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Tom Slade on the River By Percy K. Fitzhugh Characters: 9994

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

It was toward the close of a beautiful summer afternoon that a trim Racine cruiser poked her nose around the boat club's anchorage near Nyack on the Hudson, and brought up alongside one of the commercial wharves, which made an inharmonious background to the spotless white hull and shining mahogany cabin. She made no more noise than a canoe. The first rays of the declining sun fell upon her knife-like brass bow and reflected from her shining metal parts. As she touched the dock several scouts scrambled from her and made her fast.

"Jimin-ety! But she gets over the water!" remarked Connie Bennet. "We'd have been a couple of days or more coming down in the Good Turn."

"And doesn't she take the hills fine!" said Roy Blakeley.

"She's a regular boat," observed Garry.

"The Good Turn is all right only her bow's too near the stern," said Roy.

"Gee, everything looks the same, doesn't it," said Pee-wee, gazing about him. "This is just where we stood when it began to rain last year. Then we went up that road and that's where we found the Good Turn."

"The sun was going down just as it is now," said Tom, climbing out over the combing. "I remember those hills over there looked just like they do now."

"Sure, even the water's wet, just the same as it was then. Don't you remember how I spoke about the water being so wet?"

"This is just like a book," said Pee-wee. "Gee, I never thought it would happen this way; I saw a movie play once where a feller-a long lost brother-came home, and oh, cracky, they fell all over him. They thought he was dead and his mother she was looking at his picture and crying-I mean weeping-when all of a sudden--"

"All of a sudden Pee-wee Harris will be left behind if he doesn't get a hustle," said Roy. "Come on, wash up and get your hair fixed if you expect to make that speech."

"Do you know how I'm going to begin?"

"I know how you're going to end, if you don't get a hustle."

The whole Bridgeboro troop with Garry and Raymond and Harry Stanton, had come down from Catskill Landing. Their stay at Temple Camp was ended and they had said good-bye to Harry Arnold and his young friend, whom they hoped to meet again next summer. Little they dreamed of the strange circumstances under which that meeting was to occur. They had left the Good Turn up the river for they hoped to cruise northward again in the larger boat.

In the cool of the evening the three scouts who had trod this same road a year before, accompanied by the boy who had trod it many times himself in days gone by, made their way through the beautiful hilly country for West Nyack. And, indeed, their errand seemed, as Pee-wee had suggested, like a chapter out of a book.

Garry had positively refused to go with them.

"It was you fellows that she gave the boat to and it's for you to pay her back," he had said.

"Do you remember how old-how Mr. Stanton laughed when I talked to him?" said Pee-wee as they tramped along the familiar road. "You can't deny that I put it into his head to give us the boat. And I bet if I ask him to let Harry go on a cruise now, he'll do it. You leave it to me-I know how to handle him."

"All right, kiddo, we'll leave it to you," laughed Roy, "but I've got a sneaking idea that when they once get their fists on our long lost son and brother it'll take a crow-bar to pry him loose again."

"You leave it to me."

It would be hard to say what Harry Stanton's feelings were as he walked homeward with his three companions. He seemed nervous and anxious and said but little, but every object which met his gaze now was familiar to him and as he looked about upon the very fields where he had played and the houses which he knew he seemed to acquire poise and self-possession. An odd habit which he had shown to Garry and somewhat to the others of confusing his life at Mr. Waring's with his old life at home, was fast disappearing and now each familiar sight seemed to act like a potent medicine to bring him to himself.

A man who passed them on the road turned and stared at him, then went on, turning again and again. He spoke to a man who was raking a lawn and who also stared after him. The boys paid no heed.

At last they reached the house. No one was about, and they took a short cut across the lawn, right under the big tree where Pee-wee had captured the fugitive bird. Here was a garden bench and leaving Harry Stanton seated upon it, they went up on the porch and rang the bell. Pee-wee was visibly nervous and even Roy showed repressed excitement, but Tom was stolid as he always was.

There was the calling of a voice within, the faint sound of footsteps on the stair, and young Ruth Stanton stood on the inner side of the screen door looking at them. For a moment she stared in amazement and in that momentary look Tom caught a glint of the same expression that had puzzled him in Jeffrey Waring in their first encounter on the lonely hill. Then suddenly her face lighted up with a merry smil

e of recognition.

"Oh, hello," she said, opening the door and speaking in great surprise. "I didn't know you--"

"You remember us?" laughed Roy.

"I should think I did, but you're the last persons I ever expected to see. Isn't it lovely, your coming again-just as if you had dropped from the clouds!"

"We'd have been some shower, wouldn't we?" laughed Roy.

"Oh, I think it's fine," she repeated; "and you've got to stay to supper. We're going to have popovers-do you like popovers? I adore them!"

"We don't know what they are," said Roy, "but we like them."

They sat down in the wicker chairs which formed a little circle on the deep, shaded porch, the girl swinging her feet back and forth and gazing from one to the other.

"We've been up to camp," Tom began. "We're on our way down the river."

"Oh, isn't that lovely-I wish I was a boy! How's the boat?"

"Gee, it is great being a boy," said Pee-wee. "I-"

"The boat is in the best of health, thank you," interrupted Roy, fearing that Pee-wee would say too much; "and one of the reasons we hiked up here is because we want to pay you back for it. As Pee-wee says, a scout has to be cautious and he didn't want us to pay you back till we were sure the boat was all right."

"I never said that!" cried Pee-wee, indignantly. "Don't you believe him, I never said that!"

"So we've been a long time getting around to it," continued Roy.

"That's ridiculous," said the girl. "I thought you just came to see me."

"So we did," said Roy.

"And we're going to tell you our adventures since we saw you," added Pee-wee. "We've had some dandy ones. One in particular that you'll like to hear about," he added, with an air of mystery.

"When anybody does anything for a scout," Tom began again in his sober way, "he has to remember it and do them a good turn. We couldn't do you one because we couldn't think of anything big enough--"

"You see, I'll tell you how it is," interrupted Pee-wee, "each good turn's got to be better than the other one-they get bigger-kind of, and--"

"That's nonsense," said Ruth. "Then I'd have to do you a bigger one to pay back and you'd have to-"

"We think we've hit on a pretty good one," said Roy. "Anyway, how's the bird?"

"Oh, he's fine! He can say 'Good-night' and 'Welcome, home'!"

"That's a good thing to say just now," Roy said.

"And I'm teaching him to say 'Down with the Kaiser'! Isn't that perfectly terrible! Anyway, I'm not neutral. Are you?"

"Not so you'd notice it," Roy confessed.

"Would you go to war if we had a war?" she asked impulsively.

"Oh, I guess we'd give old Uncle Samuel a hand."

"Isn't that glorious! But suppose you should get killed."

"We're not supposing things now," said Roy. "We've got something to tell you. We came back to bring you a present. When people come across with boats and things like that we don't let them get away with it-hey, Tom? So we're here with our little come-back. What d'ye say we stroll down on the lawn? We left our package on that bench out there; and just for the fun of it we'd like to poke around where Pee-wee pulled his stunt last summer. Then well go in and hear the parrot say 'Welcome home'-what d'ye say?"

"Yes, but you've got to stay to supper, so that you can see papa," Ruth said. "He laughs whenever he thinks of how you called him Old Man Stanton. But he isn't grouchy-only he'll never be the same since my brother-died. And besides, you have to tell me your adventures, you know."

They went down the steps and crossed the lawn. The girl, running ahead, seemed not to notice the lone figure on the bench with its back toward her till she was within a few feet of it. Then she paused in surprise and as she did so, Harry Stanton rose and turned to face her, the while grasping the back of the bench nervously....

The several accounts of the three scouts as to what happened then, differed materially. There was no doubt that Ruth stepped quickly back in momentary fright, grasping the arm of Pee-wee who happened to be nearest her. Pee-wee said that her hand was trembling and that she "clutched him in terror." Roy maintained that the "clutching in terror business" came out of a heroic scene from one of Alger's books. Tom said that for a moment she seemed about to run, which Pee-wee admitted, claiming that she thought better of it when she found that he was near. All agreed that she was first panic-stricken and then greatly agitated as Roy took her hand and drew her to the bench.

At all events, it was only for a moment or two and then she and her brother were in each other's arms. There is no authentic account of what happened then, for the three visitors, being good scouts, strolled to the hedge which bordered the lawn and looked at the scenery beyond. It must have been beautiful scenery and very affecting, for Pee-wee's eyes were brimming, and Tom's and Roy's were not exactly what you would call dry....


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