What should he do? Set it down to his own deceiving fancy and go back to his handbook? Return to the wholesome realities of stalking and trailing which filled those engrossing pages? Poor Peter Piper felt that he had made a sort of bold excursion from Piper's Crossroads into the realm of miracles and that he had better not let that weird apparition over beyond the graveyard dupe and mock him. Perhaps he had been "seein' things." Yet there were the long and short flashes and they had spelled that warning message, or else he had gone out of his senses or been dreaming. He hardly knew what to think, now that he had time to think.
His credulity soon gained the upper hand, he began to doubt his own eyes, and he was just a bit ashamed of what he was resolved to do. At all events he would have the delight of doing it, and no one would know. He would act just as a real scout would really act if the message was real and true.
Stealing down the creaky, boxed-in stairs, he got a lantern from the kitchen and lighted it. The actual performance of this practical act made his experience of the last few minutes seem fanciful, unreal. He was no longer under the spell of that ghostly column and he was not so sure that he believed in it. To bestir himself upon the authority of such an uncanny warning seemed rather foolish. He almost found it easier, now, to believe that he had seen some spectral thing in the graveyard.
As he emerged from the house the familiar things about him seemed to mock his vision of a warning message in the sky. The startled chickens in the little hen-house resettled themselves comfortably on their perches as if not to be disturbed by such nonsense. The calf resting at the end of his pegged rope arose, looked about him and lay down again as if he would not be a party to poor Peter's absurd nocturnal enterprise. The darkness and the vastness of the wooded country seemed to chill Peter's hopes. Now that the gripping spell was over he hardly knew what to think....
With his jack-knife he cut a piece from the rope which held the calf and moved the peg nearer to the animal which looked curiously on at this unexpected abridgment of its sphere of freedom. It almost seemed to Peter that the calf was laughing at him.
This piece of rope he stretched across the road, fastening one end to the rotten gate-post, long deserted by its gate, the other to a tree. Then he hung the lantern midway of this line. This seemed as much as his waning hope justified, but on second thought he stole into the house, took a black tomato crate marker from the kitchen shelf and on a paper flour-bag printed the words DANGER ROAD CLOSED. This he hung upon the rope near the lantern. Then he sat down on the old carriage block where they used to stand the milk cans and waited. He felt rather foolish waiting there and he wondered what he should do if a big car with the number 50792 and an eagle on it should really come along....
The night was pitch dark; somewhere in the lonely woods hard by the screech owl was still calling, and the brisk autumn wind, freshening as the night advanced into the wee hours, conjured up strange noises in the loose hanging sticks of the old ramshackle fence along the roadside. Dried leaves, driven by the fitful gusts of wind, sounded like someone, or some thing, hurrying by.
Now, indeed, Peter's fine hopes melted away as he waited there in the darkness. To be sure, this was a main road, as likely a route as any thereabouts for autos, and in the daytime many passed there. But as he waited now in the deep, enveloping night, and heard no sound save the haunting voices caused by the wind and the low, monotonous singing of the forest life, it seemed unthinkable that any thrilling sequel of his singular experience in his little room could occur. Everything was the same as usual, the crickets chirping, the owl calling, the little graveyard down the road wrapped in darkness.... Glory was not going to knock on the humble door of Peter Piper of Piper's Crossroads....
Peter glanced down the dark road toward the graveyard; he had always hurried past that spot when coming home from the crossroads at night. Once he had seen a ghostly figure on the stone wall, which, on more careful inspection the next morning, proved to be the sexton's shovel with his hat on top of it. The little church was around the bend of the road, within the hallowed acre.
Suddenly, as Peter glanced in the direction where the old leaning gravestones were wrapped in darkness, he saw something which harrowed his very soul and made his blood run cold. One of those stones was bathed in a dim, shadowy light. It was startling to see just one stone and no others. It was not a light so much as an area of gossamer brightness that enveloped it, a kind of gauze shroud. Peter gazed, unable to stir, his breaths coming short and fast. Then this dim shroud left the tombstone and glided slowly through the graveyard, shedding its hovering brightness upon a small area of the stone wall as it crossed, and came steadily, steadily over toward Peter Piper.
HARK! THE CONQUERING HERO COMES
"What the dickens is this, anyway; a cemetery?" said Mr. Swiper, poking the finding light this way and that as the car of a thousand delights came slowly up toward the bend. "It's some rocky road to Dublin, all right."
He cast the light along the dark road behind them and looked apprehensively back as far as he could see. Evidently there was no cause for fear there and he dropped the car of a thousand delights into second gear and picked his way along the narrow, rocky way, below the bend. "I guess it will be better when we get around here," he said; "we have to watch our step in this jungle. Nice place to build a church, huh?" He threw the finding light upon the little edifice ahead and brightened the small stained-glass window, casting a soft reflection upon Deacon Small's slanting marble slab nearby.
The small figure in a gray sweater with a rather tough look, cap drawn over his round face, who sat huddled up alongside the driver seemed not to partake of the delights which the big car claimed to furnish. He seemed chilled and very much worried. He looked wistfully ahead at the graveyard where the strange, soft, reflected light shone.
"The people around here haven't got any 'phones," he said. "Anyways what's the use 'phoning Mr. Bartlett because he'll only be in bed. If we're going straight to Bridgeboro, gee whiz, what's the good of 'phoning? What's the use waking people up around here, even if they have got 'phones? Gee whiz, you're acting awful funny. Why didn't you ask me to 'phone when we were passing through a village?"
"You're going to get out and 'phone when I tell you to; see?" said our friend, the manual training teacher. "And you ain't going to give me no sass neither, understand? I don't let kids tell me my business."
"You just want to get rid of me, that's what," said Pee-wee. "Gee, you might as well say what you mean, I'm not scared."
"Oh, ain't you? Well you do as I tell you and you'll be all right. You do as I tell you if you want to get a ride home; see? Mr. Bartlett and me are grown-up men, we are, and we know what's the right way to do. When a kid is told to do something he's gotter do it. You know so much about them scout kids; don't you know that?"
"I'll take care of this here car of Mr. Bartlett's. The next house we come to I'm going to stop and let you out a little way past it and you're going to show what you can do; you're going to go back and 'phone to tell Mr. Bartlett we're on our way, and I'll wait for you."
"You wanted me to do that at a house that was empty and where there wasn't any 'phone; I could tell because there weren't any wires. Do you think scouts can't see things? You just want to get rid of me, that's all. You want to get rid of me where there aren't any 'phones or people or anything. Gee, maybe I'm not as strong as you, but anyway I know what you're up to, that's one sure thing."
"Are you going to do as I tell you?"
"I'm a scout and I'm not going to get out till you put me out, so there."
Slowly the big car moved up the rocky hill and around the bend and the finding light which had been focused on the church shifted its area of distant brightness until Mr. Swiper turned it off just as the two big headlights threw their glare along the straight level road.
The small figure in the shabby gray sweater and tough looking cap was nervous and apprehensive and angry with a righteous anger. But he did not tremble like the poor little lonely figure waiting in the darkness with eyes fixed upon those two dazzling, glaring eyes. Five-o-seven-nine-two. There it is, Peter; read it again as the car draws nearer to make sure. Yes, that is a five. Five-o-seven-nine-two. Don't you see the little gilt eagle on the radiator? He trembled, oh how he trembled.
"Looker here, you kid," said the driver to the huddled up figure beside him; "I once croaked a boy scout that didn't do what I told him. Do you see? I croaked him. No scout kid can put anything over on me; I won't have any kids interfering with my plans—"
Oh yes you will, Mr. Swiper. You may have escaped from jail, the authorities of a dozen states may be after you. But just the same you are going to stop when a little trembling pioneer scout in homespun pantaloons tells you to. Look ahead, where that dim light is, Mr. Swiper, with the cropped hair. Do you see something shining there, held in a little trembling hand? That is a knife, Mr. Swiper. The trembling hand that holds that knife belongs to a soul possessed, Mr. Swiper. He is crazed with a high resolve. See how he shakes? Oh he is not thinking of you. He is thinking of the car, Mr. Swiper. He is not himself at all and he is going to slash your tires if you pass that rope, Mr. Swiper. So you see?
For it is said that opportunity knocks once at everyone's door, Mr. Swiper. It came to you on the ruins of that old school. And it has come away down here, Mr. Swiper, and knocked on the door of Peter Piper, pioneer scout, of Piper's Crossroads.
PETER FINDS A WAY
"What's all this?" asked Mr. Swiper, as the car came to a stop before the rope.
With hand shaking and heart thumping, but borne up by a towering resolve, Peter took his stand beside one of the front wheels. "The—the road is—it's closed," he said, his voice trembling. The hand which held the knife stole below the shiny mud-guard and rested on the smooth, unyielding rubber. "The road is closed," he repeated.
Mr. Swiper climbed down out of the car, muttering an oath. He looked apprehensively back along the road and being sure of no danger there he crossed the rope and advanced a few yards along the road to inspect it.
Peter was in the grip of terrible fear, fear at his own boldness. His whole form trembled. He did not stop to think, he knew that if he were going to do anything effectual it must be in those few brief moments. There are many ways to cripple an auto without damaging it, but Peter knew nothing of autos except that they went by gasoline.
In an emergency he would have slashed a tire even while the machine moved. Now that he had a little time in which to think he hurried behind the auto and crawling beneath it turned on the outlet of the gas tank. He knew that the tank was in back and that there must be a pipe leading from it. He had intended to wrench the thin pipe away, when his groping, trembling fingers stumbled on the outlet cock. This he turned on with as much terror as if he were setting fire to the universe.
Aghast at his own inspiration and boldness, he stood behind the car, shaking all over, as he heard the precious fuel running away in a steady stream and pattering on the road. Well, he would take the consequences of this decisive act. From the moment he had seen those glaring headlights and realized that he was participating in a reality, he had been frantic, wondering what to do. Well, now he had "gone and done it" and he was terror-stricken at his own act. The mere wasting of so much gasoline was a terrible thing in the homely life of poor Peter.
He paused behind the car listening. He had not the courage to go forward. He listened as the liquid fuel flowed away and trickled over the spare tire-rack, and his beating heart seemed to keep time with it.
Ah, you Hunkajunk touring model with all your thousand delights, you cannot get along without this trickling liquid any better than your lowly brother, the humble Ford. Would all of it flow away before that terrible man came back?
Now Peter heard voices in front of the car; the man had returned, and was speaking to his confederate, his pal.
"I won't get out of the car and I won't desert it," he heard the small stranger announce sturdily.
"Didn't you say you were with me?"
"I did, but I—"
"Then shut up. The road's all right; there's nothing the matter with it; this is some kind of a frame-up. Did you come along this way when you copped it before; I mean you and that pair?"
"I don't know, I was under the buffalo robe."
They were thieves all right; Peter knew it now. And his assurance on this point gave him courage. The strangers would be no safer to deal with, but at least Peter knew now that he had the right on his side. In a sudden burst of impulsive resolution he stepped around and in a spirit of utter recklessness spoke up. His own voice sounded strange to him.
"I—I know what you are—you're thieves," he said. "I can—I can tell by the way you talk—and—and you—you can't take the car—even an inch you can't—because all the gasoline is gone out of it and I did it and I don't care—and you—you can kill me if you want to only you can't take the car. And—and—pretty soon Ham Sanders will be along with the milk cans and he's not afraid of you—"
"What did you say about ham?" Pee-wee shouted down at him.
"Ham Sanders," Peter called back defiantly.
"I though you said ham sandwich," Pee-wee retorted.
"He can—he's even—he can even handle a bull," shouted Peter, carried away by excitement. "All the—the—gasoline is gone—it is—because now I can hear it stop dripping—so—now—now what are you going to do? So?"
Mr. Swiper lost no time upon hearing Peter's startling announcement. Rushing to the back of the car he confirmed the information by a frantically hurried inspection, keeping up a running fire of curses the while. For a manual training teacher he was singularly profane.
Nor did he tarry to administer any corporeal rebukes, more than to send poor Peter reeling as he brushed him aside with imprecations in his flight. Since the auto had been so generously handed to him by a kind boy scout, perhaps the loss of it was not such a shock as it might otherwise have been. There were other autos.
Mr. Swiper saved himself and that was his chief concern. He was not going to take any chances with Ham Sanders. In the last few miles of their inglorious journey, Pee-wee had been trouble enough to him and how to get rid of that redoubtable youngster had been a question. So Mr. Swiper paused not to make an issue of Peter Piper's audacious act. He withdrew into the shelter of the woods and in the fullness of time to the more secure shelter of an Illinois penitentiary where he was entered under the name of Chick Swiper, alias Chick the Speeder, alias Chick the Gent, alias the Car King, alias Jack Skidder—perhaps because he was so slippery.
In his official pedigree there was nothing about his being a manual training teacher, though he must have had some knowledge of the use of tools for he removed the bars from his cell window with praiseworthy skill, and was later caught in Michigan, I think.
So there sat Pee-wee glaring down upon Peter, still frightened at himself for the stir that he had made in the great world.
"You foiled him," said Pee-wee. "Do you know what? He was a thief; he was stealing this auto."
"Yes, and you're a thief too," said Peter, removing the lantern from the rope and holding it up toward the auto. He was quite brave and collected now. "And if you want to run you'd better do it before anybody comes, that's what I'll tell you. You're—you're dressed up just like a thief; I can tell. Anyway, you can't take the auto."
"Do you call me a thief?" shouted Pee-wee. "That shows how much you know; I'm a boy scout. Do you think scouts steal things? That shows how much you know about logic."
"You're a thief, you can't fool me," Peter retorted courageously. "Look at the way you look. I'm not scared of you, either—or him either."
"How can I look at the way I look?" Pee-wee fairly screamed at him. "You're crazy! I told him where it was and I told him—"
"That shows you're just as bad as he is," Peter insisted. "Are you going to stay here till Ham Sanders comes and be arrested? Anyhow, you're arrested now," he ventured, "and you have to wait."
"You tell me I'm arrested?" Pee-wee yelled. "When I'm taking this car back to its owner? Do you know what a boy scout is?"
"I know what they look like, they're all dressed up in uniforms," poor Peter said, "but you can be one without that."
"Now you see, you said so yourself," Pee-wee began.
"But they don't get dressed like thieves," Peter retorted.
"I'm on your side because you stopped him," shouted Scout Harris.
"I don't want you on my side," said Peter. "I'm a scout and I don't want any—any—robbers on my side."
"You?" said Pee-wee.
"I bet you don't even know—I bet you don't even know—how many—how many—"
"That shows you don't know anything about scouts at all," said Peter. "I've got a book that tells all about it and when a man comes you're going to get arrested."
"Yes you—you helped him to steal it and I don't believe anything you say and you needn't think you can fool me. If you were a scout you wouldn't be scared to run away in the woods now."
"I've been—I've been—I—you're crazy," shouted Pee-wee, fairly bursting with indignation. "I—I've been lost in the woods more times than you have."
"Scouts don't get lost," said Peter.
"They get lost so they can find their way," Pee-wee yelled. "That shows how much you know. If scouts didn't get lost how could scouts rescue them? You have to get lost. The same as you have to get nearly drowned. Do you want me to start a fire without a match? That'll show you I'm a scout—only I'd have to have a certain kind of a stone. I can—I can eat a potato from a stick without it going round; that'll prove it. Have you got a roasted potato?"
"No, and I wouldn't give one to a feller that steals automobiles either," said Peter. "I got a signal and I stopped you."
"I know all about signalling and you didn't get one either," Pee-wee shouted in desperation; "I know all about everything about scouting. I know—I know—I can prove I can drink out of a spring without the water going up my nose, so that's a test. I had a lot of adventures to-night, I was with thieves, and I'll tell you all—"
"I know you were," said Peter, "and you needn't tell me about it because I can tell by looking at you. Do you think you can make me think you own this car, and—and get roasted potatoes from me too, and run away when I show you where the spring is so you can prove it?"
"The man that owns this car is a friend of mine and he—he gave me a quarter—"
"You're a thief and I don't care what you say," said Peter, his agitation rising with his anger, "and it's miles and miles to a village and there's nothing but woods—"
"Scouts can eat moss, they can," Pee-wee interrupted.
"And you can't fool me," Peter continued.
"I'll go scout pace for you," Pee-wee said with a sudden inspiration—
"Yes, you'll go scout pacing away—"
"Will you let me speak?" Pee-wee fairly screeched.
"No, I won't. You're a robber and now you're caught and it serves you right because you didn't find out about the scouts and join them and have fun that way and then you wouldn't have to go to jail for stealing."
W. Harris, mascot of the Raven Patrol, First Bridgeboro Troop, looked down with withering scorn upon this shabby advocate of scouting. And Peter Piper returned the look fearfully, yet bravely. After the tremendous thing he had done he was not going to be fooled by this hoodlum crook who seemed to have haphazard knowledge of those wonderful, far-off beings in natty khaki and shining things hanging from their belts. He would not even discuss those misty, unknown comrades with this lawbreaker. Anybody might learn a little about the scouts, even a thief.
"You don't know anything about them," he said, holding up his head as if proudly claiming brotherhood with those distant heroes in their rich, wonderful attire; "I won't talk about them. Because I know about them even—even if they don't know me. They sent me a message; they didn't know, but they did it just the same. So I belong too. You can make believe you have a uniform—you can. You can be miles and miles and miles and miles—"
He paused and listened. Down the road, in the still night, sounded the gentle melody of clanking milk cans mingled with the pensive strains of loose and squeaking wheels. It was the melodious orchestra which always heralded the approach of Ham Sanders who was so strong that he could handle a bull.
"Do you think I'm scared?" said Pee-wee.
Evidently he was not.
That Pee-wee Harris, the only original boy scout, positively guaranteed, should be pronounced not a scout! Why that was like saying that water was not wet or (to use a more fitting comparison) that mince pie was not good.
To say that Pee-wee Harris was in the scouts would not be saying enough. Rather should it be said that the scouts were all in Pee-wee Harris. The Scout movement had not swallowed him, he had swallowed it, the same as he swallowed everything else. He had swallowed it whole. He was the boy scout just as much as Uncle Sam is the United States, except that he was much greater and more terrible than Uncle Sam. Oh, much. He was just as much a boy scout as the Fourth of July is a noise. Except that he was more of a noise.
And here was a shabby, eager-faced boy, with pantaloons like stovepipes almost reaching his ankles and a ticking shirt with a pattern like a checker-board; a quaint, queer youngster, living a million miles from nowhere, telling him that he was no scout, that he was a thief.
"Hey, mister," Pee-wee shouted to Ham Sanders who drove up, "I'm rescuing this automobile from two men that stole it and I got another one to help me and he was trying to steal it and it belongs to a man I know where I live and I was at the movies with him, and that feller said he'd take it back and this feller says I'm a thief and I'm good and hungry."
Ham Sanders gave one look at him and said, "Oh, is that so?"
"It's more than so," Pee-wee shouted, "and I'm going to stick to this automobile, I don't care what. If you say I'm not a scout I can prove it."
"You needn't go far to prove it," said Ham; "we can see you're not. Maybe you're pretty wide awake—"
"I'm not, I'm sleepy," Pee-wee shouted. "Have you got anything to say around here?"
"Well, I think I have, I'm constable," said Ham.
"Then why aren't you sure?" Pee-wee retorted. "Just because I don't know where I am it doesn't say I don't know what I'm talking about, does it? Will you help me drive this automobile back? You'll get some money if you do. I had an adventure with a couple of thieves and I foiled them; they've got seventy pistols. I was watching The Bandit of Harrowing Highway—"
"You got into bad company, youngster," said Ham, surveying Pee-wee's rakish cap and lawless looking sweater. "You ought to be thankful you got a chance to get rid of that sort o' company. You're kinder young, I reckon, ain't you? Gosh, I calculate you ain't more'n four foot high. Kinder young to be mixed up in stealings."
"You're the one that's mixed up," Pee-wee shouted, "and anyway size doesn't count. You can—you can steal things if you're—you're only a foot high—if you want to and—"
"How about all this, Peter?" asked his friend confidentially.
"I'll tell you," Pee-wee shouted; "I had a lot of adventures, I know two men that have, shh, they have dead ones to their credit! I circum—what d'you call it—vented them, and that man that just ran away, he was a traitor, but I can—"
"Can you keep still a second? One look at you is enough," said Ham Sanders.
"I've—I've got—three scout suits," Pee-wee began.
"Like enough you stole 'em," said Ham. "You're one of them runners for crooks, that's what you are. I know the kind; they have you to climb in the windows for 'em and all that. Now you keep still a minute if you know what's best for you."
In a brief and threatened few moments of silence Peter told in a whisper how he had seen the signal and read it and stopped the car, and of the flight of the head thief, as he called him. Between these two excited youngsters Ham hardly knew what to believe. He certainly did not believe in talking lights appearing over graveyards. Nor did he credit Pee-wee's vehement and choppy account of bandits with seventy pistols.
"Whar are these here dead ones?" he asked, rather confused. "Over yonder in the graveyard?"
"How do I know where they are?" Pee-wee shouted. "Do you know what blackjacks are?"
"Dots and dashes, you can do it with lights too," said Peter; "they tell the truth. If he says signals lie that shows he isn't a scout anyway, and anybody can see he isn't. I stopped them, I did it by myself."
"That's nothing," Pee-wee shouted from the seat, "I nearly got suffocated, I'm more of a hero than you are. That man that ran away he—he—duped me. This car—will you listen—this car—"
"It's stolen; I know," said Peter.
"It was stolen but it isn't stolen," Pee-wee fairly screamed. "Can't a thing be stolen and then not stolen? It's being—being rescued—"
"It's being stolen, the other thief ran away," Peter persisted. "He—he admits he was friends with a thief! He's a thief too, he is."
"Maybe Jim disguised—kind of—as a thief," Pee-wee conceded.
"He's trying to be disguised as a scout," poor Peter said.
"I was a scout before you or anybody else was born," Pee-wee shouted.
"He isn't," said Peter.
"I am," said Pee-wee.
Ham Sanders scratched his head, looking from one to the other, then looked appealingly at his familiar milk cans. Perhaps he expected to see them dancing around in this Bedlam.
"I'm gonter hev both of you youngsters before the peace justice," he finally said; "we'll soon find out what's wrong here. Climb down out o' that car, you, and come along with me, the both of you."
"Do you think I'm scared of him?" Pee-wee demanded as he climbed down.
"You will be scared of him, he's got a big book," said Peter.
"I ain't scared of big books," Pee-wee announced; "I know bigger books, camp registers; I bet it isn't as big as a map book."
"You'll see," said Peter, darkly.
THE CULPRIT AT THE BAR
The book could not have been so very big, for Justice of the Peace Fee lived in a very small house. It was almost concealed among trees fifty yards or so up the road.
Justice Fee was one of those shrewd, easy-going, stern but good-natured, lawyers that one meets away off in the country. He was altogether removed from that obnoxious thing, the small town lawyer. Up in the edge of his gray hair rested a pair of spectacles, with octagon shaped lenses, almost completely camouflaged by his grizzled locks. These spectacles were seldom where they belonged, on his nose.
Apparently he wore them; to bed, for after several minutes of knocking by the visitors, he appeared with them on, the while groping for the sleeve of an old coat he had partly donned. He took the callers into a room with a desk in the middle of it and sat down at this, facing them, his legs sticking out through the space in the middle. Then he opened the large book as if making ready to close somebody up in it as one presses a flower.
He contemplated Pee-wee with a rather curious frown as he listened to what Ham and then Peter (greatly agitated) had to say.
Our young hero, indeed, presented anything but a creditable picture. The old gray sweater used by the man who took care of the furnace in Pee-wee's home, the cap which he held, and his grimy face, made him look like a terrible example of hoodlumism; a trolley-car hoodlum, an apple-stealing and stone-throwing and hooky-playing hoodlum; a hole-in-the-ball-field-fence hoodlum. Nor did the terrible scowl with which he now challenged fate and the world help to make him look like the boy on the cover of the scout manual; the boy that Peter knew and worshipped.
"Well now," drawled Peace Justice Fee, casting a tolerant side glance at Pee-wee, "you tell me this whole business and you tell me the plain truth. See?"
"Sure I will," Pee-wee said; "I'll tell you all my adventures—"
"Never mind about your adventures, and watch out, because the first lie you tell—" The justice held up a warning finger. "Now answer me this, never mind anything else; we'll drop a plumb-line right down to the bottom of this thing and have no beating round the bush—"
"I beat lots of bushes for rabbits," Pee-wee vociferated.
"Well, don't beat any here. Now" (the justice spoke slowly and emphatically, shaking a long finger with each word), "who—owns—that—car? Careful now."
"Mr. Bartlett, where I live—in Bridgeboro."
"Sure of that?"
"Sure I'm sure; didn't I—"
"Never mind what you did. Now what's this Mr. Bartlett's full name? Now—now!" he added warningly, "just you answer the question I ask you and leave the rest to me. If you tell the truth you won't get in any trouble."
Pee-wee, somewhat awed, at last subsided. "Mr. James Bartlett," he said.
Without another word, Mr. Fee drew in his long legs, arose, went over to where a book was hanging, looked in it, then took the receiver from the old-fashioned box telephone on the wall. The party waited, greatly awed by this show of calm efficiency, and ability to get right at the heart of the matter. Pee-wee was particularly elated, for presently his identity and whereabouts would be established and explained. He listened, with growing interest as the justice, unperturbed by delays and mistakes, finally succeeded in securing the desired number.
"This two-four-eight-Bridgeboro?" Pee-wee heard. "Sorry to get you up at this hour. You Mr. James Bartlett? Yes. This is the peace justice at—What? I say this is the peace justice—peace—yes this is the peace justice—justice of the peace—at Piper's Crossroads, Noo York State. What? Yes. Noo York State. Pipes? No Piper's—Piper's Crossroads. Was your automobile stolen? Your automobile. What? I say was your auto—"
"Sure it was stolen," Pee-wee said; "you just mention—"
"Keep still. I say—was your automobile stolen—STOLEN? Well, it's for your sake—what's that? All right."
There followed a pause. Justice Fee waited but did not address the company. A dead silence reigned. They could hear the ticking of the big grandfather's clock in the corner. Peter thought that signalling was better than this. Ham thought how wonderful it was for a man to have so much "book learning" that he could go right to the heart of a matter like this. Pee-wee thought how, in about ten seconds, he would be able to denounce these strangers, and appear as the real hero that he was. He would ignore Peter Piper entirely and give Justice Fee an edifying lecture on scouting. In about ten seconds they would all see....
"What's that?" said the justice, busy at the 'phone. "Your car is in your garage? I say—what's that? Oh, you looked? Sure about that, eh? Yes—yes—yes. You haven't got two cars? Six cars? Oh, six cylinders. No—no.... It's all safe in your garage, you say? Yes. Well, sorry to trouble you. No, not at all. Yes. All right. Good-bye."
Peter Piper looked at Pee-wee with a kind of awe. He had seen the other thief escape in the darkness; everything had been exciting and confused. But now, in the lamplight and within the safety of those four walls he beheld a real crook, caught, cornered, at bay.
Justice Fee had simplified the whole thing, talking little, depending on hard, cold facts. He had hit the vital spot of the whole mysterious business. He had caught this little hoodlum satellite of thieves in an ugly lie. Yet Peter Piper, who had in him the makings of a real scout, was not happy. He had thought that he would be happy, but now he was not.
"If—if you'll—maybe—if I could take him to my house," he began, twitching his fingers nervously as he gazed wistfully at the Justice who embodied the relentless law, "if you'd let me do that he couldn't run away, it's so far, and he said he was hungry and—and anyway there isn't anything to steal at my house."
That was better than reading the signal. And Peter Piper, pioneer scout of Piper's Crossroads was a better scout than he knew....
There was one place where the searchlight message was translated with a readier skill than at Piper's Crossroads, and where it created quite as great consternation. That was at the camp on Frying-pan Island. It was like A.B.C. to half a dozen of those practiced scouts, and to others not so well practiced, for the skill of the sender had made the reading easy. In less than a minute the camp was the scene of hurried talk and lightning preparation.
"What do you know about that?" asked Sparrow Blake. He was in the Mammoth Patrol, made up of the smaller scouts in Safety First's troop.
"I don't know anything about it," said Scoutmaster Ned, reaching for his plaited khaki jacket; "I don't know any more about it than you do. Nobody could get in that place, so I don't see how anyone could get out. Come ahead, Bill," he added hastily, addressing the other scoutmaster. This was followed by a vociferous chorus.
"Can I go?"
"I'm with you."
"No you won't, I will."
"You mean me."
"Get from under and go back to bed," said Scoutmaster Ned, excitedly. "What do you fellows think this is; a regatta?"
"Aren't we going to chase them?"
"You're going to chase yourselves. Do you think we've got a battleship? We've only got one of the boats here. Chuck me that leather case—"
"Never you mind what's in it. Come ahead, Bill, and you Norris, and look out you don't step in the soup bucket. Is there a light over on shore?"
"Sure, they've got a lantern; trust Nick not to forget anything."
"I'm going so as to carry the lantern."
"Yes, you're not," said Scoutmaster Ned; "never mind your coat, Bill, come ahead. I hope they had sense enough to get hold of a machine somewhere. They could get Barney's flivver."
"Shall we signal over to them?" called a dozen excited voices.
"No, there isn't time. Come on now, hustle, and the rest of you go to sleep."
"While you're chasing thieves? Did you hear what he said? Go to sleep! Can you beat that, from a scoutmaster! And him always telling us to be wide awake."
"Get out of the way, all of you," said Scoutmaster Bill, alias Safety First. "You're like a lot oh mosquitoes."
The whole camp followed the two scoutmasters and Norris to the shore, where there seemed likely to be a stampede for the one small boat.
"If you're going to take Norris—"
"Norris can drive the other car back if I get mine," interrupted Scoutmaster Ned. "He has a license; now are you all satisfied?"
They saw that under his persistent good nature he was worried and preoccupied, and like the good scouts they were, they said no more about going. They knew the pride he took in his Hunkajunk auto. They knew that his one thought was of that now.
Yet Scoutmaster Ned Garrison's sense of humor was ever ready, even in anxiety or disappointment. It was that which endeared him to his troop, whom he was forever denouncing and contemplating with a kind of mock despair. He called them an infernal rabble and they loved him for it. He was a new kind of a scoutmaster. And I honestly believe that when Scoutmaster Ned thrust that leather case containing his revolver down into his pocket, if he could only have known that it was for the purpose of shooting Pee-wee Harris, he would have laughed so hard that he would have capsized the rowboat.
ON THE TRAIL
The boat glided swiftly through the dark water.
"Nick will get the silver cup for that stunt," said Norris.
"He'll get a punch in the eye if he doesn't have a car for us," said Scoutmaster Ned.
"I wonder how he did."
"Town hall," said Scoutmaster Ned; "that kid thinks quick. If he'd only learn to tie a knot he'd be a scout. Vernon's a pretty good kid, though; he's better than Mount Vernon anyway. Pull on your left a little, Bill. What's the matter; got the sleeping sickness? Pull straight for that light."
"If that wasn't a stunt, what is?" said Norris.
"You are," said Scoutmaster Ned. "We're not handing out silver cups to-night. Maybe I'll do a stunt to-night and win it."
"Yes, me. Pull on your left some more. What do you think this is, Bill; a merry-go-round? Now go straight."
"Maybe Fido Norton found their prints," said Norris. "He's a bear at that."
"He's clumsier than a bear, like all Safety First's troop. How about that, Safety? Come on—quick! Row!"
"Coming?" called a voice from the shore.
"That's what," answered Scoutmaster Ned.
"Your car's gone."
"So I read in the sky. Somebody break in?"
"The small door's locked, the big one was open but nothing broken."
"Wait till you see. Who's there?"
"Safety First and Norris and me? You didn't think to get a car, did you? Do you know which way they went?"
"Jim Burton is here with his Packard."
"They followed the main road past the east road. We tracked the tires past Oppie's mill. They're not likely to turn out anywhere else, till they get past Piper's anyway."
"You'll be a scout yet, Fido," called Scoutmaster Ned.
"What did they do, wake you up?" said Safety First as they pulled the boat up on shore.
"I should think they did," said Jim Burton; "they rang the bell a hundred times and went out into the garage and tooted the horn. Why don't you teach your scouts manners?"
"Can't be did, Jim. Let's take a pike at the place. Hello Fido, that you? You sure about them going as far as the mill?"
"Yop, hey? Well, that's not so bad. You'll get a second helping of dessert some day. Come on, who's going? Pile in. Mighty good of you, Jim."
A brief moment's inspection of the shed and they were off. Jim Burton drove the car and by him sat Scoutmaster Ned. The others, Safety First, Nick Vernon, Fido Norton and Charlie Norris, sat in back.
"Too many?" asked Scoutmaster Ned.
"She rides better with a load," said Jim Burton.
"I don't suppose there's much chance," said Ned. "You notified the cops, didn't you, Nick? Good. The battery is low and there isn't any crank on my bus and my only hope is that she'll lay down on them. Soak it to her, Jim."
"Do you want to stop and look at the tire marks yourself?" asked Norton. "It was that new Goodyear that I was tracking, the one that's all crisscross."
"You tracked it past the East road? So they didn't turn down there? Sure?"
"That's enough. Let's see her step, Jim."
Jim "soaked it to her" and she stepped. Not a bit of fuss did she make over it. Just stepped. A silent, fleet step, like the step of a deer. And the spectral trees on either side seemed to glide the other way, and east road seemed like a piece of string across their path, and Oppie's mill was but a transient speck and Valesboro was brushed aside like a particle of dust.
The car of a thousand delights could not do that....
Pee-wee, the irrepressible, was subdued at last. In gaping amazement he watched the Justice cross from the 'phone to the table, sit down, and begin to write. The demeanor of the Justice was anything but dramatic; he was calm, matter of fact, as if this were no more than he had expected.
"What do you mean, it's—in—his garage?" Pee-wee stammered. He was not at all defiant now. "Are you—were you talking—are you sure it was him?"
There was a note of sincerity, of honest surprise, in his voice which the Justice did not miss. And as for Peter Piper, his heart went out to this poor, shabby, little misguided fellow, whoever and whatever he was. He was so much at a disadvantage now, that Peter felt sorry for him.
"Now, sonny," said Justice Fee, breaking the tense silence, "I'm going to hold you till we get to the bottom of this. Mr. Sanders, who's constable, is going to look after you (Pee-wee gulped and fingered his cap nervously) till we can overhaul that pal of yours. You're more to be pitied than blamed I reckon. There's altogether too much of this using small boys in criminal enterprises. I know," he added, holding up a warning finger, "he told you just what to say if you were caught, and you needn't say it, because, you see, I can't believe you."
Pee-wee was visibly sobbing now; he knew what "being taken care of" meant. He was afraid, yes, and bewildered at being caught in this cruel web of circumstance. But most of all he was incensed and shamed by this indignity. He could not trust himself to speak, he would break down. Something was wrong, everything was wrong, fate was against him, he could not grapple with the situation. If he spoke, he would say too much and lose his temper in that solemn hall of justice. And what would happen to him then?
His hands played nervously with his old cap, he bit his lips, and tried to repress the torrent that was surging in him. The outlandish old gray sweater with its rolling collar bulging up around his small, jerking throat, did not seem comical now. It made him the picture of pathos. He did not dare try to explain; that wonderful old man would only catch him in another trap and perhaps send him to state prison. His breath came quick and fast; he could no more speak than he could escape. He wished that Roy Blakeley were there, and Tom Slade, who knew how to talk to grown-up men and....
"Yes, and I'll pin the merit badge over your mouth if you don't keep still," he heard a hearty voice say. "Sure, wintergreen is good to eat! Go and eat some poison ivy for all I care. Do you think I'm going to be passing out merit badges for helping me to find my own car?"
"I wonder where they went?"
"I should worry where they went; I'm thankful we found the car. Maybe they've gone to join The Bandit of Harrowing Highway; he'll have pistols enough to go around, anyway; seventy was it?"
"And a couple of blackjacks."
"Well, we've got him beaten for a romance of the road. Let's go in this house and see if we can scare up some gasoline. Jim, you and I ought to go into the movies—we'd have a six reeler called The Kids of Kidder Lake or Fido of Frying-pan Island. How's that strike you? Most of those kids don't need any pistols, they can kill time without them. We've got some dead ones over there, Jim, only they haven't got sense enough to lie down. What do you bet we don't get some gas in this house? Well, here goes for a knock on the door by Ned the Nabber,—one pistol."
Pee-wee held his breath, listening. What could this mean? Seventy pistols? Blackjacks? His old friend, The Bandit of Harrowing Highway? Dead ones? Was he indeed in the spell of some horrible nightmare? What on earth could this mean?
In a kind of trance he heard a knocking on the door and a lot of hearty, clamoring, bantering voices. They did not seem at all like robbers and cut-throats. They were not stealthy—a couple of million miles from it. Pee-wee rubbed his glistening eyes with that old cap that he held and blinked to make sure he was awake.
FACE TO FACE
Still in a daze, Pee-wee saw the old man step to the door; he heard a hearty, good-humored voice asking about gasoline. "If you could just put us on the track of some," the voice said; "we're good at tracking."
Tracking! Pee-wee's eyes opened. Tracking?
"Well, could we use your 'phone, then?" he heard.
The next thing Pee-wee knew, half a dozen boys and young men spilled into the room. All but one of them, and that was Jim Burton, were in scout attire. Pee-wee stood gaping at them as if they had dropped from the clouds.
Whatever their wee hour call meant they seemed all to be in high good-humor and amused at their own adventure. One of them, a scoutmaster as Pee-wee knew, was particularly offhand and jovial and seemed to fill the room with his breezy talk. Peter Piper stared like one transfixed; they were scouts, the kind he had read about, the kind that were on the cover of the handbook! He backed into a corner so as not to get in their way....
"Yes sir, we've had some night of it," said the young scoutmaster, falling with mock weariness into a chair, throwing one knee over the other and tossing his hat very neatly onto one foot. "My car is stalled up the road in front of the next house. Lucky they ran out of gas. There's a sign up there says, 'road closed,' but I can't see anything the matter with it. Anyway, they ran out of gas and then ran out of the machine as I make out. They deserted it when the supply gave out, I suppose. All's well that ends well, only we need gas.
"I bet—I bet we've covered a hundred and fifty miles of territory to-night; what d'you say, Bill?" He didn't pause long enough to give Bill, or the Justice either, a chance to speak. "We saw the light in your window and just came in to see if you had a gallon or so of gas. We've got another car up yonder. Yes, sir, we've got The Bandit of Harrowing Highway looking like a tame canary for adventures; hey Scout Nick? Nick's our signal shark—"
Peter Piper looked at Nick with humble reverence, and backed farther into the corner. He could not take his eyes from him.
Justice Fee was about to say, "Here is one of the culprits," but he did not get the chance. Scoutmaster Ned had the floor, also the walls and the ceiling. He seemed not to care anything about the culprits. All he seemed to care about was getting his Hunkajunk car back and recounting their adventures. Perhaps he was even a little grateful to the culprits for affording them such opportunity for adventure. At all events, he kicked his hat around on the end of his foot and filled the room with his quick, breezy talk.
"Yes sir, we rode to Bridgeboro, New Jersey, got a prize cup for my kindergarten class to try for, looked in at a show, saw a guy with a lot of pistols, got home at about, oh I don't know—rowed over to the island where we're camping, and these two kids rowed back to get the cup out of the car, and found the car gone and sent a signal that nobody saw and we came along in this fellow's Packard. Well, we've got the old Hunkajunk back, anyway, haven't we kids? I'll say we have. These kids told the world only the world was asleep or something. Well, we've had pretty good luck at that, I'll say; we found the car, the school burned down—"
Suddenly, like a burst of thunder rose the recovered voice of Pee-wee Harris, while in frantic accompaniment his feet beat the floor and his small arms swung in wild excitement. With his deadly vocal artillery he silenced the breezy talk of Scoutmaster Ned and set the company aghast with his triumphant clamor.
"I've got an insulation—I mean an inspiration—listen—keep still—everybody! I'm the one that—that fixed it so you could have all those adventures—I'm the one—I got into the wrong car—in Bridgeboro—I saw that show and I thought you were the ones that had pistols and now I know that you're not murderers—because I was half asleep and I came out because I hate educational films but I like bandits, but I don't like real ones—"
"He likes reel ones," suggested Safety First.
"—And I met a thief and he was disguised as a manual training teacher and now he's foiled because I asked him to help me take Mr. Bartlett's car back and it's already back, because this is a different car and I was under—I was disguised under the buffalo robe—and I wrote a letter under there and pinned it to a piece of sandwich with a safety pin that I was being kidnapped—you can ask anybody so that shows I'm not a bandit and I can prove I'm a scout—I don't care what anybody says because you can hang an apple on a string and I can bite it without touching it with my hands, and I'm the only one in my patrol that can do that and I'm not an enemy to you because if that school burned down I'm glad too and I've got seven merit badges and the bronze cross and if you find that letter I wrote you can see how that piece of sandwich fits my mouth where I bit it and that's better than finger-prints and I can prove it—I don't care what anybody says—I got into the wrong car and even the smartest man in the world—even—even—even George Washington could do that. I've got seven merit badges," he concluded breathlessly as a climax to his outburst.
With an air of profound solemnity Scoutmaster Ned arose and made the full scout salute to the mascot of the Raven Patrol, F.B.T. B.S.A. "May I ask the name of the hero who was disguised as my buffalo robe?" he asked.
"Pee-wee Harris, only size doesn't count," said the scream of Bridgeboro's crack troop.
"Quite so," said Scoutmaster Ned; "George Washington might have been small once himself. Am I right, Nick?"
"Positively," said Nick.
"And the manual training bandit? May I ask about him?"
"He's foiled," said Pee-wee. "I met him when I escaped from your garage; he gave me a lead pencil and he said he'd help me take the car back to Mr. Bartlett that took me to the show in his car. Gee whiz, you get sleepy sometimes, don't you?"
"Very, but I don't get a chance to sleep much with bronze cross scouts and manual training teachers to keep me on the move."
"Gee whiz, I'm sorry I woke you up."
"Not at all, the pleasure is mine," said Scoutmaster Ned. "I live in a den of wild Indians; I seldom sleep. And our friend escaped? It doesn't speak very well for teachers, does it? School—"
"Gee whiz, I'll help anybody to foil a school."
"Good. Come over here, Pee-wee Harris, and let us get at the details of this adventure; I have a hunch that you and I are going to be friends. You are a—what shall I say?—a bandit after my own heart. So you have seven merit badges and the bronze cross, eh? Do you think you could steal—excuse me—win a silver cup?"
"Can you drink out of it?" Pee-wee demanded.
"Positively—lemonade, grape juice, root beer—"
"Malted milk also. And a sandwich goes with it. I think that cup was made for a bronze cross scout. Come over here a minute."
Pee-wee went over and stood between the knees of Scoutmaster Ned. "He's mine, Bill," said Ned to his fellow scoutmaster, "I saw him first."
Meanwhile you should have seen the face of Justice of the Peace Fee. He sat at his desk, with his long legs projecting through the middle, a cigar screwed away over into the corner of his mouth, contemplating Pee-wee with a shrewd, amused twinkle. Not a word did he say as Scoutmaster Ned asked questions of the Raven's mascot, while the others listened and laughed.
But there was one there who smiled almost fearfully, as if doubting his privilege of mirth in that gay, strange company. He smiled, not as one of them, but in silent awe, and did not dare to laugh aloud. He hoped that they would not notice him and tell him to go home. He had dreamed of some day seeing such wondrous boys as these, and here they were before him, all about him, in their natty khaki, self-possessed, unabashed, merry, free. Was not that enough for Peter Piper of Piper's Crossroads?
Yes, that was enough, more than he had ever expected. It was like the scene he had "pretended" out in the little barn when he had presented himself with the fancied signalling badge.
Stealthily his hand moved to his ticking shirt and removed the campaign button. For there before him was a boy with a real, a real, signalling badge. His eyes were riveted upon that badge; he could not take them from it. Suppose someone should ask him about the button; why he was wearing it now that Harding and Coolidge were in office? He would blush, he could not tell them.
He hoped that they would not notice him for he knew he could not talk to them, that his voice would shake and that he would go to pieces. Now that he saw them, joyous, uproarious, bantering, wearing badges on their sleeves, he realized that what he had done was nothing at all. He heard Scoutmaster Ned humorously belittling the exploits of his own heroes. No, Peter Piper would not step rashly into that bantering throng with that one exploit of his own.
So he stood in the bay window, half concealed by the old-fashioned melodeon, and watched them. Just gazed at them....
And when they all crowded out he lingered behind and whispered to the music-master of the milk cans, "Don't tell them, Ham; please don't tell them anything—about me."
And so the party made their way along the dark road and Peter followed and heard the flattering comments and fraternal plans involving the little hero from Bridgeboro. Evidently they were going to keep Scout Harris with them and have him patented, from what Peter overheard.
When they came to Peter's little home, Scoutmaster Ned discovered and spoke to him while Pee-wee was making an enthusiastic pronouncement about Jim Burton's Packard car.
"You live here, sonny?"
"Y—yes, sir," stammered Peter, quite taken aback.
"Well, now, I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to roll this stalled car a little way into your yard to get it off the road. All right?"
"Then we're going on to where that little fellow lives. I have to see his folks and he has to get some scout duds and junk and stuff and then we're coming back. We ought to be here early in the morning."
"You just keep your eye out for that car, will you? It has a way of disappearing."
"I don't mean to watch it all the time, but just sort of have an eye out. I'm taking this little jigger out of the distributer, so no one could run the old bus anyway. But you just have an eye out, will you?"
"Y—yes, sir," said Peter anxiously.
"That's the boy, and some fine day you'll have a couple of autos of your own to worry about."
Peter smiled bashfully, happily. That was a wonderful joke. And a real scoutmaster, just like the pictures, had said it to him. He thought that, with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt, Scoutmaster Ned was the most wonderful scout that ever lived. He wondered how it would seem to know him all the time. Peter had no idea what a distributer was, but he knew now that his method of crippling an automobile was very crude. He was glad they did not know so they could not laugh at him....
After the Packard car, with its noisy load, had started for that fairy region where they had movie shows and things and where Scout Harris lived, Peter was beset by an awful problem. He was not sleepy, he would not be sleepy for at least a year after what he had seen, and he intended to watch the car as it should be watched. The question that puzzled him was whether he dared get into it or whether he had better sit on the old carriage step. He finally compromised by sitting on the running board. And there he sat till the owl stopped shrieking and the first pale herald of the dawn appeared in the sky.
And when the sun peaked over the top of Graveyard Hill and painted the tombstones below with its fresh new light and showed the gray frost of the autumn morning spread over the lonesome, bleak fields, and finally cast its cheery light upon the tiny, isolated home, it found Peter Piper, pioneer scout, of Piper's Crossroads, seated there upon the running board of Scoutmaster Ned's car, waiting for one more glimpse of those heroes....
ON TO BRIDGEBORO
Scoutmaster Ned Garrison had a middle name. Handling parents, that was his middle name. He was a bear at that. He could make them eat out of his hand. Had he not engineered the camping enterprise pending the preparation of a makeshift school? Parents did not trouble him, he ate them alive.
"You leave them to me," he said to Pee-wee as they advanced against poor defenseless Bridgeboro. "They'll either consent or we'll shoot up the town, hey, Safety First? We're on the rampage to-night; somebody's been feeding us meat."
It was not Pee-wee's custom to leave a thing to somebody else. He attended to everything—meals, awards, hikes, ice cream cones, camping localities, duffel lists, parents, everything. He was the world's champion fixer. You can see for yourselves what a triumph he made of not rescuing the wrong car. That was merely a detail. If the car had been the right one and no one had stopped him from rescuing it he would have rescued it. Since everything worked out all right, he was triumphant. And he was better than glue for fixing things.
"I'll handle them," he said.
"Well, well both handle them," said Scoutmaster Ned.
A little farther along the road Safety First said, "I don't see why the road was closed off. It seems to me to be all right."
Pee-wee was now sufficiently subdued to think and speak calmly, and he said, "That feller with the shirt put it there; he said he read the signal. I guess he's crazy, hey?"
"Oh, the fellow with the shirt?" queried Fido Norton, humorously.
"I seem to remember a shirt," said Nick.
"That was it," Pee-wee said.
"He was just a little rube," said Charlie Norris.
"He's the one that said I was a thief," said Pee-wee. "I told him I could prove I was a scout by eating a potato a certain way."
"And be didn't take you up?" said Scoutmaster Ned.
"He didn't have a potato," Pee-wee said.
"It's best always to carry potatoes with you," said Scoutmaster Safety First.
"After this I'm always going to carry five or six," said Pee-wee.
"The proof of the potatoes is in the eating," said Nick.
"I know nine different ways to cook them," said Pee-wee; "and I can eat them raw so that makes ten. I can eat potato skins too, so that makes eleven."
"If you could eat potato-bugs that would make twelve," said Charlie Norris.
"If you eat lightning bugs, that will make you bright," said Pee-wee; "that's what Roy Blakeley says; he's in my troop. He's crazy and he says he's glad of it. We've got three patrols in my troop and I'm a member of the Ravens but I'm kind of in all of them. I know all about camping and everything. In the fall you're supposed to camp east of a hill, do you know why?"
"No, break it to us gently," said Nick.
"When you said break it, that reminded me that I can break an apple into halves with one hand."
"Do tell," said Charlie; "what do you do with the other half?"
"What other half?"
"The other one."
"If they're both the same how can there be another one? I eat them."
"I eat mushrooms too, only if they're toad-stools they kill you."
"Why don't you eat a couple?"
"I will not, because you bet I'm going to stay alive. I'll show you how you can tell the difference when we get to that island. I'll show you a lot of things. Do you know how to pump water with a newspaper—rolled up? Gee, that's easy, I learned that when I was a tenderfoot."
"What are you now, a second hand scout?"
"I'm a first class scout and I'm a first aid scout and—Do you know how to make things out of peanut shells?"
"Will you show us that, too?"
"Sure, but anyway I never use chalk for scout signs; I use charred wood. Do you know why?"
"Because chalk reminds you of school?"
"Because it's got too much civilization in it."
"Do they put that in it?"
"No, but it's there. Gee whiz, I've got no use for civilization, I don't care what kind it is."
"Well, what about that codger?" asked Scoutmaster Ned. "He said he read the signal?"
"Sure, and he was the one that stopped us when that fellow ran away. Gee whiz, I didn't see any signal but I didn't look behind. Maybe he's just disguised as a rube, hey? Anyway, he stopped us, that's one sure thing, because we stopped and that proves it, doesn't it?"
"There's nothing the matter with the road," Safety First repeated.
"That's what has me guessing," said Scoutmaster Ned. "He couldn't have read the message, that little codger. He's just a poor, little country kid. I'd give a doughnut to know how he happened to put that rope across the road. He never, never read that message, you can bet on that."
"I know! I know!" vociferated Pee-wee. "He had a—a—inspiration. Give me the doughnut."
HARK! THE CONQUERING HERO COMES BACK
We need not linger in Bridgeboro, the native haunt of Scout Harris, and of Roy Blakeley and his Silver-plated Fox Patrol, and the other celebrities of Pee-wee's troop. For the adventures of these world heroes may be found recorded by Roy's own hand.
It will be sufficient to say that the delegation from Kidder Lake descended upon the peaceful home of Pee-wee Harris (peaceful during his absence at all events) and carried it by storm. The anxiety of Mr. and Mrs. Harris over the whereabouts of their son being set at rest by his dramatic appearance at the head of his martial following, there was nothing for them to do but surrender to Scoutmaster Ned, while the party partook of breakfast in the fallen fortress.
"He will eat you out of house and home," warned Mrs. Harris; "I only want to warn you beforehand."
"We are prepared for the worst," said Scoutmaster Ned, as he contemplated his discovery wrestling with a saucer of breakfast food across the table. "In return for our poor hospitality he is going to show us how the world should be run, and we are to be his pupils. Now that we have stumbled upon him we couldn't close our season without him."
"I'll show you how to close it," said Pee-wee.
The one obstacle which might have stood in the way of these delectable plans—school—was removed by the fact that Scout Harris was to enter a private school (pity the poor private school) which did not open until after Columbus Day. We shall see him wished onto this institution in a subsequent volume.
The outlandish sweater and rakish cap in which Pee-wee had masqueraded through that eventful night were now discarded by order of his mother, and on the journey to Kidder Lake he appeared a vision of sartorial splendor in his full scout regalia including all appurtenances and sundries.
As a tribute, perhaps, to the island of which he was to be the imperial head, he flaunted his aluminum frying-pan, its handle stuck in his belt, ready to fry an egg at a second's notice in case of emergency. That he might never be at a loss to know where he was at, his scout compass dangled by a cord tied in a double sheep-shank knot to harmonize with the knot of his scarf which could only be removed by lifting it over his head. Thus, though he might be lost to his comrades, he could never be lost to his scarf.
Twisted into the cord of his scout hat was an arrow pointing forward, which gave him an exceedingly martial appearance and was useful, too, in pointing out the way he should go and safeguarding him from the danger of going backward. But if, by an accident, he should go backward or sideways, he had the empty funnel of an old auto horn with which to magnify his voice and make the forest ring with his sonorous cries for help. And if the help did not come, he had still one cylinder of an old opera glass, with the lens of which he could ignite a dried leaf by day or observe the guiding stars by night. And if there were no dried leaves he had his crumpled piece of tissue paper. And if the stars did not shine, he had a rag for extracting confidential information from the wind. And if there was no wind, he should worry, he had gum-drops mobilized in every pocket. Every safety device known to scout science (and many of quite original conception) were upon the martial form of Scout Harris, so that he could not possibly go wrong or starve.
So it was without any fear that he set forth for the untrodden wilds of Frying-pan Island notwithstanding that it was a quarter of a mile wide and nearly a third of a mile long.
PEE-WEE HOLDS FORTH
It was a delightful ride to Kidder Lake in the daytime. There is no time like the autumn—except the spring. And the spring is only good because it is the beginning of the summer. Just the same as the winter is best because the spring comes after it. As Roy Blakeley would have said, "You can do that by algebra." But there is nothing, either before or after, to make algebra good.
As Jim Burton's big Packard car sped along, the country looked bleak and the fields wan with their yellow corn-stalks. Even the little shacks where fresh fruit and vegetables had been displayed to motorists were now boarded up. Their cheerless, deserted look contributed quite as much as the changing foliage to the scene of coldness, desolation. The sad look which Nature assumes when school opens. The wind blew and the leaves fell and the West Ketchem scouts fell too, for Scout Harris, who was also blowing.
"That's what you call a proincidence, how I don't have to go to school yet, the same as you don't on account of yours burning down. Gee whiz, I like camp-fires, but I like school fires better."
"And you'll show us how to make a camp-fire?"
"Sure I will; 111 show you how they do at Temple Camp. Is there anybody living on that island?"
"No one but us, and we'll have to be going home soon," said Charlie Norris.
"I like desert islands best," Pee-wee said; "they remind you of dessert. Sometimes I spell it that way. Don't you care, we have a month yet. Did you ever eat floating island? It has gobs of icing floating around in it. We have that Sunday nights at Temple Camp. When I said dessert it made me think of it. Sometimes islands disappear."
"I bet the ones in that dessert do all right," laughed Nick Vernon.
"You said it!" Pee-wee vociferated with great emphasis. "I'll show you how to make tracking cakes, too, only you can't eat them."
"No-o-o, they're for chipmunks and birds to step on so you can save their footprints. Gee whiz, did you think you could eat them?"
"We didn't know," said Fido Norris.
"Gee, there are lots of things I don't know too," said Pee-wee generously. "But anyway I fixed it so a scout could stay at Temple Camp an extra week."
"Bully for you. A good turn?"
"You said it. I gave him a whole pail of berries I picked and he got sick and couldn't go home."
"I've fixed lots of things."
"Maybe you can give us all berries the day before our temporary school opens," said Fido Norton.
"Don't you worry," said Pee-wee reassuringly; "maybe the men who are getting it ready will go on a strike; maybe there'll be measles or whooping cough or something. I've had those."
"You're not missing much, hey?"
"You said it. I've been lost in the woods too. Roy Blakeley says I get lost at C when I sing. He's crazy, that feller is. He started the Silver Foxes. There's a feller in that patrol can move his ears without touching them. I should worry as long as I can move my mouth. I'll show you how to flop a fried egg in the pan only you have to look it doesn't come down on your head. You can scramble eggs but you can't unscramble them. Once one came down on my head. I took a bee-line hike, too."
"With a fried egg on your head?"
"No-o-o. I'll show you how to make a thing to get olives out of the bottom of a bottle too; it's better than a hatpin, but a hatpin is good to catch pollywogs with. There's a Pollywog Patrol that comes to Temple Camp. Gee, I never knew that silver cup was in the car with me all the time."
"Well, we expect you to walk away with that," said Scoutmaster Ned. "You rode away with it once. So now we expect you to walk away with it."
"It's won already," said Charlie Norris. "Nick's the one."
"Gee whiz, I wish I had seen that signal," said Pee-wee, "but anyway I have to admit it was a stunt sending it. Gee, I guess you'll get the cup all right."
It was characteristic of Pee-wee that his thoughts did not recur to his lonely adversary at Piper's Crossroads. His thoughts were always of the moment and aroused by the present company. He was just as ready to shout for others as he was to shout for himself, and that is saying a great deal. It was immaterial to him who he shouted for so long as he could shout.
Nick Vernon was the nearest and likeliest, so he was all for Nick's stunt. And he was not in the least curious about the things said by that lonely boy with wide eyes who had stopped the car. He was thinking of other things now.
SCOUTMASTER NED DOESN'T SEE
But Scoutmaster Ned was curious and when they reached the little cottage he jumped out and, taking the can of gasoline he had brought, he bade the others go on their way, saying that he would follow when he got his car started.
"Well sir, you haven't been sitting here all this time, I hope?" he said to Peter. "Nice brisk morning, hey? The kind of weather to give you an appetite."
"Wouldn't they wait for you?" Peter asked.
"I'm glad to get rid of them," said Scoutmaster Ned in a way of friendly confidence; "they make a noise like an earthquake; that little fellow's the worst of the lot; he ought to have a muffler."
"Is he a real scout?" Peter ventured.
"Oh, he's two or three scouts. What d'you think of them? Crazy bunch, hey?"
"They're all real scouts—are they?" Peter asked hesitatingly.
"They think they are. Now look here," he added, sitting down on the running board in a companionable way beside Peter, "I want you to tell me what made you say that road was closed. There was a light in the sky; you saw that? Big, tall light?"
"That—that fellow—named Nick—he made it."
"Yes, and what made you close the road? Somebody tell you the light meant something?"
"There isn't anybody around here," said Peter, growing more at ease as everyone did with Scoutmaster Ned, "except Aunt Sarah Wickett and she's crazy. There's nobody in this house but my mother."
"How about Mr. Fee? No? Well then, who told you to close the road? Come now, you and I are pals and you have to tell me."
A scoutmaster, a real, live scoutmaster, a pal of his? Why that was more wonderful than reading a signal. Peter's hands rubbed together nervously and he hedged, as a scout should never do.
"I want that scout to get that cup, the one that sent the message. Could—maybe could I see that cup—if it's in this car?"
In the excitement of the night, Scoutmaster Ned had forgotten all about the stunt cup (as they had come to call it). He now brought it forth from under the rear seat and unwound the flannel rag that was around it and polished it a little as he held it up. It shone in the bright morning sunlight and Peter saw his face in it. That was strange, that Peter Piper of Piper's Crossroads should see his own face looking at him from the radiant surface of a scout prize cup. He had never even seen such a good mirror before. He just gazed at it, and continued to gaze, as Scoutmaster Ned held it up. Awarded for the—it shone so, he could hardly make out the words—for the best all scout stunt of the season.
"It cost a lot of money, didn't it?"
"Oh, something less than a couple of thousand dollars. Look nice, standing on a scout's table, huh?" Scoutmaster Ned gave it another little rub and contemplated it admiringly. "We had enough of a fuss getting it, that's sure. See that Maltese Cross on it? That's our bi-troop sign. We have two troops; always hang together. A troop's one bunch in scouting. That kid thought the Maltese Cross meant that the cup was to drink malted milk out of. He's a three-ring circus, that kid."
"It was a stunt to send that—to make that light, wasn't it?" Peter asked.
"Well, I'll say it was," said Scoutmaster Ned, giving the cup another admiring rub.
That settled it for Peter. He could not match his poor little exploit against such miraculous performances. The sight of those uniforms in the broad daylight had cowed him. The sight of Nick Vernon's signalling badge had brought him to his sober senses, and he felt ashamed even of his dreams and his pretending. The brief glimpse he had had of Scout Harris in all his flaunting array, going forth to new conquests surrounded by infatuated disciples, these things settled it for poor Peter. He thought himself lucky not to have drawn attention and been made a fool by those heroes. Maybe they would not all have been as considerate as Scoutmaster Ned. The safest thing, as well as the thing nearest to his heart, was to stand for Nick Vernon. He could stand for him even if he was afraid of him. After all, a pioneer scout was not really and truly a scout....
"I don't know why I put the rope up," he said nervously; "I just did. There is a—a bad place in the road if you're going fast—I'll—I just as soon show it to you—if you don't believe me. I thought maybe the light—but anyway I wasn't sure—and I'll show you that bad place. I guess he'll sure win the cup, won't he; the scout that made the light?"
"Shouldn't wonder," said Scoutmaster Ned, a little puzzled, but apparently satisfied. "Didn't you say something about a signal? To that little codger? Or was he dreaming? Or am I dreaming?" He scrutinized Peter very curiously but seeing no sign of the scout about him, he dismissed the receiving end of this business with Peter's rather awkward explanation, and let it go at that.
As for what Pee-wee had said, that did not worry Scoutmaster Ned. Pee-wee's dream and experiences seemed to be all mixed up together like the things in a hunter's stew. Scoutmaster Ned went by the signs, which scouts do, and the signs were a funny ticking shirt and a pair of pantaloons like stove pipes. No hint of scouting there.
For you see the scout was inside of Peter Piper of Piper's Crossroads. That was why he was for Nick Vernon. It was inside him, and "disguised" (as Pee-wee would have said) as a checker-board shirt. And that was why Scoutmaster Ned couldn't see it....
And so Peter Piper, of Piper's Crossroads, proved too much for Scoutmaster Ned. He kept his secret. But he had a very narrow escape from being a hero.
Scoutmaster Ned had his way, too. "So you think you'd like to have a pike at that camp, eh?" he said.
Scoutmaster Ned's theory about camping was to keep open house. If he lacked discipline (which it is to be feared he did) he made up in pep, and the surprises that he was forever springing on the camp were a perpetual joy. I suspect that he was not well versed in his scoutmasters' handbook. He was a sort of human north wind. He adopted the pose of being driven to distraction by "those kids" and he denounced them roundly and said there were too many of them and that he was going to pick out one and drown the rest. Then he would show up with a new one. He was a sort of free-lance scoutmaster and I wonder how he ever drifted into the movement. Probably he didn't drift in, but blew in. Scoutmaster Safety First (Bill) was his balance-wheel.
"Where is she? I'll talk to her," he said to Peter.
So he talked with Mrs. Piper while Peter stood by. He sat down in the kitchen and drank a glass of milk and ate a piece of pie and told her that it was the first real piece of pie he had ever eaten in his life. Would he have another? Well, he'd say he would! Mrs. Piper thought he was about the finest "young gent" she had ever seen.
He told her all about his adventures of the night as if she were a pal and when she said she had slept through all the rumpus outside, he said, "Well, you've got West Ketchem, where I come from, beaten twenty ways. Could I have just one little sliver—no, not as much as that—well, all right. That town, why you couldn't wake it up, Mrs. Piper, not with an earthquake. It would just fall down through the crack in the earth and go right on sleeping—no I couldn't eat another speck. We must be off."
"Oh yes, Pete's going with me. He's going to make us a little visit for a week or two. We have lessons and everything, study nature, and all that, and all he wants to eat. I'll bring him back, he wants to see the real scouts in captivity. No accounting for tastes, hey, Mrs. Piper? You'd better bring along a coat, Pete; but don't change your clothes, you're not going to church; come just as you are, so I'll be able to tell you from the rest in case I should decide to kill them all. That let's you out, see? Come ahead before your mother changes her mind."
Poor Mrs. Piper had not yet made up her mind, so she could not very well change it. Scoutmaster Ned had made up her mind for her.
"I'll have to get Sally Flint ter come over and visit with me," said Mrs. Piper doubtfully.
"Just the one," said Scoutmaster Ned. "She'll keep you company and you'll have a little peace with this youngster gone. Mrs. Piper, if I had my way I'd chloroform every boy in creation. I wonder you look so young with a wild Indian like that around."
"Oh, I ain't lookin' so young," she smiled, greatly pleased.
Before she realized it she was shaking hands with Scoutmaster Ned while her other arm was around Peter. "I'm going to come here and stay a month," the young man said. "I'm going to churn butter and eat pie—if I can escape from that outfit. Well good-bye, we're off. I hope the old bus runs."
"It looks reel smart with all the blue paint," said Mrs. Piper.
"Handsome is as handsome does," said Scoutmaster Ned. "Climb in, Pete, what are you scared of? It won't eat you. Anybody'd think you were stalking—stepping so carefully. Know what stalking is? They'll show you."
Mrs. Piper stood holding her gingham apron to her eyes as they rode off. It was of exactly the same pattern as Peter's shirt. He looked funny sitting rather fearfully on the front seat. She had never dreamed of seeing him enthroned amid such sumptuousness. Perhaps some day he would go away and come back rich—a hero. Her Peter. And this stranger liked him. She was weeping because she had never heard her boy called Pete since his father died. She liked to hear him called Pete, it was so friendly, and recalled the past so vividly....
As if Scoutmaster Ned would have called him anything else than Pete!
They showed him. As Scoutmaster Ned had told him they would do, they showed him. And Peter Piper was in dreamland; it was all too good to be true. They showed him how to track and stalk. And how to signal.
Nick showed him how to make a smudge fire, and Peter was doubly sure, then, that Nick would win the cup. In the nights he dreamed of the winning of that cup, of Nick winning it. Yes, they showed him. Fido Norton showed him how to track a rabbit, and a small-sized, pocket edition of a scout in the Elephant Patrol showed him (very difficult) how to trail a hop-toad. Charlie Norris showed him how to use a deadly kodak, which Peter had never seen before. He liked it because it pulled open the way a turtle's neck comes out, and then went in again. Oh yes, they all showed him.
And meanwhile Peter Piper kept his secret and no one ever knew of his little exploit, for which the handbook really deserved all the credit. The adventure of the stolen car was now forgotten in a hundred new activities, and with it the rope across the road and the lantern and all that. Sometimes when they spoke of that, Peter was troubled. But they did not often speak of it. And he did not even tell them that he was a pioneer scout. Harding and Coolidge he now kept in the pocket of his stove-pipe pantaloons. For Peter Piper was approaching scouthood through the tenderfoot class. Yes, they were all busy showing him.
Scout Harris showed him. Oh yes, he showed him. But Scout Harris was too busy showing all the rest of them to do any exclusive showing for the pioneer scout. And besides, Peter, who was too new and too bashful and too awed by his companions and surroundings to be a good general mixer, was mostly occupied with his hero, Nick Vernon. Pee-wee, who was a mixer as well as a fixer, went on mixing and fixing and soon he performed his greatest of all "fixing" feats; probably the greatest fixing feat in scout history. Perhaps the greatest fixing stunt in the history of the world.
But Peter was satisfied to laugh at Pee-wee with the rest of them, with that bashful, hesitating laugh, which endeared him to them all.
It was natural that he should follow Nick Vernon about the island, for everyone liked Nick, who was quiet, humorous, modest and withal very resourceful and skilful. He had a kind of a contained air, as if he knew more than he gave out, in contrast to Scout Harris who gave out more than he knew. A bantering, off-hand way he had, as if all the things he did (and he could do many) were done just to kill time. Skilful though he was, he did not take himself too seriously. Everything he did he seemed to do incidentally.
He would wander aimlessly into some triumph. "Going tracking?" they would say. "Guess so," he would answer. He never made a fuss. The general impression that he gave was that scouting was a good enough way to while away a summer. Peter Piper worshipped at the shrine, winning scout personality. He hoped that his mother would allow him to stay for the finish so that he could see Nick receive the cup. He watched, jealously, anxiously, the stunts of the other scouts, but none of them could be mentioned along with Nick's signalling.
One morning Nick sauntered down to the shore, Peter with him.
"Going to wigwag?" they asked him.
"Maybe, if there's anyone to wigwag to. No use talking if there isn't anyone in town to listen."
"Scout Harris talks whether there's anyone to listen or not," one said.
"Shall I bring the card to wigwag with?" Peter asked.
"No, don't bother. Got some matches? Never mind if you haven't."
Peter ran back and got some.
"If you're signalling tell them not to hurry with the school, we can wait. Scout Harris is giving us an education. He's going to move the lake to-morrow."
"He's a queer duck," one of the party sprawling around the tents said as the two made their way down toward the shore.
"No, Nick; jiminy, it always seems as if—I don't know—as if he has something up his sleeve."
"It's his arm," commented a joker.
"Maybe he knows about a mystery," Pee-wee said; "maybe there's treasure buried on this island."
"There'll be some scouts buried on this island if we all die laughing at you," another scout observed. "Come on, let's dig some bait."
Nick did not decide what he was going to do till he reached the shore. That was just like him. Peter was all excitement.
"Are you going to signal?" he asked.
Nick often signalled over to town and sometimes he got an answer, for there were other scouts over there. He did it just for pastime. Usually it was the wigwag that he used. But on this morning, noticing the dried leaves all about, he said, "We'll try a smudge, that's pretty good sport; Morse Code, you know." He looked about half-interestedly and began kicking leaves into a pile, Peter doing the same. If Nick had any particular purpose in this business, at least you would not have supposed so. He seemed as aimless as a butterfly. "Are you going to ask about school?"
"No," laughed Nick, dragging some leaves with his foot; "there's no school for a month, we know that. If you know a thing you know it; isn't that so?"
"I don't know many things."
"No? Well, get some water in your hat—here, take mine. These blamed scout hats are made to hold water."
Peter brought some water, which Nick poured on the leaves.
"Now haul that old raft up here and we'll hold it up. We'll just say 'hello' to be sociable, show the town we're not stuck-up."
They held the old raft, of about the area of a door, slanting ways over the leaves, and Nick showed Peter how to manipulate it so as to control the column of black smoke arising from the damp leaves. Peter was greatly interested, even excited, over this new kind of signalling. He was not quite as careful as he had been in talking with Scoutmaster Ned.
"Make one long one first to call their attention," he said, quite aroused by the novel enterprise.
"Yes?" said Nick, half interested apparently. "Who told you that?"
"I—I just knew it. I know now—let me do it—it's easy. Only they have to be careful over there. That's—that's the hard part. I hope they have a—one of those books over there—and then—maybe—I hope they keep it open at page two hundred and eighty-four. Let me try it—"
"Ned give you one of those books?"
"N—no, I—I saw one."
"Well, let's get busy with the message, Pete."
Nick Vernon did not seem greatly interested in where or when or how Peter had seen the handbook, nor how he happened to remember page two hundred and eighty-four. But one thing Nick Vernon knew (it was a reflection on Scoutmaster Ned and just exactly like him) and that was that there was not a single copy of the scout handbook on Frying-pan Island.
"All right, you can do as you choose," said Pee-wee; "only I'm just telling you. There's always better fishing on the east side of an island because that's what Uncle Jeb up at Temple Camp said and he knows—he knows—"
"He knows all the fish personally," said Charlie Norris.
"You think you're smart, don't you?" thundered Pee-wee. "There's a better spring over there than there is here and then besides, the rain will drain out better on account of the ground being higher, because I know all about camping, you can ask my scoutmaster. It won't be so cold over there at night, either; you see. You move the tents over there, gee whiz, Arabs move their tents every day, and look at gypsies, they keep moving all the time."
"It will be a scout movement," said Scoutmaster Safety First, rather impressed with Pee-wee's arguments.
"I'm game for anything," said Scoutmaster Ned. "Variety is the spice of life. The housing situation—"
"I know all about the housing situation," said Pee-wee; "my father owns a house and the water's calmer on the east side of an island, because I can prove it by the Pacific Ocean."
"The Pacific Ocean is west of here," said Scoutmaster Ned. "At least it was when I went to school. I dare say it's there yet. Put another log on the fire, Nick. How about it, Pete? Where's the Pacific Ocean? I'll leave it to Pete."
"It's in the school geography," Pee-wee shouted from the other side of the camp-fire, "and it's on the east of China. You have to know where you're at before you can tell where it is and there's better fishing in China than there is here, because in Japan they catch sardines! Temple Camp is on the east side of Black Lake, and anyway there's a dandy place over there for tents and there are a lot of birds' nests and there's a better spring and you don't have to carry water so far and you always spill a lot of it and there are a couple of pine trees and the leaves don't fall off them, because there aren't any leaves and leaves keep the rain and wind off but not if there aren't any and these trees are getting bare—"
"Enough! Enough!" said Scoutmaster Ned, rising, and sticking his fingers into his ears. "We ask for an armistice. All we ask for is three hours' time in which to move—"
"I'll fix it," vociferated Pee-wee.
"We surrender to the world's greatest fixer," said Scoutmaster Ned. "The high authority from Temple Camp—"
"He isn't so high!"
"Size don't count," roared Pee-wee.
"Shall be followed," said Scoutmaster Ned. "To-morrow morning we'll move to the east side of the island in view of the thriving metropolis of East Ketchem. Its four lights will cheer us at night. This spilling of water must be stopped. Pretty soon the island will be under water and then where will we be?"
"Worse off than in school," called a voice.
"I am for the pine trees," said Scoutmaster Ned. "I am for the high land and the fishing and the birds' nests and the shelter. In short, I'm for Scout Harris!"
"I'm for the view of East Ketchem as long as I don't have to go there," said Fido Norton.
It was the silly, tail end of the season; they were ready to do almost anything, except go to school. They were going to have the last minute of the last day of this delightful little supplementary season, this autumnal climax of their camping life. But aside from this resolution they cared not what they did. Pee-wee, instead of getting on their nerves, had gotten into their spirits. A change of location wouldn't be half bad. And Pee-wee was right too, in much that he had said; they realized this. And he admitted it.
"Sure, I'm right," he said; "you leave it to me. I'll fix it. We'll move over there to-morrow and if you're sorry now you'll be glad of it because—"
"Oh, it will be a day of rejoicing," said Scoutmaster Ned.
"Anything goes," said Charlie Norris.
"Lead and well follow, Scout Harris," chimed Fido Norton.
"One place is as good as another if not better," shouted another scout.
"All in favor of moving, say Aye."
"Aye!" shouted Pee-wee, in a voice of thunder.
The next morning they folded their tents like the Arabs and moved to a spot which Pee-wee recommended, on the opposite side of the island. Why he liked it I do not know, for it was a quiet spot. Perhaps he liked it because it was retiring and modest, and kept in the background, as one might say. It seemed to breathe peacefulness, which was Pee-wee's middle name. It afforded a fine view of East Ketchem, the thriving community on the east shore of Kidder Lake; and the crystal spring, and stalking facilities, and better shelter of the stately, solemn pines, seemed in accordance with scout requirements.
"Well, we're here because we're here," said Scoutmaster Ned, sitting down on two loaded grocery boxes after his last trip. "If the spring water doesn't come to us, we come to the spring water. Not half bad at that," he added, looking about. Indeed they had not been familiar with the eastern shore of the island and now they contemplated the discovery of Christopher Columbus Pee-wee, not without surprise and satisfaction.
"When I go to a place I always leave it—"
"Lucky for the place," interrupted Nick in his dry, drawling way.
"I always go on expeditions," Pee-wee explained. "I even discovered islands and things, I discovered a mountain once, up at Temple Camp, only somebody discovered it before I did. I discovered this place day before yesterday when I was tracking a mud-turtle. Once I found a peninsula only it wasn't there the next day."
"Who took it?"
"The tide came up and it was under water. Do you want me to show you how to make drain ditches around tents?"
They put up the tents and dug drain ditches around them and cleared a place for the camp-fire and brought wood for it. They chopped supports for their messboard and drove them into the pine-carpeted earth and laid the long boards upon them. To do Pee-wee justice, the place was an ideal camping spot. And what was one day's work of moving, against almost an entire month of camping in that sequestered glen, among fragrant pines?
"You've got the right idea, Scout Harris," said Scoutmaster Ned.
"It was a—a inspiration," said Pee-wee.
"Do you have those often?" Nick asked.
"Oh boy! I have them all the time."
"But how about a landing place?" a scout asked.
"Who wants to go to East Ketchem, anyway?" said Norris. "We should bother our heads about a landing place."
"Leave it to me. I'll fix it," Pee-wee said.
In the late afternoon they sprawled about and found the velvet coverlet of pine needles restful to their weary bodies.
"Well, it's all over but the shouting," said Scoutmaster Ned. "All we need is sup—"
"I'll do it!" shouted Pee-wee.
"What, the shouting?" asked Nick.
"Here comes a boat," said another scout.
"Maybe somebody's going to discover the island," said Pee-wee.
"There are two men in it," said another; they're rowing straight for us."
"Maybe this is their camping spot," said Fido Norton; "I knew this place was too good to be missed all this time."
"If it's their place—"
"Leave them to me, I'll fix it," Pee-wee announced vociferously.
"That relieves us," said Scoutmaster Ned, lying back on the ground, after sitting up to inspect the approaching boat; "we are safe in the hands of Scout Harris. Let them come. We should worry our young lives."
The boat made straight for the new camp, and it appeared to contain two men. The one who was rowing wore a large straw hat and his suspenders were visible.