"He's supposed to watch his step," said Warde.
"Sure he is, Roy," piped up Pee-wee. "Gee, you can't deny that, Roy."
"He's supposed to know where he's at when it comes to something serious," said Warde. "He's supposed to look before he leaps—"
"You can't deny that, Roy," spoke the big heart of Pee-wee Harris. "He's supposed to look before he leaps."
Roy smiled. "Well, what are we going to do?" he asked.
"Are you asking me?" Warde queried.
"Sure, I'm asking you. It's Blythe's picture, isn't it?"
"You're patrol leader and I'm a second class scout," said Warde. "What do you say to do?"
"What do you mean, a second class scout?" Roy demanded, his voice full of feeling. "I don't want any better scouts in my patrol than you. I'm asking you what we're going to do."
"All right, I'll tell you," Warde said. "We're going to keep still until we're dead sure. We know what kind of a fellow Blythe is, and they don't, I mean the sheriff and police and those people. We know he's a good friend. Sometimes when you look at a picture it reminds you of someone, and the next time you look at it, it doesn't—"
"That's right, Roy," Pee-wee urged with great vehemence, "because once I thought a man looked like George Washington and afterwards I saw he didn't. So you see."
"We're not going to tell about this to-morrow and maybe not the next day," said Warde. "We're going to make dead sure. Then if we have to, we'll have to, that's all. Blythe isn't going to run away and I don't think they're likely to take that notice down for about forty-eleven years. We don't want Mr. Ellsworth blowing into that post office; not yet. I'm not worrying about my scout rank, that can wait too. I'm thinking about what we've lost—maybe. I'm not thinking about what I wanted to get. Everything—it looks like—everything is changed—all the fun and—what do I care about the old badge?"
Thus spoke Warde Hollister, second class scout.
THE DULL BLAZE
This was all very well, and his willing sacrifice of the coveted badge in the interest of friendship and loyalty showed Warde's character. But he and his two companions found small comfort in an excuse for delay. This was a serious business, a business for man's handling, and in their hearts they knew it. Yet on the other hand it seemed right, and due to their friend, that they should make assurance doubly sure.
One fact, and only one, did comfort them. Blythe wore no double-breasted vest; he wore no vest at all. But in the downward path of tramp life and poverty, the vest is very apt to disappear. Against this little gleam of forlorn hope was the fact that Blythe did wear a gray suit. And that suit was very old and shabby; as old as the notice with the picture, surely. For the rest, the printed description seemed all too accurate.
It was a preoccupied and downcast trio that made their way through the old reservation to the scene of their recent toil and pleasure. How familiar seemed the spot! How friendly, and abounding in pleasant memories of their odd camping adventure! Their companions were just getting through for the day. Doc Carson and Connie Bennett were shinnying down one of the corner uprights of a bare frame, several scouts were piling some odds and ends, and Blythe, anxious as usual to get the camp-fire started, was gathering chips and small bits of waste lumber for that purpose. He heard them coming and looked up smiling.
"We're going to have a big one to-night," he said.
"You said it," called Roy.
"A welcome home fire, hey?" said Blythe. Roy felt almost sick.
"You're just in time to cook supper," said Westy. "We were going to send a tracer after you. What news?"
"We'll tell you later," said Warde.
As he spoke, the "boss" walked toward Blythe's Bunk, as the scouts had named their little headquarters, and tumbled his gatherings near the fireplace. Warde tried to determine whether he did actually walk a little sideways. But he could not be sure. It is so easy to imagine these things, to see something when one is looking for it.
There were no secrets within the First Bridgeboro Troop and what the three scouts had seen was soon known to all the others. It completely overshadowed the finding of Miss Bates and the disappointment of Pee-wee at not ascertaining the name and address of the unknown soldier. They did not talk freely about these things, chiefly because of their appalling discovery, and partly also because there was a certain constraint around the camp-fire that night.
The talk and banter which before had been so free and merry could not be kept up; they could not do it, try as they would. The conversation was not spontaneous, and the few pitiful attempts at joking were forced. Even Roy seemed to have lost his corklike buoyancy. And for Pee-wee, he could only sit gazing across the fire at Blythe with a kind of fearful fascination. Different, but equally intent, was the almost steady gaze of Warde Hollister. Roy noticed this; others noticed it.
Perhaps the only one who was quite at ease was the "boss" himself. "I'll tell you what Doctor Cawson did to-day," he said.
Edwin (Doc) Carson was in the Raven Patrol and was called Doc because he was the troop's official first aid scout. He was the son of a physician, which fact had doubtless helped to raise him to proficiency in that splendid part of scouting. It was one of Blythe's most noticeable characteristics that he got the names of the scouts confused in his mind. Almost the only name which he consistently pronounced correctly was Will Dawson. And he pronounced Carson the same as he pronounced Dawson.
Whether he really thought that Doc was a young physician it would be hard to say. His simple admiration of the scouts amounted to a kind of reverence, and he gave them credit for professional excellence in the case of all their honors. To him their merit badges meant that they were aviators, astronomers, chemists, and what not. And he always spoke of Doc Carson as "doctor."
"What?" asked Roy, half-heartedly.
"I found a robin under the flooring of the last shack," said Blythe in his usual simple way. "His wing was dragging open. I closed it up and carried him in my hand like you said about carrying a bird. I held him till the doctor came, and he said the wing wasn't broken, only strained. He stood him on a branch and in a little while he flew away."
"Why didn't you kill him and be done with it?" Warde asked.
Blythe just laughed. "I guess you don't mean that," he said.
"Righto," said Hunt Ward of the Elks.
Followed then an interval of silence, broken only by the mounting blaze. Everyone seemed to experience a little relaxation of the constraint. For a minute it seemed as if the spirits of the company rose. It was just for a moment.
Warde's gaze was fixed directly on Blythe, who seemed calm, content, and happy to be among them. He at least showed no constraint.
"I dare say that robin will be in Canada by morning," Warde said. "They go as far north as Montreal before they turn south. Hey, Roy?"
"Some of them do," Roy said.
"There's a place I'd like to go to—Montreal," said Warde. "Ever been there Blythey?"
"Montreal?" said Blythe. "Not as I know of."
Blythe shook his head. "Toronto's up near there, isn't it?" he asked.
Warde seemed on the point of asking more but apparently decided not to. "Who's going to tell a yarn?" he asked. "This is a kind of slow bunch to-night. How about you, Roy?"
The camp-fire had died, the last embers had been trodden out, the scouts had turned in for the night. A half dozen or so fresh air enthusiasts lay upon their couches of balsam under a big elm, through the high branches of which the stars looked down upon the weary toilers, dead to the world. For a precious interval at least they would feel no disappointment. It was well that they were tired that night.
They had not decided what they should do, but they knew they could not conceal a criminal and take money from him and count him their companion. They must do a detestable thing; they must go home and tell. They did not relish doing this, they could not relish it. They were not of the class of detectives. They were capable of feeling contemptible....
There, close to where they slept, were the results of their faithful labor. And there, too, were the dead embers of their cheerful fire around which they and their strange, likable companion, had gathered night after night. One shack had completely disappeared, another stood there in the darkness like a skeleton to mock them, the third was to have been tackled in dead earnest in the morning. Then would come the dividing of the money—oh, the whole thing would seem like a dream when they awakened.
Only Warde and Roy were abroad on that still night. They sat upon the sill of a shack rather more pretentious than the barnlike buildings all about, for it had been officers' quarters. There were even the rotten remnants of curtains in the windows, necessary no doubt to help defeat the Germans. The neighborhood was very quiet and very dark, save for the sounds caused by the breeze in those old wrecks of buildings. Every rusty hinge and loose board and creaky joint seemed to contribute to this dismal music. One might easily have imagined those dark, spectral structures to be tenanted by the ghosts of dead soldiers.
"Why didn't you mention Quebec?" Roy asked. "Why didn't you ask him if he had been there? That was the place named in the notice."
"That isn't what I was thinking about," Warde said. "I was reading in the old scout handbook how you can tell where people come from by their talk. If a person belongs in Canada he'll say Monreal instead of Montreal. He'll say Tranto instead of Toronto."
"Yes?" urged Roy, hopefully.
"That's all," Warde said. "He doesn't talk as if he came from up that way. But the notice didn't say he belonged there, it only said he was wanted there. The way he spoke about the robin was what got me. I can't make him out at all."
"I guess the picture's the principal thing," Roy said despairingly.
"The principal thing is to wait a day or so," said Warde; "and see what we can find out. It looks bad, that's sure. It's his picture as far as I can see. I don't see how we're going to take his measurement; we don't want to make him suspicious."
"It's funny how he never speaks about his past," said Roy.
"Anybody can see there's something funny about him," Warde said. "What he said about the robin makes me think that if he committed a murder he was probably crazy when he did it. Maybe he doesn't even remember that he did it."
"You can't say he's crazy," Roy protested.
"I know I like him," Warde said; "I just can't help it. I like him now. Maybe he isn't smart, but he's always thinking about us. He's for the scouts good and strong. Maybe it's because he's so simple and easy—maybe that's what makes me like him so much...."
For a few moments neither spoke. It seemed as if both were preoccupied by pleasant memories of their friend. Weak, uncertain, queer he may have been, and a failure into the bargain. Shabby and all that. But his smile haunted them now; he had been their comrade, their friend, their champion.
"Something always gets in the way when you try to swing a big good turn," Roy mused.
"It takes Pee-wee to manage the big ones," said Warde.
"Poor kid," Roy said.
Again neither spoke. A loose board creaked somewhere in the darkness. A crude little weathervane, the handiwork of some departed soldier, rattled nearby.
"Listen," said Roy. "Do you hear that voice again?"
As he spoke a long, discordant cry could be heard somewhere in the distance, ending in a spasmodic jerk. It was like nothing human. Yet strangely it suggested something human. As if some unearthly ghoul were trying to simulate the wailing of human anguish.... Then again it was quite grotesque, bearing no resemblance to the cry of a living thing.
"What do you suppose it is?" Warde asked.
"It's a—I don't know," said Roy doubtfully. "I never heard anything just like that before."
The sound was not continuous, but came at intervals.
"Do you know what I'd like to do?" said Warde. "I'd like to get just one good look at Blythe while he's lying asleep. I'd like to see his face calm and still like in the picture. I'd like to see it when he isn't looking at me."
"That's easy," said Roy, caught by the idea. "Let's go. Maybe we can tell better."
They returned to their camp, as they called it, through the dismantled frame of the first shack, and past the sleepers under the big elm. Pee-wee was there, tied in a bowline knot, the official knot of the Raven patrol, sleeping the sleep of the righteous.
"If he should hear us, remember we're just turning in," said Roy.
"Have you got your flashlight?" Warde asked.
"Sure," Roy whispered. "Walk softly."
They entered the sleeping shack, "Blythe's Bunk," and tiptoed to the spot where Blythe usually lay. Then Roy turned on his light.
The two scouts stood appalled, speechless. Blythe's old shabby coat which he always folded and used as a pillow was there with the depression made by his head still in it. But Blythe had gone away....
[Footnote 2: Edition of 1910, containing much interesting and important matter omitted from subsequent editions.]
THE DIAGONAL MARK
Warde had always his wits with him. "Shh, don't wake up the troop," he whispered. "Come outside."
"We'll need them all—alarm—" Roy whispered excitedly.
"Shut up and come outside," Warde whispered emphatically. He picked up Blythe's coat and, tiptoeing, led the way out into the night. "He hasn't gone away," he said more freely. "Don't you see this coat? Do you think he'd go away without his coat? Stick your flashlight here, quick; here's our chance."
Warde held the collar of the poor threadbare coat close to Roy's light. There, on the inside was sewn a little cloth square on which was printed:
DOMINION CLOTHING CO. QUEBEC, CANADA.
"I see," Roy whispered, not knowing what he said.
"Give me the light and wait a second—shh," said Warde.
Before Roy knew it Warde had re-entered the shack and was folding and replacing the coat where he had found it. In a kind of daze Roy saw the bright spot near the empty balsam couch, saw his companion's quick, silent movements, saw the scouts lying asleep in the dim light. Then all was darkness within and he saw no more.
"Did you feel in the pockets?" Roy asked as they betook themselves through the darkness to a safe distance. He still whispered, though there was no need of it now. He was nervous, agitated.
"No, I'm not in that line of business," said Warde.
"I guess he's Claude Darrell all right," said Roy. "What shall we do? Try to find him? There's that voice again. Do you hear it? It's over there—west."
"Not find him but follow him," said Warde. "If we can."
"You stay here," said Roy; "give me the light, I'll track him." Roy was master here and Warde could only accede.
"What are we going to do when we find him?" Roy asked.
"We're going to find out what he's doing," Warde said.
Nimbly, as silently as a panther, Roy retraced his steps to the shack. For a few minutes Warde stood alone, waiting, conscious of Roy's experience and superiority in those more active arts of the scout. He had not the slightest knowledge in which direction Blythe had gone and his patrol leader was going to wrench this knowledge from the darkness. Off in the distance the unearthly voice crooning and whining in the night. The very air seemed charged with something impending.
Presently Warde saw two quick flashes of the light, then two more. He was glad that he knew the Silver Fox patrol signs well enough to know the meaning of that one. It signified "Come."
"He went in his bare feet," said Roy; "look there. See?"
Upon the soft ground was the imprint of a bare heel with the additional imprint of a diagonal mark upon it. Perhaps Warde would not have recognized this for a heel print, nor the faint suggestions of another print two or three inches distant, for a toe print. But these were easily recognizable by Roy and they indicated the direction also.
"I'm glad he didn't have his shoes on," he said. "Now we know he's got some kind of a scar on his foot. Come ahead, follow me."
Eight or ten of these prints, among many others which Roy did not pause to distinguish, brought them to the concrete road which runs through the old reservation, the Knickerbocker Road, as it is called. Here the leader of the Silver Foxes was baffled. There was no following footprints here.
They paused for a moment, considering. The white road stretched like a ribbon straight north and south. The temporary makeshift cross streets could be seen in black outline with their silent, ghostly, gloomy buildings, standing in more or less regular order. Here and there was an area of lesser darkness where some boarded side had fallen away revealing the fresher wood of the interiors.
The two scouts moved northward a little way along this permanent, central road, the backbone of the old camp. Still they could hear that strange, unearthly voice.
Suddenly out of the darkness near them sped a form. It crossed the road, entered one of the old buildings and hurriedly emerged, entering another. It seemed like some lost spirit of the night. It passed within ten feet of the scouts, never noticing them. It seemed intent with a kind of diabolical intentness. Meanwhile the voice continued, now mournful, now petulant, now clear, now modulated, according to the rising wind.
The two scouts paused spellbound as if in a place haunted. The figure had disappeared but they could hear the patter of its running, and once or twice a fleeting dark shadow. The breeze was freshening and conjuring every sound about the ramshackle buildings into spectral wailings. A fragment of glass falling from a window startled the listeners. Agitated, their nerves tense, they strained their eyes for glimpses of the hurrying apparition and listened to the ghostly concert.
"It's he," said Warde; "we've got to catch him. Do you think that sound is a tree toad? Listen!" He pulled his hat on tighter because of the rising wind.
"First I thought it was," Roy said. "But it isn't. They make funny noises but not like that. It's off there and up high. It's not any animal—or loose boards or anything like that. Come on."
Suddenly out of the blackness arose a piercing scream. Its echo resounded from the dried boards of some building and re-echoed from another as if its terror-stricken owner had three voices. It mingled with that wailing voice, distant, aloof. Then they heard human words, sounding strange and unhuman.
"I'm coming! Wait, I'm coming!"
It sounded farther and farther off until it was drowned in the distant moaning.
"It's he," Warde whispered, his voice tense.
"I know where it is; come on," said Roy.
"What does it mean, anyway?" Warde asked, as he followed Roy, breathless and in suspense. "What are we going to do? Has he got some—some—accomplice—"
"Follow me," was all that Roy said.
"The troop—if we're in danger—"
"Never mind the troop; follow me."
Silently Roy sped along into an overgrown cross street, cutting through the doorless wreck of the Y. M. C. A. shack, over the litter within, and out on the opposite side. A tall, spectral shadow soon confronted them, whence emanated that ghostly voice, loud and beseeching, as they approached. Their nearness to it dispelled any thought of its being the inanimate sounds of wind-stirred wreckage or of some unknown living creature. It moaned and cried like no voice they had ever heard before. Yet it was strangely human. The crying of that fleeing, bewildered apparition was silent now, and there seemed a note of gloomy solace in the low, plaintive strain.
"Come ahead," said Roy resolutely, "follow me. Not scared, are you?"
He ascended the narrow, metal ladder of the windmill, Warde following. Upon the top was a tiny platform, and here he turned on his flashlight. Crouched in a heap was their friend Blythe. He was in a state of frantic agitation, his whole form trembling like a leaf. His head was bowed; he clutched something in his two hands. From it dangled a cord. Several burned matches lay near him and wisps and little masses of woven straw littered the miniature aerial platform.
Roy turned his light above to that part of the superstructure which revolved with the wind, enabling the winged wheel to keep in favorable position for revolving. The moaning voice was very near now, within arm's reach almost, and at that close range was divested of its ghostly suggestiveness.
"Look," Roy whispered, directing his light upward. There upon the movable framework was something that looked like a cigar-box. It was so placed as always to catch the breeze from the revolving fan.
"I know what it is," said Roy; "hold this light while I take it down."
He seemed to know that there was no peace for that distracted, crouching figure, as long as the weird voice from that compact little mechanism was audible. He stood upon the framework and, reaching up, dislodged the harmless box. A last dying wail accompanied his act. Then the big winged fan revolved silently above them in the dark night.
"Blythey," cried Roy gently; "look up. It's just Warde and me. What's the matter? Tell us, can't you? What's the trouble?"
"I've got her—I can see her—she called me—" was all Blythe could say. "Did you hear her call—loud? I knew—I came—no—no!" he fairly screamed, as Warde tried to lift his head and discover what he held. "I came back—back to life—I was dead—you would have buried me—can't you see I'm alive—you—scouts—"
His head shook, he clutched at his breast, the hand which Roy tried to grasp trembled and was like ice. The two scouts saw that there was no use talking with him. The wretched creature was out of his senses. Huddling in a posture of abject terror he clutched the object which he held tighter against his breast, his head bowed and shaking, his whole form in convulsion.
"Do you know where you are, Blythey?" Warde asked.
"In the lower field—where they're making hay," Blythe answered.
They tried no more at questioning him.
"We want you to come with us, Blythey," Roy said. His voice was friendly, kindly, albeit he was himself disturbed and fearful. For neither of the boys knew what this pathetic, demon-haunted creature might do next.
"We're your friends," Warde added. "Can't you get up and come with us—and go to bed. Don't you remember all about camp-fire, and Pee-wee, and all the fun we had? There isn't any voice now, it's gone away."
But for all their kindness and resolve to help him, they felt certain qualms, both of conscience and of fear. The all too conclusive proof that he was a fugitive and that his hands and disordered brain were red with blood were strengthened by this uncanny adventure.
To them the vision that he had seen, the voice that had lured him and brought him to this pitiful state were the face and voice of his victim—a woman. He had seen her, as such wretched, remorseful creatures ever do....
The big fan revolving silently above them in the brisk wind seemed almost to bespeak a kind of quiet satisfaction that it had brought his crime back home to him, and laid him low there upon that ghostly tower.
It was not without a feeling of relief that the two scouts heard the cheering voices of their comrades approaching through the darkness. They had been aroused, no doubt, by the piercing scream of Blythe.
"I'll go down," said Roy; "you stay up here, don't leave him alone."
At the foot of the ladder the leader of the Silver Foxes waited for the members of the troop. It was good to see them approach. In the darkness he could just distinguish their hurriedly donned and incomplete raiment. He saw their looks of fear and inquiry, saw the almost panic agitation in Pee-wee's round face and sleepy eyes.
"It's all right," Roy said, trying to control his jerky, nervous speech.
"Shh, he's all right—Blythe—Blythe is up there—he's in a kind of fit—he's crazy—he's the—he's the one, all right—he's Darrell—shh, wait—don't go up. Do you see this? It's one of those banshees Harry Donnelle told us about—the kind the soldiers used to put up in the windmills in Flanders. That's what's been making the noise. It sort of—you know—spoke to him—that's what I think...."
If Roy had remembered some of the sprightly tales which their friend Lieutenant Donnelle had brought from France, he might have saved himself and his companion much fearful perplexity on that dark momentous night.
Or if they had ever been in Holland or Flanders they might have known of those novel toys, the handiwork of ingenious youngsters, that moan and wail and even pour forth their uncanny laughter when strategically placed on the tops of windmills. American soldier boys, chafing under enforced idleness in trenches and dugouts, would often beguile their time making these miniature calliopes to catch the wind. And it is not out of reason to surmise that many a warrior in the war-torn regions was startled and confounded by the aerial lamentations of these harmless little boxes of wires and crude whistles.
A cigar box, a few strips of wire, and some odds and ends of willow wood suffice for the manufacture of the Flanders banshee. There is now an American banshee with all modern improvements (patent not applied for) invented and controlled by Pee-wee Harris. But that is not a part of the present story.
AFTER THE STORM
The expected difficulty of getting Blythe down from his strange refuge was much simplified by his own demeanor. When his agitation subsided he became as docile as a lamb, seeming quite willing to place himself in the scouts' hands. He seemed utterly exhausted and bewildered. With this exception he showed no trace of what he had been through, and appeared not to remember it.
When they asked him to get up, he stared at Roy's flashlight for a moment as if puzzled, then rose saying not a word. In the glare of the light one of the scouts lifted a small locket that dangled on a cord around Blythe's neck, and several of the boys looked at it. Blythe either did not know what they did, or he did not care. At all events he did not object. This seemed odd to them considering how he had clutched the thing before.
They saw that it was quite useless to question him about the matches and the wisps of straw or about why the sounds had meant anything to him. They wondered whether indeed that ghostly calling had aroused anything in his crippled memory or whether its significance was only in his disordered mind.
They got him down the ladder and he accompanied them meekly to their little camp, hanging his head, and never speaking. Westy Martin, who clasped his arm, noticed that it still trembled, but otherwise he gave no sign of his hallucination and insane agitation. They pitied him, of course, but they could not repress a certain repugnance to him. Rational or not, a murderer is not a pleasant thing.... Their hearty liking for him, which had grown into a kind of affection, passed now to a feeling of pity.
Before they reached the camp he made the one remark which broke his otherwise meek silence. On passing the shack on which they had last been working, he said, "That's where I found the robin, under that floor. Hollender thought I would kill it. He thinks I'm that kind." Then he laughed. Warde said nothing.
They got him back to his couch, where he almost immediately fell sound asleep. After ten minutes or so, when Roy entered to look at his bare heel in the brightness of his flashlight, he was breathing heavily, wrapped in the sleep of utter exhaustion and oblivion. The diagonal mark seen in his foot imprint was plainly noticeable as a scar on his heel. Doc Carson felt his pulse and it was almost normal.
There seemed no likelihood of his trying to escape that night. His composure, they thought, might have been intended to throw them off their guard; but his deep, sonorous sleep rang true; it was as good as a cordon of sentinels. But for the scouts there was yet no sleep and they raked together a few chips from the scene of their former happiness and sat about the poor disconsolate little blaze talking in undertones, trying to decide what they had better do. Of one thing they were resolved, and that was that the county authorities in Bridgeboro should be informed that this Blythe was none other than Claude Darrell....
They talked late and their decision before turning in was that the three patrol leaders, Roy, Connie Bennett and Arthur Van Arlen should go to Bridgeboro late in the afternoon and tell their scoutmaster, Mr. Ellsworth, of their discovery. They chose the emissaries with the intention of putting the responsibility upon their leaders where it belonged, and also with the thought of having the three patrols participate equally in what seemed an odious thing, view it as they would.
Pee-wee voiced the general sentiment when he said, "Gee, something is all the time happening to prove he's the one they're after, and then all of a sudden something happens so as to kind of make us like him and trust him more. Anyway, I think he didn't know what he was doing, and I like him and I'm not afraid to say so." And he added, "The Silver Foxes are crazy if it comes to that."
"They're crazy about you, Kid," Roy said in forced good humor and ruffling his hair for him.
In the morning, to their utter astonishment, Blythe arose as usual, gathered chips for the breakfast fire, and sat among them, drinking his coffee, and eating the bacon which Roy had cooked, as if nothing had happened.
He seemed to expect the usual entertainment of wit and wisdom from Roy and Pee-wee, and he smiled in his old way when Roy said with a poor attempt at mirth, "Let's finish up the egg powder, we'll all scramble for scrambled eggs." Blythe heard only the pleasantry, but to the others the reminder that it was their last breakfast there was cheering.
Altogether they were not at all satisfied with themselves though they knew that what they were going to do was nothing less than their plain duty. Their new friendship, their fine plans of a helpful turn, bringing pleasure and profit, had ended in a sordid mess. Duties are funny things....
They had no heart for work that morning, but it was easier to work than to do nothing. The three messengers wished not to go to Bridgeboro until afternoon because their scoutmaster would be there then. They would feel easier and less contemptible telling this thing to him than to the authorities.
After breakfast Blythe was the first at work. His energy was never equal to his willingness, but on this morning, perhaps because the others seemed half-hearted, he was up on the roof of the third shack ripping off boards before they were well started. Others followed him up working at the edge of the roof. Roy began lifting and hauling away the loosened floorboards below. Most of the troop busied themselves clearing up the site of the second shack. The work proceeded silently, almost gloomily.
The work had been going on in this way for about an hour when one of the scouts working down at the edge of the roof called to Blythe who was up at the peak that the roof beneath him was sagging.
The fact was that the uprights within the shack had been too soon removed, which put a strain upon the all too slender horizontal timber which they had supported. This had been pieced mid-way, an instance of hasty and flimsy construction, and the weight of Blythe at this point caused the strip to sag.
The slanting timbers which formed the framework of the roof, running from the peak down to the sides, were being dislodged at their lower ends by the scouts, which operation, of course, withdrew their support from the horizontal beam on which Blythe was working. He acknowledged the warning by springing the beam with his weight, at which an ominous sound of straining and splitting was heard.
"Look out up there," Roy called from below.
"Get off there Blythey they—quick!" another shouted.
"Climb down here," another suggested.
Perhaps Blythe did not think as quickly as others think. Perhaps he did not value his poor life as others value their lives. Who shall say? In any case he did not descend by one of the slanting strips. In another moment the timber under him was splitting and giving way at the cleated join, and sagging threateningly. Then came the loud sound of final splitting and breaking away, and a deep sagging preceding the complete break.
A few brief seconds remained for Blythe to decide what he should do. He might still descend to safety as his companions had suggested. The increasing sound of splitting, and the sagging, warned him to quick decision. Instead of moving he looked directly beneath him where Roy was.
"What's the matter?" he called down.
"My foot is caught under the flooring," Roy said.
A ripping and rending, and then the buckling of the broken pieces of timber followed. The whole flimsy structure on which Blythe clung trembling in air....
THE GOOD TURN
What happened then, happened like a flash of lightning. For a brief second they saw Blythe hanging from the collapsing structure. Then they saw him let go. Perhaps they did not know the full significance of Roy's predicament. They thought Blythe stark mad.
He struck the flooring with a thud, drew his breath and grabbed his ankle in a sudden twinge of pain, stood, fell again with an exclamation of agony, then dragged himself to his hands and knees, and pulled Roy to the ground. Bracing his own back above the prostrate form he waited, the cords standing out on his arms like ropes. He gulped and jerked his head as if to shake away the agony that seemed killing him. His body was well clear of the small form beneath him. And thus he waited, one second, two seconds,—
And then with an appalling sound of splitting timbers the whole structure collapsed and fell upon him.
So suddenly did this happen that Blythe had scarcely braced himself over Roy's body when both were buried under the fallen debris. Nor had the scouts at the edge of the roof wholly escaped; several who had not jumped quickly enough and far enough received slight cuts and bruises from the falling timbers.
Scrambling to their feet they called to the victims who were pinned unseen beneath the wreckage, starting at the same time to haul away the debris. There was no answer from beneath.
"What did he do? What did he do it for?" one asked.
"Why didn't Roy get from under?"
"Search me; hurry up, pull the stuff off them."
"Blythe is crazy."
"Sure he is."
"He didn't think fast enough; he's not to blame. Hurry up."
"Roy was crazy, you mean."
They worked frantically pulling away the fallen boards and beams, Grove Bronson with a handkerchief wound around his bleeding hand, Wig Weigand with a great bruise on his forehead. Pee-wee strove like a giant. Soon the form of Blythe was revealed, braced by his hands and knees, and Roy lying prostrate beneath him.
"How are you?" one of the scouts called.
"All right," Roy answered; "my foot is caught under the flooring."
"Blythe all right? How about you, Blythey?"
Blythe did not answer. He seemed immovable, like a figure of stone. His bare arms gave the impression of a taut rope. A heavy timber which they lifted from across his back, where it had lain like a seesaw, must have all but broken his spine. A rusted nail in it had torn his poor, shabby coat almost in twain, and there was blood on the flannel shirt beneath it. Blood was flowing freely from a wound in his head and dripping down from his neck like water off a roof.
They turned back his coat collar to see if there might be a cut on his neck and there, confronting them, was the little cloth label containing the name of the clothing store in Quebec. It shocked the scouts to see that in the very moment of their friend's supreme heroism.
"Blythe? Are you all right? Speak? Stand up, can't you?"
He neither moved nor spoke. He seemed transformed into an iron brace. Across the calves of his legs lay a heavy timber, which had cut his trousers and which must almost have crushed his legs when it fell. As they lifted it blood trickled away. They noticed that he moved both feet spasmodically as if they had been asleep. There could have been no circulation there, for the timber across his legs had acted like a great tourniquet.
He remained immovable, silent, until the scouts had released Roy's foot and helped him out from under that human roof. That roof, at least, had not collapsed. Bruised and bleeding as Blythe was, he remained in his attitude of Herculean resistance as if he had died and become petrified there.
Then he spoke, his voice weak but tense, "Is he all right?"
"Yes, I'm all right," said Roy; "how about you?"
Blythe did not answer. He drew himself to his feet, reeled, clutched at Westy who stood nearest, and fell to the ground insensible.
Just at that moment Warde Hollister noticed something, and without speaking indicated it to one or two others. It was a trifling coincidence and held his glance and thought for but a second. On an end of fallen beam which protruded from the wreckage sat a robin with head cocked sideways watching the stricken, unconscious hero.
It seemed odd that right in that minute of his heroic abandonment, his companions should be reminded of his villainy and of his gentleness....
MR. FERRETT'S TRIUMPH
Roy's injury was but a strained ankle. For a moment he seemed dazed and unable to realize what had happened. That the whole collapsed roof had been held above him by superhuman effort of Blythe only dawned on him when he saw the bleeding, unconscious form of his friend lying clear of the wreckage, Doc Carson kneeling by him, the others standing silently about. It did occur to Roy, as odd thoughts do come in tense moments, how pleased and content Blythe would be could he but know that "Doctor Cawson" was in attendance. His faith in scout first aid was so great, so flattering....
They made sure that his back was not broken and that his heart action was not dangerously weak. Doc bathed the streaked hair and sterilized the cut which he thought was not necessarily mortal.
"Someone will have to get a doctor," he said. He seemed the calmest one present. "Hustle to Dumont or Haworth, one of you, and get to a 'phone. If you can find a doctor send him, but anyway call up Bridgeboro; call up the hospital and tell them someone is hurt up here."
Roy was starting but Artie Van Arlen pulled him back. "It's all you can do to limp," he said. "I'll go."
"If it's a hospital emergency call, the police will come," Westy warned.
"Never mind," said Doc, "get to a 'phone, that's all I care about. And hustle."
Before he had finished speaking Artie was gone. Several of them watched his fleeting form, moving with steady, easy speed down the smooth white road. The patter of his shoes sounded farther and farther off until the sound died altogether, and the hurrying figure grew smaller and smaller as if it were going down the scale from patrol leader to tenderfoot. They saw his hat blow off and that he did not pause to recover it. Then he passed between the old gateposts where the sentinels had once stood, and disappeared in a turn of the road. There were houses a little beyond that point.
Under Doc's direction the scouts worked three boards under Blythe's own balsam couch and carried this to where he lay. They got him onto it and bore it gently into the camping shack, out of the glaring sunlight. There, in Blythe's Bunk, the only home he knew, they laid him gently down and at Doc's request those who were not needed went out. The victim lay quite unconscious, his face ghastly pale and with a look of being polished caused perhaps by the water which Doc Carson kept applying.
The wet, matted hair, too, gave him a ghastly, unhuman look. But Doc said that his pulse was fair and that the blood was not flowing too profusely. That was all he would say. With the true spirit of one who ministers he seemed to have forgotten all else except that Blythe was stricken.
Outside the air seemed tense, the scouts standing about in little groups, waiting. Their suspense was shown in the occasional glances which they gave up the road. They spoke in undertones, their talk was forced and charged with nervous tension. A kind of foreboding dwelt among them.
"They'll find out everything now," one said. "Should we maybe hide his coat?"
"We have no right to do that," said another.
"It's out of our hands now," Westy said.
Then spoke Pee-wee Harris out of his staunch, sturdy little heart, "I don't care—I don't care what you say—he didn't do it. Lots of people look like other people. Because anyway I know he didn't do it. Remember about that robin."
"How about the label, Kid?"
Pee-wee had not time to answer this poser for along the road came the ambulance, pell-mell. Surely, the boys thought, Artie could not have spoken of Blythe's identity over the 'phone, yet following the ambulance came the touring car of Bridgeboro's police department with the chief in it, the policeman chauffeur, a couple of other men, and county detective Ferrett. A couple of other cars, too, came lagging behind, in deference to the speed laws, doubtless lured thither by the sonorous gong of the ambulance and the imposing official display.
Pretty soon Artie came along scout pace. The scene of the pleasant little scout camp was presently overrun by aimless sojourners in private cars, who gathered about awaiting the actions of the high and mighty.
The surgeon in spotless white examined Blythe and said little. When one of the scouts ventured to ask him if the injuries would prove fatal he said, "Not necessarily."
"Who is this fellow anyway?" the Bridgeboro chief asked.
"He's a fellow that's hurt," Doc Carson answered rather dryly.
"Belong around here?"
"He was working here and we were helping him," Westy said.
"What's his name?"
"What do you boys know about this chap?"
No one answered this question. The boys felt nervous, uncertain what to say. The one person present who was quite oblivious to all this official nonsense at such a time was the one whom it most concerned, Blythe. He lay stark upon his balsam couch with the blessing of unconsciousness upon him. The surgeon, with a few words and much quiet show of efficiency, knelt by him, heedless of these official busybodies. What hint he had of possible crime none could say. But they were like vultures.
"Where's the fire department?" Warde Hollister ventured to ask a brother scout.
At this point the surgeon with gentle deftness removed the victim's faded, threadbare coat, and threw it upon the ground. With the promptness of sudden discovery county detective Ferrett picked it up. He held it distastefully, as one holds a thing infected. To the boys his act seemed like an insult to the poor worn rag with its tear, caused by the falling beam, and its brown bloodstain. But none of them spoke. Roy, in particular, watched the official with keen interest.
"Dominion—Dominion Clothing Company," they heard him say; "Quebec, Canada."
There followed an awful pause. That would have been the time for the scouts to speak. But none spoke.
"Hold on a minute," they heard Mr. Ferrett say, just as two men were about to lift the canvas stretcher which they had slipped under Blythe's body; "just a moment."
He took from his pocket a sort of huge wallet, and fumbling among its multifarious contents pulled out an old faded paper, which he opened. Roy and Westy, who stood nearest to him could read it plainly enough and see two pictures, profile and front face, which it displayed:
WANTED FOR MURDER FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS
REWARD WILL BE PAID BY THE POLICE OF QUEBEC, CANADA, FOR INFORMATION LEADING TO THE ARREST AND CONVICTION OF CLAUDE DARRELL, ALIAS DARROW, ALIAS HICKY JOE, ETC., ETC. WANTED FOR
BURGLARY AND HOMICIDE.
Was last seen in New York where he tried to enlist for military service. Hair brown and straight. Complexion dark. Eyes gray. Height 5 feet 10-1/2 inches. Weight about 140 pounds. Teeth white and even. May seek work as gasfitter. When last seen wore a gray suit with double breasted vest. Walks slightly sideways.
"Here's our bird all right," said Detective Ferrett with a cold vulgarity which made the scouts' blood boil. "This is that Quebec chap, wanted for murder. Here's an easy five thousand. Look at this, Chief; look at these pictures and then look at that face. O. K.? This is him or I'm a dub. Just wait till I measure this chap."
"Oh, you'll do nothing of the sort," said the surgeon briskly, and apparently not at all interested in Blythe's history or identity. "He's not going to walk away. Just stand out of the way, gentlemen, this is an ambulance call."
A thrill of admiration passed through several of the scouts as they heard this. "I'd—I'd—anyway I'd rather be a doctor than a detective," Pee-wee whispered.
"Well, it's all down on the paper here," said Detective Ferrett. "We've got him dead to rights. Aim for a goose and you hit a gander. This fellow's a red-handed thug from Canada. They've had the alarm out for him a couple of years. You kids never knew that, hey?" And by way of a pleasantry he hit Roy a rap with his bulging wallet. "We'll measure him up down yonder. The face is enough, but these specifications will clinch it."
"If you're after specifications," said Roy, "you might as well put down that he's got a scar on his left heel. It's an old one, about ten years old. And we're glad you were the one to discover him and you're welcome to your old five thousand dollars. We don't want it, do we, Westy?"
SCOUT LAW NUMBER TWO
Then the scene of all their good times and of their broken hopes was quiet again, the ambulance and its attendant throng was gone, and the scouts were alone.
"Can you hike home with your ankle like that?" Grove Bronson asked Roy.
"Sure, we can take our time. If we get home by evening it's all right."
"It's going to be moonlight here to-night—full moon," Westy said.
"Let's get the cooking things packed first," Connie Bennett said. "Then we'll clear up."
"We might stay for one more camp-fire," Hunt Ward suggested, half-heartedly.
"It wouldn't seem the same," Artie said.
They had all realized that. Dorry Benton laid aside the several tools that he had gathered up and looked about as if wondering what to do next.
"He saved your life," Will Dawson said to Roy.
"Do you think I don't know that?" Roy replied, a little catch in his voice.
"Maybe if you—sort of—you know, if you save a life, maybe it makes up for taking one—" El Sawyer said. But it was plain that he did not quite believe that.
"He didn't do it," Pee-wee said stoutly. "Do you think I don't know? I don't care what—he didn't do it. He likes us an—and—I—I like him—I—"
"Don't, Kid, please don't," said Roy.
"Didn't I say we were going to have two desserts that day I stalked a hop-toad up at Temple Camp, and wasn't I right?" Pee-wee persisted. "So there. I can always tell. And if a fellow saved my life I wouldn't let anybody say he was a murderer, I wouldn't."
"You're a little brick, Kid," said Roy.
"A scout has got to be loyal, hasn't he?" Pee-wee shouted. "Let's hear you deny that. You can bet your life I wouldn't have any murderers saving my life. I don't care about the Dominion Clothing Company or anybody else. If you say he killed anybody, he didn't; that's all I say. A scout has tuition."
"You mean intuition, Kid?" Westy laughed.
"I don't care about signs or anything," Pee-wee stoutly protested; "and I don't care for detectives either. Do you think I can't tell a murderer? Everything can turn out to be something different, can't it? I can prove it by the movies."
Warde Hollister stepped up to him and slapped his shoulder. "You're one bully little scout, Kid," he said. Warde seemed almost converted by Pee-wee's inspiring, unreasoning loyalty.
"Sometimes I agree with you, Kid," he said. "And then again—"
"I agree with myself all the time," Pee-wee said; "and I don't care who agrees with me."
"One thing I'm glad of," Westy said, "and that is that somebody else gets the money; let them have all the credit, too. We had our fun while it lasted," he added wistfully. "And I'm glad Warde didn't count that trip for his first class badge. I'm glad we don't have anything to do with the bad side of it. It seems now just as if a friend had died, that's all."
"I kind of hope he does die," Grove Bronson said.
"Just after being a hero," Connie added.
This was too much for Roy. It brought poor Blythe's heroism and his own rescue home to him with vivid force, his eyes filled and everything about the old familiar scene glistened.
"Come on, let's get ready," he finally said. "Let's get away from here."
They could not share Pee-wee's staunch conviction; they doubted whether Pee-wee really did agree with himself in this matter. But they admired him none the less for that.
Disconsolately they set about clearing up and gathering their belongings. It seemed strange that one so quiet and unobtrusive as poor Blythe could be so keenly missed. Now that he was gone they could see nothing but pathetic reminders of him, the old grocery box he sat on at camp-fire, the box in which he put old nails; above all, the windmill where he had suffered that inexplicable brainstorm in the night. As for Roy, who owed his life to their strange friend, he could not regain any measure of his former spirits, nor even put a brave front to the disappointment as the others did. He limped about, silent and crestfallen.
In the mid-afternoon they started on their hike back to Bridgeboro, a cheerless group. Before going out between the old gateposts they turned for a last glimpse of the scene of their pleasant camping and working adventure. Only a few uprights of one shack remained. The accident had done the work of a day in ten seconds. There was the charred area where their mighty fire had been. And further off was the gaunt tower of the windmill, its big fan revolving slowly, the only remaining thing suggestive of life in the desolated camp.
"I suppose we could get the money for our work, maybe," Westy said.
"We don't want any money," said Hunt Ward of the Elks. "All I want is to get back to our old car down by the river. We don't want any rewards and we don't want any pay and we don't want any merits or rank badges or anything on account of being here."
"It seems kind of like a dream now," Artie said.
"You never can tell how some dreams will come out," said Pee-wee. "Once I had a dream that I was a murderer and when I woke up I found I wasn't a murderer at all."
"That's one thing we like about you," said Roy with a poor attempt at his old bantering spirit.
"What's that?" Pee-wee asked.
"That you're not a murderer."
"I always said you were not," Westy added.
"No friend of ours is a murderer," Pee-wee said.
"I guess we'll have to go back to raising mushrooms now," Will Dawson observed. "Anyway, I'm glad we've got our old car to go to."
"Same here," said Vic Norris of the Elks.
They walked along for a little in silence.
"Will they hang him, I wonder?" Doc Carson asked.
"He must have been out of his head when he did it," one answered.
"He was out of his head when he didn't do it, you mean," insisted Pee-wee. "Do you think the Silver Foxes commit murders just because they're out of their heads? That's no good of an argument. Do you mean to tell me," he shouted, turning suddenly upon Roy; "do you mean to tell me that the fellow who saved your life like that would kill people?"
"Just because I like you, that doesn't prove that I'm out of my head, does it?" Roy asked with a kind of wistful humor.
"Sure it does," said Pee-wee, "because you say a friend of yours kills people. If it wasn't for him you wouldn't be limping now, so that proves the kind of a fellow he is. I don't mean he made you limp, but he made you stay alive so you could limp, and he doesn't even know that you thank him for it either—"
"Don't, Kid—" Roy began; he could hardly speak. "I do—"
"All right then," Pee-wee concluded. "Didn't I tell you I was going to find that girl, and didn't I find her? Didn't I send that letter? Didn't I say that scout up at Temple Camp would get well? Couldn't I always tell when we were going to have apple dumplings? And you go and believe an old picture and a lot of specific vacations or whatever you call them. You'd better read Law Two in the handbook about being loyal—you're such a fine patrol leader—you act more like a patrol wagon!"
"What do you mean I can't be loyal?" Roy demanded, his eyes glistening. "The fellows—"
"I don't care about the troop," Pee-wee interrupted. "I'm talking about you and the fellow that saved your life." He paused in the road and stood facing Roy; a funny little round-faced figure he was, with eyes blazing. "You've got to say, is he a murderer or not? You've got to say it. Yes or no? And these fellows—your own patrol—they can prove what you say—"
Roy was almost sobbing. Pee-wee certainly held the floor—or the road.
"The men—Mr. Ferrett—they know better than we do, Kid. Blythe is the one whose picture—"
"You say yes or no," Pee-wee demanded in a voice of thunder. "They lifted him off where you were caught and so now you're alive and you can speak. Is he a murderer or isn't he?"
Roy was going to pieces. The little scout whom he had always found it so easy to jolly, towered over him. The tiny Raven was become a giant. "I—no he—no he isn't—he isn't, Kid," Roy stammered.
Without another word Pee-wee hooked his duffel bag to the end of his scout staff, after the fashion of a Swiss peasant, and carrying the staff over his shoulder, marched on ahead like a conquering hero, as if he preferred not to be seen hiking with such people....
HOME SWEET HOME
The sturdy little scout did not long walk alone. Roy, visibly affected, limped ahead, rapped him on the shoulder without saying a word, and hobbled along at his side. And presently Warde Hollister, quiet, thoughtful, and always somewhat a puzzle to the other scouts, joined them. "I'm with you, Kiddo," he said. Pee-wee did not appear to care who was with him and who was not. His own stout little scout heart was with him, and that was enough.
And so these three who had taken the hike to Woodcliff, and discovered the tell-tale notice, and mailed the formidable envelope to somebody or other, they knew not whom, trudged along together now, and the resolute, loyal, unreasoning spirit of Pee-wee Harris was like a contagion, giving the others hope where indeed there seemed no hope, and diffusing something like cheer.
And noticing them, Westy said to Vic Norris of the Elks, "He's a funny fellow, Warde; it always seems as if he thinks more than he speaks."
"He never speaks till he's sure," Vic said.
The late afternoon sun was glinting up the river and bathing the patched roof of their old ramshackle railroad car in flickering tints of gold, as they made their way across the field to their quaint headquarters down by the shore in Bridgeboro. The tide was full, the unsightly mud banks hidden; it seemed as if their beloved familiar river had donned its best array to meet them. It rippled against the grassy shore in a kind of song of welcome. The birds were busy in the neighboring willow tree, and a fish flopped out of the glittering water as if to remind them that some of the pleasures of vacation time were left to them.
"Hello, old car!" said El Sawyer of the Ravens, as he tossed the duffel bag through a broken window. "I hope we have enough in the treasury to get that window put in."
"We should worry," said Roy.
"There's a lot of fun not having any money," said Pee-wee.
"We ought to have plenty of fun then," said Westy. "This old car has got the County Poorhouse turning green with envy."
"They have a lot of fun in the poorhouse, they whittle things with sticks," Pee-wee said. "If you always have fun no matter what, that shows you're an optomotrist."
"You mean an optimist," Doc Carson said.
"Let's leave our stuff here and go home," said Connie. "Then we can start in to-morrow."
"Off with the new love, on with the old," said Artie.
"There's no place like this old car," said Westy.
"Except Temple Camp," two or three spoke up.
"And under Roy's kitchen steps, that's a good place," said Pee-wee.
"Well, here we are anyway," said Westy.
"We're here because we're here," said Roy with just a glint of his wonted buoyant spirits.
"You can't deny that," Pee-wee challenged.
There was no denying that, and the old patched-up car, relic of a bygone age of railroading, seemed to breathe the atmosphere of home to them. Even the dusty odor of its threadbare velvet seats seemed to welcome them.
They spent that night in their homes; there was much to tell their parents. Several of them went to see Mr. Ellsworth, and they were not disappointed to learn that he believed the authorities were right, that Blythe was Claude Darrell. They had expected this. The only scout who could draw his mighty sword against the scoutmaster and the whole town was Pee-wee Harris, and he was at home and asleep. Mr. Ellsworth praised his scouts for abandoning all thought of gain from their unhappy adventure. "Just start all over again," he said. So they resolved to do that.
The next day county detective Ferrett took a hop, skip and a jump into fame. Upon the front page of the Bridgeboro Evening Record was the following headliner:
MURDERER FOUND IN SCOUT CAMP. SENSATIONAL SEQUEL TO BOY SCOUT ENTERPRISE IN OLD CAMP MERRITT.
Claude Darrell, a Canadian fugitive of many aliases, was discovered yesterday by County Detective Slicksby Ferrett in old Camp Merritt where he was found working with a troop of local scouts, tearing down some of the old buildings of the wartime concentration camp. Darrell is wanted in Quebec for burglary and murder.
His discovery and prompt identification by Detective Ferrett was due to an alarm sent to Bridgeboro of an accident at the old camp.
The information being uncertain, local police officials and the county officer accompanied the ambulance to the camp, where it was found that the young man, who is a stranger to the scouts, had sustained injuries to his head and body. The hospital officials say that he will recover.
His injuries were caused by the falling of a roof. The fellow was of a rough appearance, his clothing in the last stages of shabbiness.
Detective Ferrett's skill and long experience enabled him to judge at once that the fellow was of the criminal class. He had been palming himself off on the youngsters as an unfortunate, out of work, and they had been helping him.
An inspection of his coat label and comparison of his face with a police alarm picture which the detective had, enabled him to make the identification. Owing to the almost emaciated condition of the fugitive and to his injury, it has not been possible to verify the identification by measurements, but there seems no doubt that he is the man wanted by the Canadian authorities.
These have been notified and Dominion detectives will visit Bridgeboro as soon as the patient has fully regained consciousness and it is possible to compel him to confront those who know him face to face.
Detective Ferrett, whose skill and shrewdness and remarkable memory enabled him to bring this brutal criminal within the reach of justice, warns parents not to let their children play in spots unfrequented by their elders, because of the numerous thugs and desperate characters cast adrift by the war and the present period of unemployment. These, he says, are usually to be found on the outskirts of small towns. Many of them come from New York. They pretend to be fond of camping and so lure and then rob their adventure loving victims....
There was considerable more of this nonsensical twaddle. It was the silly custom of the Bridgeboro Record to make heroes of the town and county officials, and soberly to print the rubbish which they uttered for the pleasure of seeing their names in print.
"Can you beat that?" Westy asked.
"Outskirts of towns!" said Dorry. "Why we met him in Bennett's Candy Store!"
"He calls us children," said Pee-wee.
"Now that you speak of it," said Warde Hollister, "it seems funny that he should have gone right into stores in Bridgeboro."
"Parents should be warned against letting their children go into candy stores," said Roy.
The next day it appeared that the doctors of Bridgeboro were not quite equal to coping with poor Blythe's case, and the Bridgeboro Record stated that a specialist from New York had been summoned to determine whether the desperate scoundrel was feigning unconsciousness in order to baffle the authorities. It appeared that not only thugs and bandits, but occasionally a surgeon who knew his business, came from New York.
And then something happened....
The doctor from New York discovered something which the eagle eye of Detective Ferrett had not discovered. And which the Bridgeboro doctors had not discovered. It was nothing new. It was just two or three tiny cracks in the skull of the fugitive criminal, not far from the rapidly healing cut which he received in his deed of heroism. It might have been two or three years old, the doctor said. He seemed keenly interested in it.
As a consequence of this, Detective Ferrett and a young doctor from the hospital called at the homes of several of the older scouts and questioned them about Blythe's demeanor at camp. The boys had tried to tell the detective of their companion's peculiarities but he had not condescended to listen. He listened now. And the outcome of all this business was another article in the Bridgeboro Record:
CRIMINAL TENDENCIES CAUSED BY CRACKED SKULL?
A delicate operation was performed yesterday on the skull of Darrell, the Canadian fugitive who is recovering from injuries in the Bridgeboro hospital. The shaving of the hair from his head for the purpose of dressing a slight wound received on the day of his capture was the means of revealing a small damage to the skull, evidently caused by a previous accident. It was found that the crushed area of bone caused a depression deep enough to press upon the brain which might account for his mental state which is said to be abnormal.
Darrell has been subject to occasional fits of depression and is said to have become easily excited. The present indications are that the operation was successful. The patient is resting easily and talks more rationally than at any time since his capture. A police guard is being kept at his bedside and it is the intention of the authorities to question him when he is able to submit to such examination.
County Detective Ferrett, whose skill is responsible for the capture of Darrell where he was in hiding at Camp Merritt, thinks that the damage to his skull may very likely have been caused by a blow received in an altercation at the time he killed his victim.
And so a few days elapsed, and the poor helpless victim was surrounded by officials enough, both local and Canadian, to capture the whole hospital. But the victim, pale and swathed and bandaged, had the advantage of them, and they could only wait. Old Mother Nature cannot be hurried by the law. Much of the time Blythe slept. Then, one fine day, he asked for Roy and Pee-wee. They asked him what he wanted of Roy and Pee-wee and he said he wanted to hear them jolly each other....
"I guess we ought to have a rehearsal, hey?" laughed Roy.
"We don't need any rehearsal," said Pee-wee; "when we get there you just start jollying me and I'll answer you back. I don't care what you say, you can say anything you want. I'll say a lot of things about the Silver Foxes, hey? And you knock the Ravens; knock them good and hard, I don't care. Call me a raving Raven because that always made him laugh."
"Don't worry," Roy said, "he only has to look at you to laugh."
"Shall I wear all my stuff so you can make fun of me?" Pee-wee asked.
"Have a heart," said Roy, "you don't want to kill him."
"Let's ask Warde to go too," said Pee-wee, "because he—I kind of think he doesn't believe Blythe is a criminal. Maybe the others think so, but he doesn't—that's what I think. And you don't because you said so." Then he added anxiously, "Do you?"
"I—I guess not, Kid," Roy answered doubtfully. He was almost ashamed to say this, seeing the sturdy little champion at his side.
"We'll get Warde," Pee-wee said, "because he likes Warde, and Warde's pretty good at jollying me, too. And that'll be good because we're the three that stick up for Blythe, hey? And if any of those men say anything there'll be three of us to answer them."
"They won't let us stay long, Kid," Roy said.
"I don't care, anyway we'll see him; and I'm going to tell him that the three of us know he's innocent."
"No, don't tell him that, Kid," said Roy more thoughtfully. "Let's not speak about that. If he's innocent—"
"What do you mean, if?" Pee-wee asked.
"I mean it looks bad for him, Kid," said Roy frankly. "If his brain wasn't just right, then it wasn't so bad. See? He's the one that did it, you saw the pictures, Kid, and the label on his coat. But if he didn't know all about what he was doing then it wasn't so bad. The grown people know best, Kid. But that isn't saying we can't be friends with him."
"You go back on what you said?" Pee-wee demanded grimly.
"Oh, I don't know, Kid," Roy answered, nettled and annoyed; "let's not talk about it. We're going to see him anyway. Come on, let's get Warde, that's a good idea."
Without another word Pee-wee turned up the next corner toward his home.
"Aren't you going, Kid?" Roy called.
"Go ahead," said Pee-wee, never turning, "I'll be there. I know the way."
Roy watched the sturdy little figure trudging along the side street. He knew that Pee-wee was both angry and disgusted; he could tell by his walk. But the Raven mascot was not too preoccupied with his mighty wrath to forget to tip his scout hat to a lady whom he passed. He observed all the scout laws and rules. There were no two ways about anything with Pee-wee. Loyalty meant more than just friendship. It meant confidence, faith.
This staunchness somewhat daunted Roy. It made him feel not quite sure of himself; a little ashamed. But after all it was just Pee-wee's way; his faith was so strong that he shut his eyes to facts.
Roy went down to the river and got Warde and together they started for the hospital. Warde was glad to go. He said little, for that was his habit. He was quiet and thoughtful.
"That kid almost has me thinking that everybody's mistaken," said Roy.
"Oh, he's so dead sure about everything. Don't you suppose I can be grateful to Blythe even if he—even if he's crazy."
"What do you mean, crazy?"
"Oh, I mean even if he committed a murder if that's the way you want to put it. He did, didn't he?"
"Probably he was crazy when he did it.... Wasn't he?"
At the hospital they were shown into the public ward at the door of which sat a policeman. That was to show that Blythe was under arrest. He was likely to escape! He lay upon his cot, his head swathed in bandages, his eyes hollow, his face white. He moved his eyes and smiled at the scouts without moving his head. It was the same old smile, simple and companionable, as if he were of their own age and one of them. All in a rush it took them back to old Camp Merritt.
"Doctor Cawson," he said, just above a whisper. "Did he come too? He'd like to see me now, eh?"
"No, he didn't come, boss," said Warde; "but Pee-wee's coming. I guess he stopped to do a good turn. Better?"
"Weak yet," their friend said, reaching a white hand out, which each of the boys shook gently. "Your foot all right?" he asked Roy.
"Sure, only I can't run yet," Roy said. "I should worry. I've got to thank you, that's one sure thing."
There was an awkward pause; the scouts did not know what to say. They wondered if their friend knew of the dreadful accusation. They felt that whatever they said or did would be wrong in that spotless, silent place, which was subject to rules and customs that they did not understand. Finally, with furtive glances at the nurses, they ventured to sit upon the edge of the cot. Then they felt easier and more at home.
Despite his weakness and pallor and the appalling look which his bandages gave him, there was something pleasant and wholesome in the victim's look which the scouts had not seen before. Stricken and helpless though he was, he did not seem peculiar.
"I hurt my foot when I was a kid," he said in a weak voice; "I stepped on a scythe. I couldn't walk for two months."
"Your left foot?" Roy asked.
"My left heel, the scar's there now."
"I know," Roy said.
This was the first time that their queer friend had ever spoken of his early life. He smiled again, that pleasant, companionable smile.
"How did you know?" he asked.
"I—tell us about it," Roy said.
"I stepped on a scythe in the hayfield. I thought I told Doctor Cawson."
"No, you never told him," said Warde, gently.
"That's funny," their friend said.
There followed a pause. The victim lay quite still. The boys did not know whether they should go or not.
"I know how you found it out," Blythe said. "It was when I went up on the windmill, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was," said Roy. "You were in your bare feet."
There was another pause. Blythe seemed meditating. The boys were uncomfortable. Nurses came and went. One took the victim's temperature. He watched her as she went away. Finally he spoke.
HARK, THE CONQUERING HERO COMES!
He spoke as if it were the most commonplace matter that he was telling, "I told them that my brother tried to kill me and they don't believe it."
Roy looked at Warde, dumbfounded.
"They don't believe anything," Blythe said, weakly.
"We believe you; tell us about it?" Warde said. "Did your brother kill someone?"
"No, but he tried to kill me. Didn't I tell you?"
"No, you never told us," Warde said, gently. "Tell us now."
"It was at Camp Merritt."
"What do you mean? When?"
Blythe closed his eyes and lay for a few moments, silent. It seemed as if he slept. The boys looked at each other, puzzled. The invalid opened his eyes and smiled.
"Did you pick up all the sticks?" he asked.
"Yes, we did," Warde said. "Tell us about your brother; we're all friends."
"Friends and comrades," Blythe said faintly.
"That's it, you said it," Roy assured him.
"He tried to kill me," Blythe said.
"Why did he try to do that—Blythey?" Roy asked. "We're your friends; tell us all about it. You remember better than you used to?"
"I thought I told you," the invalid said simply. "They're going to take me to Canada next week. I've got to be tried for something. They think I only dreamed that my brother tried to kill me. I would rather stay here with you. Can't you tell them, so I can stay here? I want to stay. We were all like a kind of a family—telling yarns. You know me. They have a conspiracy here. You know all about me, you tell them. If you ask them to give me back the—the—locket, they will. It has her picture?"
"My mother's, you know. You know how I went up and got it. You're my friends and I'm yours—"
"Yes, you are," Roy said, his eyes glistening.
The invalid closed his eyes and lay as if asleep. The two scouts waited, but the eyes did not reopen. So they arose quietly and left the ward. They had been told they could not stay long. They were deeply affected and bewildered. Blythe was different, but how different they could not say. He just seemed different. He had spoken with simple frankness of things he had never mentioned before. He was changed.
This fact and what he had said, and the stillness of the place, and the queer odor in the ward and corridor, and the noiselessness of their own footfalls on the rubber covered hall, awed the two scouts to such a degree that they longed for the free open air where they could talk.
It was with some trepidation that they encountered at the head of the stairway the police guard talking with Detective Ferrett.
"Well, how do you find him?" the county official asked in gruff good humor. He at least seemed not at all awed by the solemnity of the place.
"Does he have to go to Canada?" Roy asked. "Does he have to go soon?"
"Yes, siree. Been telling you about his brother?"
"Is it true?" Roy asked.
"Na-a-h! He either hasn't come to his senses yet or he's bluffing. He's going back to Quebec to a dope-house or else to the gallows. How'd you like to go to the gallows, hey?" he added as a pleasantry.
"You're—you're sure he's the one?" Roy asked, in pitiful despair.
"Well now what do you think? You saw the pictures, huh? He's the chap, says you. Been trying to string you, huh? He rang that brother in on me yesterday."
"He wants the locket you took from him," said Roy.
"Oh, does he? Well, wouldn't that be nice?"
"If it helps him to get better and helps him—maybe—to sleep—"
"Well now, you run home and say you had a call on him, and look out who you make friends with next time."
They were just about to start down the stairs, heavy-hearted with that last pathetic memory of their friend to carry in their minds, when looking down the broad stairway, they beheld a strange sight. A diminutive figure was ascending the steps.
He wore the full scout regalia, including all sundries and accessories, and the sight of him as he came trudging up carried the others back to that day when they had taken their memorable hike to Woodcliff. For stuck under his belt like some awful document of authority was an envelope of goodly dimensions, and his countenance wore a look calculated to strike terror to the stoutest heart.
Thus ascended the doughty little knight of the Good Turn, and several nurses watched him amusedly from the foot of the broad stair....
RETURN OF THE GOOD TURN
"You think you're so smart," said Pee-wee, including the men as well as his scout comrades in his scathing rebuke. "It shows how much you know about good turns and scout laws and things. Maybe you think I haven't got any specific vacations. Here, read this letter and look at the pictures. Then you better go home and read scout law Number Two. Did you start jollying yet?"
As Roy drew a folded sheet from the envelope several pictures fell to the floor. One of these was an unmounted cabinet photo, the others were exceptionally good amateur prints. As County Detective Ferrett gathered these up he scrutinized the photograph with sudden interest.
"Where did you get this?" he demanded.
"Oh, I got it," said Pee-wee mysteriously. "You're a detective, you ought to know specific vacations when you see them."
County detective Ferrett was not one to be either polite or ceremonious where his professional interests were concerned. He therefore snatched the letter from Roy's hands and proceeded to read it with eager interest.
It was only by crowding around him that the boys could read it. But in his sudden interest in the letter the shrewd official had released the pictures to their rightful owner and the eyes of Warde and Roy were riveted upon these in speechless consternation.
One showed the very sweet face of a woman, and as the boys looked at this they were conscious of having seen that face somewhere before. Two others showed country scenes, including a house. They were the kind of scenes that amateur photographers love to take; scenes with a homely familiarity about them—a woman sitting in a rocking chair on a porch, a dog skilfully caught by the camera in the moment of his resting his paws upon a fence, a back door with a churn standing near. Commonplace things, the last subjects that an artist would choose, but scenes that have a way of reaching the heart and recalling fond memories.
But out of the professionally taken photo there looked straight at the boys eyes, oh, how familiar, how friendly, how companionable. And upon the mouth hovered that little smile that they knew, oh, so well. It seemed, yes it seemed that if Roy were to start jollying Pee-wee then and there, that smile would broaden. It was the picture of Blythey, their friend. It seemed to say, "Let's start the camp-fire."
The handwriting of the letter was small and shaky. The missive read:
Dear Unknown Friend:—
The letter you sent me came to me. It was brought to me by the postmaster. In the big town not so far from here there are boys in brown suits and they call them scouts. A neighbor of mine says you must be one of those because they are all over the country.
It is so kind how you thought to send the letter. I would like to know where you got it. It made me very sad to read it because it was written to me by my son Joe, who was killed in the war. He was killed near Reims. I wish I could know all about it but nobody can find out for me.
He went from Camp Merritt in April 1918 and Mr. Hicks who is postmaster here has a big map on the wall in his store and he says that Bridgeboro (which is written near your name on the envelope) is near Camp Merritt, so perhaps you found the letter. I guess so for it is so old and looks as if it had been in the weather, but it is very, very dear to me. So, my dear young friend, who are so kind, you can say to yourself that you made me see my boy once more just the same as if he came back. I think that will make you happy. It made me sad but it made me happy too. It seems as if I have a letter from both of you and I will never see you but you are both with me in my trouble and loneliness.
I would like you to come here sometime and see the home where my boy grew up but I have much trouble and fear that soon I must go to the Home in Barnardsville, there to end my days. But these pictures taken by my boy will show you his home that I must now lose and his dog now twelve years old; poor dog, I do not know where he will go when I go to the Home.
My dear boy saved his life when he was your age as I suppose, and do you know how? By running to him when he was caught in a thrasher and my boy stepped on a scythe as he ran and he was many weeks in bed while I nursed him. It seemed hardest of all that I could not nurse him when he died. He was a brave boy and so gentle and kind to me and to everyone, even the animals, and he was so noble and good to me after his father died.
So you see, my dear young friend, I have lost much, even more than I tell you and I say there are sorrows worse than death so you will be a pride and comfort as you grow up, for I have known what an undutiful son is too. But I think of my brave, noble boy that died in France and you brought him back to me for a few minutes when I sat reading his letter. So I shall always love these scout boys on account of you and would like to read about them but my eyes are not very strong.
And now I say good-bye to you, my dear young friend and often I will think of you after I go to the Home.
Mrs. Mary Haskell Hicksville, North Carolina.
The quiet of Hicksville, North Carolina, could have been no deeper than the stillness which prevailed when the scouts finished reading this letter. They seemed to feel that if they moved or spoke it would destroy a spell and prove this whole amazing business a dream. Within the ward the voice of some patient could be heard in petulant complaint. Nurses with silent tread, moved in and out of the apartment. An auto horn could be heard tooting somewhere in the distance. But Warde and Roy were in Hicksville, North Carolina.
Warde was the first to speak. Modest, as he always was, he now uttered a thought which had lingered in his mind for many days. "Now I know why he said 'Doctor Cawson,'" he observed quietly. "He belongs in the south. I know why he didn't say Tranto and Monreal; it was because he never lived in those places. But of course, that doesn't prove anything, I guess."
"It proves something about you," said Roy proudly. Oh, he could afford to be generous and happy!
"We don't need any proof," said Pee-wee; "haven't we got proof enough? What more do you want? Now what have you all got to say? You're so smart!"
No one had anything to say, not even Detective Ferrett. All he could do was whistle perplexedly. The overworked, thin, trembling arm of poor Mrs. Haskell had reached out and dealt him a knockout blow, under the exclusive auspices of Pee-wee Harris, mascot of the raving Ravens, scout of the first class, master of good turns, defender and exponent of good scout law Number Two, First Bridgeboro, New Jersey, Troop, Boy Scouts of America!
[Footnote 3: Specifications he probably meant.]
It was many days before all the bits of this strange puzzle were put together and the full truth revealed. As the condition of the invalid improved his memory returned to him. This wonderful effect of the operation on his skull was noticeable first in the recollection of trifles and disconnected events in his life. Usually he got these confused at first but each item in the marvelous catalogue of the brain was finally put in its right place.
His piecing together the events of his life was like the gathering up of the broken pieces of a bowl and the successful reconstruction of it by patiently fitting in the fragments here and there. It was a marvel and a delight to the scouts who visited him constantly, to watch him searching for things in the darkness, as one might say, and bringing them home to patch together the broken picture of his past.
But how came that injury, discovered by the merest chance, which had wrapped his early life in a blackness like the blackness of night? Haskell never told of this connectedly, for he could neither speak of it or think of it without becoming greatly agitated. And that tragic occurrence was never made known to his aged mother.
But these were the facts which were gradually brought into the light. Joe Haskell and his brother had been twins. Long before their father died Bob Haskell had done much to bring shame and worry to the veteran who had fought in the confederate cause, and whose end was hastened by his dishonest, worthless son.
Hicksville proved too small for this enterprising scamp who, after rifling the cash drawer in the railroad station, withdrew from these scenes of limited opportunity to spread his wings in the great metropolis of New York.
Joe and his mother never heard of him again. The stunted affections and criminal tendencies of the one son seemed compensated for in the other, who remained the dutiful and loving companion and support of his mother until the great war called him. He received his training at a southern camp and was later transferred to Camp Merritt, which was an embarkation camp. Had it not been for a certain occurrence he would have sailed with the swarms of boys who went across in the spring and summer of 1918. But he never went to France.