit badges and is about to win two more. On the first night of his arrival here this summer, he had the spunk and the courage and persistence to choose a little party and lead them--"

Cheer upon cheer drowned his words. Tom himself sat, stolid as usual, but smiling in embarrassment as sco

ut after scout, clustering about him, slapped him on the shoulder. A few noticed that Garry smiled and applauded, but kept to his seat.

"Hurrah for Tom Slade!" they called again and again.

Mr. Ellsworth with difficulty continued, "And to lead them up into that wilderness over yonder, because he could not sit down, tired and travel worn as he was, while some one lay dying.

"Just a minute, scouts-listen and I will be through. These things are all to his credit-to the credit of his patrol, of his troop, of the whole scout family, here in this beloved land of ours. But when I think of Tom Slade-as I often do," he added, smiling, oh, so pleasantly, at Tom; "I think not only of how he raised himself out of dirt and mischief to this noble level where you see him, but of how he went back into the byways and found these boys who now form his splendid patrol. I tried to get Connie Bennet and failed. (Laughter.) I made a stab for the celebrated Bronson twins-nothing doing. They were too busy ringing other people's doorbells. (Laughter.) I made a grandstand play for others, but was turned down hard. Why? Because it takes a boy to recruit a boy. So all of you scouts pack that little fact down in the corner of your duffel bags and take it home with you. If every scout secured a scout, where there are ten thousand now there would be twenty thousand, and where there are five hundred thousand, there would be a million! I ask every scout here to stand up and as he gives three cheers for Tom Slade, scout-maker, to resolve that he will make at least one scout before he comes here another summer. And now three cheers for the Elk Patrol on its second birthday, and three cheers for Tom Slade, and three cheers for the eighth scout-whoever and wherever he may be-who before another summer shall make the Elk Patrol complete as well as honored!"

Back across the still bosom of Black Lake, again and again, the cheers reverberated, drowning the closing words of Mr. Ellsworth's speech. Pee-wee Harris, standing on the seat, waved his scarf and shouted himself hoarse. Roy, with the announcement megaphone, called, "Oh, you Tomasso!" Raymond Hollister clapped his hands.

"Spooch, spooch-speak a spooch!" called Roy.

Tom, with his face scarlet, shook his head as Mr. Ellsworth looked at him and the scoutmaster held up a staying hand in sympathy with his embarrassment. "He says he'd rather eat," he said.

"Three cheers for the eats!" shouted Roy, irrepressibly.

"The eats" after being uproariously cheered, were forthwith assailed until there was nothing left of them, and all agreed that the meal beat the regulation Temple Camp Sunday dinner twenty ways. And that was saying a good deal.

"And now," said Mr. Ellsworth, "since this celebration originated in the fertile brain of the renowned leader of the Silver Foxes--"

"Wait, give them a chance to cheer me," interrupted Roy.

"I think it is my duty to put the balance of our program into his able hands."

"Excuse me while I blush," said Roy.

"There are, I believe, a few remembrances and these it shall be his pleasure to bring forward. I present to you," he added, smiling, "the most silvery fox of them all, Roy Blakeley."

"Why pick on me?" said Roy. "I thought I was going to be the buttered toast master, but it seems I'm to be the souvenir slinger. I should worry. I go where duty calls, and I wouldn't run after any job-especially if it's a good runner.

"Scouts and sprouts," he continued, with a sly glance at Pee-wee; "now you're supposed to say, 'Hear, hear!'"

"Hear, hear!" they called, laughingly.

"I thank you. There are several things for the Honorable Tomasso Slade, otherwise known as Thomas the Silent, or Sherlock Nobody Holmes of Bridgeboro, N. G. Tomasso Slade is a home-made scout-I mean a self-made scout-and he's made so as he can't smile." (He was beginning to smile however.) "The first present is from his boyhood's friend, Roy Blakeley (that's me) and it is intended to make him laugh."

He handed across the table a turkey feather with a bow of ribbon tied about it. "And this," he added, lifting the huge elk's head to the board and smiling at Tom's surprise, "is from Mr. Rushmore; its history, by Mr. Rushmore himself, is writ, wrot, wrote-on that piece of paper tied to the horns."

Tom lifted the panel with the noble head and magnificent antlers and as the boys crowded about him he could only look toward Jeb with his eyes swimming.

"That's all right, Tommy," smiled Jeb, as pleased as Tom himself.

The cat's collar belt was handed over amid much laughter, and various other small tokens, some humorous and all of a kind easily made or procurable in the woodland community. The wireless set almost knocked Tom off his feet, and when it was followed by the bugle with the Elk patrol names engraved upon it, he was overwhelmed.

Thomas Slade

William Bronson

Theodore Bronson

Connover Bennet

George O'Connor

Charles O'Connor

Wade Van Ester

He blinked as he gazed at the highly polished metal, at the names which had meant labor and long effort for him, and which bespoke his success. His hand almost shook as he fumbled the silken tassel of the beautiful instrument, and the familiar names upon it seemed like fifty names wrought into an intricate design.

"That's all right, Tom," said Mr. Ellsworth, smiling and placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "They understand."

But it was Roy who came to his rescue, as he had done more than once before, and saved him further embarrassment.

"Blow it, Tomasso," said he. "Maybe you can blow up your other recruit if you blow loud enough."

"Sure, maybe it'll be like the shot heard round the world," said Pee-wee.

"Or like the music of old Ichabod Crane, which they say is still heard in Sleepy Hollow," said Mr. Ellsworth. "Perhaps it will be heard months hence."

"Blow for him, anyway," said Roy. "He'll come some day, you can bet, and we'll all wish it at the same time, while you're blowing, Tom. Go ahead!"

Tom raised the bugle to his lips laughing, and as he blew lustily the echo of its attenuated final note was borne back with the freshening night breeze, like a faint answer from the encompassing hills.

"He is here," said an impassive voice.

They all stood staring, the scouts still at their places and those clustered about Tom, and saw Garry Everson standing in his place in the characteristic attitude which was familiar to them all, one hand on his hip, the other in his pocket.

As they stared at him, Jeffrey Waring, gulping nervously, rose from his seat and stood beside him for a second. Then, at Garry's nod, he moved around to Tom's side.

"Tell him your name," said Garry, smiling, "They'll want it for the bugle, you know."

"My name is Harry Stanton," he said, hesitatingly, but seriously.

"And you fellows," said Garry quietly, "had better take him home to his mother and father before you make any other plans. I'm not going to do your work for you. I've done my part. It's for you to take him back. May I look at that bugle?"

But Tom did not hand him the bugle. He stood rooted to where he stood, staring like an idiot.

Some one stooped and picked up the bugle which had fallen to the ground.

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