"Pull her ashore now, lad," he at length ordered, "and let's go fer a sail."
"What, in the Roaring Bess?" Rod eagerly asked, as he glanced toward the yacht fretting gently at her anchor a short distance away.
"Sure thing. Dinner won't be ready fer an hour, so we'll take a spin around fer awhile."
Rod could hardly believe his senses. How often he had looked upon the Roaring Bess from the respectable distance of the main road. To have a sail in her had been his one great ambition. While lying in bed he had often imagined himself skimming over the water, with the sail, big and white, bending above him. Now his dream had really come true, and here he was at last sitting by Captain Josh's side, watching him as he headed the boat upstream. A gentle breeze was drifting in from westward, sufficient to fill the sail and send the Roaring Bess speeding over the water. A deep sigh escaped Rod's lips.
"Hey, what's wrong?" the captain cried. "Gittin' tired, and want to go home?"
"Oh, no, no," was the emphatic reply. "I sighed because I am so happy."
"H'm. That's it, eh? I thought people generally whistled or laughed when they are happy."
"Is that what you do, Captain Josh, when you're happy?"
"Me? I'm never happy."
"Why, I'd be happy all the time if I had a boat like this."
"Ye would? Well, take the tiller, then, while I fill me pipe."
A new thrill of joy swept through Rod's entire being as he clutched the wooden handle and moved it to left or right as the captain ordered. Never did any commander in charge of the largest vessel feel greater pride than did the young helmsman. His face glowed, and his eyes sparkled with excitement, while the breeze tossed his wavy hair.
Captain Josh watched him out of the corner of his eye as he puffed away at his short-stemmed pipe.
"Ye'll make a good sailor some day, lad," he remarked. "Ye've got the eye fer sich business."
"That's what I'm going to be," was the reply. "I'll be a captain, and have a big ship of my own. I'm going to call her the Roaring Bess, and I'll take you along with me."
"I'd like to go well enough," and the old man's gaze wandered off into space, "but I guess my sailin' days'll be over by that time. But here we are back home again. Betsey'll be waitin' dinner fer us."
And what a dinner that was! Rod remembered it long afterwards, and how Mrs. Britt sat there smiling upon him, and urging him to have "just one more piece of pie, and another cruller." Never before had he felt so important. He was the guest being treated with such respect. When holding the tiller that morning he had longed for Sammie Dunker and the rest of the boys to see him. So now, sitting near the bluff old captain and his wife, he desired the same thing. He felt quite sure that no other boy in the whole parish had been so honoured, and if his schoolmates ever heard of it, they would be sure to look upon him as a person of great importance.
When dinner was over, Captain Josh pushed back his chair, filled and lighted his pipe. Rod was surprised that he did not return thanks when they were through, as was the custom at the rectory.
"I'm very thankful for that dinner, Mrs. Josh," he remarked.
"I'm glad you enjoyed it, dear," was the reply.
"Yes, I did. It was so good that I want to thank God for it. Do you mind?"
"No, certainly not," and Mrs. Britt glanced anxiously toward her husband. But when she saw the captain take his pipe out of his mouth, and bow his shaggy head while the boy repeated the few words of thanks he had been taught, a feeling of gratitude came into her heart, and her eyes became moist.
There was silence for a few minutes when Rod finished. The captain puffed at his pipe, while Mrs. Britt began to clear away the dishes.
"Kin ye swim, lad?" Captain Josh suddenly asked, in his deep gruff voice.
"No, I can't," was the somewhat nervous reply.
"Ever been in the water?"
"Oh, yes. Lots of times."
"And ye can't swim. Well, ye'll have to git over that if ye're round where I am."
"Can you swim, Captain Josh?" Rod asked.
"Ho, ho," and the old man leaned back in his chair and shook with laughter. "Kin I swim? Why, boy, I could swim before I was as old as you. When I was fifteen I could swim across the river."
"You could!" and Rod's eyes shone with admiration. "Did you ever swim across the ocean, captain?"
"Not quite, lad. Not quite that far."
"Well, then, I will some day, Captain Josh," Rod cried, as he rose to his feet, and stood erect. "When I'm a man, I'll swim across the ocean and back again before breakfast, see if I don't."
"That'll be quite an undertakin', lad," and the captain's eyes twinkled. "I hope I'll be standin' on the shore when ye git back. I guess ye'll have more cause fer thankfulness then than ye did after eatin' yer dinner to-day. But come," and he rose suddenly to his feet; "I want ye to help me put out my net. Ye must take a nice fresh pickerel home with ye when ye go."
What a wonderful afternoon that was to Rod! Most of the time was spent upon the water, and he received his first real instructions about the handling of the Roaring Bess, the ropes, sail, port and starboard, to say nothing of his lesson in splicing. There was also the swim in the little secluded cove, with the captain as an excellent teacher. Rod little realised that he was being thoroughly sounded as to his qualities and capabilities.
"Ye'll do, lad," was the captain's comment, when at last they came ashore. "Ye're worth botherin' with, I kin see that all right. If ye don't know more'n yer master in a few months, I'll be much surprised. So, there now, take this pickerel to yer grandma, and tell her that ye took it out of the net yerself, and don't ferget to give her my compliments."
THE CHUMS TO THE RESCUE
Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal were greatly interested in the story Rod had to tell them that evening of his experiences during the day. It seemed hardly possible that cranky Captain Josh could become such an interesting companion to a little boy. They discussed it for some time after Rod had gone to bed.
"It is quite evident that the captain has taken a great fancy to Rodney," Mrs. Royal remarked, as she bent her head over some needlework she had in her hands. "But are you not a little anxious, Daniel?"
"Anxious! About what?" the parson inquired, as he took his pipe from his mouth and looked questioningly at his wife.
"Oh, about the influence he might exert upon our boy. Will it be for his good, do you think?"
"Umph!" and the clergyman blew a cloud of smoke into the air. "Don't let that worry you, Martha. No harm will come to Rodney from this friendship. It will be just the opposite, I believe, and he will influence the captain for good."
"But Captain Josh never comes to church, Daniel, so what will people say?"
"Let them say, Martha. They will talk, anyway, and they might as well have something to talk about. It will create a little diversion. No doubt Miss Arabella Simpkins will consider it her bounden duty to come right here, and express her views. And suppose the captain doesn't come to church, is that any reason why a little boy should shun him? It may be the means of making Captain Josh see things in a different light. Perhaps the Lord has a hand in this, and who am I to interfere with His plans? He has often used children to lead men back to Him, and it may be that he is using Rodney now."
As the weeks and months passed, Captain Josh and Rod became firmer friends than ever, and scarcely a day passed that they were not together for a while. There were so many things for the boy to see and learn that his interest never waned. He was so happy when out on the river in the Roaring Bess, and ere long he knew all about the boat, and could steer her almost as well as the captain himself.
When the fall settled in, and the weather became cold, the water was abandoned, and so the yacht was pulled out upon the stocks by means of a rude windlass. Here, covered with a large canvas, she remained during the long winter months, safe from the driving storms which often raged over the land.
Then it was that the captain turned his attention to trapping, which he had followed for several years. There were several big brooks flowing into the river, draining a large area of country, principally wooded, and these abounded with mink, raccoon, and other fur-bearing animals. The captain was an expert, and knew the most likely places where game could be best taken. Rod at times went with him on his regular rounds to visit the traps, and it was always a great joy to the boy when he was allowed to carry back some furry prize which had been secured.
Next to these trips, Rod's chief delight was to sit before the big open fire on a cold or stormy Saturday afternoon, and listen to the captain as he told stories of his sea life, while he worked fixing up his traps, making stretchers for the pelts, or doing other odd jobs. How the boy's heart would thrill, and his eyes sparkle with animation as Captain Josh told of furious seas he had encountered, the dangers he had escaped, and the races he had made with other sailing-vessels. Sometimes he would tell an amusing tale, at which the boy would laugh in high glee. Often Rod would ask questions about the sailors, the sea-monsters, and the various ports the captain had visited. Sometimes they would pore over an old geography, while the captain pointed out with his big fore-finger the countries he had visited, and the routes he had taken. Rod was thus so well acquainted with certain countries that his teacher was much surprised at his knowledge.
It was only natural that people should talk about this strange friendship between the rough old sea-captain and the little boy. How their tongues did wag, and many were the visits of protest paid to the rectory. The principal discussion, however, always took place at the regular meetings of the Ladies' Aid Society. This was done most of all for Mrs. Royal's benefit. She knew this, and with much self-restraint she resisted making any reply for some time. But at one meeting, when the criticism became extremely severe, she could stand it no longer. Mrs. Harmon had just been indulging in one of her long dissertations, and finished by asking the rector's wife if she did not consider it very unbecoming for a small boy, and a waif at that, with no doubt bad blood in his veins, to be so much in the company of a rough creature like Captain Josh. He should be at home, studying his lessons and learning the Catechism.
"Mrs. Harmon," Mrs. Royal replied as calmly as possible, "I have listened for some time to the criticisms which you and others have made about our allowing Rodney to associate with Captain Josh, and I think it is about time for me to say a word. Mr. Royal and I have talked over the matter very carefully, and we can see no harm in what is taking place. The captain has taken a remarkable fancy to the boy, and I know for certain that Rodney has received no harm from him. On the contrary, he has been benefited, for the captain has taught him many useful things.
"As for his lessons, I wish to inform you all that Rodney has never neglected them, and you know as well as I do that he stands at the head of his class. He studies his Catechism, as well, which is more than I can say of most of the boys in this parish. I ought to know, as I have taught a class in the Sunday school for years. We had one boy of our own, remember," here her voice became low, "and in our mistaken zeal for his welfare we intended to make him a model of perfection. Instead of studying him, we studied ourselves. We never considered the nature of the child at all. We looked upon him as mere clay in our hands, and we tried to mould him in our own way. When, alas, it was too late we found that he had a will of his own, and when he became old enough he rebelled at our restrictions, and, oh, well, you know the rest. Now, we do not intend to make the same mistake with Rodney. He is a boy, with all the strange impulses of a boy's restless nature. What you have called evil in him, is merely childish enthusiasm. He is bubbling over with energy. It is our earnest desire to guide him along right channels, and not to break his will. Whether we shall do that or not, remains to be seen. Most of you women here are mothers, and know the responsibility of bringing up children. I do not interfere with you, and I now ask you to be as considerate toward us. I trust that henceforth all criticism will cease, especially at these meetings, where we are gathered together to carry on the Lord's work."
When Mrs. Royal finished there was intense silence, and for once garrulous tongues were still. All felt that the rebuke was just, though it made them very angry. They were greatly surprised at Mrs. Royal's boldness, as they had never heard her speak in such a decided way before. When at last they did find their voices, they talked of other things, and during the rest of the afternoon they never alluded to what the rector's wife had said. But when once away from the meeting some of the women gave their tongues free scope, especially Mrs. Harmon, who felt keenly what Mrs. Royal had said.
"I was never so mortified and offended in all my life," she confided to Miss Arabella, as they walked along the road together. "Just think of her talking that way, and she a clergyman's wife, too."
"Umph!" and Miss Arabella tilted her nose higher than ever, "she talked mighty big to-day, but she'll find out her mistake sooner than she expects. Just think what she said about that horrid old captain, who can't speak a civil word to any one. Why, he swears awful. I heard him say 'dang hang it' one time, and a man who uses such language as that is not a fit companion for a little boy."
Little did Captain Josh and Rod care what people said. Though months had now passed into years, their friendship was as firm as ever. Happy were they in each other's company, and many were the trips they made up and down the river in the Roaring Bess. The captain had sturgeon nets in a cove five miles away from his own shore. Twice a day he visited these, and when Rod was on hand he went with him. The boy was always interested in the big fish which were often caught, and when they were sometimes tethered in the shallow water near the Anchorage he felt sorry for the poor creatures.
"I wonder if they mind it," he once remarked to the captain. "Do you suppose they think of their little baby sturgeons, and how they are getting along?"
"Guess they don't bother much about it, lad," was the reply. "They haven't enough sense fer that. They are like a lot of people who are willin' to be led around by the nose jist like that big feller out there. He is always swimmin' around, but he gits nowhere. He soon comes to the end of his rope, and yet he keeps on swimmin' the same as before."
The day this conversation took place, the wind was blowing in strong from the northwest, and the captain was making ready for a trip to his nets. Soon the boat was speeding up the river, with her sail full spread to the stiff breeze. Having reached the cove and taken a number of fish from the nets, they began to beat homeward. By this time the wind had increased in strength, and as they ran backwards and forwards across the river, they were continually washed by the waves which raced to meet them.
"Isn't this great!" Rod exclaimed, as he nestled in the cock-pit, and held on firmly lest he should be swept overboard. "I was never out in such a breeze as this before."
The captain made no reply, though he gave a quick glance at the boy's animated face. If Rod had been frightened, the old seaman would have been terribly disappointed. As for himself he was in his element, and he was reminded of the many times he had faced rough weather out on the mighty deep. The howling of the wind, and the dashing waves made the sweetest of music in his ears, and he was delighted that the boy, on whom he had set his affections, should feel as he did.
They had just tacked and begun beating to the left, when the captain, glancing down the river, gave a start of surprise, and pointed with his finger to a small yacht in mid-stream, which was having a hard time in the wind.
"She's got too much sail fer a breeze like this," he remarked. "If she isn't well managed, she'll go over. Now, look at that!" he cried, grasping the tiller with a firmer grip, so as to be ready for any sudden emergency. "My, that was a close call. A little more and she'd a been on her beam ends."
Hardly had he finished speaking, when a furious squall struck the staggering yacht, and like a wounded eagle she reeled, and flopped her big sail into the rough water. With a roar which might have been heard a long distance off, the captain brought the Roaring Bess almost up to the teeth of the wind, and headed her for the wreck. How her sharp prow did tear through the waves, and at times she was almost smothered by the leaping water. But this course would not bring them to the overturned boat. It was necessary for them to tack once more, and as they drew near they could see people clinging frantically to the half-submerged yacht. The captain gave a loud shout of encouragement when he came within speaking distance. With much skill he handled his boat, and told Rod to be ready to give a hand when needed. With the Roaring Bess brought right up to the wind, she soon drifted alongside of the overturned yacht. There were five persons in the water, three men and two women. With much difficulty the latter were dragged on board, and then the men followed. This accomplished, without a word the captain headed his boat for the shore, while the drenched persons huddled in the cock-pit close to Rod.
The latter had not been idle during this exciting rescue. He had taken a prominent part in helping the women on board, as the captain had been busy managing the yacht. But now he crouched back in his corner, somewhat abashed in the presence of the strangers. He watched them, nevertheless, especially the younger of the two women, a girl with a very beautiful face. Her long golden hair was tossed wildly about, and at times a shiver shook her body. But her eyes attracted him more than anything else. They were dark eyes, filled with an expression of tenderness and sympathy. When she turned them upon Rod his heart gave a bound such as he had never experienced before. At that moment there was nothing he would not have done for her sake. He longed for something to happen that he might show her how brave he was, and that he might seem a hero in her eyes.
Nothing unusual happened, however, for Captain Josh steered the boat through all dangers, and drew up at last near the shore in front of his own house. Then to Rod's surprise the strange men lifted the girl carefully out of the yacht into the tender, and when they had reached the shore, one of the men carried her in his arms up to the Anchorage.
"Too bad she got hurt," Rod mused, as he walked home, for it was getting late. "I wonder what happened to her."
That evening he told Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal all about his experience that afternoon, the wreck, and the girl who had been carried into the house.
"I must go over in the morning and learn all about it," the clergyman remarked when he had heard the story. "There may be something that I can do to help."
Rod lay awake for a long time that night. He could not get the girl with the golden hair and wonderful eyes out of his mind. When at last he did go to sleep, he dreamed that she was struggling in the water, and that he had jumped off the Roaring Bess to save her.
Next morning Parson Dan and Rod started for the Anchorage. Rod was more quiet than usual, and walked along the road without any of his ordinary capers. His cheeks were flushed, and his eyes shone with excitement. His steps, too, were quick, and his companion found it difficult to keep pace with him. It was quite evident that he was in a hurry to see the girl who had been rescued from the river the previous day.
Nearing the house, they heard some one hammering in the workshop. There they found the captain busily engaged upon something which looked like a chair.
"Good morning, captain," was the parson's cheery greeting. "You've turned carpenter, so I see."
"Poof!" and the captain, gave a vigorous rap upon a nail he was driving into place, "it's necessary to be every dang thing these days, with the world so full of idiots. It's good there's somebody who kin turn his hand to anything. It's the fools who make so much work fer honest folks."
"Why, what's up now?" the parson queried.
"Ye'd better ask 'what's down?' It's that little lass in yon, down in bed, because some numb-skulls thought they could sail a boat. I told 'em this mornin' what I thought of 'em fer takin' a gal like that out on the water, an' they went off in a huff."
"How is she this morning, captain? Rodney told me all about the accident, and so we have come to make inquiries."
"Oh, she's all right, considerin' what she went through. She's all clewed down now and ridin' easy. Guess she'll be there fer some time. Want to see her?"
"Yes, if she's able to be seen."
"Able! Why, she's the fittest one of the bunch as fer as her mind is concerned. I want to git this chair fixed up fer her as soon as possible. Go right in. I guess ye'll find Betsey in the kitchen."
Mrs. Britt pleasantly received her visitors, and introduced the clergyman to Mrs. Sinclair. The latter was a woman of striking appearance. Her face, of considerable strength and refinement, was marked by lines of care. But it was her eyes which attracted Parson Dan's special attention as he shook hands with her, and inquired after her daughter.
"Oh, Whyn came out of the affair the best of all," and a smile illumined Mrs. Sinclair's face. "I was greatly worried about her last night, but she seems none the worse for her experience. Would you like to see her? I am afraid you will find her a regular little chatter-box."
Mrs. Sinclair said not a word to Rod, in fact she had hardly noticed him. He remained standing in the middle of the room after the others had left, twirling his cap in his nervous hands. He wanted to see the girl, too, but he had not been invited, and he felt indignant. He had the first right to go, so he told himself, for he had helped to rescue her. He thought of going out to the workshop and talking it all over with the captain. He dismissed the idea, however, and perching himself upon a chair, waited to see what would happen.
It seemed a long time to him before the others came out of the girl's room, but in reality it was only a few minutes. There was a smile upon the clergyman's face as he turned to the boy.
"You're the favoured one this morning, Rodney," he said. "The princess wants to see you. She hasn't much use for us older people."
This was astonishing news to Rod, and his knees felt weak as he walked across the floor, and entered the room. He paused when just inside, and stared in amazement at the vision before him. There, lying upon a little cot, was the most wonderful person he had ever beheld. Could it be possible that this was the same girl he had seen all drenched with water the day before? Her hair was flowing over the white pillow like a shining stream of gold. At this moment it was touched by the sun from the southeast window, which added much to the entrancing effect. And then those eyes! They seemed to read him through and through. But they were laughing eyes now, sparkling with interest and amusement.
Rod stood very still, uncertain what to do. So this wonderful girl was a princess, he said to himself. He never dreamed of such a thing when he first saw her the day before. He knew something about princes and princesses, for Mrs. Royal had often read to him stories about such people. So this girl was one of them. He had no doubt about it, for Parson Dan had called her a princess. What should he do? The books told how people got down on their knees to princesses, and kissed their hands. Ah, that was the right thing for him to do now.
Stepping quickly forward, he knelt by the side of the bed, and seizing the girl's right hand which was lying upon the counterpane, he pressed it to his lips. A merry ringing laugh followed this action, which caused Rod to start and lift his head. Was the princess laughing at him? Perhaps he had made some foolish blunder, and she was making fun of him.
"Oh, you queer boy, what did you do that for?" and again the girl laughed.
"Didn't I do it right?" Rod asked, as he sprang to his feet and stood straight before her.
"Do what right?" and the girl looked her surprise.
"Kneel, and kiss your hand. They all do that."
"The people in the stories. They always kiss the hand of a princess when they meet her."
"But I'm not a princess."
"You're not! Grandad said you are, and I guess he knows."
"Ho, ho, isn't that funny?" and the girl's hearty laugh again rang out. "I'm no princess; I'm just plain Whyn Sinclair. Your grandfather must have been joking. It must be nice to have a grandfather like that. His eyes are just full of fun. Sit down, and tell me about him."
"He isn't my grandfather," Rod replied, as he took his position upon the edge of a chair close to the bed. He was feeling more at home now in the presence of this beautiful girl, since she was not a princess.
"He isn't your grandfather!"
"No. I haven't any real grandfather, and I never saw my father or mother."
"You didn't! Oh, you poor boy."
"No. I'm only a waif, that's what they call me. I was left at the door of the rectory one night a long time ago when I was a little baby, and Mr. and Mrs. Royal have taken care of me ever since."
"How lovely!" and Whyn clasped her thin white hands together.
"Lovely! What do you mean?"
"Oh, it's so romantic."
"Just like you read about in stories. Maybe your father and mother are a real prince and princess, or some other great persons, and you were stolen away from them when you were a baby by cruel people. What a story that will make. I shall write about it at once."
"A story!" and Rod's eyes opened wide in surprise. "What are you going to write?"
"You see, I'm an authoress, or rather, I'm going to be one some day. I lie in bed and think out such lovely stories. But this is something real, not a bit like the others. I am going to make so much money, that I shall be able to help mamma, and she won't have to worry as she does."
"What makes her worry?" Rod queried.
"She worries about me. I can't walk, and have to lie in bed all the time. It costs so much for doctors' bills, and though mamma never says a word to me, I can tell what's troubling her. Now, I have a secret, and I am going to tell it to you, if you promise that you won't say a word to any one about it."
"What is it?"
"You won't tell?"
"Don't know until I hear what it is."
"Oh, well, I'll have to keep it to myself, then," and the girl gave a sigh of disappointment. "I was hoping that you would promise, for it would be so nice to relieve my mind by telling some one."
"Maybe I'll promise afterwards," Rod replied.
"That might do," Whyn mused, as she lay very still and looked far off through the window. "Yes, I guess that will do. You see, I once heard the doctor in the city say that I must go to a specialist, and maybe he could cure me."
"What's a specialist?" Rod questioned. "I never heard of it before."
"It's a doctor in some big city like New York, who knows so much. He might be able to make me better, if I could only go to see him."
"Why don't you go, then?"
"I can't," and a slight shade passed over the girl's sunny face. "It takes a lot of money, and we are poor. Mamma plays the organ in St. Barnabas Church on Sundays, and gives music lessons through the week. But it takes so much to pay doctor bills."
"Where's your father?" Rod asked.
"He's dead. He died when I was a little baby."
"Oh!" Rod was all sympathy now. So this girl was an orphan, something like himself, with a mother but no father.
"I have one brother," Whyn explained. "He is older than I am. He is at Ottawa now, working for the Government. He helps us all he can, but he has been there such a short time that he can't do much yet. He will after awhile, though, for Douglas is so good."
"Is that your brother's name?"
"Yes. I miss him so much, for we always played together, and he used to read to me, and wheel me about the house."
"Have you told him your secret?" Rod inquired.
"Not yet. I want to surprise him. You see," here she lowered her voice, and glanced toward the door, "I am going to write a story."
"Oh!" Rod's eyes grew suddenly big.
"Yes, a real story, which has been in my mind for some time. I am going to change it now and bring you into it. There were some parts I could not work out, but now I know. I shall make you a boy scout, a patrol leader, who rescues a cripple girl from the river."
"What's a boy scout?" Rod queried.
"Didn't you ever hear of the scouts?" and Whyn looked her surprise.
"No. Never heard of them before."
"Well, isn't that funny, and you a boy, too."
"Guess they can't be much," Rod replied, somewhat nettled. "Grandad and Captain Josh know about most everything, and if they haven't heard of them they can't be of much account."
"But they are," Whyn insisted. "Douglas was a patrol leader, and he told me what they did. They met in the school-room of our church, and had such a great time. They had a supper, too; every month, and when that was over they sang songs and played games."
"Is that all they did?"
"Oh, no. They had to work hard, for they had to learn so many things. To get the tenderfoot badge, they had to know the scout law, how to tie knots, and a whole lot about the flag."
"H'm, I guess I know about knots," and Rod gave his head a superior toss. "Captain Josh taught me about them."
"But did he teach you how to help people who cut themselves, or break their arms, or if some one falls into the water, how to bring him back to life?"
"Why, no! Can the scouts do that?"
"Sure they can. I know of a scout who jumped off a wharf, and rescued a little girl. When he had her out of the water he brought her back to life, when everybody else thought that she was dead."
"Gee!" It was all that Rod could say, for he was becoming deeply interested now.
"And they learn more than that," Whyn continued. "They talk with flags."
"Talk with flags! I never heard of flags talking, and I don't believe it."
"Oh, I don't mean that flags talk," and Whyn laughed outright. "The scouts use flags for talking to one another when they are some distance apart; it is called 'signalling.'"
"How do they do it?"
"Well, one boy will stand, say on a hill, while another is somewhere else, and each has two little flags. They wave these and whichever way a flag is waved it means a letter. I did know all the letters myself once, for Douglas taught me. In that way the scouts can talk with one another as far as they can see. Soldiers send messages that way, so I understand, and they can warn one another when an enemy is near."
"My, I would like to know that," and Rod gave a deep sigh. "I wonder if Captain Josh knows anything about it. I am going to ask him, anyway."
"There are many other things the scouts have to learn," Whyn explained, "and they are very important."
"What are they?"
"I don't exactly know. But there is a book which tells all about them. Douglas told me that a scout must do a good turn every day."
"It is to do a kind act of some kind. I know of one boy who looked after the baby so that his mother could go out for awhile. Another rescued a poor little kitten from some cruel boys who were teasing it. When I write my story with you in it, your good turn will be the rescuing a girl from the water just like you did yesterday. I hope to sell the story and make so much money that I shall be able to go to the specialist in New York."
"What are you going to call the boy?" Rod asked.
"I haven't decided yet. Maybe I shall call him Rod; wouldn't that be nice?"
"How did you know that was my name?"
"Mrs. Britt told me this morning before you came."
"Did you ask her?"
Rod's heart gave a little flutter of pleasure. So this beautiful girl had been thinking of him, and had even asked about his name. It made him feel happy all over.
Just then Parson Dan appeared in the doorway.
"My, what a great talking time you young people have had," he exclaimed. "Here I have been waiting for you, sir, ever so long," and he laid his hand affectionately upon the boy's shoulder. "I hope he hasn't tired you, dear," he continued, turning toward Whyn.
"Oh, no," was the eager reply. "We have had such a lovely time. May be come again soon?"
"Certainly. I know it will give him great pleasure."
As they were leaving, Rod went close to Whyn and whispered:
"I'm going to be a scout, and get Captain Josh to help."
"How nice," and the girl's smile of encouragement followed him as he left the room.
HIS FIRST "GOOD TURN"
Rod was greatly excited over what Whyn had told him about the boy scouts, and on the way home he plied Parson Dan with numerous questions.
"Didn't you ever hear of them before, grandad?" he asked.
"Yes, Rodney, I did," was the reply. "But there are so many things taking place in the cities these days that it is hard for an old man like me to keep run of them all. If I were younger I might be able to do something. But in the country where the boys are so scattered, I am afraid that it would be a difficult undertaking to form a band of scouts."
"Well, I am going to be a scout, anyway," Rod declared. "I want to learn how to bring a drowned man back to life, and to talk with flags. Oh, it must be great to do that! How can I learn, grandad?"
"There must be books which explain such things," the clergyman replied. "Shall I write to the city to find out?"
"Oh, will you, grandad?" and Rod fairly danced with joy, and his eyes sparkled with excitement. "Will you write at once?"
"Yes, dear. I shall write the letter this evening, and it will go down on Monday."
"When will the book come?"
"It should be here by Wednesday."
"But, remember, Rodney, you must not let this scout idea interfere with your school lessons."
"No, grandad, I won't. I will study hard and fast so that I can read my scout book."
Parson Dan smiled as he watched the lad's enthusiasm. He thought, too, of another boy, who also had been full of life and fun, but who had been unnaturally checked when he should have been directed and led aright. He now realised only too well what a mistake had been made with Alec, and he was determined that the same should not be the case with Rodney.
The following days were very long ones to Rod. It seemed as if Wednesday would never come. He thought over everything Whyn had told him about the scouts, and wearied Mrs. Royal by telling her over and over again what he intended to do when the book arrived. He had not seen Whyn since Saturday, but was looking eagerly forward to seeing her as soon as he had his precious book.
Rod hurried home from school on Wednesday, certain that his treasure would be awaiting him. He did not dally along the road looking for birds' nests as was his usual custom. Neither did the butterflies interest him. He had something more important on hand, which absorbed all of his attention.
He had almost reached the rectory gate, when an automobile whizzed past, half-smothering him in a cloud of dust. This was a common occurrence during the summer months, and he paid little attention to the annoyance. The car had gone but a short distance, however, when a horse, driven by Miss Arabella Simpkins, took fright, reared, wheeled, upset the carriage, and threw the driver into the ditch. The terrified animal then bolted down the road dragging the overturned carriage after it.
The men in the car were greatly concerned over the accident. They picked up the apparently unconscious woman, and found that blood was streaming from her nose. Seeing Rod standing near, they asked him who the woman was, and where she lived.
"She's Miss Arabella," was the reply. "Guess her nose is hurt. Captain Josh said if ever she got into an accident it would be the first thing that would get smashed, 'cos it's so long, and is always poking into other people's affairs."
The three men looked keenly at the boy, and then at one another, while the faint semblance of a smile lurked about the corners of their mouths.
"We must get her home at once," one of them remarked. "Is there a doctor anywhere near, boy?"
"The doctor lives five miles down the road," Rod replied. "But I guess we don't need him. Just wait a minute. I know what will stop that bleeding."
With that, he sprang across the ditch, hurried through the garden, and entered the rectory. Presently he reappeared, carrying something in his hand, which proved to be a key. Going at once to the prostrate woman, who was lying upon the grass, he told the men to lift her up. When this was done, he quickly slipped the key down the back of her neck.
"There, I guess that'll stop the bleeding," he panted.
Hardly were the words out of his mouth, when Miss Arabella leaped to her feet.
"A snake! A snake!" she yelled. "It's gone down my neck!"
With much difficulty the men soothed her excitement, telling her that there was nothing the matter. At last they induced her to enter the auto, and soon she was being borne rapidly to her home.
Rod remained for a few seconds staring after them, while an amused twinkle shone in his eyes.
"She thought it was a snake, ho, ho. Won't Captain Josh laugh when I tell him that? I didn't mean any harm, though. I just wanted to do a good turn. Guess that was something that a scout would do."
About half an hour after this incident, Parson Dan arrived home, stabled his horse, and went into the rectory. He found Mrs. Royal in her little sewing-room on the north side of the house, busily engaged upon some of the Ladies' Aid work. She smiled as her husband entered.
"I was afraid you would be late, Daniel," she remarked.
"I drove hard," was the reply, "for I never like to keep a wedding waiting. I believe that I have ten minutes to spare, so I shall take a glance at the Marriage Service. It is so seldom we have a wedding that I am a little rusty."
"Won't you have a cup of tea, Daniel?" his wife asked. "It might freshen you up a bit."
"No, dear, not now. Just as soon as I look over the Service, I shall go into the church to have everything ready."
He was gone but a few minutes when he returned, with an anxious expression upon his face.
"Have you seen the key of the church, Martha?" he asked. "I cannot find it anywhere."
"It must be in its usual place, Daniel. It always hangs there, and no one ever thinks of touching it but yourself."
"Well, it's not there now, and I have hunted all through the study."
Mrs. Royal at once arose, and began to assist her husband in his search for the missing key. All their efforts were in vain, however, and before they were through the wedding party arrived. This was most embarrassing, for the ones who had come to be married were very particular, and would resent any delay. If they could not get into the church they were sure to be angry, for it would make them the laughing-stock of the entire parish.
"What shall we do!" Mrs. Royal gasped, as she glanced out of the window at the teams drawn up before the church. "Can't you force the door, Daniel?"
"No. It would take a blacksmith to do that. And, besides, I wouldn't allow it for any consideration. It would be terrible."
"Why not hold the wedding in the rectory, then?" Mrs. Royal suggested. "Perhaps they wouldn't mind under the circumstances."
"Wouldn't mind! Don't you know the Sanders well enough to realise what they would do and say? Haven't they been planning for a 'church wedding' for months? Here come more teams. What in the world shall we do!" and the parson drew forth his handkerchief, and mopped his perspiring brow.
"There must be only one person who knows where that key is," Mrs. Royal thoughtfully remarked.
"And who is that?"
"Rodney. If you didn't remove it, he must have done so."
"Where is he?" and the clergyman looked around as if expecting to see him appear.
"I do not know, Daniel. He always comes to see me when he returns from school, but I have not seen him this afternoon. That scout book came this morning, and he may be lost in that."
"But he is not in the house, Martha. I have boon all over the place and have not seen him."
"Is the book there?" his wife asked. "I left it on the dining-room table."
"I didn't see any book. But, hark, there is some one at the door. They're after me to attend the wedding, and what shall I say! How can I explain!" and the parson started to go to the door.
"Wait, Daniel," his wife called. "If the book is gone, Rodney must have taken it over to show it to Captain Josh, for he said he was going to do that just as soon as it came."
"But why should he take the key, Martha?" and the parson turned his despairing face upon hers.
"I do not know, Daniel. But you had better send some one after him at once. He may know something about it."
In the meantime the doorbell had been ringing furiously, and when Parson Dan at last opened it, he was confronted by several excited men, among whom was the bridegroom.
"What's wrong, parson?" Ned Percher cried. "We've been waitin' out here fer some time. The church is locked, and the people are gettin' impatient."
"I can't find the key, Ned, that's what's the trouble," the parson explained.
"Can't find the key!" came in a chorus from all.
"No. It's gone, and the only person who must know about it is Rodney, and I believe he's over at Captain Josh's."
The groom, a thick-set, red-faced man, now stepped forward.
"D'ye think this is the right way to treat me, parson?" he demanded. "Haven't I been always one of your best church members, and now when I'm to be married, ye lock the church against me, and say that the key is lost. What will Susie think? I'd like to know. She'll never get over the disgrace."
"You are not half as sorry as I am," Parson Dan replied as calmly as possible. "I am deeply mortified that such a thing should have happened. But talking will not mend matters now. The key must be found, so if one of you will hurry over to the Anchorage, and bring Rodney back, I shall be greatly obliged."
Ned Percher at once volunteered to go, and soon he was speeding for the captain's house by a short-cut through the field. There was nothing else for the rest to do but to wait in front of the rectory until the messenger should return with the boy.
The bride was greatly disturbed over the delay. So overcome was she with the excitement that she had to be carried into the house, where she lay upon the sitting-room sofa, quite hysterical. The women who gathered around her by no means restrained their tongues, thus making the young bride feel as badly as possible. Several expressed their opinion of the clergyman for allowing such a thing to happen. It was another example, so they said, of the mistake he had made in bringing up a child of whose parents he knew nothing. They had said so before, and were now more firmly convinced than ever. Others told what it meant for a wedding to be delayed right at the church door, and related a number of cases where ill luck had followed such weddings. Thus, by the time Ned Percher arrived, with Rod close at his heels, the bride was almost in a state of nervous collapse.
During this time of waiting Parson Dan spoke to no one. He knew that the less he now said the better it would be. His face had lost its usual genial expression, and his eyes no longer twinkled with humour. He was feeling very keenly the whole unfortunate affair. Never before during the whole course of his entire ministry had such a thing occurred. He had often boasted that he had never once been late for a service, nor had he kept people waiting at either a funeral or a wedding. He stood with his face turned up the road, and a sigh of relief at last escaped his lips when he saw Rod coming toward him.
The boy was greatly surprised to see so many teams and people in front of the rectory, for Ned would tell him nothing of what was taking place. He was astonished, as well, when he observed the worried look upon the parson's face. But he had no time for questions just then, for the clergyman laid a heavy hand upon the lad's shoulder, and demanded if he knew what had become of the key of the church.
Instantly the cause of the excitement flashed upon Rod's mind. His face became pale, and he glanced nervously around upon the men who had gathered near.
"Do you hear me?" the parson again demanded. "Do you know anything about that key?"
"Yes, grandad, I do," was the trembling reply.
"Where is it, then?"
"It's down Miss Arabella's neck."
"Down Miss Arabella's neck!" the clergyman repeated in profound astonishment. "What do you mean?"
"She got hurt, grandad, and her nose was bleeding, so I dropped the key down her neck. Captain Josh said that was the best thing to stop a bleeding nose."
For an instant Parson Dan glared at the little lad before him. Then his face softened, and as amused light shone in his eyes as the humorous side of the situation dawned upon him. He longed to laugh outright, and give the culprit before him a big hug. But he had to control his feelings in the presence of all the people, who saw nothing funny about the matter.
"Look here, Rodney," he said, "you go after that key as fast as your legs will carry you."
"Yes, grandad, I will," and Rod was off like a shot, glad to be free from the staring crowd.
So once more the wedding was delayed, and the murmurs of the waiting people increased.
MISS ARABELLA'S "AFFAIR"
It was the lot of Miss Arabella Simpkins to have lived for over forty years without one real affair of the heart. There were reasons for this, well known to all the people of Hillcrest. Not only had her father, a lumberman of considerable repute in his day, been very particular as to the young men who visited the house, but Miss Arabella herself was the chief objection. She was by no means handsome, and in addition she was possessed of a sharp tongue, and, as Captain Josh truly said, "a long nose which was always prying into other people's business." These frailties naturally increased as she grew older until she became a dread not only to her brother, Tom, but to all her neighbours, especially the children.
She had two redeeming features, however: a generous heart for those she liked, and considerable money. This latter had its influence, and made her tolerated in the company of others, where she was indulged with a certain amount of good humour.
But a real romance had never come into Miss Arabella's life, and this was her great trial. No suitor had ever sought her out, and with languishing eyes had watched her as she moved among the other maidens of the parish. Friends of her girlhood days had been more fortunate. They were married, and had families around them, while she alone had been left "like the last rose of summer," as she often told herself.
But Miss Arabella never let people know about her trial. On the contrary, she wished them to believe that her heart had once been won by a handsome and gallant young man. Just what had become of him, or what had occurred to cause the separation, she would never tell, and only hinted mysteriously with a deep sigh whenever the subject of matrimony was discussed. People knowing her, always smiled, and among themselves often spoke of Miss Arabella's "affair."
The Simpkins' house was close to the river, and about a quarter of a mile from the rectory by means of a short-cut through the field, though much longer by the main highway. Rod took the short route, and in a few minutes reached the place. His heart beat fast as he drew near, for he dreaded meeting Miss Arabella, whose sharp tongue he had good reason to fear.
Tom Simpkins met him at the door, and ushered him into the sitting-room where Miss Arabella was lying upon a sofa near the window. She was somewhat paler than usual, and very weak. A look of disappointment appeared upon her face as the door opened and Rod entered.
"Oh, it's only you," she complained. "What brought you here?"
"I came for the key, Miss Arabella," Rod pantingly explained, keeping as close to the door as possible.
"H'm, I should think you would not only be afraid but ashamed to come near me after doing such a mean thing as you did this afternoon," and the invalid fixed her piercing eyes upon the boy.
"W-what did I do?" Rod stammered.
"Do! Didn't you put that key down my neck, which gave me such a terrible shock?"
"But it brought you back to life, Miss Arabella, and it stopped your nose bleeding. Captain Josh said that was the best thing to do, and I guess he was right."
"Oh, that was what you did it for, was it?"
"Sure. I never thought of scaring you. I only wanted to do a good turn, that's all."
"But what did you say such things about my nose for, tell me that?"
"Why, did you hear me? I thought you didn't know anything."
"Then you were mistaken. I heard and knew more than you imagined."
"The men thought that you were almost dead, Miss Arabella, and they felt very bad."
"Did they?" the woman questioned, and her voice was softer than usual. Then she remained silent for a few seconds, looking absently before her. "See here, Rod," and she smiled upon the boy for the first time in her life, "I will forgive you for what you said about my nose if you will tell me something."
"What is it?"
"You remember that fine looking man, with the blue eyes, and hair streaked with grey."
"Can't say that I do, Miss Arabella."
"He was the one who held me in his arms while you dropped that horrid key down my neck."
"Oh, yes, I know now."
"Well, Rod, do you think he cared much that I was hurt?"
"Yes, I think he did."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. He looked awful scared when you tumbled into the ditch."
"Ah, I knew it," and the invalid closed her eyes, while a smile overspread her face. "I felt from the first that he cared," she murmured.
Then she lay so perfectly still that Rod thought she had fainted. He stepped to her side, and touched her hand.
"Miss Arabella," he began, "have you fainted?"
"Oh, I thought that he was standing by my side," she simpered. "I must have been dreaming."
"No, it's only me, and I would like to have the key. They can't have the wedding till I get back."
"What wedding?" and the invalid sat suddenly bolt upright.
"Why, Bill Stebbins and Susie Sanders want to get married, and they can't get into the church 'cos you have the key down your neck."
"A wedding! What thoughts of bliss come to my mind at that word," and Miss Arabella clasped her hands, while her eyes rolled up to the ceiling.
Rod was now becoming very impatient. He thought of the crowd waiting before the rectory, and Parson Dan's anxiety.
"The key, Miss Arabella," he insisted. "Will you please——"
"And you think he cared?" the woman interrupted.
"Yes. But, Miss——"
"And did he look at me much with those splendid blue eyes?"
"I think he did, Miss Arabella. But will you please give me the key. They are waiting——"
"And do you think he will come back, Rod? He said that he would return soon. But men are so fickle."
A new idea suddenly shot into Rod's mind.
"Give me the key, Miss Arabella, and I will go after that man. It will be my good turn."
"Oh, will you?" and the woman's face lighted up with joy. "Don't tell him that I sent you."
"No, I won't. But the key, where is it? If it's down your neck, I'll go out of the room until you find it."
"And you will hurry, Rod?"
"Yes, yes, but——"
"And you think you can find him?"
"I'll try if you'll give me the key, Miss Arabella. But if you keep me waiting any longer I won't go one step."
"Well, it's on that shelf over there. Take it, and hurry."
Rod wasted no time. He sprang for the key, seized it, and darted out of the room. Over the field he sped as fast as his nimble feet would carry him, and never paused until he had handed it to the anxiously waiting clergyman.
Having performed this task, Rod turned his attention to Miss Arabella's "man." The wedding was of little interest to him, so he strolled down the road with not the least idea how he was going to bring back that man with the "splendid blue eyes." With hands thrust deep into his pockets he walked along whistling a merry tune. His mind was really upon Whyn, and the book he had left at the Anchorage. He would much rather have gone back there, but he knew that he must do his duty to the love-sick woman first.
He had not gone very far ere he saw a man coming toward him, leading a horse, which he knew to be the one which had run away. He recognised the man, and he was overjoyed at seeing him.
"Hello! Have you come to give a hand?" the man accosted as he drew near.
"Yes, sir. I was looking for you," Rod replied, as he walked along by the man's side.
"Thought I had run away with the horse, did you? Well, we had a hard chase, but found her at last, with the wagon all smashed to bits. We tried to lead the horse behind the car, but couldn't get her anywhere near it, so I had to foot it the whole way."
"Miss Arabella will be glad to see you, sir."
"Will she, eh? I suppose there'll be the Old Harry to pay. You said something about her tongue, didn't you? I expect to know more of it shortly."
"Oh, she won't scold you, sir. She thinks a lot of you."
"Yes, sir. She thinks you are great. I really believe she is in love with you, that's all."
"Whew!" and the man whistled softly, while an amused light shone in his eyes. "Did she send you after me?" he inquired.
"I promised, sir, that I wouldn't tell."
"Oh, I see," and the man relapsed into silence. A picture of Miss Arabella's angular figure, thin face, and long sharp nose rose before him. And to think that she was in love with him! It was almost too good to be true, and he longed to laugh outright. What a story he would have to relate when he got home.
Miss Arabella was lying just where Rod had left her when John Markham and the boy entered. She gave a little squeak of joy when the stranger stepped to her side.
"I knew you would come back," she murmured. "I was certain that you would not forsake me."
"Not until I had found the horse, madam," was the reply. "I regret very much that the wagon is broken, but I shall make good your loss."
"Don't mention such a thing," and the invalid feebly waved her thin hands. "Such material matters don't count for anything to a heart over-flowing with gratitude."
"Yes, you were most fortunate to escape as you did, madam. You might have been seriously injured, nay, you might have been killed, and so I can understand how grateful you must feel."
"Oh, I don't mean that," and Miss Arabella raised her soulful eyes to the man's face. "I am so thankful that you have come back."
"You didn't imagine that I would run away with your horse, did you, madam? She is certainly a fine beast, and it is lucky that she did not receive any serious damage. I am much pleased that I have been able to deliver her to you with so few scratches upon her. A little treatment will make her all right. You will find Bickmore's Gall Cure very good."
"It's not that, not that, I assure you," and again Miss Arabella flapped her hands in agony of soul. "What does a horse amount to when the heart is affected?"
"Oh, is that what's the matter?" and Mr. Markham assumed an expression of great solicitude. "It was the fall, no doubt, which did it. Have you had trouble there before?"
"It wasn't the fall that caused it," and Miss Arabella covered her face with her hand. "It goes deeper than that."
"Dear me, madam, you must certainly see the doctor. It is very serious, and you must not delay any longer. I believe the doctor lives down the road. Shall I call on him on my way home, and tell him to come at once?"
Before Miss Arabella could reply, a raucous honk outside arrested their attention.
"It's merely the car," Mr. Markham explained. "I must be going now."
"What, so soon? Must you leave me again?" and the invalid raised her eyes appealingly to the man's face.
"Yes, I must be off. My wife will be wondering what——"
"Your wife!" Miss Arabella shrieked, sitting bolt upright. "Do you tell me that you have a wife!"
"Certainly. She is waiting for me with some friends down the road. Several of us men took a spin this afternoon so that the women could have a little chat together. It is getting late now, and we must hurry back to the city. This accident has delayed us. So, good-bye, madam. I trust you soon will be well. I shall see about the carriage at once."
With that, he left the house, closely followed by Rod, leaving Miss Arabella speechless upon the sofa.
Two weeks after the scout book arrived the Hillcrest troop of boy scouts was formed, with Captain Josh as scoutmaster, and Rod as patrol leader. Whyn had much to do with this, and her enthusiasm inspired and encouraged the others. News soon spread among the rest of the boys in the parish of what was taking place, and it was not long before several more asked to become members. The Scout Commissioner and the Secretary of the Province visited Hillcrest, explained many things, and started the work along proper lines.
Deep in his heart Captain Josh was delighted with the boys. They no longer feared him, though he was as gruff as ever. But they soon found that this gruffness was only on the surface, and that in reality he was deeply interested in their welfare. He studied the scout book thoroughly until he knew it from cover to cover. He was determined that his troop, even though it was known as the "Lone Patrol," was to be well trained, and a credit to the parish. He did not wish to have too many boys at first, but to drill the ones he had chosen until they were proficient in every part of the scout work.
Whenever the captain was in doubt as to what he should do, he always consulted with Whyn, for he found that she had excellent ideas, and remembered so much of what her brother Douglas had told her. Her joy was even greater than the captain's when she learned that a troop was to be formed, and she planned all sorts of things for the boys to do.
Just as the work was well under way, Mrs. Sinclair informed the Britts that she and Whyn must leave for the city. She had her work to do there without which they could not live. Then it was that the captain showed his hand. He had been thinking over this very matter for some time, and had discussed it with his wife.
"Let Whyn stay with us, Mrs. Sinclair," he suggested. "I do not see how we can get along without her."
"But I cannot afford that, captain," the widow replied.
"Can't afford what?"
"To pay her board."
"Who said anything about paying?" the captain demanded. "She's worth more than her board any day. We don't want any money. If ye'll let her stay with us we'll be quite willin' to pay you something fer her. We need her, and so do the scouts. It'll be a shame to take her back to that stuffy city at this time of the year."
"But what shall I do without her?" Mrs. Sinclair asked. "She is all I have near me, and I shall miss her so much if she remains with you."
"You can come and see her as often as you like," Mrs. Britt replied. "We shall be so glad to have you."
And so it was arranged that Whyn was to stay for several weeks at least, and the girl was delighted when she heard the news.
"You are the dearest and best people in the world, excepting mamma," she told the captain and Mrs. Britt. "It is so nice to be here, and when I know that mamma can come to see me often I do not mind staying."
"But ye'll have to behave yerself, young woman," the captain replied. "No more lyin' awake at night, remember, worryin' about the scouts. And ye've got to eat more than ye have in the past."
"Oh, no fear of that," and Whyn laughed merrily. "I am going to eat so much that you will be glad to send me away."
It did not take the captain long to get the scouts down to steady work. As the holidays were now on they often met during the afternoons, when the captain drilled them in marching, instructed them about the flag, and taught them how to tie a number of knots. It was necessary for them to know such things before they could obtain the tenderfoot badges. They had to learn the Scout Law as well. It was not all work, however, for the captain often took the boys for delightful spins upon the river in the Roaring Bess, and soon all the scouts were able to handle the yacht in a creditable manner.
It soon became evident that they must have a building of their own where they could meet on wet days. The Commissioner had told them that there was nothing like a club-room for their meetings. The captain had been thinking this over for some time, and at last offered the use of an old rafting shanty near the shore, and which could be easily seen from Whyn's window. This building was fairly large, made of boards, and the roof covered with tarred paper. It was well lighted by four windows, which showed up the dirty condition of the room in an alarming manner when the captain and the boys first inspected the place. There were remnants of old bunks, tables and chairs, while broken boxes were scattered about. But after two days of steady work a great change took place. The boys were willing and eager, and inspired by the captain they toiled until their backs ached. Holes in the roof were patched, the broken door mended, several chairs were brought from the boys' homes, and when all was done they were delighted at what they had accomplished. They now no longer dreaded wet days, for they had a place to meet where they could carry on their work to their hearts' content. The captain had two good flags, which he placed upon the wall, and the boys brought magazine pictures, and tacked them around the room. In this way the place was made very cosy.
Whyn was delighted with the progress which the scouts made upon their club-room, which she called "Headquarters." She could see it from her window, and often she would sit and watch as the boys worked around the building, cutting down some of the underbrush, and cleaning up the ground. When their work was done they always came to her room, and talked over everything with her.
At first some of the boys had been quite shy and diffident in Whyn's presence. But this soon wore away, and they all became the firmest of friends. There was nothing the scouts would not do for the invalid girl, and when they were in doubt about anything it was always to her they turned to help them out of their difficulty. She knew more about the scout work than they did, and many were the helpful suggestions she made.
"You must have scout suits," she told them one day, "and each of you must earn the money to buy his own. All the scouts do it, and it is really expected of them. Douglas sold newspapers to buy his, and I remember the day he brought his suit home. He looked so fine when he wore it, and we were proud of him."
The scouts liked this idea, and they spent over an hour discussing it, and how they were to earn the money. Whyn was able to tell the price of the entire suit, and where it could be bought in the city.
Rod listened to this conversation, but said little. He walked home in a very thoughtful mood, and the Royals noticed that he was more silent than usual as he ate his supper. Generally he was bubbling over with news about the scouts. But now he had nothing to say of what had taken place that afternoon. Rod was worried over the suit question, as he had not the slightest idea how he was going to earn the money to buy his. He could not think of any way out of his difficulty. The other scouts had plans which would not do for him, as they were farmers' sons, and could earn money right at home. He thought of this the last thing before he went to sleep that night, and the moment he awoke it came into his mind.
"I want you to take something for me over for Miss Arabella this morning," Mrs. Royal told him after breakfast. "The poor soul has not been well for some time, and I heard last night that she is worse. I have made up a few dainties for her as her appetite is almost gone, so I understand."
Rod did not fancy this errand, for he remembered only too well the last time he had seen Miss Arabella lying so still upon the sofa after her affair of the heart. It was, therefore, with lagging steps that he made his way across the field, carrying in his hand the little basket filled with the good things Mrs. Royal had sent for the invalid.
Miss Arabella was in bed looking paler than ever, so Rod thought her nose seemed longer than he had ever seen it. She was propped up with several pillows, and her hair was done up in papers. She looked to the boy like pictures he had seen of natives with funny head-dresses out in the islands of the Pacific Ocean.
"So Mrs. Royal sent those things, did she!" she whined. "She might have come herself. She has been here only three times this week, while you haven't been near me for a long time. I might die here, and no one would care. This is what people call a Christian land, is it?"
"What's the matter with you, Miss Arabella?"' Rod asked in surprise. "I didn't know you were sick. I have been so busy with the scouts that I haven't had time for anything else."
"Who are the scouts?" the invalid questioned. There was evidently something taking place in the parish of which she had heard nothing, and her curiosity was aroused.
Then Rod told her about the troop which had been formed, the club-room, and the wonderful girl, to all of which Miss Arabella listened with much interest.
"And do you mean to tell me that cranky old Captain Josh is looking after the scouts?" she demanded.
"Sure. He's great," was the reply.
"Well, I declare!" and Miss Arabella leaned back against the pillow as if exhausted by the idea.
"I wish you could see Whyn," and Rod gave a little sigh. "She'd do you a whole lot of good."
"Do me good! In what way, I'd like to know? I guess it would take more than her to make me better."
"But she is so jolly," Rod explained. "Her eyes are laughing all the time, and she is never cross."
"Humph!" and the invalid gave her head a toss. "If she had to put up with what I have to she would not feel that way."
"Oh, but she does, Miss Arabella. She has pains all the time, and she can't walk a step. She hasn't walked for a long time."
"She hasn't! Well, how can she laugh and not be cross?"
"I don't know for sure. But I guess she is trying to be a scout."
"What has that to do with it?"
"Quite a bit. You see, a scout has to smile and whistle no matter what happens. If he jams his finger or stubs his toe, he must smile and go on whistling just as if nothing had happened. It's hard at first, but after you learn how to do it you feel good all the time."
"And so you think I should do the same, eh?" and the woman fixed her eyes upon the boy's face.
"Not exactly, Miss Arabella," and Rod gave a little chuckle. "You might smile more than you do, but I don't think you could whistle. But maybe you can. Did you ever try?"
"No, I never did," was the snapping reply, "and I detest girls and women who can."
"But Whyn whistles," Rod explained, "and I'm sure you'd like her if you saw her. You ought to see her, Miss Arabella. I believe she'd make you better. And, besides, you'd do a good turn if you went to the Anchorage. Whyn doesn't see many women and she'd be so pleased to see you."
"What do you mean by a 'good turn'?" the invalid asked. "Is it something else the scouts have to do?"
"Sure. You see, a scout is supposed to do a good turn each day. That is, he must try to help somebody or something. When I put that key down your neck, Miss Arabella, it was only my good turn which I was doing. Captain Josh said it was the best thing to do to stop nose bleeding. Now, if you'd go to see Whyn that would be your good turn, see?"
"H'm, I guess I've got all I can do to look after myself without trying to do good turns to others," the woman sniffed. Nevertheless, when Rod had gone she thought over everything he had said, and for once forgot all about her own troubles.
The morning after Rod's visit to Miss Arabella's, Mrs. Britt was busy in the kitchen making doughnuts. The scouts were coming that afternoon, and once a week, at least, she had some treat for them, and she knew what they liked. Mrs. Britt's interest in the boys was as keen as her husband's, and it gave her great pleasure to have them about the house. Her home life had been very lonely since Jimmy went away, so the shouting of the scouts and their merry laughter brought back other days.
She had just completed frosting a number of doughnuts, and had them all heaped upon a large plate, when the kitchen door was suddenly thrust open, and Miss Arabella burst into the room. Though the morning was very warm, a thick shawl enwrapped her shoulders, and she wore a heavy winter dress. Her eyes were wide with fright, and she was trembling so violently that she was forced to sink into the nearest chair.
"Why, Miss Arabella!" Mrs. Britt exclaimed, "are you sick? You must lie down at once."
"No, no, I'm not sick," and the visitor flapped her hands in despair. "But your husband, Mrs. Britt, your husband, oh, oh!"
"What's the matter with him?" Mrs. Britt enquired, while her face turned suddenly pale. "Has anything happened to him? Tell me quick."
"Yes, I'm afraid so. It's awful. I didn't know he was that way. Has he been troubled long? You should take him away at once. I always knew he was queer, but I had no idea he was so bad."
"Will you please tell me what is the matter?" Mrs. Britt demanded. "I don't understand you. Joshua was all right a few minutes ago."
"Was he?" and Miss Arabella looked her surprise. "But you should see him now. He's out there in front of the house waving his arms up and down just like this," and the visitor, forgetting her weakness, leaped to her feet and imitated what she had seen the captain doing. "He was looking up at the window," she continued, "and saying things I could not understand. It sounded as if he was going over his letters, and every once in awhile he would clasp his hands before him like this, and cry 'brute.' Oh, it is terrible!"
Mrs. Britt gave a deep sigh of relief, while an amused twinkle shone in her eyes.
"Sit down, Miss Arabella," she ordered. "There is nothing wrong with Joshua. He is practising signalling, that's all. Whyn is helping him from her window. He has to teach the scouts this afternoon, and is brushing up a little. You see, every time he moves his arms he makes a letter. The alphabet is divided into groups, and at the end of each group he stops swinging his arms, and clasps his hands before him before making the next group. That is what Joshua must have been doing which frightened you so much."
"Oh, dear me!" and Miss Arabella began to fan herself with an old newspaper she picked up from off the table. "I never got such a shock in all my life. I don't know what people are coming to these days when an old man like your husband will act in such a way. I came over on purpose to see that girl you have here, and it has nearly cost me my life."
"Have one of these doughnuts, dear," Mrs. Britt soothed. "I shall get you some of my home-made wine, which will make you feel better." And the good woman bustled off to the pantry, from which she shortly emerged with a well-filled glass.
"That does make me feel better," Miss Arabella remarked, after she had drunk the wine and eaten two doughnuts. "That walk has certainly given me an appetite."
"And I guess you'll feel better still when you see Whyn," Mrs. Britt replied, as she led her visitor into the front bedroom.
The invalid girl was sitting by the open window in the big chair the captain had fitted up for her. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement, and her eyes were sparkling with animation. She was holding a small signalling chart in her hands, at the same time giving instructions to the captain outside.
"Try that again," she was saying. "Don't hold your arms so stiff. There, that's better."
Hearing the sound of footsteps, she turned suddenly and her eyes fell upon Miss Arabella's lank form and thin face. For an instant only she hesitated before reaching out her delicate white hand.
"Oh, you're Miss Arabella," she exclaimed. "I'm very glad to see you, and it's so good of you to come. Sit down, please."
"For pity's sake, how do you know who I am?" was the astonished reply.
"A little bird told me," and Whyn gave a merry laugh.
"H'm. I guess it was a bird without any feathers, and a little red head."
"Yes, that's who it was. You see, I know most of the people in this place, though I have met only a few. Rod told me that you were sick, and what you look like."
"He did, did he? And I suppose he told you that I had a long nose which was always poking into other people's business."
"Why, no!" and Whyn's face grew suddenly sober. "He never told me anything like that. He only said that you were thin, with a sad face, and that you were very lonely, with no one to love you."
"So he said that, did he?" and a softer expression came into the woman's grey eyes. "But I suppose he told you a whole lot more, though?"
"Only about how he put the key down your neck," and again Whyn smiled. "Wasn't it a funny way to do a good turn?"
"Not very funny for me, Miss," and the visitor tossed her head. "But tell me, how old are you?"
"Just sixteen," was the reply.
"What's wrong with you, anyway? You don't look very sick."
"It's my back. I am not able to walk, and can sit up only for a little while each day."
"My, it must be hard for you to be that way. I know something about it myself," and Miss Arabella gave a deep sigh.
"I try to forget my troubles, though, by thinking of bright things," Whyn explained. "And now that I have so much to do with the scouts I have scarcely any time left to think about myself. Every night my back aches so much that I cannot sleep for several hours. But last night I was thinking about Rod, and didn't mind the pain hardly at all."
"Why, what's wrong with Rod?" the visitor inquired. "I don't see why you should lie awake thinking about him."
"No, perhaps you don't, and maybe it was foolish of me, but I couldn't help it. You see, it had to do with his scout suit. Each boy must earn the money to buy his own suit, and when the scouts were talking about it, they all told how they were going to raise the money except Rod. He didn't say anything, and I knew by the look on his face that he hadn't the least idea where he was going to get the money for his suit. I felt so sorry for him. When Rod is thinking hard he is very quiet. He was just like that yesterday, and he didn't even say a word to me when he left. Oh, I wish that I could think of some way to help him."
"Who are the other scouts?" Miss Arabella asked.
"Well, there's Jimmy Perkins. He's corporal, and——"
"Old Ezry Perkins' son, eh? I guess I know his pa, a mean old skinflint, if ever there was one. But he dotes on that boy of his, and he'll get him the suit all right. Who else?"
"Then, there's Tommy Bunker, the boy with a face like the full moon."
"Yes, I know the Bunkers only too well. Stuck up people, they are, who think they own the whole parish. You ought to see Mrs. Bunker come into church. She holds her head so high, and steps so big and mighty, that she thinks she's doing the Lord a great service by coming. Tommy'll get his suit, never fear. Mrs. Bunker will see to that."
"Billy Potter comes next," Whyn hastened to explain, "and Joe Martin, and Phil Dexter, and——"
"There, that will do," and Miss Arabella sniffed in a most significant manner. "I know the whole tribe. Nothing but trash, every one of them. Queer scouts, I call them. Yes, they'll all have suits, and my, how they'll strut around."
"I'm afraid Rod will not get his for some time," and Whyn sighed. "He's patrol leader, too, and I am sure he will feel very badly."
"No doubt he will. But, there, I must be off," and Miss Arabella rose suddenly to her feet. "Good-bye. I'll be over to see you again soon," and with that, she whisked out of the room.
When Miss Arabella left the Anchorage she seemed like a different person from the one who had entered it but a short time before. Her step was quick and decisive, as if she had something important on hand.
"It was wonderful," Mrs. Britt told her husband, "the way Miss Arabella went out of that door. She had hardly time to say 'good-bye.' I wonder what has come over her."
"H'm," the captain grunted contemptuously, "most likely the hawk has been worryin' that poor little bird in there, and it was that which made her so happy. I don't know of anything on earth that would please that skinny creature as much as naggin' at some poor little innocent thing like Whyn, fer instance. Her long nose is gettin' more hooked every day."
"Hush, hush, Joshua," his wife remonstrated, "you mustn't say such things about a woman. Remember, Miss Arabella was greatly concerned about you this morning. She thought you had gone out of your mind when she saw you signalling in front of the house."
"She did, eh? Ho, ho! And I suppose she wished that I was crazy enough to be sent to the 'sylum. That's a good one, and I must go and tell Whyn."
Miss Arabella had almost reached her house when she met Rod walking slowly along, with his eyes fixed upon the ground. He was thinking deeply, and wondering how he was to earn the money to buy his scout suit. So far he could see no way out of his difficulty. He knew that if he spoke to Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal they would gladly give him the money. But he must earn it himself, for that was the scout rule.
"Well, what are you after now?" was Miss Arabella's sharp greeting.
"Grandmother sent me after the basket," Rod explained. "I couldn't get into the house, and so I thought maybe you were dead."
"Do I look like a dead person?" the woman asked, while a grim smile lurked about the corners of her mouth.
"No, not now, Miss Arabella. But yesterday you looked as if you might die at any moment."
"Well, yesterday is not to-day," she snapped. "I'm much better, so if you'll come back, I'll give you the basket you left here."
When they had reached the house and entered the kitchen, Miss Arabella, instead of getting the basket, sat down upon a splint-bottom chair, and began to take off her wraps. Rod stood in the middle of the room and watched her without saying a word. When the hat and shawl had been removed and laid carefully upon the table, the woman turned to the boy.
"You told me yesterday," she began, "that you are a scout. Is that so?"
"Yes, Miss Arabella."
"But where is your scout suit?"
"I haven't it yet, and I can't get it until I have the money."
"Well, that's just what I want to speak about. Look here, Rod, you're not such a bad boy after all, even though you did put a toad in my lap, and drop that key down my neck. Now, I've made up my mind to help you. I'm going to give you your suit, see?"
Rod started, while, an expression of joy leaped into his eyes. He was about to speak, when he suddenly hesitated, and his face grew grave.
"What's the matter?" Miss Arabella demanded, noticing his embarrassed manner.
"I—I can't take it," he stammered.
"And why not? I'd like to know."
"'Cos I have to earn the money myself, and if you give me the suit it won't be fair."
"Oh, rubbish! What's the difference?" was the disgusted reply. "The other scouts will have their suits given to them, and why shouldn't you? I don't want them to get ahead of you."
"But they've got to earn their own money, Miss Arabella, and they'll have to tell how they earned it, too. Captain Josh won't let them wear their suits unless they do."
"H'm, is that so? Well, I call it a queer arrangement. How do you expect to earn yours?" and the woman looked keenly at the boy.
"I don't know. I've been thinking over it a lot. If I only knew some way, I would work so hard. Haven't you anything for me to do, Miss Arabella? I would run errands, carry in wood and water, or do anything else."
"No, there's nothing like that you could do around here. Tom is supposed to look after such things, and I don't want to take his jobs from him. He does little enough as it is, dear knows. He spends so much of his time at the store that he won't look after the garden. The strawberries are getting ripe, and I expect they'll rot before he'll touch them. I never saw such a man. I wish to goodness he had to work for his living instead, of depending upon what his father left him."
"Let me pick the berries, Miss Arabella," and Rod stepped quickly forward. "I'll do it for a cent a box, or less if you want me to. I know a boy who did that and he earned three dollars."
Miss Arabella did not at once reply, and Rod was afraid that she did not agree to his proposal. She remained silent for a while, plucking at her dress in a thoughtful manner.
"Rod," she at last began, and her voice was softer than he had ever heard it, "I am going to give you that patch of berries. It will be your very own, and you can do what you like with it."
"Oh, Miss Arabella! Surely——"
"There, that will do, now," she snapped. "None of your thanks for me. You'd better go and get ready to go to work. I saw a good many ripe berries out there this morning, and you can't afford to waste any time."
Rod didn't walk across the field. There was no slow sauntering home when he was once out of the house. He burst into the rectory like a whirlwind, just as the Royals were sitting down to dinner. Breathless and excited, he blurted out his story, and when he was through Mrs. Royal told him to get ready for dinner.
Rod could eat but little, as his mind was so taken up with the good fortune which had come his way. He was anxious to be off to the store to get some berry-boxes.
"Where are you going to send your berries, Rodney?" Parson Dan inquired when they were through with their dinner.
"To the city, I suppose," was the reply. "I can't sell them here very well. Nearly all of the summer people raise their own."
"You should have some one place in the city to send them, Rodney. I have heard that Peter McDuff gives good prices. You might try him."
"Will you write him a letter, grandad?"
"I think you had better do it yourself. This is your business, and you must carry it through from beginning to the end."
It took Rod some time to write that letter. It was the first business one he had ever written, and he did not know just what to say. At last, after numerous efforts, he decided that this would be satisfactory:
HILLCREST, N. B. July 12th, 1911.
"MR. PETER McDUFF, St. John.
"Dear Sir: I have some strawberries which I am going to pick myself. I want to buy a scout suit, and Miss Arabella has given me her berries. What will you give me for them? I will send them down on the boat when I hear from you.
"Yours very truly,
Rod carried this letter to the office, mailed it, and brought back a number of berry-boxes from the store in his little hand-waggon. The rest of the afternoon he spent in making a crate to hold the boxes. Long and patiently he toiled, and at times Mrs. Royal went into the workshop to see how he was getting along. When supper time came it was a queer ramshackle affair he had constructed, which would hardly hold together long enough to reach the wharf, let alone the rough handling it would receive on the steamer.
That evening after Rod was in bed, Parson Dan took a lamp and went out to the workshop. His heart was strangely moved as he looked upon the pathetic efforts of the little lad. Casting aside his coat, he started to work, and in about half an hour he had fashioned a neat strong crate, capable of standing the strain of travel. Into this he put the berry-boxes, placed upon it a good strong cover, and went back into the house.
Rod was surprised and delighted next morning when he went into the workshop. He had his misgivings, however, and asked the parson whether it was right for him to receive any help.
"That's all right, Rodney," the clergyman explained. "You can hardly be expected to make the berry-boxes any more than you can make the large crate. There are some things others must do for us. You will need two or three more crates, so the one I made last night will show you just how the work is to be done. You did remarkably well yesterday with nothing to guide you, but to-day I expect you to do better."
Thus encouraged, Rod once more set to work, and by night he had finished two crates which greatly pleased Mr. and Mrs. Royal. They were overjoyed at the boy's enthusiasm, his skill and his work, as well as his willingness to be taught.
The next day a reply was received from Peter McDuff. Rod was greatly excited as he tore open the envelope.
"MR. ROD ROYAL," so the letter began,
"Dear Sir: Your favor of the 12th received, and its contents noted. I shall be pleased to receive as many berries as you can send, and will give you market prices for the same.
This was the first business letter Rod had ever received and he was delighted. After showing it to Mr. and Mrs. Royal, he rushed over to tell the good news to Captain Josh and Whyn. The latter was much pleased, and she gave him some sound advice.
"You must keep that letter," she told him, "for you cannot always trust people. I have heard some queer stories of mean tricks which have been done. Then, you had better read the market prices every day in the paper, and cut the piece out, so you will know just exactly how much your berries are bringing. How I wish I could help you pick them."
Monday morning Rod began to pick his first berries. The patch was not a large one, but it seemed big to him. Hour after hour he worked, and at times his back ached. The day was hot, and the perspiration poured down his face. But he kept faithfully at his task, stopping only long enough to eat his dinner. When supper time came he had twenty boxes of nice ripe berries lying side by side upon the kitchen table. He could not eat a bite until all had been placed safely in the crate, and then he stood back and gazed upon them with admiration. In fact, he had to come out several times before he went to bed to view his treasures. But at last the cover was placed on, nailed down, and the ticket tacked upon the top.
Early the next morning Parson Dan and Rod took the berries to the wharf in the carriage, in time to catch the first steamer of the day. Thus at last his precious berries were off on their way to the city, and as Rod watched the Heather Bell as she glided away from the wharf he tried to catch a glimpse of his box where it was lying among the rest of the freight. He pictured Mr. McDuff's delight when he saw what fine berries he had received.
That day Rod picked twenty more boxes, fifteen in the morning, and five during the afternoon. They were becoming scarcer now, and it would be necessary for him to let them ripen for a day before he could expect to fill a third crate. The rest of the afternoon he spent with the scouts. It was their regular meeting, at which they were to tell how they were getting along with the raising of money for their suits. The reports were by no means encouraging from most of the boys, as they had accomplished nothing. Rod alone told what he had done, and how much he hoped to make out of his berries.
"I am going to earn every cent myself," he said in conclusion, "and I am not going to get my suit until I can pay for it."
"Good fer you!" the captain exclaimed. "That's the kind of talk I like to hear. And look here, you fellows," he continued, turning to the rest of the scouts, "if ye want to remain in this troop ye've got to git a hustle on. I've got letters in my pocket from several boys who want to join. Some are willin' to walk quite a distance, and if ye don't want to obey orders, out ye go. A troop can't be run right, any more than a ship, unless orders are obeyed. I'll let yez off this time, but, remember, a week from to-day ye'll report again, and then I'll give my decision. That'll do now, so let's go fer a sail."
Every day Rod studied the price of berries in the newspaper, and cut out the list. He also kept his account in his little note-book. At the end of the first week he had made the following entries:
"July 17th—20 boxes at 7 cents . . . . $1.40 July 18th—20 boxes at 8 cents . . . . 1.60 July 20th—15 boxes at 7 cents . . . . 1.05 July 21st—10 boxes at 9 cents . . . . .90 ——- "$4.95"
The next week he sent off several more boxes which amounted to three dollars according to his reckoning. He knew that the freight would have to come out of this, which he believed would not be over one dollar at the most. Thus he would have about seven dollars to spend upon his suit, billy-can, axe, haversack, knife, and several other things he saw in the scout list which had been sent from the store in the city where the supplies were kept.
Rod showed his account to Captain Josh, and the latter believed that the figures were about right, as he had each day found out from the farmers what they had received for their berries. He was somewhat surprised that Peter McDuff had sent no regular statements to Rod. He, accordingly, made careful inquiries from several people who knew McDuff, and what he learned gave him considerable uneasiness.
IN THE CITY
Rod was now very anxious to buy his scout suit. He thought of the money waiting for him in the city, and he spoke about it to Captain Josh.
"I want to examine all the boys in the tenderfoot tests," the captain replied. "The ones who are able to pass, and have earned the money for their suits will go with me to the city. The rest will have to stay at home."
The very next day the captain examined each scout separately. Rod was the only one who was able to pass all the tests, and had earned the money. The others felt somewhat sore because they could not ask their parents for the money, and thus go to the city with the captain. Several, in fact, were quite sulky.
"Yez needn't look like that," the captain told them. "Ye've got only yerselves to blame that ye're not ready. Ye're like too many people today who expect to get things without workin' for them. But this troop is not run on sich lines. Some day ye'll come bang up aginst another troop, and how'll ye feel if ye git licked. Why, when I asked some of you boys to tie a clove-hitch ye handed me out a reef-knot, which is nothin' more than a 'granny' knot, which any one could tie. I want yez to do more than other people kin, or what's the use of havin' a troop? So git away home now, fer we'll have no more fun until yez git through with yer work."
Rod was delighted at the idea of going to the city with the captain.
"I'll look after the boy," the latter told Mr. and Mrs. Royal, "and I'll see that he gits fair play, too. Ye'll certainly be proud of him when he comes back wearin' his scout suit."
The Royals were most thankful at the change which had come over the bluff old captain. It seemed almost incredible that such a transformation should take place in him in such a short time. It was the influence of their little boy, they were well aware, which had done it, and they often talked about the way they had been criticised for having taken the lad into their home and hearts. They thought, too, of his mother, and the mystery concerning her instead of lessening, deepened as the months rolled by. She never failed to send her weekly letter, and the money each month. Rod's bank account was steadily growing, for the Royals had not spent one cent of it, even though at times they felt the need of some of it when the money due from the parish was much in arrears.
They were greatly puzzled that Rod's mother did not come to see him. In every letter she wrote of her longing for her boy, and how she hoped to come some day. She had said the same thing for years until it had become an old story now. To Rod his real mother was a visionary person, who wrote to him every week and sent him money. But apart from these things she was of little interest to him. His world was in Hillcrest, and not far away in some big city.
The next day Captain Josh and his charge reached the city, when they went at once to Peter McDuff's store. They were kept waiting for some time, as the owner was not in. When he returned the captain stated the object of their visit, and how the boy wished to get his money in order to buy his scout suit.
Going into his little office, McDuff remained there for about ten minutes, which seemed much longer to those waiting outside. When he did come out he handed the captain the account he had made up, and then proceeded to thumb over several bills.
Captain Josh examined the paper carefully, and then handed it to Rod without a word of comment. The latter gave one quick glance, and his face became pale, while his eyes grew big with astonishment.
"What is it, lad?" the captain queried. "Find somethin' queer there, eh?"
"Yes, sir," was the reply; "I don't understand it at all. I sent down one hundred boxes, and this paper gives only eighty. And, oh, look, he pays only six cents a box," and Rod held up the account for the captain to see.
"What's the meaning of this?" and Captain Josh turned suddenly upon McDuff, who was keenly watching the two. "This boy sent you down one hundred boxes of strawberries. I was at the wharf myself when each crate was shipped, and I counted them, though Rod didn't know it. Then you give him here only six cents a box when they were bringing from seven to nine. Surely there has been some mistake."
"There has been no mistake," McDuff angrily returned. "I never make mistakes. Only eighty boxes were sent to me, and six cents is all they were worth. You can take that or nothing. I am too busy to waste all the morning talking. Here's your money," and he held out four dollars and eighty cents to Rod.
"Don't take it, lad," and the captain reached out a restraining hand. "The full amount or nothin'. Is that all ye'll give?" he asked, turning to McDuff.
"Not a cent more. It's all I got, and it's all they were worth."
For an instant the captain looked the storekeeper full in the face. Then glancing quickly around the store, and seeing a telephone, he moved toward it.
"You can't use my phone," McDuff cried, feeling sure that the captain had some special object in view.
"I can't, eh? Well, if you say so, that settles it. I kin git one next door. I only want to call up my lawyer, that's all. He knows me pretty well. I'd like to use other means to settle this matter, but I guess Lawyer Allen's advice might be the better way."