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Tom Slade on the River By Percy K. Fitzhugh Characters: 10241

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"I don't say I'll get it this summer," said Tom in his sober and rather awkward way. "'Cause you can never tell what you'll get. I care more about all the members getting them, anyway, and when we get twenty-one we're an Eagle Patrol."

"There's no such thing as an Eagle Patrol, Tom," said Mr. Ellsworth.

"If a scout is an Eagle Scout when he gets twenty-one merit badges," said Tom, doggedly, "then a patrol is an Eagle Patrol when it has twenty-one merit badges. I don't care what National Headquarters says."

Mr. Ellsworth laughed. The patrol idea was so firmly rooted in Tom's mind that he could never think of the individual scout. Rule or no rule, you couldn't pry that notion out of his head with a crowbar. Everything was for the glory and honor of the patrol.

"You've only one more to get yourself to be a star scout, haven't you?" asked Garry.

"I got nine," said Tom. "We got sixteen in the patrol. If I get one more I'll be a star scout as you call it. I'd like the Gardening Badge or the Automobile Badge--"

"Smallest flivvers thankfully received, hey?" said Roy.

A half dozen or more of them were sprawled upon the cabin roof as the Honor Scout glided silently up the river.

"Merit badges are a cinch," said Roy.

"No, they're not either," said Connie Bennet.

"Sure, all you have to do for the Architecture Badge is to build a castle in the air. Know how to win the Astronomy Badge?" he asked, turning to little Raymond who was always hugely amused at Roy's nonsense. "Jump out of a third-story window, land on your head and see stars. The Aviation Badge is easy, too. Fly up in the air when anybody kids you-like Pee-wee. Know how to win the Plumbers' Badge? Just have a pipe dream. Know how to win the Photography Badge? Cultivate taking ways."

"Tell some more," said Raymond.

"Well, if you want the Blacksmith's Badge, you just forge a check, and for the Business Badge, mind your own business."

"I think we'd better mind our business," said Mr. Ellsworth, "and slow down if we expect to stop at West Point."

"Man the tiller, Pee," called Roy. "I don't mean man it, I mean small boy it."

They paused for a visit at West Point, where they were cordially received and shown about. They saw the immaculate barracks, watched the drill which was carried through with the precision of clock-work, noted with envy the erect posture and almost mechanical salutes of the young officers, and Pee-wee, at least, felt assured that the talk which he had heard about unpreparedness was without foundation.

"It makes me feel like a tramp," said Will Bronson, as they resumed their cruise, "to see all those swell uniforms and the way those fellows stand and walk."

"Some class," agreed Roy, perched in his usual place upon the combing.

Mr. Ellsworth, who was steering, laughed. "I guess they don't always look like that," said he.

"If Germany sinks many more of our ships, they won't look like that," said Connie. "They'll put on khaki and roll up their sleeves."

"You said something," observed Roy.

"What would we do if the country went to war?" asked Pee-wee.

"Move to the city," said Roy.

"I like uniforms," said a timid voice, "because that shows what you are; a policeman makes you feel safe and so does a soldier, because they have their uniforms. It says in a book I read, 'Show your colors' and that means, show what you are."

Everybody turned and stared at little Raymond Hollister who was sitting on the cabin with his feet dangling in the cockpit. It was not often that he spoke up. Indeed, he had never seemed to be thoroughly at home with anyone except Garry and Jeb Rushmore. They all liked him for the quiet, odd little fellow that he was. They seldom jollied him as they did Pee-wee and they humored his prejudices and notions when those became known. He would sit, hour in and hour out, quietly listening to their talk, laughing at Roy's nonsense, and occasionally emboldened to defend Garry against some bantering charge.

"Right you are, Ray, old pal," said Roy. "It's the suit that makes the scout. That's a good slap at Tomasso; sling it into him, Ray!"

"I don't know," said Mr. Ellsworth. (He always hesitated to direct their arguments, preferring to let them dope things out themselves.) "The uniform is only good for what it means-as it seems to me. To be a scout means certain things and to wear the uniform says to the world that you are for those things. So I'm for the uniform. The uniform is the scout's chief badge. It's just a great, big merit badge and it ought to be worn like the other merit badges."

"There might be an invisible badge," said Tom.

Everybody laughed except Tom himself.

"I'm afraid not," said Mr. Ellsworth. "An invisible badge wouldn't be a badge at all."

"It would be like a silent noise," said Roy, "You've got the right idea, Raymond, Show your colors. Rub it into him? He sold the Friday Evening Pest all winter and he got fifty cents twice a week for leading Miss Wade's kindergarten class in physical torture; gee, I think he's saving up to pay the national debt, or somethi

ng! And look at him with that old book strap for a belt. Can you beat it!"

Roy's propensity for jollying, together with his known fondness for Tom, made it possible for him to say almost anything he chose, and he never lost a chance to set people good-naturedly by the ears. But you never know where a spark is going to fall. If these sparks of wit had fallen only upon Tom they would have had no more effect than water, for he knew Roy, and their friendship was as a rock.

But they fell upon little Raymond Hollister, where they ignited other sparks which were already smouldering. Like many boys who have been invalids and have been much by themselves, Raymond had notions; away back home he had first been attracted to the scouts by the trim khaki regalia; it was the first bait Garry had used with him, and to Raymond at first a scout was simply a boy who wore a khaki suit. With Garry's help, the pale-faced little fellow had managed to wriggle through the tenderfoot tests, and then he wanted his suit. It was all he had thought of. I dare say there are a few other scouts like him. He had not delved very deeply into the Handbook.

The members of the little struggling patrol had slipped away until there was no patrol, but Raymond still wore his precious suit and felt that he was a Boy Scout. Perhaps he had the right idea, too, if you will just subtract his prejudice. Show your colors is a good slogan, but little Raymond went farther than that. He assumed that if you didn't show your colors it was because you didn't have any; and like most scouts of the tenderfoot class, he was a great stickler for the khaki, for its own sweet sake.

He had (as he had confided to Pee-wee that first night in camp) never "fallen for" Tom Slade. There was not much of the scout glamor about Tom and Raymond liked the scout glamor. He worshipped Roy and he idolized Garry. He was so jealous for Garry that he looked on Tom as an unfair rival. Who had sent that smudge signal from the hill? Who had made Harry Stanton get better? And who had been treated like a dog during his whole vacation? Who but his friend, Garry.

And who had taken Harry Stanton when he got better, and broken up the little patrol which was just starting up all over again? Why, that was the fellow in the gray shirt and the book-strap belt, who was no scout at all-Tom Slade. Raymond knew what a scout was-he had seen pictures enough of them.

Probably, his diffident nature would have kept him from saying more now except for Roy's laughing encouragement and the belief that Mr. Ellsworth stood with him. In any event, he launched forth in a way which astonished them all.

"That's why you don't wear the uniform-because you're not a scout!" he shouted at Tom. "You're too stingy, you are, and everybody knows it! You've no right to go with fellers that are scouts! You-you get them to name their boats after you-fellers-fellers that you stole-yes, stole, you did!"

It was unfortunate that both Mr. Ellsworth and Garry, either of whom could have smoothed this thing out in half a jiffy, were on the forward deck getting the anchor ready to cast, and the other scouts were too surprised, and perhaps a little too amused, to put a stop to his tirade. Probably they did not think it would affect Tom.

But Raymond, losing all control of himself, his eyes brimming and his voice trembling, went on:

"That's because-you-you lived down in an alley where people kill each other-and burglars live-and men get drunk and you don't know how other kinds of people act-you don't.... And maybe, you stole other things before-maybe you did-before you ever stole Jeff-I mean Harry Stanton! I wouldn't call you a scout with your old rags on-I wouldn't. Scouts wear the uniform and they don't steal--"

Then they stopped him.

"It's my fault," said Roy, as Connie vaulted to the cabin edge and put his arm about Raymond, trying to quiet him.

"I know about scouts-I do-and I know what a scout is-I do--" he shouted, almost crying.

"All right, all right, Ray," said Connie, soothingly.

Tom Slade looked up, straight at Raymond. He was gulping and it was pitiful to look at him. "I know I did," he almost sobbed. "I--"

"Never mind, Tom," said Roy, softly. "Don't mind him. He doesn't mean it."

"I know I did," Tom said again. "But you can have an invisible badge, just the same-I don't care for Mr. Ellsworth or anybody."

With a supreme effort to control himself, swallowing sob after sob in great painful gulps, he pushed aside the cabin locker, went down into the cabin and banged the door shut.

Roy followed after him, but Tom's stolid nature had been pierced at last and he turned away even from Roy.

"Of course, you can, Tom," said Roy, almost frightened at his emotion. "You can have an invisible badge, Tom-I know you can, Tom."

He did not know exactly what Tom had meant; like many of his expressions, it had been a puzzle to them all, but he would have said almost anything now to soothe him and help to efface those black memories.

"Sure you can, Tom," he repeated. "That's easy-old man. It's a cinch!"

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