"What! you don't mean to go to law over this little matter, do you?" McDuff anxiously enquired.
"Certainly I do. It isn't the amount so much as the principle. Ye're tryin' to cheat a little boy, and I'm goin' to stand by him, I don't care how much it costs. I'm scoutmaster, and he's patrol leader of the Hillcrest troop, and if ye think ye kin do him a mean trick, then ye're mighty much mistaken."
"But look here," McDuff angrily replied. "You seem to be making a big fuss over nothing. And, besides, you've charged me with cheating that boy, and I'll make you take back your words. Two can play at this game."
"No doubt they kin," the captain reflectively answered as he moved toward the door. "But look, Peter McDuff, it makes a great difference who's in the right, and who kin back up his statements. It's no use fer us to argue any longer. Come on, Rod."
"Wait a minute," the storekeeper called out, when he saw that the captain meant business, "maybe we can arrange this affair without going to law. I'm willing to come to some reasonable terms. What will you take to settle? Split the difference, eh?"
"No. Not one cent less than what's comin' to the boy. That or nothin'. I'll give ye five minutes to think it over," and the captain, coming back into the store, seated himself upon a barrel of flour.
McDuff was angry, there was no doubt about that. Customers who came into the store, and were waited upon by the clerk, were astonished at the conversation which was going on between the two men. But McDuff paid no heed to them. He wanted to get clear of this troublesome countryman. He little realised that a few boxes of berries less would cause such a fuss. He had done the same thing before, and had bluffed out of paying. But now it was different. He stood in the centre of the floor for a few seconds, frowning, and longing to express himself in violent words. Presently he turned and went again into his office. When he came out he handed the captain a new account.
"There, will that suit you?" he demanded. "Rather than have you say that I cheated the boy, I am willing to pay him for more berries than he ever sent me, and to give a higher price than they were bringing at the time."
Captain Josh took the account and studied it carefully.
"That looks better," he remarked. "Eight dollars in all, and with the freight deducted leaves just seven dollars. Yes, that will do, I guess. Now fer the money."
When several crisp bills had been handed over, and the account receipted, Captain Josh turned to the storekeeper.
"Jist a word before we go, Peter McDuff," he began. "It is well fer you that ye've settled up this business at once. I advise ye not to try any more of yer tricks upon people after this, especially upon a boy scout. If ye'd held out, and had not paid that money, I'd a fixed ye so ye'd been no longer in a position to cheat any one. I have enough evidence to knock ye sky-high. Ye may thank yer stars that ye have a little sense left, even if ye haven't any honour."
The storekeeper made no reply, but turning on his heel, left them.
After Captain Josh and Rod had eaten their dinner at a restaurant, they started off to buy the scout suit. The boy was greatly excited over this, and his eyes bulged with astonishment when he saw so many suits and other supplies for the scouts.
"Ye must do a big business here," the captain remarked to the clerk.
"We certainly do," was the reply. "There are over six hundred scouts in the city, and most of them get their outfits here. I suppose you'll be at the big parade this evening?"
"The scouts are to turn out in a body, when they will be inspected by the Lieutenant-Governor. He is to give them an address, so I understand, on the Y. M. C. A. grounds. It will be a big affair, and well worth attending."
This was too good an opportunity to miss, so the captain and Rod went early to the place of meeting. The former wished to see what other scouts did, and he had planned to come to the city on purpose to visit several of the troops in their own rooms. But now he could view them all together, which would be far better.
At half past seven the mayor, with several of the city officials, accompanied the Lieutenant-Governor as he rode up in a big auto. They all dismounted and took their seats upon the temporary grand-stand which had been erected. They had not long to wait ere the sound of music was heard, and presently down the street the head of the big procession appeared in view. As the scouts swung up, Rod's heart beat fast, and even the captain stood straighter than usual. There was something inspiring about the way those boys, six hundred strong, advanced, in full uniform, with sloping staves. They marched well, with bodies erect, and as they moved by the stand they gave the full salute. Then they swung around and lined up before the Lieutenant-Governor.
By this time a large crowd had gathered, and a cheer went up at the splendid conduct of the scouts. When this had died down, the mayor spoke a few words of encouragement, and then introduced the chief official of the province.
Captain Josh and Rod were quite near and could hear every word the Lieutenant-Governor uttered. He was proud of them, so he said, and his heart had been greatly stirred by what he had witnessed. He was glad to know that there were so many scouts in the city, and he wished that all the scouts in the province were present on this occasion.
After speaking for awhile, and giving them some words of advice, he outlined a plan over which he said he had given considerable thought. He wanted the scouts to be thrifty, and to open up bank accounts. He hoped to meet them again in a year's time, and that troop, whether in the city or any other part of the province, showing the biggest bank account in proportion to its size, would receive a prize. A friend of his, who wished to remain unknown, had made this suggestion, and offered to present a bugle-band to the winning troop. Each bank-book had to be handed in to the Provincial Secretary, together with a detailed account as to how the money had been raised, and signed by the scoutmaster. Further instructions would be given later. All other troops which had competed would each receive a troop-flag.
When he was through the scouts gave him three rousing cheers and a "tiger." After the National Anthem had been sung, the band once more struck up, the scouts formed into line, and were soon swinging on their way back to their various headquarters.
Captain Josh and Rod said very little as they walked along the street toward the hotel where they were to spend the night. But when once within the room which had been assigned to them, the captain laid his right hand upon his companion's shoulder.
"Hillcrest troop must win that prize, lad," he remarked.
"Can we do it, captain?" was the reply.
"Do it? Sure we kin. We may be the smallest troop in the province, but we'll show them a thing or two."
In his dreams that night Rod saw once again the six hundred scouts. But they seemed different now, for among them was the Hillcrest troop receiving from the Lieutenant-Governor the coveted bugle-band, amidst the wild cheers of the other troops.
There was considerable excitement among the Hillcrest troop when Captain Josh and Rod returned home. The rest of the scouts were at the wharf to meet them, and marched with them at once to Whyn's room. The new scout suit was greatly admired, and the jealous ones had enough sense to keep quiet. In fact, they were too much ashamed to say anything, so they sat and listened to what was going on. Whyn was delighted, and made Rod stand before her while she examined him with critical eyes.
"My, I wish you all had suits like that," she sighed, "then you would look something like a troop. Soldiers never seem of much account until they get their uniforms on."
Captain Josh then told of the trouble they had had with Peter McDuff, and how at last he had been compelled to pay what was right.
"Good for you!" Whyn exclaimed. "You're the right kind of a scoutmaster to have. I shall tell that to Douglas when I write again."
When the captain told about the parade of the six hundred scouts, and what the Lieutenant-Governor had said, the enthusiasm became very keen. The scouts' eyes sparkled with interest, and all began to talk at once. Yes, they would win the prize, they declared, and they would buy a motorboat with the money they earned. Though they had spoken about such a boat before, the captain had scoffed at the idea, saying that the Roaring Bess was good enough for him. But deep in his heart he longed for a motor-boat even more than the boys. The yacht was all right for pleasure, but it was hardly suited for business, such as fishing, and carrying passengers over the river. If the scouts could earn enough money to buy a motor-boat he could have the use of it.
How to earn the money was the important question, and many were the ideas suggested. One boy thought they might catch rabbits next winter; another wished to go over to the big island and dig for gold which Captain Kidd was supposed to have buried there. All expressed their views except Rod. He waited until the rest were through before speaking.
"Let us leave it to Whyn," he at last suggested. "She always has some plan, and will know what we might do first."
"That's good," the captain agreed. "We can't do better than that."
"Oh, I don't know," the girl laughingly replied. "You might make a mistake if you let me choose."
"No, no," came in chorus. "You'll do all right."
"Very well, then, I'll do the best I can, though you'll have to give until to-morrow to decide. I want to sleep on it to-night."
"But no lyin' awake, remember," the captain warned. "Ye're not to stay awake thinkin' it all over. If ye do, I'll wash my hands of the whole affair."
"No fear of that, captain," and Whyn smiled up into his face. Such a smile as that was worth a great deal to the old man, though he never spoke of it to any one. "There is one thing, however," the girl continued, "which must be done before we begin to earn that money."
"And what's that?" the captain inquired.
"All the scouts must have their suits. It will be necessary if the plan which has just come into my mind can be worked out."
"Hey, d'ye hear that?" the captain roared, as if he were giving orders to a rebellious crew. "Ye must have yer suits, and then we'll git down to work in dead earnest."
Rod was anxious to get home to show Mr. and Mrs. Royal his new suit. They had been waiting for him for some time, and were quite anxious, as the steamer had been up for over an hour. When he entered the dining-room they thought that they had never beheld such a fine-looking boy. Their hearts swelled with pride, and Mrs. Royal secretly brushed away a tear with the corner of her apron.
Rod told them all about what they had done in the city, about Peter McDuff, the parade, and how the Hillcrest troop was going to enter the contest for the prize. This was of much interest to the Royals, and they sat at the table later than usual discussing the whole matter.
"I have important news for you this evening, Rodney," Parson Dan after a while informed him. "I had a letter from your mother to-day, and she says that she hopes to pay us a visit sometime this summer."
"Oh!" It was all that the boy could say, but several anxious thoughts surged through his mind. Was his mother coming to take him away? he wondered. He did not wish to go, as all of his interests were centred in Hillcrest.
Mr. and Mrs. Royal, too, looked grave. They had thought of the same idea. Would Rod's mother ask them to give up the boy? How could they part with him? they asked themselves.
"When is she coming, grandad?" Rod at last asked.
"She doesn't say, so we may expect her at almost anytime."
"I don't want to see her," the boy cried, while tears started in his eyes.
"Don't want to see your mother, Rodney!" the clergyman exclaimed in surprise.
"Yes, in a way I want to see her," was the faltering reply. "But if she wants to take me away, I don't want her to come. Oh, don't let her take me, grandad," and Rod sprang to his feet, and stood beseechingly before the parson. "Why should she come for me now? If she wanted me very much, why didn't she come before?"
"There, there, dear, don't worry," Mrs. Royal soothed. "It is hardly likely that your mother will wish to take you away from us. It is only natural that she should long to see you. There must be some good reason why she could not come before. You had better go to bed now, for you must be tired after your busy day."
The scouts were anxious to know what plan Whyn would suggest for raising money, and so they were earlier than usual at her room on the following afternoon. It was a beautiful day, and through the open window drifted the scent of flowers, and new-mown hay. It was a cool refreshing spot, this little room, where the bright-faced girl received her visitors. Captain Josh was not present, as he had work to do in his garden.
Whyn greeted the boys with a smile, and after they had seated themselves upon chairs and the floor, she plunged at once into the subject of special interest.
"Let's give a concert," she abruptly began.
"A what?" the boys exclaimed.
"A concert and a tea. Don't you understand? I have been talking it over with the captain and Mrs. Britt, and they think it a good idea. The plan is this: We shall invite all the people in the place to come early before it gets dark. They can gather in front of the house so I can see what is going on. We will ask Parson Dan to give a speech, and then you scouts will show what you can do. You will give a talk on the flag, tie the knots, say the scout law, and do some signalling. After that the captain will march you up and down before the people, and you will do the staff-drill which he is going to teach you. Then you will sell ice-cream and candy. Each scout is to bring something, and Mrs. Britt will make the candy. Perhaps other people will assist, too. Oh, it will be grand!"
"How much do you think we will make, Whyn?" one of the boys asked. "Can't we have something bigger than that? It will take a long time to earn much money that way."
"It will be a beginning, though," was the quiet reply. "We must not expect to raise all the money at once. After we are through with this we can try something else. We might get fifty people to come, and if we sell tickets at ten cents each that will bring us in five dollars. I am sure the summer people will come, and we may have more than fifty. Then, we should make five dollars from the refreshments, and that will be ten dollars in all, which will not be too bad for a start."
The scouts finally agreed to what Whyn said, and they spent considerable time talking over the whole affair, and arranging their plans. The interest now became very keen, and when the tickets had been made each boy undertook to sell as many as he could. In a week's time all the tickets were sold, and more had to be made by Mrs. Britt and Whyn.
The scouts practised hard for the important event, and Captain Josh spared no pains in his efforts to drill them as thoroughly as possible. Each one had now passed the tenderfoot tests, and were ready for their badges. They had also earned the money for their suits, and it was a great day when all appeared before Whyn dressed in their complete uniforms. The girl was delighted, and her eyes sparkled with joy as the captain marched them up and down outside her window.
The big affair was to take place Thursday evening, and when the scouts visited Whyn on Monday afternoon they were in fine spirits. Everything had been arranged, many tickets had been sold, and it looked as if the concert would be a great success. They found the invalid girl quieter than they had ever seen her before, though she greeted them with her usual smile and listened to them for several minutes as they talked about scout matters.
"There is something which troubles me," Whyn at length remarked. "Every concert should have singing, or music of some kind. Now, we have not arranged for one song, and I am sure the people who come will be disappointed. I am so fond of singing myself that I know how much it will be missed. But I suppose it can't be helped. I wish you boys could sing."
"Maybe some of the choir members would come," Rod suggested.
"Oh, do you think they would?" Whyn eagerly asked.
"I am not quite sure that they will. But I will speak to grandad about it. I know he will do all he can to help."
"I hope they will come," and Whyn gave a tired sigh. "I haven't heard any singing for such a long time, that I am hungry for it. I had such a wonderful letter from Douglas to-day," she continued, after a slight pause. "He says that Anna Royanna, the great new American singer, has been in Ottawa, and he heard her one night. She is quite young, so he writes, very beautiful, and with such a sad sweet face. The people went fairly wild over her voice, and she had to sing one piece twice before they would let her stop. And do you know, she is coming to St. John, and will be at the Opera House on Wednesday night. Just think of it!" and Whyn's eyes glowed with enthusiasm, while she clasped her thin white hands together. "She will be there, so near, and yet I won't be able to hear her. But mamma will tell me about it, and that will be something."
The scouts did not remain long in Whyn's room that afternoon. They knew that she was tired, and so when they left her they made their way to the shore, and sat down upon the sand under the shade of a large willow tree. They were unusually silent now, for all were thinking of what Whyn had told them about the wonderful singer.
"Isn't it too bad," Rod suddenly began, "that Whyn can't hear her sing?"
"She can't go to the city, that's sure," Phil Dexter replied, giving the stick he was holding a savage thrust into the yielding sand.
"Maybe she'd come here," Billy Potter suggested.
This was a brilliant idea, and the scouts looked at one another, while the light of hope brightened their faces.
"Would she come?" that was the question each asked himself. These boys knew nothing about the ways of the great world beyond their own parish. If they did they would have known how utterly ridiculous was the thought of a famous singer coming all the way to such an unknown place as Hillcrest to sing to an invalid girl. But to them their little circle was everything, and the idea of such a noted person coming was nothing out of the ordinary.
"How much do you think she'd want?" Tommy Bunker queried.
"Let's give her half what we make," Rod suggested. "And look," he continued, "we mustn't say a word to Captain Josh or Whyn, or to anybody else. Let it be a big surprise to all. If she comes we can keep her hid until the very last, and then she can come out and sing just like people do in story-books. Wouldn't Whyn be surprised and delighted?"
"But who's going to ask her?" Phil enquired. "Father's going to the city on Wednesday, for I heard him say so this morning. Maybe he would see her."
"But we mustn't let him know anything about it," Rod warned. "Why couldn't you go with him, Phil?"
"I wouldn't like to go alone," was the reply. "She'd scare me, and I wouldn't know what to say. I'll go, for one, if dad'll let me, and I guess he will. Then, if you'll come, too, Rod, I'll go with you to see her. You can do the talking, and I'll back you up."
"Mighty poor backing, I should say," Joe Martin retorted, with a grin. "Better take some one with more spunk, Rod. I think you should go, though, as patrol-leader."
"I guess Phil will do all right," Rod replied. "We could go to hear her sing, that's if I can go. I will find out about it and let you know."
Rod had no opportunity that evening of speaking to Parson Dan or Mrs. Royal about the wonderful singer. There were visitors at the rectory for tea, and he was in bed before they left. He thought very much about it, nevertheless, and in his sleep he dreamed that he was listening to Miss Royanna. He could see her quite plainly, just as Whyn had described her, and he was so disappointed when he awoke and found himself in his own little room, and not in the Opera House with the singer before him.
"I was reading in the paper last night," Parson Dan remarked, just after they had sat down to breakfast, "that a famous singer is coming to the city. Her name is Anna Royanna, and she will be at the Opera House Wednesday night. Wouldn't you like to go, dear?" and he looked across the table at his wife.
"I'm afraid not," was the reply. "The Ladies' Aid will meet here on that day, and so I could not possibly leave. Why don't you go, Daniel? You are fond of good singing, and it is so seldom that you get away from the parish."
"It is utterly out of the question, Martha," the clergyman sadly returned. "I have to bury old Mrs. Fisk at Stony Creek to-morrow afternoon."
"Oh, I had forgotten about that, Daniel. Isn't it always the way when anything of special importance comes to the city? You have never been able to attend."
"It seems so. But never mind, dear, we are going to take a long holiday next summer, and that will make up for much we have lost."
"May I go, grandad?" Rod suddenly asked.
"Go where, Rodney? With us next summer?"
"No, but to hear Miss Royanna."
"You!" and the parson straightened himself up. "Why, I didn't know that you would care to go."
"But I do, grandad. Phil Dexter is going with his father to the city to-morrow, and why couldn't I go along with them? Phil and I could go to hear Miss Royanna ourselves if Mr. Dexter doesn't want to go. Oh, may I?"
"Well, we shall think it over," the parson replied, "and let you know later."
That afternoon Mrs. Royal told Rod that he could go to the city. It might do him good, so she said, to hear such a famous singer. She knew that she could trust him to behave himself, no matter where he was.
Rod was delighted, and hurried over at once to inform the rest of the scouts, who were already gathered at Headquarters. In the paper which came that day from the city there was a long piece about Anna Royanna, and Parson Dan read it aloud that evening. It told how this wonderful singer had sprung suddenly into fame during the last year. She had been singing before but had attracted little attention until one night a noted foreign singer heard her voice at a party given in a private house. It was through him that such success had come to her.
Rod and Phil were fortunate in obtaining seats in the Opera House, the only two which were left. As they looked around upon the crowded place they were for a time somewhat bewildered. They were not accustomed to seeing so many people together, and they felt very small and insignificant. Several people watched with interest the two boys who stared at everything and everybody in such undisguised wonder. But Rod and Phil did not care. They wanted to see and hear Miss Royanna and it did not matter to them what people thought.
The curtain at last slowly rose, and a deep hush passed throughout the building. Then a woman moved quietly to the centre of the stage. Rod sat bolt upright when he saw her. He paid no attention to the storm of applause which greeted her appearance. He saw her bend her head slightly in acknowledgment of the reception she received. Never before had he seen such a beautiful woman, and his heart went out to her at once. What would Whyn say when she saw her? he asked himself. Then a doubt flashed into his mind. Would this marvellous woman listen to him? Would she be willing to go all the way to Hillcrest to sing to a helpless girl? He felt his courage slowly oozing away and he almost wished that he did not have to speak to her. Would she have anything to say to him? he wondered. He noted her dress; how beautiful it was! And her face, he could see it quite plainly, was sweet, and yet sad, just as Whyn had described it from her brother's letter.
Rod was presently aroused from his meditation by the sweetest sound he ever heard. He thought there must be a bird singing somewhere on the stage. He rubbed his eyes, thinking he was dreaming. But, no, it was only the woman standing before him, and she was singing. As he listened to her he could not help thinking of the fields in Hillcrest, of the birds and flowers, which he knew and loved. And thus his thoughts would wander every time she sang. It was so strange that he could not account for it, and he wondered if Phil felt the same way. Now he was tucked in his little bed at home, with the wind sobbing around the house, and the rain beating against the window. Then, he saw soldiers marching, and horses galloping, such as he had seen in pictures. Once he was sure that he was lying on the grass beneath the shade of an old tree with the bees humming around him, and the grasshoppers playing upon their funny musical saws. He felt angry whenever the people made a noise, and drove the pictures away. He didn't think of the singer now, of how she was dressed, or what she looked like, and he didn't remember even one word she had uttered. He hardly realised that he was in the big Opera House with the crowd of people about him.
But there was one piece, and the last, which he did remember. It was the way the woman sang it which had such an effect. He was sure that there were tears in her eyes. His own were misty, anyway. She said that she always closed with it, and it was called, "My Little Lad, God Bless Him." That appealed to Rod. So this woman, then, had a little boy, and he wanted to hear what she had to say about him. The very first words arrested his attention.
"There's a little lad, God bless him! And he's all the world to me; Guide him, Lord, through life's long journey, Guard him, keep him safe to Thee.
"You're my only little laddie, Golden hair, and eyes of blue; God, who made the birds and flowers, Chose the best when He made you.
"Streams may ripple, birds may carol, Twinkling-stars may dance and shine, But life's sweetest joy and rapture Is to know that you are mine.
"You're my only little laddie, etc.
"Parted, though, by time and distance, Hearts can never sundered be. Love Divine, oh, still unite us, Strong to each, and strong in Thee.
"You're my only little laddie, Golden hair, and eyes of blue; God, who made the birds and flowers, Chose the best when He made you."
Rod paid little heed to the storm of applause which greeted this song, and when it was repeated he did not follow the words as closely as before. He was thinking about that boy, and wondering where he was. He was sure that the woman was almost crying when she got through. What made her feel so badly? Was her boy away from her somewhere, and if she wanted him so much, why didn't she go to see him?
At last the curtain dropped, and the concert was over. As the people began to go out, Rod overheard what those nearest to him were saying. They were loud in their praise of the singer.
"It was that last piece which caught me," he heard one man say. "It wasn't the words so much as the way she sang it."
"I was crying when she got through," his companion, a woman, replied. "I just couldn't help it. She's had trouble in her life, mark my word."
Rod and Phil now were uncertain what to do. They remained where they were until the people in front of them had all passed out. They felt very helpless and forlorn there in that big place. The curtain was down, and the singer had disappeared. But they must find her, and she was somewhere on the stage in the background. They knew nothing about the regular way of entrance, and, so, after a moment's consultation, they hurried forward down the long central aisle. Coming to the stage, they clambered upon this, made their way along the edge, and slipped quickly about the left-hand corner of the curtain. Behind this no one was to be seen, but observing a door to the right, they made straight toward it. They had scarcely reached it, when they were met by a pompous little man, who demanded what they were doing there.
"We want to see Miss Royanna," Rod replied, shrinking back somewhat from the man's fierce look.
"See Miss Royanna!" the man shouted in surprise. "If that isn't the limit! Well, she can't be seen, that's all there is about it."
"But we have come all the way to see her," Rod insisted.
"All the way from where?"
"Ho, ho! that's a good one. D'ye think she'd gee such bushies as you? Get out of this, or I'll chuck you."
"But we must see her," and Rod stepped boldly forward. "It's very important."
"Get out of this, I say," and the man caught him roughly by the shoulders, wheeled him around, and was about to send him headlong out upon the stage, when a stern voice arrested him.
"What's all this about, Ben?"
"I'm kicking these two bushies out, sir, for their impudence in coming here," the little man replied, letting go of his grip upon the boy.
As Rod turned, his heart gave a great leap, for there before him stood the very man with "the splendid eyes and grey hair," who had so won Miss Arabella's heart.
For a few seconds John Markham eyed the two boys. Rod's face looked familiar, but he could not recall where he had seen it before. He was always meeting so many people that it was hard for him to remember them all. Perhaps this was one of the newsboys, and that was the reason why he recognised his face.
"What do you want, my lad?" he kindly enquired.
"We want to see Miss Royanna," was the reply.
A smile passed over the manager's face at the idea of the famous singer entertaining such company.
"I am afraid that Miss Royanna is too tired to see you to-night," he replied. "She gave strict instructions that no one was to be admitted."
"But we have come all the way from Hillcrest to see her," and Rod lilted his blue eyes appealingly to the man's face. "It's very important, sir."
"From Hillcrest, did you say," and light now began to dawn upon Mr. Markham's mind. "And how is Miss Arabella?" he asked, while an amused twinkle shone in his eyes.
"Oh, she's well, I guess. But may we see Miss Royanna? It's so important, and we won't tire her very much."
John Markham remained silent for a while. He did not wish to turn these little lads away now, but he wondered whether the singer would mind if he should take them in. He had a great respect for Miss Royanna, for it was seldom that he was able to obtain such a notable person, and from the time that she had accepted his invitation to come he had been greatly puzzled. Why should she have been so willing to come to St. John, when cities four to five times the size were clamouring for her? But she had written, accepting at once, and had seemed really glad to come.
"Wait here," he at last ordered, as he turned on his heel, "and I shall see what I can do with Miss Royanna."
THE WAY OF THE HEART
Anna Royanna was very tired, and she was sitting in an old easy chair waiting for the manager to come to take her to the hotel. She leaned back in a listless manner, with her inclined head leaning upon her right hand. It was a small hand, and very white. Her dark hair partly shrouded her face of singular beauty and sweetness. But lines of care were plainly visible, and as she waited there this night those lines deepened. She was much depressed, notwithstanding the reception she had received from the crowded house. She had been told that she was expected to sing at the matinee on the morrow, and this was not at all to her liking. She had been planning something of a far different nature. She had engagements for weeks ahead, and she had only come to St. John when asked to do so that she might carry out an idea which had long been in her mind. But now this must be abandoned for the present if she consented to sing at the matinee, as she must leave the city early the next morning.
While she was thinking over these things, the door softly opened, and John Markham entered.
"Are you ready to go?" she enquired.
"You are very tired," was the reply, "and it is no wonder. But you made a great hit to-night, and I have been almost swamped with requests from visitors who wish to see you. Some were determined to enter, especially women, and I had to be very firm, in fact almost rude."
"You were quite right, Mr. Markham," and the woman lifted her eyes to his face. "I have no desire to see such people. I know them only too well. They are quite willing to fawn upon me now when I have met with some success. But one time when I was poor and struggling they treated me like a dog. I suppose Mrs. Featson, Mrs. Juatty, Mrs. Merden, and other women of their set were there."
"Oh, yes, and they were most insistent. But how do you know of them?" and the manager looked astonished. "I thought that you were an entire stranger here."
"So I am, in a way," and a slight smile overspread the woman's face. "But I know those women to my sorrow. Some day, perhaps, I may be able to tell you more, but not to-night. Are you ready to go now?"
"Just a moment, Miss Royanna," and the manager motioned her not to rise. "There are two little boys outside, who are very anxious to see you."
"Boys! to see me?"
"Yes. They came from the country, and will not leave, so they say, until they see you."
"What do they want?"
"I do not know. But I am acquainted with one of the little chaps, as I met him this summer. I have a good story to tell you when you get rested. Shall I bring them in? They will not keep you long."
"Yes, let them come," was the reply. "I love boys; there is no pretence about them."
Rod's heart beat fast as he followed Mr. Markham into the presence of the great singer. What should he say? he asked himself. Would the woman be willing to go? Phil crept close at his heels, of no more use than a kitten.
As Rod approached, Miss Royanna held out her hand.
"So you want to see me?" she began. "I am not very often favoured with a visit from boys."
Rod felt more at home now. These words had put him at ease. He looked keenly into the woman's eyes, and what he saw there gave him great encouragement. In truth, Miss Royanna was much impressed with his manly bearing. He stood so erect, with his blue eyes looking straight into hers. For an instant there flashed into her mind the idea that she had seen those eyes before. Some chord of memory was stirred, which affected her in a remarkable manner. She tried to recall something, but in vain.
"You wish to speak to me, so I understand," she encouraged, noting Rod's embarrassment.
"Yes, please, if I may. But I'm afraid now that you won't do it."
"Come to our concert."
"Your concert! Where is it to be held?"
"At Captain Josh's, and Whyn would like to hear you sing so much. You see, the scouts are getting up a concert to raise money, and we want some one to sing. Whyn is sick, and can't walk. She heard about you from her brother, Douglas. She couldn't come herself to hear you, so we have come to ask you to help us out, and sing for Whyn. It would be a great surprise for Whyn, as she knows nothing about what we are doing. We will give you half what we make at the concert."
John Markham turned suddenly around, so that the boys could not see the amusement upon his face. He wanted to laugh outright, so funny did it all seem. He longed to rush out and tell some of his friends the whole story. The thought of the famous woman being asked to go to sing in an out-of-the-way country place, and to receive half the proceeds, tickled him immensely.
Miss Royanna was also amused, and her eyes twinkled as Rod blurted out his request. And yet there was something about his straightforward manner which appealed to her. She thought, too, of the sick girl, and the spirit of true chivalry which had caused these two boys to come all the way to the city for her sake. How disappointed they would be when she told them how utterly impossible it would be for her to go.
"Where is this concert to take place?" she at length enquired.
"At Headquarters, just in front of Whyn's window, so she can see and hear," was the reply.
"Yes, but where? How far is it from the city?"
"Oh, I forgot that," and Rod smiled. "I thought everybody knew that Captain Josh lived at Hillcrest."
"Hillcrest, did you say?" the woman demanded, while a new interest shone in her eyes.
"Yes. It's on the river, about twenty-five miles from here. You could go up in the afternoon boat, and get there in plenty of time."
The woman sat up suddenly in her chair now, for an idea had stabbed her mind with a startling intensity. Could it be possible, she asked herself, that this is he? Those eyes recalled one whose memory was very dear, and that erect poise of the head, crowned with such golden curls, could belong to no one else. And he was from Hillcrest as well, the very place.
"Tell me," she said in a low voice, controlling herself as much as possible, "your name, my little man."
"Rod Royal," was the reply.
There was no doubt about it now, and involuntarily the woman reached out her arms toward him. She drew them back, however, and placed her hand to her forehead.
"Are you ill, Miss Royanna?" Mr. Markham enquired. "I am afraid that these boys are tiring you. They must leave at once."
"Yes, I do feel tired, and wish to get back to the hotel."
"And you won't go to the concert?" Rod questioned anxiously. "Whyn will be so disappointed."
The woman's eyes were now fixed full upon the boy's face. She saw his lips quiver, and her heart went out to him with one mighty rush. How she longed to clasp him in her arms, shower kisses upon his little tanned face, and tell him all. But, no, she must not do it yet. There was a reason why she should delay. With an effort, therefore, she restrained herself.
"Will you come with me to the hotel?" she asked. "We can talk it over there."
"But, Miss Royanna," the manager warned, who saw that she was much drawn toward the boys, "you must not make any rash promises, You are in great demand, and it will be a bitter disappointment to many if you do not sing tomorrow afternoon."
"Leave that to me, Mr. Markham. I shall not disappoint any one, not even these boys."
"And so you intend to go to the concert," the manager remarked, as they were being bowled swiftly along in the car to the hotel.
"Yes. Why should I not? There will be plenty of time after the matinee. I can hire a car to take me there, and bring me back in the evening. I shall enjoy the trip out into the country, for I am so tired of cities."
"But what will people think of your going to such a place to sing for a few country people?"
"I don't care what they think," and the woman's voice was severer than usual. "I know that I shall not be able to meet a number of society lights, for which I shall be most thankful."
Rod and Phil had never been in a large hotel before, and they gazed with wonder upon everything they saw. The elevator, which moved so easily upwards, was a great mystery. Then the large carpeted hallway through which they passed, where their footsteps could not be heard, and last of all the spacious room into which they were admitted, caused their eyes to bulge with astonishment. When they were comfortably seated in big chairs, with the singer sitting close to Rod, so she could watch his every movement, the talk naturally drifted off to Hillcrest. Rod told about the scouts, Whyn, the Britts, Miss Arabella, and his own life at the rectory. Miss Royanna led him deftly along to tell about these various people, especially Mr. and Mrs. Royal. Soon she learned much about Rod's daily work, what he was fond of most of all, and numerous other things concerning his life.
"Have you lived long with your grandparents?" she asked.
"Ever since I was a baby. I was left there one dark, wild night by my mother."
"And so you have never seen her?"
"No. But I have had letters from her, though. She's coming to see me sometime this summer."
"How nice that will be. Won't you be glad to see her?"
"In a way I will," was the slow, doubtful reply. "But I'm afraid that she'll want to take me away."
"Wouldn't you like to go with your mother? She must long for you so much."
"But I don't know her, you see. She's a stranger to me. I know that I ought to love my mother, but somehow I can't."
"Oh!" The exclamation came suddenly from the woman's lips. She clasped her hands before her, and stared hard into space. So this was the outcome of it all? she said to herself. This was all that she had gained by her years of struggle and self-denial. She had won fame and money, but what did they amount to when her only boy was a stranger to her, and knew not what it was to love his mother?
"You write to her, I suppose," she at last remarked.
"Oh, yes. Every week I get a letter, and I always answer it. She sends me money, too."
"Does she? Isn't that nice. You must have plenty of spending money, then."
"No," and Rod shook his head. "Grandad puts it all into the bank for me. It is to stay there, so he says, until I grow up, and it will be enough then to send me to college."
"And your grandfather never used any of the money your mother sent to pay for your board and clothing?"
"Not a cent of it. He said it wouldn't be right, because he loves me so much."
The woman remained silent for some time, and Rod thought that her face seemed very sad. Perhaps she was tired.
"Guess we'd better go now, Phil," and he turned to his companion who had not opened his lips once.
"What, so soon?" the singer enquired, rousing from her reverie.
"Yes. Mr. Dexter, he's Phil's father, will be waiting for us, and he'll think we are lost."
"Just a minute, Rod," and the woman laid her hand lightly on his shoulder, "how would you like to go with me in the car to Hillcrest tomorrow?"
Rod's eyes sparkled for an instant with pleasure. How he had often longed to ride along the road in a big car such as he had seen buzzing by. Suddenly his face grew grave.
"I'm afraid I can't," he slowly replied. "It will be late when you get there, and I must be at the concert to take my part. Captain Josh and the boys couldn't get along very well without me. I'm patrol leader, you know, and so must be there."
The woman noted the brief struggle between pleasure and duty, and the decision pleased her. She was disappointed, nevertheless, as she was hoping to have his company next day. She concealed her feelings, however, and smiled upon the boys as she bade them good night as they stepped out of the elevator. Then she turned back to the silence and solitude of her own room.
It was somewhat late as Rod and Phil hurried along the street toward the hotel where they and Mr. Dexter were to spend the night. This place was near the steamer, and it would not be far for them to catch the early boat next morning. It was a comfortable house, where countrymen generally stayed.
Only a few people did the boys meet as they moved on their way. Presently they encountered a policeman, who looked at them very closely, and enquired where they were going. Rod informed him, so with a warning that they should not be out so late, the official passed on. This was a new experience for the boys, and they were now fearful lest they should meet other policemen who might not be so lenient.
They had just reached a dark place when they heard some one walking with a heavy tread on the opposite side of the street. Thinking that it might be another policeman, the boys kept close together, and glided on as swiftly as possible. They did not run lest they should be heard. Their hearts beat fast, and they glanced nervously from side to side. The ways of the city, especially at night, were strange and mysterious to them, and all kinds of dangers seemed to be lurking around. Had they been on a country road they would have felt perfectly at ease. But here it was different.
They had almost gained a part of the street where an electric light flooded the pavement, when they heard a cry behind them, and then a thud as of some one falling. They stopped and looked back, but all was shrouded in darkness. On the opposite side of the street they could hear sounds of struggling, while an occasional gasping cry fell upon their ears.
"There's something wrong," Rod whispered to his companion.
"W-what d'ye s'pose it is?" was the frightened reply.
"Somebody is hurt, I guess. Maybe that man we heard has been knocked down. It often happens in cities."
"Let's run," Phil suggested, now trembling violently.
"Run where?" Rod enquired.
"To the hotel."
"And leave that man to be killed! Scouts don't do that," and Rod straightened himself up with a jerk.
"But what are we going to do?"
"Go after that policeman, see? He can't be far away. Come!"
The next instant the boys were bounding along the street after the policeman they had met but a few minutes before. Fortunately they ran across him sooner than they had expected, for hearing the sound of hurrying footsteps, the official blocked the way, caught the lads by the shoulders, and demanded what they were running for. Rod pantingly explained, and soon the three were hastening back to where the struggle had taken place.
At first the policeman had been doubtful as to the truth of the story, but when he flashed his light upon the prostrate form of a man lying in the gutter, he gave vent to an exclamation of astonishment. The man was unconscious, and he was bleeding from a wound in the head. Rod never forgot the look of that face lying there so white beneath the light of the lantern. It was the face of a man about thirty years of age, with a dark moustache, and a slight scar upon the right cheek. The policeman felt the man's pulse, and found that he was alive. He then placed a whistle to his lips and gave several long shrill blasts. He next enquired the names of the two boys, where they were from, and what they were doing out at that time of the night. To these questions Rod answered in such a straightforward manner that the policeman was satisfied.
"You had better get on now," he ordered, "But, remember, we'll want you in the morning to give evidence. Don't leave the city until you get permission."
Though both the boys would like to have stayed to see what would be done with the unconscious man, they did not dare to disobey the policeman, so they hurried off, and at last reached the hotel. They found Mr. Dexter anxiously waiting their return, and to him they related what had happened on the street.
"This is what comes of your galavanting around at such hours of the night," he growled. "You should have been in your beds long ago. And so we've got to wait, have we? This is a pretty state of affairs. I can't afford to stay here all day to-morrow. Get away to bed now. You've done enough mischief for one night."
Rod went to bed, but he found it hard to sleep. His thoughts turned not only to the wounded man, but to the concert to be held the next day. Suppose he could not get home in time to take his part, what would Whyn and Captain Josh think, and how could they get along without him?
Early the next morning a message came summoning Rod and Phil to appear at the court room at ten o'clock. Mr. Dexter went with them, which was a great relief. Everything was strange to the boys, and they were very nervous as they were examined and cross-questioned. But they both told what they knew in such a manner as to give much satisfaction. At last the Police Magistrate told them that they could go home, but must appear before him whenever they were needed.
The newspapers that morning gave considerable space to the assault of the previous night. They told of the cowardly attack, and the assistance the two country boys had given, mentioning their names, and where they were from. The injured man was unknown, and though careful search was made, there was nothing found upon his person to identify him. He had no money, and it was believed that his pockets had been gone through by his assailants. He was taken to the hospital where he was lying unconscious, and in a serious condition.
Mr. Dexter bought copies of both morning papers, which was a great extravagance for him. He was quite proud of the part his son had taken in the affair, and the notoriety which had come to his family. Rod and Phil read every word on their trip up the river that afternoon. It was the first time they had ever seen their names in print, and they felt very important. This was increased when they saw people looking at them, and pointing them out as the boys who had figured in the affair of the night before.
Parson Dan's eyes opened wide with astonishment when he opened his paper, which arrived just before dinner, and read to his wife the story of the assault in the city.
"Well done for the boys!" he exclaimed, as he laid the paper aside, and began his meal. "I wish they had caught the rascals who did that deed."
"The boys might have got badly hurt," Mrs. Royal replied. "I am very thankful that they escaped without any harm. What terrible things take place in cities. We live such quiet lives here that we little realise what is going on elsewhere."
"I do hope that the police will get those fellows," the parson mused. "The paper says that there have been several hold-ups lately, and it is believed that they have been done by the same ones who made the assault last night. I am anxious to see Rod to hear what he has to say."
"Perhaps the boys will have to stay as witnesses, Daniel."
"Sure enough!" and the clergyman put down his cup he was about to raise to his lips. "I never thought of that. And this is the night of the concert, too. What will Captain Josh do without the boys? I must go over and tell him the news. It will certainly upset his plans, for he depended so much upon Rod."
That same morning Anna Royanna, while at breakfast, read the description of herself and her singing in the Opera House. This did not greatly interest her, for she was beginning to weigh such articles at their true value. It was the custom now for papers to say pleasant things about her. It was the same wherever she went. She recalled the time, several years before, when the same newspapers had so begrudgingly given her a few lines concerning a certain performance of hers. She had to plead with the editors then. She was not famous, and how a sympathetic article would not only have encouraged but assisted her as well. Now she was Anna Royanna, the noted singer, and a slight smile of contempt hovered about the corners of her mouth as she began to fold up the paper.
Just then something caught her eye, which caused her to pause, and look more closely. "Rod Royal" were the words she first saw, but they were enough to make her devour eagerly the whole story of the adventure of the previous night. She studied the two words which had first arrested her attention, paying no heed to her breakfast which was getting cold. Neither did she notice the number of eyes turned upon her by various people in the room, for all were greatly interested in the famous singer, who had made such a remarkable hit the night before. There came to her again the picture of a sturdy little lad standing before her, with tousled auburn hair, pleading on behalf of an invalid girl away up in the country. Then her mind went back to that terrible night when she had carried him to the door of the rectory, and left him to the mercy of those within. And now she was looking upon his name in the paper. He was hers, and yet he did not know her.
It seemed to Rod that the steamer would never reach Hillcrest wharf. There were so many stops to make for passengers to disembark, and freight to be unloaded, that the boat was later than usual. He was almost certain that the concert would be over before they arrived. At last they were there, and the steamer's guard had scarcely touched the wharf, as he and Phil leaped ashore. Then they scurried down the road, leaving Mr. Dexter far behind. They were well aware that they had no time to go home for their scout suits, and this was a great disappointment. As they came in sight of the Anchorage they saw many people moving about the grounds. Rod waited to speak to no one, but hurried at once into Whyn's room. The girl greeted him with a cry of joy.
"Oh, Rod!" she exclaimed; "I am so glad you are back. Captain Josh is in a terrible state of worry."
She was sitting by the open window where she could see all that was going on outside. It was a beautiful evening, and the sun of the long summer day was still high above the horizon.
"How is everything going, Whyn?" Rod breathlessly enquired, as he wiped his hot face with his small handkerchief.
"Great," was the reply. "That is, so far. And only think, Rod, Miss Arabella has been here all day helping Mrs. Britt. She is a wonder. She is selling refreshments now."
"Is grandad here?" Rod asked.
"Yes, and everybody else, I guess. The summer people have turned out splendidly. There are several autos here, and so many strange people. I don't know any of them."
As Whyn mentioned the autos an expression of anxiety came into Rod's eyes. He wondered if Miss Royanna had arrived. Perhaps she was waiting for him. He must go and find out at once.
Left once more alone, Whyn sat and watched all that was going on. Her face was flushed with excitement, and her eyes sparkled with animation. But she was disappointed, nevertheless. The choir could not come, and so there would be no singing. Several of the members were away, so Parson Dan had told her, and the others would not come without them. The people will think it so strange, she said to herself, and the scouts will feel badly. Whoever heard of a concert without singing and music of some kind.
Ere long the crowd began to gather about the large platform which Captain Josh and the scouts had built in front of their club-room. Then it was that the performance began. First came a staff-drill by all the boys. They did it well, and were called upon to repeat it. This was followed by signalling. The scouts were lined up, each holding two small flags in his hands. The captain in a deep voice called out the letters from A to Z, and not one boy made a mistake. He next picked out letters at random, and closed by an exhibition of sending and receiving a short message. One boy stood about fifty yards away, and sent words which were received by another at Headquarters. This won the hearty approval of the spectators, which rejoiced the hearts of the scouts. After this came military drill, and here the captain was in his element. One would have thought that he was on board of the Roaring Bess, giving orders to his crew. He paced up and down, shouting out in a tremendous voice, "Right—turn!" "Form—fours!" "Quick—march!" "Mark—time!" and so on. It was really excellent the way the boys rose to the occasion, showing to all what training and discipline could accomplish.
They had barely finished their marching ere Rod darted suddenly away toward the front of the Anchorage, and as Whyn followed him with her eyes she saw that he was hurrying to meet a large auto which had just arrived. Several people were in the car, and soon they were accompanying Rod to Headquarters, which they entered.
The watching girl was puzzled over this, and wondered who they could be. They must be people Rod knew, and was expecting, she reasoned. But why did they go into the club-house instead of staying outside?
Presently she saw Rod reappear and go straight to Parson Dan, who was sitting near a large willow tree. A short whispered conversation ensued, and then the clergyman followed the boy into the building. It seemed a long time to Whyn before the former came out again, and when he did, he at once mounted the platform, and motioned the people to be quiet. This latter was hardly necessary, as all on the grounds had noticed the arrival of the strangers, and were naturally curious about them, especially as Rod seemed so excited and delighted.
"I have a great announcement to make," the clergyman began, "and I myself can hardly believe it is true. It seems that the scouts have sprung a complete surprise upon us of a most enjoyable nature, and I am almost overcome by their audacity. In order to make this affair an unbounded success, they invited the noted singer, Miss Anna Royanna, to come here and sing. She complied with the request, and is now here."
What more the clergyman said Whyn did not know. With a half-smothered cry of delight, she leaned as far as she could toward the window in order to catch the first glimpse of the wonderful woman. Tears came suddenly into her eyes as the meaning of what the scouts had done flashed into her mind. It was for her sake, she very well knew, that they had asked Miss Royanna to come. That was the reason why Rod and Phil had gone to the city. She understood it all just as plainly as if they had told her. And so she was to hear Anna Royanna after all! It seemed too good to be true. Surely it must be only a beautiful dream. But, no, it was real, for there were the people before her, and the singer, too, now standing upon the platform by the clergyman's side. She heard the loud and excited cheers of the people, and saw the woman bowing in acknowledgment of the reception. What was that she was saying? That she was delighted to come to the entertainment; that she was very fond of boys, and when they had asked her to come she had not the heart to refuse. How soft and pleasing was her voice, so Whyn thought. How nice she must be, and she longed to speak to her, and to look into her eyes. And to think that such a person had come all the way to Hillcrest to sing for her benefit!
But when Miss Royanna began to sing, Whyn forgot everything else. There were various kinds of songs, both humorous and pathetic, but all simple and familiar, which appealed to the hearts of the listeners. Last of all she sang "My Little Lad, God Bless Him!" and then went back into the building, followed by the clapping and cheering of the assembled people.
Whyn paid little attention to the excitement outside. She leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, and listened once again to the sweet singer. How distinctly she could hear that voice, and the words of the last song. What a treat this would be to her for months to come. She must write at once to her mother and Douglas and tell them of the great joy which had come into her life.
She was aroused by voices outside the door. Opening her eyes, great was her surprise to see the famous singer standing before her. Parson Dan was there, too, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Markham, while Rod brought up in the rear as bodyguard. But Whyn had eyes only for one person, and her glad look of welcome went at once to Miss Royanna's heart. Stepping quickly forward, she stooped and kissed the invalid girl.
"We do not need any introduction," she said. "We are old friends, are we not? Rod has told me about you."
For once in her life Whyn found it impossible to reply. Her eyes were moist as she lifted them to the singer's face in mute admiration.
"What a lovely room," the woman continued, noting Whyn's embarrassment. "And you were able to see everything from the window. How nice."
"And I heard you sing, too," Whyn replied. "Oh, it was great, and so good of you to come. I can never thank you enough."
"Don't try," and the woman smiled. "The enjoyment has been all on my side. It is the best time I have had in years."
For about half an hour Miss Royanna stayed, but it seemed only a few minutes to the invalid girl. The rest went out and left them alone. It appeared to Whyn as if heaven had suddenly opened, and an angel in the form of this singer had come down. She felt perfectly at ease now, and talked freely, telling about herself and her mother. It was only natural, however, that Rod should form the principal object of conversation. In fact, Miss Royanna led the girl on to talk about him, and the mother's heart was made happy as Whyn told how kind Rod was to her, and what a fine boy he really was.
"Will you write to me, dear?" the singer asked, as she bade the girl good-bye.
"Oh, may I?" and Whyn's face glowed with pleasure. "But you will not care to hear about our uninteresting affairs in Hillcrest."
"Indeed I shall. Tell me everything, and especially about Rod. You see, I know him better than the rest."
"Will you come to see me again?" Whyn enquired.
"Yes, just as soon as I can. I want to spend several weeks here in this lovely place. Then I shall be right near you, and find out all about the scouts."
"Oh, how nice!" and Whyn clasped her hands together. "I shall look forward to your coming. It will be something more to live for now."
All the people on the grounds crowded around the car as the singer stepped on board. Rod was standing right by the door, watching her face with great interest. How she longed to stoop, fold him in her arms, kiss mm, and proclaim that he was her own boy. But, no, not now. She must wait. Waving her hand to the crowd, she was borne swiftly away, leaving the people with a great and new topic of conversation, which would last them for many a day.
THE ISLAND ADVENTURE
Next morning the scouts met at the Anchorage to find out how much money they had made. Great was their delight to learn that they had taken in fifty dollars and seventy cents. It seemed too good to be true, and the only way they could account for the large sum was the money contributed by several men who had come in autos. They had paid a dollar apiece for their tickets, and had spent money liberally upon ice-cream, cake, and candy. No refreshments were left over, and but for the timely assistance of Miss Arabella there would not have been enough.
It was in Whyn's room where this meeting took place. Captain Josh said very little at first, for he was satisfied to let the rest do the talking. He was happy at the way the affair had turned out, and he wished to do something to celebrate the occasion.
"Boys," he at last began, after they had thoroughly discussed the entertainment and the singer, "we've had a great success, more than we ever expected, I feel now like doin' something desperate jist to relieve my feelings. Suppose we make a trip to the island, and camp there all night. We've been talkin' about this fer some time, and as I have to go over to look after some nets I left there, it might as well be now as at any time. You boys have never spent a night in the open, and it'll do yez good to learn how to camp and cook. All scouts must know something about sich things."
"Shall we go to-day?" Rod eagerly enquired. The big island had always been a fascinating place to him, and he longed to go there. He had heard many stories about it, and how much treasure had been buried there long ago by Captain Kidd.
"Yes, this afternoon," the captain replied. "We'll go in the Roarin' Bess, and tow the tender to take us ashore. You boys had better hustle away home now, and find out if yer parents will let yez go. Ye must bring along a blanket or two each, and enough grub to last yez fer supper and breakfast. I'll look out fer the tea, milk, and the cookin' utensils. The ones who are goin' must be here by three o'clock sharp."
Rod hurried home and found Parson Dan reading the morning paper which had just arrived.
"Look here, Rodney," and the clergyman pointed to the headlines of an article a column long. "See what the newspaper says about Miss Royanna, and how she came all the way to Hillcrest to sing for the scouts."
"What, is it all there, grandad?" and the boy eagerly scanned the page. "Read it, please," and he perched himself upon a chair nearby.
To him it was wonderful that the paper should make so much of what the singer had done. It told about the scouts, their entertainment, and how two of the boys had gone all the way to the city to ask Miss Royanna to go to Hillcrest.
"Isn't it great!" and Rod gave a deep sigh when the clergyman had finished. "How I wish Miss Royanna could live here all the time."
"She took a great fancy to you, Rodney," and the parson smiled upon the boy.
"I like her," was the brief comment.
During dinner Rod asked permission to go to the island with Captain Josh and the rest of the scouts. After some discussion he was told that he could go, and when the meal was over Mrs. Royal began to prepare some food for him to take with him.
"It will do the boy good," the parson told her. "The captain is most trustworthy, and camping out in the open for one night will do the boy no harm."
Parson Dan had thought much about Anna Royanna's visit to Hillcrest. He and Mrs. Royal had talked long and earnestly about the whole affair the night before. They tried to discover some reason why she should come all the way from the city to sing for a few country people, when she was in such great demand elsewhere. That it was for Whyn's sake did not altogether satisfy them. They recalled the special interest she had taken in Rod, and they felt proud that their boy should have received so much attention from such a woman.
While driving along the road that afternoon, a new idea suddenly flashed into the parson's mind. "Can it be possible?" he asked himself. So foolish did the notion seem that he tried to banish it from his thoughts. But this he found to be most difficult. Why should she come all the way to Hillcrest? And what about her great interest in Rod, and that closing piece which she had sung in such a pathetic manner? Stranger things had happened before, he mused. But they generally occurred in stories, and not in real life. Anyway, it was interesting, though he decided to keep the idea to himself for awhile, to see if anything else would take place.
Captain Josh and the boys had a great time that afternoon. The island was about one hundred acres in size, and for the most part wooded. They tramped all over it, and their excitement was intense when they saw the holes which had been dug there by gold-seekers. The boys longed for picks and shovels, that they, too, might dig. But the captain laughed at them.
"There's no gold here, lads," he told them, "and ye'd be only fooled like others."
"But did anybody ever find gold here, captain?" Rod enquired.
"Not that I know of. But there have been some good jokes played upon people here, though," and the captain chuckled as some funny incident came into his mind.
After supper was over that night, the scouts gathered around the bright camp-fire, and asked Captain Josh to tell them a story about gold-seeking on the island. The boys were stretched upon the ground, watching the fiery-tongued flames and the countless sparks as they soared up into the darkness. This was a new experience for them, and they were delighted.
"What kind of a story d'yez want?" the captain asked.
"A funny one," was the reply from all.
"A funny one, eh?" and the old man scratched his head.
"Yes, the one which made you chuckle this afternoon," Rod suggested.
"Oh, that one, ha, ha! Sure I know all about it, fer I was there myself. I was younger then than I am now, and fond of an occasional joke. I heard that two men were goin' to hunt fer gold right over there by the shore near that big rock I showed yez to-day. They had been stuffed about buried gold, and so they were goin' to hunt fer it. I saw Jim Gibson, and asked him to join me in a little fun. We came over ahead, got things fixed up, and then waited jist behind that rock. It was dark as pitch when the men came, and from where we were hidden we could see them with their lanterns diggin' fer all they were worth right near that rock. We let them work away fer a spell, as we didn't want to spoil their fun too soon. But at last we began to groan and make queer noises. Say, ye should have seen them men. They were almost scared out of their boots, fer they thought sure that ghosts were around. Then, when they were shakin' all over, I pulled a string, and off came a black cloth we had put over a word which we had printed on the face of that rock."
"What was the word?" Rod eagerly enquired, as the captain paused for an instant.
"It was the word 'Death,' in big letters. I tell yez it must have glared out pretty ghastly in the night, fer the way them men yelled, and made fer their boat was something wonderful. Ho, ho' I kin never think of them fellers, and the scare they got, without havin' a good laugh."
"Did they ever find out who did the trick?" Phil asked.
"Not that I know of. But, somehow, word got around, and the lives of them men were made miserable by the questions they were asked about the gold on the island, and when they intended to go over and dig fer it."
For some time the captain told other stories to the boys. Most of these were about his experiences at sea, the gales he had encountered, and his numerous narrow escapes from death. It was a novel experience for the scouts to be lying there listening to these yarns, with the stars twinkling overhead. At last, however, their eyes became heavy and, wrapped in their blankets, they were soon sound asleep upon the hard ground. The captain sat for awhile before the dying embers, smoking his clay pipe. At length, knocking the ashes out of the bowl, he, too, stretched himself out full length near the scouts.
Rod was the last of the boys to go to sleep. His mind was busy with the joke the captain had told, and his experiences at sea. He thought, too, of the sweet singer, and wondered if he should ever see her again. When he did go to sleep he had a dream of a great crowd of men landing on the island, attacking the scouts, and carrying off a large chest of gold.
From this dream he woke with a start, and sat up. For a moment he was dazed, and could not imagine where he was. Then he remembered, and he was about to lie down again when the sound of a motor-boat fell upon his ears. He listened intently, wondering what people could be doing on the water at that time of the night. He could hear the regular breathing of his companions, and as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he could make out the form of the captain lying not far off.
The sound of the boat was more distinct now, and it appeared to be approaching the island. Was his dream really coming true? Rising, he groped his way to the captain's side, and touched his arm. Light though it was, the captain suddenly woke, and asked who was there. In a few whispered words Rod told him what he had heard. At this, the captain sat up, and listened.
"Sure enough," he remarked. "Somebody's astir at a queer hour. Guess we might as well look into this. Come on, let's go and find out. But we must be very careful, and not talk out loud."
Together they made their way cautiously along the shore, keeping as close as possible to the edge of the forest. They had not gone far, however, before the motor-boat drew into the island on their right. Then the engine slowed down and at last stopped, showing that those on board were about to land.
"Quick, let's get behind this rock," Captain Josh whispered. "They must not know that anybody is here."
Thus safely concealed, the two watchers waited and listened to find out what would take place. They soon heard the boat grate upon the gravel, then a lantern flashed, and two men were seen walking up the beach.
"We might as well stay here," one of them said. "I'm dead beat. Let's build a fire and get warm."
"Where's the stuff?" the other asked. "That'll warm ye better'n anything else. We can't afford to light a fire. It will be seen from the mainland, and we can't tell who might be prowlin' around."
With an oath, the first speaker brought forth a bottle, and took a long deep drink, and then handed it to his companion. After this, they both went to the boat, got several blankets, carried them a short distance from the water, and spread them out upon the sand.
"My, this is a better place than we spent last night," one of the men remarked.
"Should say so," replied the other. "But didn't we give the cops a slip, though? I thought fer sure they had us one time, when they were pokin' around that old ware-house. Lucky fer us we were able to swipe that boat. Suppose we divvy up now. You've got all the swag."
With the lantern between them, the two men bent their heads, while one of them brought forth a pocket-book, and began to count out a number of bills. His voice was so low that the concealed watchers could not hear the amount.
"There, that's better," the other at length ejaculated, thrusting the money into his pocket. "Didn't we do that chap up fine? He put up quite a fight, though. But we landed him and his wad all right. I'd like to have got a rap at them kids at the same time. They nearly queered our job. Now fer another drink, and then fer a good sleep. We must be out of this before daylight."
For a few moments there was silence, as each man took his turn at the bottle. When they again spoke their voices were thick, which plainly told that the whiskey was having its effect. It was impossible to understand what they were saying. For awhile they conversed in a maudlin, complaining manner, and then knocked over their lantern, which went out.
Waiting for awhile, to be sure that the men were asleep, Captain Josh and Rod slipped quietly away, and went back to their companions. It was with considerable difficulty that the boys were aroused and ordered not to make the least noise. Captain Josh explained what had taken place, and the conversation of the two men.
"I believe they are the very ones who knocked that man down in the city, and stole his money," he said in a low voice. "Now, they must not leave this island until the police take them away, and it's up to us to keep them here."
"But what are we to do?" Phil Dexter enquired, his teeth chattering with fear.
"Leave that to me, lads," was the reply. "All I want yez to do is to get on board the Roarin' Bess as quickly as possible. There mustn't be any talkin' or noise if we're goin' to carry this thing through, see?"
THE ROUNDING UP
Quietly and as speedily as possible the scouts boarded the tender, and soon reached the Roaring Bess. They shivered as they stood upon the yacht, and longed to be home in their own warm beds. A heavy fog was drifting up the river, which made the air very chilly. To most of the boys this meant greater discomfort, but to the captain it brought considerable satisfaction. It was just what he needed to aid him in his undertaking. In a few low words he outlined his plan to the scouts, and told those who remained behind to be perfectly still. There were several blankets he had stored away in a locker, which they could use to make them comfortable.
Taking with him only Rod and Phil, as they were the oldest boys, the captain entered the tender, seized the oars, and began to pull away straight for the motor-boat. The fact that this latter had been run ashore made him certain that it was a small boat, and could, therefore, be easily drawn off the beach. The tide had risen somewhat since the robbers had landed, which would make the task much easier.
The fog was now thicker than ever, which made it necessary to advance very cautiously. Rod crouched in the bow, with his eyes fixed intently ahead. For a time he could see nothing, as everything was blotted out by the fog. The heavy moisture dampened his clothes, and drifted into his face. Phil was seated astern, shivering with cold and fear. He had no liking for this adventure, and would rather be back on the yacht.
Presently Rod caught sight of the motor-boat, and whispered to the captain to go slow. Soon they were near the shore, and as they drew up close to the strange craft they found that she was floating on the rising tide, and was almost adrift. With difficulty the captain suppressed a chuckle of satisfaction, as he quickly made a rope fast to the motor-boat, gave it to Rod, seized once more his oars, and swung the tender about, and drew away from the shore. When at a safe distance from land he fastened the rope to the bow of the motor-boat, tied it to the seat of the tender, and then with a sigh of relief settled down to long steady strokes. Not a word was spoken now, but the three night adventurers thrilled with excitement. The boys felt no longer cold, as they were so excited over what they had accomplished.
After some hard pulling, the captain drew up alongside of the yacht. The rest of the scouts were eagerly awaiting his return.
"There's no wind," the captain remarked, "so that thing's got to tow us out of this. I guess I know enough about an engine to handle that one all right. Rod, you steer the yacht, while I manage that old tub."
Though the fog was still thick, the light of early morn was making itself felt which was of much assistance as the captain scrambled on board the motor-boat. It took him but a few moments to examine the engine, start it, and head the boat out into the middle of the river, with the Roaring Bess and tender trailing behind. When everything was going to his complete satisfaction, he leaned back and fairly shook with suppressed laughter. He knew now that he had those rascals prisoners for a few hours at least, and in that time much could be done.
The engine was of six horse-power, and the craft an ordinary rafting-boat, built especially for towing. It accordingly made good progress up the river, and in about an hour's time the captain was able to pull up at Hillcrest wharf. He came here instead of going to his own shore on purpose to send a telephone message to the city. He had thought all this out, and knew that there was no time to be lost.
Near the wharf lived the storekeeper, who had charge of the telephone, and with some difficulty he was awakened by heavy thumps upon the door of his house. He was astonished to see Captain Josh standing outside, and it was several minutes before he realised what was wanted.
"Want to telephone, eh?" he at last queried.
"Sure. Haven't I been tryin' to tell ye that fer the last five minutes?"
"Should say so. D'ye s'pose I'd be prowlin' around at this time of the mornin' if it wasn't?"
It took the storekeeper some time to get Central in the city, and to become connected with the Police Station. Then the captain stepped to the 'phone and gave his message. "They're on the island now," he said in conclusion, "and I'll keep a good watch out. Ye'd better send some men up at once.
"They're a stupid lot of blockheads down there," he growled, as he hung up the receiver. "They didn't know where Kidd's Island is—jist think of that. And they wanted to know how long it would take a motor-boat to reach the place."
"I guess they'll get a hustle on, though," the storekeeper replied. "I see there's a reward of one hundred dollars offered for the capture of those robbers."
"There is!" the captain exclaimed. "How did ye hear that?"
"Why, it was in yesterday morning's paper. Here it is; you can read it for yourself."
"Well, I declare!" and the captain scratched his head. "I didn't see that. H'm, 'for the capture of the men who assaulted and robbed an unknown man at Sheer's Alley,'" he read. "Guess we'll come in fer that money, or I'm much mistaken."
"But you haven't captured them yet," the store-keeper reminded him.
"We've got them over there, though," the captain retorted.
"But they're not captured yet, remember. You haven't got your hands on them. I don't believe you can claim that money unless you give those chaps up to the police."
The captain went back to the boat in a very thoughtful mood. The offer of the reward placed the whole affair in a new light now. One hundred dollars! It was just what the scouts needed to help them, and it would be money well earned, at that. What a pity to let others win the reward after what he and the boys had done.
All the scouts except Rod had gone home, and this was for the best. The captain did not want too many around lest they should spoil the plan he had in his mind. Making the Roaring Bess fast to the wharf, he and Rod boarded the motorboat and started for home. It took them only a few minutes to reach the shore, and they surprised Mrs. Britt as she was lighting the kitchen fire.
"Stay and have breakfast with us, Rodney," was her friendly invitation, after the captain had briefly related their experience on the island. "You must be hungry after such an adventure."
Rod was only too willing to remain, and during the meal they discussed all that had taken place during the night.
"We must take those rascals ourselves," the captain remarked. "It would never do to allow the police to come here and land them after we have done the rounding up."
"But how will we do it?" Rod enquired. "Maybe they carry revolvers. Won't they shoot us down if we go near them?"
"Leave that to me, lad," and the captain smiled as his eyes roved to a rifle standing in a corner of the room. "But come, we haven't any time to lose. I imagine the police are on their way now. It will take them from one and a half to two hours to run up from the city. It all depends upon what kind of a boat they've got. I expect it will be a fast one, though, fer they can't afford to dilly-dally."
With nothing to tow now, it did not take them long to reach the island. They landed near where the scouts had camped during the night, and pulling the boat well up on the shore, they made their way to the place where they had left the robbers. The captain went ahead, while Rod followed close at his heels. The boy's heart was beating fast now, for he knew that a great adventure was soon to take place. He felt proud that the captain had chosen him for this important undertaking, and he was determined not to show the least sign of fear no matter what happened.
As they approached the place they advanced most cautiously, bending low, and stepping softly so as not to make the slightest noise. Reaching the big rock, they crouched behind it for a few seconds, and listened. Hearing nothing, the captain peered carefully over the edge. Drawing quickly back, he motioned to Rod not to make the least sound.
"They're jist wakin' up," he whispered, "and there's bound to be trouble when they find their boat gone."
This was exactly what happened. Soon the voices of the men were heard in an excited conversation. The captain again looked upon them from his concealed position and saw them straining their eyes in an effort to locate their boat.
"She's gone adrift," one of them exclaimed. "Why didn't ye tie her?" and he turned angrily upon his companion.
"It was as much your business as mine," was the retort. "Ye always blame me fer everything. But it's no use wranglin' over it now. We've overslept ourselves, and a pretty mess we're in. If we don't get that boat we're stuck on this island."
"Maybe she's drifted along the shore somewhere," the other suggested. "There's been no wind, so she can't be far away."
"There's a tide, though, which is just as bad. This is a mess, sure."
"Well, talkin' won't do any good," his companion replied. "I'm goin' to hunt along the shore."
He had taken but a step when a deep voice from above startled him, causing him to pause and look quickly up. As he did so, his face underwent a marvellous change of fear and rage, for there was the captain, looking calmly along the barrel of his rifle.
"Stay jist where ye are," was the imperative order. "If one of yez move, I'll shoot quicker'n blazes. Yer boat's all right, so don't worry about her."
A stream of angry oaths now leaped from the robbers' lips, as they realised the helplessness of their position. They did not dare to move, as they were too close to the frowning muzzle of the over-shadowing rifle.
"It's no use to talk that way," the captain warned, "so jist shet yer dirty mouths. I've heard sich gab before, and it doesn't jar me in the least."
"Who are you, anyway?" one of the men demanded, "and how dare ye hold us up? Ye'll pay dear fer this."
"Is that so? It doesn't matter who I am; ye'll find that out soon enough."
"What d'ye mean?" was the reply.
"Never mind. I'm not here to argue with the like of you. There'll be others who kin do that better. All that I want yez to do now is to behave yerselves, and do as I order."
"Well, what d'ye want us to do? Spit it out, and don't be long about it either."
"Don't git on yer high-horse," the captain warned. "I'm not used to be talked to in that manner. I never allowed it when I was aboard the Flyin' Queen, and I guess I'm too old to change now. What I want yez to do is to strip off yer duds, that is, yer pants and jackets."
"Didn't ye hear me? Git out of yer duds, but keep yer faces this way. Don't lower yer eyes, or I'll shoot."
At this strange order the foiled men stared in amazement, and for once their tongues were silent.
"D'ye hear me?" the captain roared. "Strip at once, or I'll blow yer measly carcasses to pieces. Never mind the reason; I'll keep that to myself."
Seeing that their captor was not to be fooled with any longer, the prisoners did as they were commanded, and soon they were standing in nothing but their underclothes. They suspected now the purpose of this move, and their hearts filled with rage.
"There, that's better," the captain commented. "I'm glad to see that ye're so obedient. It has saved yez from a great deal of trouble at present. But before we go on with our interestin' proceedin's, I want yez to go down there by the water. Git along with yez," he continued, as the men hesitated. "Don't worry about yer clothes; they'll be all right. My, yez do look fine. Too bad there isn't a picnic of some kind here this mornin'. But, then, I guess that'll come later."
When the men had obeyed his orders, and were standing close to the edge of the water, the captain moved about the edge of the rock, closely followed by Rod. He kept his eyes fixed upon the robbers, and then ordered the boy to gather up the clothes and carry them up among the trees. Seeing what was being done, the cornered men once more gave vent to their feelings.
"Talk all yez like now," the captain remarked, as he sat down upon a drift-log. "It'd be a pity to spoil yer enjoyment, seein' that soon ye won't be able to talk so free."
By this time Rod had placed the clothes in a safe place and, coming back, sat down by the captain's side.
"Did ye bring the guns with ye?" the latter asked.
"Yes, here they are," and Rod held up two revolvers. "I found them in the pockets, and thought it best to bring them with me."
"Ye did right, lad," and the captain took one in his hand. "Fine weapon, that, and loaded up to the muzzle. Wouldn't yez like to have it, eh?" and he held it out to the captives. "Too bad, isn't it, that I've got to keep it? But this toy isn't safe fer every one to handle, so I'll look after both myself."
By this time the fog had begun to lift from the face of the water, and in the distance the outline of the shore of the mainland could be faintly discerned. Then houses and hills came into view. The sun had already started forth on its daily course, and was now swinging over the tops of the pointed pines which lined the upper end of the island. The fog gradually disappeared, fading away in soft filmy wreaths. Not a breath of wind stirred the surface of the water. The captain often turned his eyes down stream for some sign of the boat from the city. Why were the police so long in coming? he asked himself. He had expected them at the island in two hours at the most, and still they were nowhere in sight. He was getting very impatient sitting there, keeping the captives under such strict guard. He determined to have something to say later about the slowness of the police. He would write an article for the paper, that was what he would do. If that was the way they always acted, was it any wonder that crimes were so frequent?
Another hour passed, and when the captain's patience was strained to the utmost, a large motor-boat suddenly rounded the lower end of the island, and slowed up right in front of where the capture had taken place. A number of men were on board, who looked curiously upon the strange scene before them.
An officer, with several of his men, came ashore, when the two robbers were at once hand-cuffed, and hustled on board the boat. Rod now brought down their clothes, which were thoroughly searched, and everything taken from the pockets.
"It took yez a mighty long time to come from the city," Captain Josh at length blurted out.
"It was the fog which delayed us," the officer explained. "We couldn't see a foot ahead of us."
"H'm, so that was the trouble," and the captain gave a grunt of disgust. "Why didn't ye bring some one along who knows the river? I've been holdin' them chaps down fer three solid hours. I guess the lad here and me have earned our money this time all right."
"What money?" the officer sharply asked.
"The reward, of course; the hundred dollars offered fer the capture of them chaps."
"Oh, we'll look after that," was the nettled reply.
"Ye will, will ye? I guess ye'll git up earlier than ye did this mornin' if ye do. I'll stand by my scouts, and don't let me catch ye tryin' any tricks on me. There, ye'd better git off now, fer I want to go home. Take good care that them chaps don't git away. Come, Rod, let's be off."
A NEW ADVENTURE
There was considerable excitement in Hillcrest over the capture of the two robbers. Never before had such a thing happened in their quiet community, and it formed a choice subject of conversation for many weeks. The city papers made much of it, and commended Captain Josh and the scouts upon what they had done. One morning paper which was very favourable to the Scout movement, had a special editorial on the subject, under the heading of "The Lone Patrol." It pointed out how much good a few boys in outlying districts could accomplish when properly organised and trained. It told also of the visit of Anna Royanna to this patrol, and how she had sung at their entertainment.
All this was very pleasant reading to the people of Hillcrest, and the ones who had looked with disfavour upon the movement were now anxious to assist. A number of parents who had formerly refused to allow their boys to join came to the captain, and asked him to undertake the training of their sons.
"Not jist now," the captain told them. "I have all that I kin handle at present. I must git the ones I have licked into shape before tryin' my hand upon any more."
These requests were most gratifying to Captain Josh, and he smiled grimly at the thought of the change which had come over the people. It was sweet revenge, as well, to be able to refuse the very ones who had talked most against the scouts when they were first organised. But this had nothing to do with his not taking the boys, for the captain was too big a man for that. He really desired first of all to train the few scouts he had to the best of his ability. It was not quantity he wanted, but quality, and he was determined that his one patrol should be looked upon with pride by all in Hillcrest, and to belong to it would be considered a great honour by any boy.
Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal were much pleased at the part Rod had taken in the capture of the robbers. They talked it all over with the captain when he came over to see them the very next day.