The Banner Boy Scouts
Or The Struggle for Leadership
By GEORGE A. WARREN
THE WORLD SYNDICATE PUBLISHING CO. CLEVELAND, O. NEW YORK, N.Y.
by CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
I A Meeting in the Barn
II What it Means to be a Boy Scout
III The Disappearing Coins
IV The First Scout Leader
V Checking a Coward
VI A Strange Suggestion
VII The Trap that Peleg Set
VIII Turning the Tables
IX "Well Done, My Boy!"
X An Unexpected Offer
XI Caught Napping
XII The Rival Troops
XIV Jack's Chance
XV The Honor Brand
XVI The Fire Test
XVII Clearing Skies
XVIII Carlo Does His Turn
XIX The Warning Over the Wire
XX Such Glorious Luck
XXI The Meeting
XXII Scouting in Earnest
XXIII The Red Car
XXIV A Call for Help
XXV A Camp in the Woods
XXVI What Woodcraft Told
XXVII Ted Finds Something
XXVIII Forced to Tell
XXIX The Capture
XXX Found Out at Last
XXXI Well Done, Stanhope Troop!—Conclusion
My Dear Boys:
Knowing that ninety-nine lads out of every hundred love outdoor life above all else, I have taken it upon myself to give you a series of what I hope will prove to be clean, wide-awake, up-to-date stories, founded upon a subject that is interesting our whole nation—the Boy Scouts of America. You know what a hold this movement has taken upon the rising generation of our broad land. There never was anything like it before—there never may be again.
At first many people made the mistake of believing that it was simply a new military order, and that boys who joined were to be taught the duties of soldiers, and learned how to fight. They know better now. It is really the greatest movement for Peace ever started. Not only that, but the lads who belong to this vast organization are taught how to be manly, self reliant, brave, courteous, kindly and steadfast.
When you examine the roster of the officers who have loaned their names to help along the good cause you will find such honored signatures as those of President William Howard Taft, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, and many others dear to the hearts of our boys.
This glorious field opens up a very tempting opportunity for a series of stirring stories concerning the fortunes of real Boy Scouts, who have gone into the movement heart and soul, with a desire to excel in all they undertake; and at the same time enjoy themselves hugely. I only hope and trust that you may be pleased with what you read in this book, about the doings of the Red Fox Patrol, of Stanhope Troop, and that the story will do you much good.
George A. Warren.
THE BANNER BOY SCOUTS
A MEETING IN THE BARN
"All here now, Paul!"
"Call the roll, somebody, won't you?"
"Keep quiet, fellows, please!"
"Shall I strike a match, Paul?"
"Not on your life, Bobolink. That crowd of Ted Slavin's is out, looking for us. Somebody must have leaked, or else Ted was tipped off. We've got to be mighty cautious, I tell you, if we want to give them the slip."
"S-s-say, d-d-don't you k-k-know we've got a fi-fine b-b-barn on our p-p-place, fellows?"
"For goodness sake; won't somebody please pound Bluff Shipley on the back, and make him bite his twisted tongue, so he can talk straight?" cried a pleading voice.
There must have been a streak of authority in the tone used by Paul Morrison when he spoke this last word; every one of the other six boys crouched there, craning his neck, and listening to catch the unusual sound that had apparently reached the trained ears of their leader.
The woods surrounded the boys on all sides, gloomy, and full of mystifying noises.
Yet Paul knew full well just what every one of the sounds meant. An owl called mournfully to its mate from a hollow tree. Katydids and merry crickets added their shrill music to the chorus of that late summer night. Even a colony of tree frogs solemnly chanted their appeal for "more rain."
During the day just ended six fellows in the thriving town of Stanhope had received urgent telephone calls from Paul, who was an only son of the leading doctor in the place.
And each boy had promised to meet him at the Three Oaks by the time the clock in the church steeple had struck eight.
It was even now booming out the hour.
When the last stroke died away, the most impatient among the gathered boys moved restlessly.
"Follow me, fellows," said Paul, in a low, thrilling tone.
"Where are we heading for?" queried one, who had as yet failed to express his feelings in the matter.
This was Wallace Carberry, the sober member of the pair known far and wide as the Carberry Twins; his mate, William, being his exact counterpart in every particular, when he chose to repress the good-natured grin that usually marked his fate.
"To the Shipley barn; single file; and silence is the watchword!"
Paul Morrison had long enjoyed the confidence of his comrades in most matters pertaining to outdoor sports. A healthy lad, both in mind and body, he was never so happy as when studying the secrets of Nature in wood and meadow; or in playing any of the various strenuous games to which all boys with red blood in their veins are addicted.
And when he sent out his mysterious request that some of his most intimate friends meet him on this night, as he had a communication of importance to put up to them, the greatest curiosity made itself manifest.
Paul never suggested ordinary things. More than once he had engineered some game that brought honor and glory to the boys of Stanhope; and remembering these satisfactory "stunts" of old, it was no wonder these fellows had come to the place of meeting without a single exception.
With Bluff Shipley close upon the heels of the leader, and Robert Oliver Link, whose name had long since been corrupted into Bobolink, bringing up the rear, the seven lads trailed through the woods, following some path with which they were evidently more or less familiar.
Several times Paul gave a recognized signal that caused every one of the bunch to stop short, and turn his head on one side in the endeavor to discover whether hostile footsteps could be heard in their rear.
But although there were doubtless many rustling sounds, the boys laid these to the bright-eyed little denizens of that strip of woodland. Too often had they watched the chipmunks and red squirrels hunting for nuts under the already falling leaves, not to know that the forest was peopled with these harmless animals.
After five minutes more there loomed up before them the dark outlines of a huge barn that seemed rather out of place here on the border of the woods.
This belonged to the father of Bluff, who, being a prosperous tobacco grower in this valley, used the place to cure the product of his broad fields, after it had been harvested in the fall.
Paul had been carrying some sort of package in his hand, and the boys for some time amused themselves in guessing its nature. When he took off the paper it stood revealed as a lantern, ready for lighting.
"Show us the way inside, Bluff. Then we'll have a little light on the subject," remarked the leader, with a last anxious searching look around; as though he still entertained suspicions that their march to the old barn might have been observed by some of the hostile Slavin crowd.
Ted Slavin had long been known as the bully of Stanhope; for it seems that there never yet existed a village or town without some big chap exercising that privilege. He was a fighter, too, and able to hold his own against the best. Besides, Ted had shown some of the qualities that indicate a natural leader; though he held the allegiance of those who trailed after him mostly through fear, rather than any respect for his manly qualities.
His leading crony for the past year had been Ward Kenwood, son of the wealthy banker who was also a leading real estate owner in the place. Once upon a time Ward would have scorned the thought of associating with Slavin and his crowd; but an occasion had arisen whereby he had need of a strong arm to even up a score, and once he found himself indebted to Ted he kept on in the bully's company.
His rivalry in many fields with Paul had much to do with his throwing his fortunes in with the other fellows. And nothing pleased him more than to be able to upset any calculations the latter entertained. That explained why Paul was anxious to avoid a meeting with the Slavin crowd on this particular night, when he was brimming over with a great idea.
Once the boys had entered the barn, Bluff secured the door, after which a match was quickly lighted.
"Now, here we are, safe and sound, and not an enemy around. Suppose you open up, Paul, and get this load off our minds," said Albert Cypher, who seldom heard his own name among his friends, but was known far and wide as Nuthin'.
But what else could a lad expect who was so unfortunate as to find himself afflicted with such a name as A. Cypher?
"Yes, what's it all mean, Paul? You haven't even taken me in, you know, and I'm as much in the dark as the next fellow," remarked Jack Stormways, reproachfully; for being Paul's closest chum he might have expected to share his confidence.
"Wait a bit. We might as well make ourselves comfortable while we're about it. I'll sit down on this box, and the rest of you gather around on the floor. I've got a big proposition to make, and you want to listen carefully."
"T-t-take c-c-care of the lantern, f-f-fellows; my d-d-dad's w-w-wanting this old barn f-f-for his t-t-tobacco crop, and he'd b-b-be some put out if it b-b-burned just now!" came from Bluff.
Finding perches on various low piles of waste left over after the shipment of the last crop, the six lads gathered around Paul, eagerness stamped on every beaming face.
"Now, what's the idea that struck you this time, Paul?" demanded Bobolink.
"I'll tell you without any beating around the bush, fellows. The thought came to me that Stanhope was away behind the times. Other towns not nearly so big, have one or more troops of Boy Scouts. Why shouldn't we get up one here?" and Paul waited to hear what the response would be.
The six who sat in a ring looked at each other as though stunned by the proposal. It was strange, indeed, that no one had up to this time taken a lead in advancing such a thing.
"Bully idea, Paul!" ejaculated Jack, slapping a hand on his knee enthusiastically, as though it appealed to him most decidedly.
"Well, I declare, to think that nobody ever mentioned such a grand movement before. Count me in right from the start!" said Wallace Carberry—sober Wallace, who usually measured his words as though they were golden.
"And me too," observed Bobolink.
"Ditto for William!" called out the other Carberry Twin, grinning with delight.
"G-g-guess I'd make a bully good t-t-tenderfoot!"
"That's the best thing you ever thought up, old chap," came from Nuthin'.
"Hurrah! every county heard from, and not one contrary word. It looks as if there might be something doing right soon around this region," declared Paul, naturally pleased because his proposition had met with such unanimous satisfaction.
"Tell us more about it, please. I've read about the Boy Scouts; but my mother would take a fit if she thought I was practicing to become a soldier. You see, I had an older brother, who enlisted to go out with some of the boys when we had our little fuss about Cuba and the Philippines; and poor Frank died in camp of typhoid fever. I'll have a hard time winning her over, and the dad, too," remarked Bobolink, sadly.
"Well, that's where you make a big mistake, Bobolink. Over in England, where the Boy Scout movement started, it has some connection with the army, because there, you see, every fellow expects at some time to serve his country as a soldier, or on board a naval vessel. But here in America, the movement is one for peace."
"Then what's all the doings about?" asked Nuthin', as if puzzled.
"I know, and Paul is right about it," came from Wallace Carberry, always quite a reader of newspapers and magazines.
"Let him tell then. I'm for the game, no matter what it means," cried Bobolink.
"And I think Bluff knows something about it, for he said he would do for the lowest grade of scout, which is the tenderfoot. But I don't think any of you are qualified to take even that degree; for a tenderfoot must first be familiar with scout law, sign, salute, and know what his badge means; he must know about our national flag, and the usual forms of salute due to it; and be able to tie some seven or eight common knots. How about that, Bluff?"
"N-n-not guilty!" promptly answered the one addressed.
"Say, that sounds interesting any way. Tell us some more about this, Paul!" exclaimed William, always eager to hear of anything that smacked of novelty.
"Well, there are two more degrees a fellow can climb up to, a second-class scout, and a first-class scout, full fledged. After that, if he wants to keep right on there are merit badges to be won for excelling in angling, athletics, camping, cooking at the campfire, taxidermy, first aid to the injured, handicraft, life saving, path-finding, and a lot more."
"Now you've got me stuck on this new game," cried Bobolink, excitedly. "The more you explain the better I like the idea. Me for the Boy Scouts, fellows!"
"Hear! Hear! Paul, the idea is yours, and we vote unanimously that you occupy the exalted position of scout master—I know that every troop has to have such a head, and you're better fitted for the job than any fellow in town!"
"Yes," laughed Paul, "but unfortunately, I believe a scout master has to be over twenty-one years of age."
"Who knows the ways of the open like our Paul? He's the right man in the right place. Say, are there any books on the subject, that we can get, and learn more about this thing?" asked Wallace, who seemed to be particularly well pleased.
"I've already sent for a manual, and expect it by to-morrow; when we can find out all about it. But wishing to be posted when I put the question I went over the river to Aldine to-day, and saw some of the boys there who belong to the Scouts. They made me more anxious than ever to start a patrol in our home town."
"But I've seen something about a troop?" remarked Jack Stormways, who, Paul thought, seemed unusually sober for a boy ordinarily light-hearted.
"Yes, a troop takes in say, three local posts called patrols, each of which has eight members. It is known by a number, as Troop One of Boston; and each minor organization takes a name of some animal, such as wildcat or fox. If it is called Fox, every boy belonging to it is supposed to be able to bark like a fox, so as to be able to signal a comrade while scouting in the woods."
"Ginger! but that does sound interesting," declared William.
"It's j-j-just immense, that's w-w-what!" was Bluff's opinion.
"Listen! I heard a laugh as sure as anything!" exclaimed Paul, lifting a hand to indicate silence; and every one of the group assumed an attitude of expectancy.
As they waited there suddenly came a tremendous crash, as some object landed forcibly against the wooden side of the old barn. It was instantly followed by a second bang, and others came quick and fast, until the noise might be likened to a bombardment from a hostile battery.
"It's the Slavin crowd!" called Bobolink, excitedly jumping to his feet. "They followed us here after all, and have been listening to every word!"
"All hands to repel boarders!" shouted Paul; and with a cheer the seven boys rushed over to the door, out of which they sprang, bent on retaliating on their tormentors.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A BOY SCOUT
"Where are the stone throwers?" shouted the merry member of the Carberry Twins, as he danced up and down, eagerly trying to discover some moving object in the surrounding darkness.
"Gone like smoke, I guess," laughed Paul, who had really expected something of this sort, judging from past experiences with these same tormentors.
"Look there, I can see something moving yonder. Get ready to give a volley!" cried Nuthin', pointing as he spoke.
"H-h-hold on, f-f-fellows, d-d-don't fire yet! It's only our old d-d-dun cow!" gasped Bluff, excitedly; as he waved his arms up and down after the manner of a cheer captain at a college football game.
"They've lit out, that's what," grumbled William, who felt as though cheated.
"All right, then. It's just as well, for a fight would be a mighty poor way of preparing to join the scout movement. You'll learn what I mean later on when you hear the twelve points of the law that every fellow must subscribe to," observed Paul, seriously.
"What d'ye mean, Paul?" demanded Bobolink, quickly.
"Yes, tell us right now what the twelve rules are," said William.
"I know, for I read all about them a few days ago," remarked Wallace, readily.
"All right, then, suppose you call them off. What does a scout promise to be if allowed to wear the uniform, Wallace?" asked the leader.
"To be trustworthy, loyal, helpful to others, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient to his superiors, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent."
"Why, it doesn't say a single word about fighting!" ejaculated William.
"Because a scout must never fight save as a last resort, and then only to save some weak one from punishment. He must be brave to face danger, to stop a runaway horse; or jump in and keep another from drowning. Do you get on to the meaning of this movement, fellows?" asked Paul, eagerly. The more he read about it the greater became his desire to have a hand in organizing a Stanhope troop that might compete with those of Aldine and Manchester, two rival towns, both on the opposite side of the Bushkill River, the former a few miles up-stream, and the latter the same distance down.
"We do, and I tell you I like it better and better the more I hear of it," said Jack, earnestly. "Why, I just had an idea it meant being junior soldiers, and drilling so as to be ready to invade Canada, or repel the yellow peril when the little Japs swarmed across the Pacific. Count me in, Paul."
"If I can pass the examination I'm going with you, sure," observed William.
"All right, but if they take you in just remember that you've got to quit your playing tricks on everybody, William," declared the other Carberry Twin.
"Listen to him, will you? He's feeling hard on me just because dad gave him a touch of the cane last night, thinking it was me. As if I was to blame for looking like my brother," the other said, plaintively, though chuckling at the same time.
"You know you fixed it so he'd pounce on me. I'm always in hot water because you must have your fun. 'Taint fair, and I'd have to be an angel not to kick. Oh! I hope you get to be a scout, because then I'll have some peace," declared Wallace; but all the others knew very well what a deep and abiding affection there really lay between the Carberry Twins.
"Let's go home now. No use staying any longer out here, with Ted Slavin and his cronies hanging around, ready to bombard us again. Besides, I guess Paul wants to wait till he gets his book before telling us any more about the game."
"Right you are, Nuthin'. I only wanted to see how the land lay, and if you took to the idea. I'm satisfied already that it's going to make a hit, if we can get a few more fellows to join in with us," said Paul.
"I know one good recruit I can drum up—Tom Bates," spoke up Albert.
"And a good addition to the seven now here. That would make our first patrol," echoed the leader, quickly.
"How about inviting some of the Slavin crowd to join us?" asked Bobolink.
"Well, perhaps we might pick a couple there; but I think you'll have to be getting up early in the morning to manage it," replied Paul, meaningly.
"What's that?" asked William.
"Just this. Ted Slavin has heard our plans. You know that he never likes to see anybody else pull down the plums. What will he do right away, fellows?"
"Go and see his shadow, Ward Kenwood, and get him to put up the money to start the ball rolling. My word for it that inside of a week there'll be two rival Boy Scout troops in little old Stanhope," remarked Jack Stormways.
"Say, that would be great, if the other crowd only acted on the square," ventured William. "We could have all sorts of contests between us. But I know Ted Slavin too well to believe he'll ever subscribe to the twelve rules Wallace mentioned. Why, he'd have to be made all over again to do that."
"Look here, Paul, if a fellow has to live up to the rules, however could the members of Ted's company be taken into a troop of Boy Scouts?" asked Bobolink, who always sought information.
"I don't believe they ever could. Still, there's no law in the land to prevent any lot of boys from forming a patrol, and calling themselves scouts. That's my way of looking at it," was the answer the leader gave.
The lads were now on their way home, the lantern having been secured, and extinguished, lest it invite another bombardment on the part of their tormentors, doubtless still hovering somewhere nearby.
No further attack came, however, for which some of them were possibly sorry, particularly William and Bluff, who delighted in strenuous action at all times.
On the border of the town the seven separated into three groups, the twins going off arm in arm, Bluff, Bobolink and A. Cypher forming another; while Paul and his particular chum made up the third.
"Well," said Paul, as they headed for the house of his comrade, which chanced to come before his own, "what do you think of my scheme, Jack?"
"Immense, that's what. I'm only astonished that nobody else took up with the idea before. Poor old Stanhope seems to be away behind the times, Paul."
"Well, I don't know. We've had lots going on this summer to take up our time; and then most of us were away during part of the vacation. There are other towns just as slow to catch on," returned the other, loyal to the place of his birth.
"But now that the ball has been started rolling, just watch how fast it gathers force. I know how you go at these things. And of all the fellows I ever met, you are the one best fitted to lead in this thing, if I understand the game right. Why, it's just going to fit in with the things you've preached and practiced for years."
"That's why it appealed so strongly to me, after I really understood what the many duties of a scout were supposed to be. But what's the matter with you, Jack?"
"Eh? With me? Oh, nothing much, Paul."
But the other knew better, for he had noticed a frown come over Jack's usually smiling countenance more than once that evening, when the other thought he was not observed; and from this Paul felt positive his chum was worrying about something.
"Of course, if you think it best not to take me in on it, I'm the last one to bother you, old chap," he went on, when Jack interrupted him.
"It wasn't that, Paul, not in the least. To tell the truth I've been thinking it over, and just about made up my mind that I must tell some one, or I'd never sleep easy. And of all my friends you're the one closest to me. Yes, I'm going to confess that there is something that puzzles me, and fills me with alarm."
"Say, is it as bad as that, Jack? But how is it you don't want to go to your own folks? You've got one of the best dads I ever knew, and your mother, well, few are in the same class with her."
"That's just it, Paul. I'd hate to have either of them know anything about this trouble."
Paul swung his friend around so that he could see into his face; for they were just passing a street lamp at the time.
"Oh! I can look you in the eyes, old fellow. It isn't anything disgraceful I've been doing, not at all. But you see," and again that frown darkened Jack's brow as unpleasant things presented themselves before his mind's eye, "it's a family affair, I'm afraid, and must be kept quiet."
"Now you have got me to guessing good and hard. Suppose you tell me what it's all about. I hope your brother, Karl—" and there Paul stopped, for by instinct he seemed to feel that he had guessed the truth the first shot.
Jack had given a huge sigh that seemed to well up from his heart.
"Yes, it's about Karl, only I do hope that it will prove a false alarm, because I just can't believe he'd do such a rotten thing," the other went on, slowly.
"But he's only a little fellow after all, Jack?"
"That's so, but old enough to know better. You shall hear it all, and then perhaps you'll advise me what to do," went on Paul's chum, with a vein of relief in his voice, as though he felt better already, after deciding to share his trouble with another.
"That's right, and you know that it goes no further, Jack."
"Karl got into some mischief a week ago, and to punish him father cut off his allowance of spending money for a whole month. Now, Karl belongs to a boys' club, and I heard that at their last meeting the other day he paid up his dues, and seemed to have plenty of money. The question that is bothering me is, where did he get it?"
"Oh! is that all? Why, you forget that your brother is a bright chap; and I imagine you'll find he's been earning it some way or other; or perhaps his mother gave it to him. But see here, there's more back of this than you've told me?" declared Paul, suddenly.
"There is," replied his chum. "Listen now, and for goodness sake I hope you can cheer me up some, by explaining a mystery that's bothering me. It's about those old coins Uncle Reuben sent to me two years ago. There are some twenty-one in the lot. They're copper coins, you know and I don't suppose worth much. I've always kept them in a little open cedar box on my table up in the den; you've spoken about them more than once."
"Sure, I remember all about them; but you don't mean to say—" and there Paul stopped, almost afraid to voice the thought that flashed before his mind.
"Yes, a bunch of them have gone in a mighty queer way. Why this morning there were just fourteen left; but to tell the truth I was afraid to go up there at supper time when I came in after our last game of ball on the lot, to see if any more had disappeared."
"Say it plainly, Jack. Some one is taking your old coins, sent by your uncle, and you're just afraid it's Karl, tempted to get some money in that way. But where could he sell them, do you think?"
"There's old Doc. Thomes, who keeps stamps and curios for sale. I've seen some coins in his window often. He would know the value of these, and perhaps be willing to pay something for them. Oh! it's just awful even to suspect my brother of being guilty of such a mean thing. I hate myself for allowing it, and have made up my mind just to hide the rest away, and never say a word."
"No, I wouldn't do that, Paul. In the first place it isn't fair to Karl."
"Fair? What can you mean? I wouldn't ever say a word to him, never!"
"That's just it, but you would think it always; and if he is innocent, why you see what a shame that would be. No, you ought to learn the truth, even though determined to keep your mouth shut afterward. In justice to Karl, you must know!"
"I believe you are right, old fellow. And I'm going to be guided by what you say. Come in with me, won't you?" pleaded Jack.
"Yes," answered Paul, promptly. "On condition that you take me up to your den, where we can talk without being disturbed."
"You have an object in saying that. I believe you want to see for yourself if any more of my coins have disappeared?" declared the other.
"I acknowledge the corn, for that is just what I wanted to learn, Jack."
"I suppose the sooner I take the bull by the horns, the quicker we can learn the truth; so come on in," and taking his chum by the arm Jack led the way boldly up to the door of the Stormways' house.
They managed to pass upstairs to the third floor without attracting any attention, the family being gathered around a table in the living room, reading.
No sooner had the lamp been lighted, after the door was closed, than Paul stepped over to the table desk which he knew so well.
Just as Jack had said, there was a little cedar box standing in plain view, and the coins it held attracted his eye.
Slowly and deliberately he proceeded to count them, while his chum awaited the result with abated breath, and his eyes turned in another direction.
"Well?" said Jack, hoarsely, when he saw that the other had dropped all of the coins back, one by one.
"You said there were fourteen left this morning, didn't you, Jack?"
"Yes, and now?"
"I find just eight here, that's all!" came the answer that caused the wretched brother of young Karl Stormways to shiver and sigh dismally.
THE DISAPPEARING COINS
"Just thirteen gone now," said Jack, as he bent over to look for himself.
"Of course you know what they were, those that are missing?" suggested Paul.
"I have a list of the bunch somewhere; made it out one day just for fun. Yes, I think I could tell them again; but I never would have the heart to accuse old Doc. Thomes of buying stolen coins; and the thief—never!"
"I didn't mean that, Jack; you mistook me. Suppose I had that list, and rooting over all the little boxes he keeps his coins in for sale, found every one of the missing ones there?"
"Yes, and then what?" asked the other, greatly affected, though watching his chum's face eagerly, as though something seemed to tell him Paul would find a way out of the difficulty, such was his faith in the other.
"Why, perhaps you might buy the whole lot back, for almost a song, and never say a word."
A hand crept out and squeezed Paul's warmly; and there were tears in the eyes of Jack Stormways as he made answer.
"Just like you, old fellow, to cheer me up like that. Here, let me hunt up the list for you. But promise that you won't whisper one little hint to a living soul. Oh! Karl, how could you?"
"Hold on, don't judge him before you know. Believe him innocent until you find proof otherwise. I guess you'll learn that one of the first things a scout has to do is to believe in his brothers and friends through thick and thin, until the proof has become positive, or the guilty one confesses. And another thing, Jack, in case the worst comes true, it's up to us to make sure that such a miserable thing never happens again. We must save the one in error, save him through kindness and sympathy. How old is Karl?"
"A little over ten."
"Too young to join the troop then, for all boys have to be twelve or over, according to the rules, I was told. But they have younger fellows in the bunch over at Aldine, I'm sure. One I saw strutting around in a uniform looked like a kid of eight or nine. Never mind; I believe it'll all come out right yet. Perhaps some servant may have taken them?" said Paul, wishing to buoy up his chum's spirits.
"We only have one, and she's been with us ever since I was born. No use thinking Maggie would touch a single thing," declared Jack, quickly, with a shake of his head.
Paul sauntered about the room for a few minutes. Apparently he was glancing at the numerous college pennants and other things that were upon the walls; but in reality he found himself wrestling with the strange puzzle that was giving his chum so much concern.
Presently he stood by the window, which was partly open.
"Who owns the Dempsey house now, Jack?" he asked, indicating the building next door.
"Oh! it is still for sale," replied the other. "They don't want to rent it again, you know, and ever since that last party moved out of town and left things looking so bad, Mr. Dempsey has kept it closed up."
"When he lived here, you and Scissors used to be something of chums, didn't you?" Paul went on.
"Well, yes," the other admitted, "when we were smaller. But ever since Scissors started going with the Slavin crowd I've cut him dead."
"I wish I lived as close to you as this," Paul observed. "Why, we could nearly shake hands across the gap. I don't suppose Scissors ever drops in to see you nowadays?"
"I should say not," laughed Jack; "why, we've been at swords points now for a year and more, and never even speak as we pass each other."
"Oh! well, of course then it would be silly to think of suspecting him," remarked Paul as he sat down again.
But nevertheless, many times his eyes seemed to turn toward that partly opened window, and then in the direction of the low desk where the box of coins stood.
"Scissors" Dempsey had come by his nickname because of a peculiar trick he had of keeping his knees stiff when walking. Long ago one boy had likened his long legs to a pair of scissors, and quick to take up a humorous name like this, his mates had called him nothing else in years.
"Well, it's a mighty funny thing where that bunch of old copper coins has gone to!" remarked Jack, presently, unable, it seemed, to think of anything else just then.
"I believe this den of yours is hardly ever locked," remarked Paul, presently, "and all persons can come up here whenever they choose. I've even often found your dog Carlo sleeping here. Why, if any friend calls to see you, and wants to wait till you come home, he just meanders up here as he pleases, and amuses himself looking over your books and magazines. Isn't that so, Jack?"
"Sure. My mother says this is Liberty Hall, judging from the way all my chums go and come. But what's got you now? Do you think some other chap may have fallen into the nasty habit of helping himself to my coins, either to swell out his own collection, or to sell them to Doc. Thomes?"
"Oh! hardly that, although it seems possible. But don't worry too much about it, Jack. I'm sure we'll discover the truth sooner or later."
"Anyhow I'll have eight to hide away; part of a loaf is better than no bread," remarked the other, dejectedly.
"Oh! I wouldn't put them away, not just yet, anyhow, Jack."
"But, my goodness, perhaps I'll lose all of my coins if I leave them around like this any longer on my desk!"
"That's so, but don't you see if you hide them, it shuts us off from ever learning who is taking them."
"Oh! I see. You mean to catch him at it some time; is that the idea, Paul?"
"Nothing less. I'll drop in at the old dealer in curios to-morrow, and find out if he has any that are on this list. Listen, there's somebody at the door!"
"It's only Carlo, scratching to get in. Open the door, please, Paul."
As the other did so a large Newfoundland dog stalked solemnly in, paid little heed to either of the occupants of the den, but snuggled down in a corner, where there was an old cushion, evidently placed there for his especial use.
"My! he's getting fatter than ever," remarked Paul, surveying the bulging sides of the shaggy canine, as he curled himself up as if to sleep.
"I believe he is, the scamp. I see it when I put him through his paces with all the tricks I taught him. He's getting too logy, and has to be told three times before he'll do a blessed thing. But about this wretched matter, Paul—you won't say anything to your folks, will you?"
"Not for the world. It's your secret, and I'd never leak a word without your permission. But I must be off now. Leave things just as you always have done; and don't shut or lock the door here any more than before. I've got to do some studying over this Boy Scout affair when I get back. Whitson loaned me some pamphlets, but I didn't have time to read them through."
Jack accompanied his friend down to the front door. Here Karl, having heard them descending the stairs, joined them; and so far as Paul could see there was no change in the boy's manner. If he had done wrong he must be clever enough to hide the guilt that lay in his heart, and put on a bold face.
"Remember!" was all Paul said as he squeezed Jack's quivering hand, before jumping down the steps, boy fashion.
It was enough to encourage the sorely distressed lad, for he had the greatest faith in Paul Morrison, the doctor's son, that any boy could ever place in a comrade; nor had the other ever failed to equal his expectations.
"I really believe Paul will do it," he was muttering to himself as he slowly went upstairs again to the den, with its decorations of college flags, and pictures of camping, canoeing, outdoor sports such as baseball and football struggles, and kindred things so dear to the heart of almost every growing lad; "yes, I believe he will if anybody can. But I wish he had let me hide the rest of them away. It seems like putting temptation in the way of a weak brother. But he told me I wasn't even to believe Karl took the coins, and I won't!"
Nevertheless, Jack Stormways must have passed a miserable night; for the anxious eyes of his mother noticed his distressed looks when he came down to breakfast on the following morning.
"You don't look well, son," she observed, as she passed her cool hand across his fevered brow; "I think you ought to step in and see Doctor Morrison some time this morning, and let him give you something."
"All right, mother; but it's only a little headache," he protested, for like all boys he disliked the thought of being considered sick.
Her eyes turned solicitously toward him many times during the meal, for she saw that Jack was unusually dull, and took little part in the conversation.
But it seemed that Karl made up for his brother's lack of energy, for he was more than ordinarily inclined to be merry, and told numerous jokes he had heard from his fellows in the boys' club he had joined.
Jack mentioned that they were about to organize a Boy Scout patrol; and very naturally his mother looked a bit serious at this news, until he explained some of the really excellent points connected with such an association; when her face cleared at once.
"If that is what the movement means then the sooner a patrol is organized in Stanhope the better. There are a lot of boys who would be vastly benefitted by such uplifting resolutions," she declared, with some show of enthusiasm.
"Yes, mother, you are right," said Mr. Stormways, just then. "Things have been going from bad to worse in our town of late, and the fathers are beginning to wonder where it will end. Only yesterday I met old Peleg Growdy. You remember the old fellow, for we stopped at his place when we were out riding, and had a drink at his well."
"Yes, and a most singular old man he was. I really couldn't say that I was much impressed with his looks or conversation," replied the lady, as she poured another cup of coffee for her husband.
"All very true; but he minds his own business if let alone; and after all I find that he is a well educated man, up in most questions of the day. But the boys, or some of them at least, have for a long time considered old Peleg a fit subject for practical jokes. They change the lines on his team, given half a chance, and annoy him in every way possible. Really, I don't wonder he is bitter about it."
"But you had something in mind, father, when you said that you met him?"
Mr. Stormways looked at Jack.
"That is true, my son; and do you know, the first thought that came to me was one of pleasure to feel absolutely sure no boy of mine would disgrace himself in plaguing an old man who had never harmed him."
Jack felt a glow in the region of his heart at this show of confidence; and resolved that more than ever would he merit it; but somehow he could not help looking out of the tail of his eye toward Karl, to find that the color had mounted to his forehead, and that he seemed embarrassed.
Was he thinking just then of the coins; or did he have some knowledge of the practical joke that had been played on old Peleg Growdy?
"Now, tell us what it was, Alan," said Mrs. Stormways, encouragingly.
"Well, perhaps in one way it may have been looked upon as something humorous, but it annoyed the old man very much. Last Sunday he went out to let his pigs run loose in the lot, as is his habit. When he pulled the rope that opened the little door in the back of the pen, he was astonished to see the queerest lot of porkers dash away that human eyes had ever beheld."
Karl was snickering by now, showing that he must have some knowledge of what was to come.
"No two pigs looked alike. The boys had crept into the pen in the night, with a lantern, and some pots of paint taken from Mr. Rabow's shop, and painted the whole drove in every color imaginable. One, he said, looked like the American flag. Another had four legs of different hues; a third was striped yellow and green, and so it went. Imagine the old man's amazement as he saw them kicking up their legs, and tearing around like mad; for the sun had reached the turpentine in the paint, and made it burn tremendously."
Karl gave a shout, and even Mrs. Stormways could not repress a smile, though she felt that it was wrong.
"I heard about it from one of the boys, father; I don't want to tell his name, you see, because it might get him into a scrape," said Karl, as he managed to get his breath again.
Jack breathed easier, since he knew now that his brother had not been concerned in the adventure; still, there was that other thing—but he had promised Paul not to believe, or even suspect, anything so early in the game.
"I admit that it does seem ludicrous; and no doubt if I had been there I must have been strongly tempted to laugh at the comical spectacle those six pigs must have presented. But it is the spirit of the thing that looks so bad. Growdy never harmed a boy in his life, he says, and only wants to be let alone; but they went out of their way to play a malicious trick on the old man. It took him the whole of Sunday to scrape that paint off the hides of his pigs; which I consider a pretty hard proposition. And I repeat what I said before, that I'm pleased to know a son of mine would not be guilty of so mean a trick."
Karl left the table just then, and his brother fancied that he looked a bit confused, as though his conscience were troubling him, but then Jack hoped he might be mistaken.
THE FIRST SCOUT LEADER
Paul had said that he would be away the greater part of the day, his father having asked him to go to the city on an important errand.
Consequently there was no opportunity for the two chums to confer upon any of the matters that were interesting then.
But all the boys had agreed to meet at the house of Nuthin' that evening, to plunge deeper into the subject of organizing at least one scout patrol in Stanhope.
As usual Paul called for Jack, and as the latter's parents knew what was on tap, there was no opposition shown to his going out.
"Has anything happened to-day?" whispered the visitor, as he was joined by Jack in the hall.
"Yes, I was out a lot with the fellows, and doing some chores around; but I mustered up enough courage just before supper to go upstairs," replied the other, his voice giving plain warning as to what was to follow, for it showed the strain.
"And counted the coins again, perhaps to find them short, eh, Jack?"
"Well, you said there were eight, and now I can count only six. Why, it's getting to be a regular clock-like piece of business. And after what father said this morning, too."
"What did he say?" asked Paul.
"Come along. I'll tell you while we're on our way," and Jack gave a nervous look over his shoulder, as though afraid lest his brother pop out on them unawares.
As they walked slowly along the road he spoke in the affectionate manner in which Mr. Stormways had declared his utmost faith in the honesty and integrity of his two boys.
"But you're not sure that Karl has anything to do with the disappearing coins. Other boys may have been up there to-day?" suggested his friend, quickly.
"I asked mother, and she said she didn't remember that any one had come to see me. No, the more I think about it the worse I feel. But I guess you didn't have any time to see old Doc. Thomes before you went to the city, did you?"
"That's just what I did, dropped into his shop, told him I was going down to New York on business for dad, and asked if I could do anything for him."
"Oh! how bright of you, Paul. And what did he say to that?"
"It seemed to quite tickle the old chap. He said he had a little package he wanted to send in to a dealer on Fourteenth Street, and would be glad if I took it to him, instead of his sending it by express."
"A package, Paul; did he say what it contained?" demanded the other, almost holding his breath with sudden alarm.
"Yes, a lot of old coins he had been buying lately. Now, hold your horses, Jack, my boy. He hadn't made it up yet, and I helped him do it. There wasn't one of the same kind yours are. He bought the collection of Chinese and Japanese coins old Captain Crocker owned. His widow had no use for them, and needed the money."
"Oh, you gave me a scare, Paul; but I'm glad you saw them, for I'd always imagine mine must have been in the lot; not that I care a bit for the old things now; but it was the thought, you know, the terrible suspicion."
"Yes, and while about it I managed to see every old coin Doc. has in his shop, for he was pleased to let me root around. And Jack, not a single one of your missing pieces has he got, depend on it."
"Oh! well," remarked Jack, arousing himself, "let's try and forget my troubles for a while. Unless I get it off my mind I'll lie awake again, and then your father, the doctor, will give me some medicine that tastes even worse than what he did to-day. Did you get that manual you sent for, Paul?" and the speaker resolutely shut his teeth hard together as if determined to keep his mind off the harassing subject.
"Yes, it's in my pocket, and seems to be full of meat, too. I haven't had much chance to soak it in, but what I did read interested me a whole lot," returned the doctor's son.
"Well, I thought of a friend I had over in Manchester, and this afternoon I took my wheel and jumped down there, crossing by the bridge. Just as I hoped, Landy is a member of the troop there, and he gladly told me all he knew about the business. I'm more than ever tickled at the idea of our having a branch up here, to compete with the neighboring towns. He told me something more that we might consider, too."
"What was that, Jack?"
"You remember Mr. Silas Westervelt, the Quaker of Manchester?"
"Sure. I've often talked with him, and my father is their family doctor," replied Paul, readily enough.
"It seems that he's become interested in this scout movement, which he endorses through and through. The result is that he has offered a beautiful banner to the organization that can show the highest degree of efficiency, and the greatest number of merit marks by Thanksgiving day. It's being made now, down in the city."
"That counts us in, then, for we'll have plenty of time to get busy before the day of turkey rolls around, eh, Jack?"
"Oh! we'll be in the contest all right, even if we are counted in the 'also ran' class. These other fellows have been camping this summer, and must be up in many of the things that count. But then, they haven't got Paul Morrison at the head as scout leader, and that means everything in our favor," declared Jack, warmly.
"Please cut that out after this. It's true that I've always been deeply interested in many things connected with life in the woods; but you see that's only one part of a good scout's credit marks. In fact, there's hardly one thing in all the trades and professions that is omitted from the list. Only he must excel in all he undertakes. And soon we will have to find a young man over twenty-one who will act as our scout master."
"Hold up, there's Bobolink hurrying to catch us; and he acts as if he might be the bearer of important news," remarked Jack, who had heard a hail from the rear, and turned his head to see a flitting form.
The other came up, panting heavily.
"Say, you fellows must have the seven league boots, the way you get over ground. And just after I've gone and made away with a monstrous supper, too," he managed to say, between gasps. "Let me get my breath, and I've got something to tell you."
"Is it about Ted Slavin and his cronies?" asked Paul, suspiciously.
"Hit it the first shot," returned Bobolink; "who told you?"
"Why, I haven't heard a word; only I thought that if there was anything going on, Ted would be apt to have a finger in the pie," returned the other, grimly.
"Well, he has, all right, as usual. Anyhow his mouthpiece, Ward Kenwood, has, and it's the same thing. I was taking something in to the dominie at our church (my mother is at the head of a committee, you know) when he asked me if I was going to join the new Boy Scout patrol that was being organized in Stanhope."
"Whew, but those fellows don't believe in letting the grass grow under their feet, do they? Never thought a thing about it till they heard us talking matters over; and here they're getting all the credit for being first in the field," and Jack shrugged his shoulders ruefully as he spoke.
"Didn't I say we'd have to get up early in the morning if we hoped to keep from taking their dust? No matter what else you can say about them, Ted and his crowd are alive, and wide-awake fellows all the time," returned Paul.
"Well, the minister was some surprised when I told him all about it. He said he was delighted, and I guess he meant it too. The more patrols the better for the community, he said. And he seemed to know all about the meaning of the thing, for he showed me several books along the subject, that he promised to lend us."
"Bully for him!" cried Jack, with perhaps more energy than reverence; but had the genial old man heard the words he would have felt highly complimented, knowing that whoever succeeds in getting the approval of live, wide-awake boys must consider himself fortunate indeed.
"There's Nuthin's house," remarked Bobolink, just then.
"And Tom Bates going in, with the Carberry Twins. I hope we can enroll a dozen good fellows for a start. The rest will flock over after a bit, when they get to know what fine times we expect to have," remarked Paul.
They found that there were just a dozen present, counting A. Cypher, who as host was much in evidence. Besides Tom Bates, the new boys were Philip Towns, Jud Elderkin, Joe Clausin and Andy Flinn; the latter of Irish parentage, but well liked, even though his widowed mother had to take in washing to provide food for the numerous mouths dependent on her.
Andy was a particularly bright boy, and many declared that he had a future before him, if only he kept away from the one curse of his father's life, rum. But as he hated the very word drink, there seemed to be little danger that he would be apt to follow in the footsteps of the brilliant man who had fallen so early in life, and left a family nearly destitute.
"Meeting please come to order," called Paul, after he had been pushed into a chair to serve as temporary chairman.
Soon the boys began to go into the details of the projected troop, its meaning, what good it might be expected to accomplish, and everything connected with the Boy Scout organization.
Paul read page after page from the book he had brought, while the others, including the parents of A. Cypher, listened, and applauded at times, as some particularly fine point happened to strike them.
"That ought to do for the present," said Paul, finally, as he closed the book and beamed upon his mates; "and now, what do you think, fellows?"
"I'm just wild to get started, and more so than ever after hearing all about the hundreds of fine things scouts can do. I'm a crank on making fires, and I guess I'd qualify right easy for the championship in that tournament!" exclaimed William Carberry, his face aglow.
"Yes, and I remember the time he nearly burned our house down, trying to start a blaze without a match. He got the fire all right; but there was a lively time around there, until the bucket brigade arrived, and slushed things down. Oh! you can believe William; he's some on the fire racket," remarked the other Twin, at which there was a roar from those present.
"I move that we write out just what we intend to do, and that all the fellows in the room sign it as charter members. Then we'll try to double our dozen by a week, and rush things along. We already have enough for the first patrol and half a second. If we expect to compete with those other troops in the struggle for supremacy we've got to be awake and doing."
"You never said truer words, Paul. What sort of a binding agreement had we ought to get up?" asked Bobolink, pretending that it was Tom Bates who spoke; for really the boy had a wonderful gift of ventriloquism, and often amused himself, and his friends as well, by sending his voice into strange places, to the wonder of those who were not aware of his tricks.
"I thought that over, and wrote out what I believed would cover the ground. If you listen now, I'll read it to you," returned the chairman.
"Hear! hear ye! All keep silent while our honored chairman reads the document to which we expect to subscribe our names and seals!" called William, pompously.
What Paul had written was simply that those whose names were found below had united themselves together with the idea of forming a troop that could be connected with the regular Boys Scout organization as incorporated.
Then every boy present wrote his name beneath the agreement, after which they went into executive session, the parents of A. Cypher being kindly but firmly requested to retire from the room, while the election of officers proceeded, and other necessary steps were taken to perfect the first patrol.
So the first patrol of Stanhope Troop was organized, and consisted of the eight originators of the scheme. It was decided to call this the Red Fox patrol. As fast as others were arranged for they could take on such names as Gray Fox, White Fox and even Black Fox.
Later on they hoped to secure a scout master, but just now with Paul and Wallace brimming over with woods' lore, the lack of such an officer would not bother them.
The meeting ended in Paul being placed in the honored position of scout leader, with the second position being thrust on Jack Stormways, though he declared that Wallace Carberry was far better qualified to fill it than he ever could be.
But Paul was satisfied to have it so. Jack was his favorite chum; and he would be thrown much in his company. Besides, the desire to study up the rules, and perfect himself in all that an assistant scout master should know, might for a time at least take Jack's thoughts away from the subject of his trouble at home.
Before the boys left they were summoned to the dining room, where refreshments were placed before them; and when the meeting did finally break up every fellow felt deep down in his heart that an important step had been taken toward raising the standard of living among the rising generation of Stanhope.
Finally, as the hour had grown fairly late it was suggested that they leave in a body, since all military organizations did this.
"And," continued the one who had put this idea forward, "while we have nothing to do with the army itself, we expect to be governed by certain military rules. What say, fellows?"
"Fall in! fall in!"
Out of the door they marched, and down the steps, two by two; Bluff Shipley, who was paired with Nuthin', being the lone straggler in the rear, since his mate remained at home.
If he experienced the slightest sense of dejection at being compelled to walk without a side partner, it was of very brief duration.
Outside it was very dark, and this condition seemed more or less heightened by the fact that the eyes of the young scouts had become accustomed to the glow of the rooms they had just left.
Consequently there was more or less chance of some one tripping on the steps, and pulling others down with him.
"'Ware the fourth step; it's shaky and may throw you, boys!" sang out Nuthin'.
Hardly had he spoken than the first pair executed a beautiful forward bow, and went down in a heap from the lower step.
"Look out there! A rope!"
Paul had just barely time to give utterance to this warning when the next pair found the obstruction for themselves, and came plunging down on top of those already landed.
Two more were close behind, so nearly upon the heels of the second pair that it was really impossible for them to avoid following in their wake. Thus there were by this time six struggling figures at the foot of the steps, while the balance of the patrol huddled just above, looking with amazement at the dimly seen spectacle.
From somewhere near by, possibly the shelter of some bushes, came gurgles of boyish laughter, and jeering words in assumed voices.
No need to tell Paul and his friends to whose kind attention they owed this unexpected downfall. Ted Slavin and his backers had not been idle while the new patrol was being organized in the home of Nuthin'. They had fastened a stout rope across the lower step, and succeeded in tripping half of their rivals.
Paul managed to scramble to his feet, hardly knowing whether to laugh, or get angry at this practical joke on the part of the opposition.
CHECKING A COWARD
"It's that Slavin crowd!" exclaimed Jack, as he gained his feet.
"Let's capture some of them, then!" shouted William, always ready for battle, as was also Bluff Shipley, whose hands were never bothered with impediments as was his speech.
A rush was made for the bushes, and retreating footsteps announced the hasty departure of the enemy.
None of the new scouts seemed to care about following very far. They knew Ted of old, and feared lest they be drawn into a trap, so that their last condition would be really worse than the first.
"No damage done, after all," remarked Paul, as he brushed off his clothes; while the others gathered around, and Nuthin' came down to secure the treacherous rope.
"Barked my shins some, now; and sooner or later I've just got to take it out of that crowd!" muttered William, limping around, and shaking his head.
"Better do it soon, then," observed Bobolink, "for after you've taken the oath of allegiance to the scouts you dassent tackle a feller without losing marks."
"H'm! is that so?" grunted the injured member, regretfully; for to be deprived of the boon of fighting would be taking some of the joys of life away from the pugnacious Carberry twin.
"Fall in again, boys!" said Paul, cheerily.
"Not the same way, I hope, captain!" ventured Bobolink; at which there was a laugh, and the incident seemed closed.
The boys had no doubt but that their rivals must have been observing much that went on in the lighted rooms, possibly also trying to catch what was being said.
"What of it?" demanded Paul, when some one suggested this; "if they heard what I read out of that manual so much the better. Let them subscribe to those rules, and life will be worth living alongside Ted and his cronies."
"But you see they just can't!" declared Bobolink, quickly.
"Which is to say they won't. All right. Once we get out troop formed, public sentiment will be on our side. If they try to worry us the good people of Stanhope, backed by the Women's Club, will see to it that the nuisance is stopped. Isn't that so, Paul?" remarked Jack, with conviction in his voice.
"Them's my sentiments, as some character in fiction used to remark. We can afford to laugh at all these little plans to annoy us. Of course, if they go too far, why we may have to turn and do something ourselves," said Paul, seriously.
"Bully! Hasten the time!" cried William, ceasing to limp for the moment in his new delight.
"Oh! but Paul doesn't mean a regular give and take fight. If we pitch in at all, I'm afraid it'll have to be doling out punishment in the way the good dad does when he plies the stick and says it hurts him worse than it does the bad kid," declared Bobolink; at which there was a roar.
On the following day there was more or less skirmishing about town by various eager lads, seeking recruits for the rival troops.
Paul was as busy as a beaver, and at several points conferred with some of his followers. He had sent for more manuals, besides a price list of uniforms, and other equipments necessary to the complete organization of the Fox Patrol and Stanhope Troop No. 1.
Leading citizens began to take an interest in the movement, as they grew to understand its true significance. Stanhope seemed to be fairly sizzling with a new and novel energy. Even the meeting of the Women's Club that afternoon was given up partly to a discussion of the merits of the Boy Scout wave then sweeping over the land; and ladies who had been decidedly averse to such a thing found their eyes opened to its beneficial accompaniments.
As was to be expected, the recruiting was not confined to Paul and his chums. Ted Slavin and Ward Kenwood were just as vigorously employed; and several times in the course of the day the rivals ran across each other while engaged in thus drumming up new subjects for initiation.
On such occasions there was apt to be something in the way of verbal fireworks passing between the opposing scouts. Ted Slavin seldom knew how to bridle that tongue of his; and Ward Kenwood seemed to be in a nasty humor himself.
To tell the truth there had long been a sort of rivalry between Paul and Ward over the smiles of pretty Arline Blair; and latterly the high school girl seemed to be giving young Morrison more than his share of her company.
That afternoon about four o'clock, as Paul and two of his chums were passing along one of the side streets of the town they came upon a scene that caused a sudden halt.
The blustering voice of Ted Slavin was what first drew their attention; and it seemed to come from around the next corner. Then followed a quavering voice, pleading in its tone.
Paul looked at his friends, and his brow darkened.
"It's old Mother Martha, the market woman who sells things in her little stall around here. And some of those mean skunks are plaguing her, like they often do, she tells me, stealing her apples, and laughing at her, because she's lame with the rheumatism, and can't chase after 'em!" said William, who happened to be one of the trio brought to a halt so suddenly.
"Come on, then; we can't stand that!" exclaimed Paul.
The boys hurriedly turned the corner, to find that what William had suggested seemed to be the actual truth.
Ted and a follower were hovering near the poor old woman. The fact that Ted was contentedly munching a red apple told that he had already made his hawk-like descent on the stand of the market woman, and was now seeking to distract her attention so that his companion might also swoop down to seize a prize, when they would go off, laughing uproarously, as though they considered it a huge joke.
Paul was on the bully in a flash, and almost before Ted knew of his presence he had torn the apple from his grasp and hurled it far away.
"Get out of this, you coward!" exclaimed the scout leader of the new patrol, as he gave Ted Slavin a push; "I'm going to speak to the chief of police about the way you rob this good woman, and see if he won't stop it. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, both of you!"
William and Bluff were for jumping at the two offenders, and giving them a lesson then and there; but with both arms Paul held his fire-eaters back.
"Let 'em come on, if they want to mix up with us. We can take care of two, and think it a picnic. P'raps even three wouldn't be too much, if so be you want to try it on, Paul Morrison. Huh! there comes another bunch of your sissies. Seven against two might make it too interestin', so we'd better skip out, Scissors. But you just wait, that's all. I don't forget you laid a hand on me; and some time I'm going to take it out."
"Oh! suit yourself, Ted," answered the other, promptly. "I'm ready to have a go at you when you're ready, if you force me to the wall. I'm not a fighter, but when I see a couple of rowdies treating a poor old woman like you did, it makes me see red."
With derisive jeers the pair faded away as several boys came running to the spot, having seen the group, and guessing from the presence of the two rival leaders that there must be something doing.
Their indignation was boundless when they learned what new meanness the coming of Paul and his two chums had interrupted.
It required considerable persuasion on the part of the scout leader to prevent an immediate chase of the culprits.
"Let them go this time," said Paul, impressively; "but I'm going to see what can be done to put a stop to this rowdyism. It gives the boys of Stanhope a bad name all around. I told Ted I'd speak to Chief Billings about it."
"You won't get any too much satisfaction there," remarked wise Nuthin'; "because, you see the Chief owes his position to the political influence of Mr. Kenwood; and as Ward runs with Ted he won't dare do anything for fear of offending the head of the party. We've just got to find a way ourselves to change things."
"Well, I'll ask my father about it. Perhaps he can suggest a plan. He used to be a boy himself once, and never forgets it either," was Paul's conclusion, as they each bought an apple from the old woman to make her forget her recent trouble, and then walked away, followed by her earnest thanks.
"Say, but time just crawls along," observed William, dolefully; "because, you see, I'm dying to get to work and win some of them merits you told us about. Just set me the stunt of making water boil over a fire I have to kindle, and I'll do it in three shakes of a lamb's tail. The rest of you will be left hull down. And then there's lots of other jobs that look good to me. Let's get a move on, and start the ball rolling. When's the next meeting, Paul?"
"To-night, and once more at the barn where we were first. This time I figure on having nearly twenty present, and that will make things interesting."
"Same hour as before—eight o'clock?" asked Bobolink.
"Yes. And if any of you feel that you are qualified to take the examination for the first degree, so as to become real tenderfeet in the Scouts, why, I'll be in trim to put you through your sprouts," announced the leader.
"That hits me," declared William; "for I've been studying to beat the band, and believe I'll pass muster with flying colors. Me for the tenderfoot class!"
"And I've just used up a whole ball of twine tying all those measly knots," declared Nuthin'; after which his face brightened when he added: "but I can do every one just like an old jack tar. My dad was once a sailor you know, and that's where I've got the bulge on the rest of you. So-long, boys; I'm going home to try again."
A STRANGE SUGGESTION
"Who goes there?"
"A scout of the Red Fox Patrol!"
"Advance scout, and give the countersign!"
A figure came shuffling forward, bent over, and whispered a word in the ear of the sentinel at the door of the old tobacco barn.
"Correct! Pass in, scout!" said the one on guard, solemnly.
But William chose to loiter by the door, and watch the gathering of the clans, for the boys arrived rapidly after that, usually in pairs.
"Where's the other twin?" asked Paul, seeing William alone.
"Unavoidably detained, Captain. May be on deck later. Here comes another bunch," and William stepped aside to allow the sentry to halt Andy Flinn, who had arrived in company with Jud Elderkin, the latter as tall and thin as the former was fat and pudgy.
"Pass along, gentlemen," sang out William, after the pair had successfully stood the test; "the animals went in two by two; the elephant and the kangaroo!" and as usual there was a laugh at this sally, which applied so aptly to the couple just entering.
"All here now, Paul," announced Jack Stormways, counting noses in the light of half a dozen lanterns provided by Mr. Shipley, the owner of the barn.
For an hour routine business was transacted.
There were just twenty-one names on the roll now, and all present saving two, Wallace Carberry and another. It was decided to organize two patrols at once, the first to be under the charge of Paul as scout leader, while Jud Elderkin took the Gray Fox crowd.
The more the assembled lads learned concerning the duties and sports of the Boy Scouts, the greater became their enthusiasm. As the evening progressed they were fairly bubbling over with excitement, and it began to look as though the success of the new movement were already assured.
But Paul knew that it must be a constant fight between the natural rough-and-ready, give-and-take spirit which almost every boy inherits from his ancestors, and the new idea that would have him a hero without being a bully or a brawler.
And he was not surprised when, later on, just before they thought of breaking up the meeting, William got the floor on the question of a personal privilege, and threw a bombshell into the camp.
"I'm going to ask a favor of you fellows," he said; "and you can help me break even with that old rooster as well as have some fun. D'ye think you can stand the racket?"
The others crowded around, for they knew very well that when William had anything to propose it usually meant some frolic. But Paul noticed to his surprise that the joker seemed worked up far more than he could ever remember seeing him before, and he scented trouble ahead.
"Who is it this time, William? Tell us about it, old fellow! Of course we're bound to stand by you through thick and thin. That's one of the first duties of a scout, you know. Speak up, and give us a tip!"
It was Jud Elderkin who said this; but that he voiced the sentiments of pretty much the entire group could be judged from the chorus of exclamations that greeted his aggressive speech.
"It's that old grumpy miser, Peleg Growdy," said the orator, waving his hands to emphasize his words. "He never had any use for boys, you know, and often says he wonders why the pests were ever born. I don't remember doing him any mean thing in my life, but he's got it in for the whole creation of boys, I expect."
"What did he do to you?"
"Yes, tell us, William. We'll stand by you, never fear."
"He needs a good lesson, the old skinflint. Tell us what happened!"
William grinned, for he saw that he had already captured the hearts of his comrades, and had small need to fear they would let him seek satisfaction alone.
Jack Stormways was as deeply interested in the outcome as his chum Paul.
He remembered all his father had said at the breakfast table on the preceding day, in connection with this same man Growdy.
William was proceeding to thrill his hearers some more. To hear him talk one might imagine his father was a celebrated lawyer instead of the town blacksmith, for William had a smooth tongue.
"I guess all of you know by this time what some fellers did to Growdy's pigs last Saturday night, painting 'em to beat the band? It's the talk of the town, and lots of folks says that it serves the old crusty just right. But I was tucked away in my little bed alongside t'other twin that night, as snug as two bugs in a rug; and consequently had my little alibi ready to prove I wasn't in the bunch that paid him that sly visit."
"Oh! we all know who did it, never fear!" cried Joe Clausin.
"He spells his name T-e-d!" echoed Bobolink.
"All right. Because some bad boys played that joke on old Growdy he seems to have it in for every mother's son in Stanhope. I met him on the road this afternoon when I was out with a light wagon after some feed. He was on the way to town to deliver a big load of truck. Everybody's entitled to half the road; ain't that the law, fellers?"
"Sure it is, William; but that mean man wouldn't budge for you, hey?" said Jud.
"Not for an inch. Just hauled up there taking two-thirds of the road, and started to light his pipe. I was in a hurry to get along, and thought I could just squeeze by; but I made a mistake, and my wagon got upset in the ditch. He went on, grinning at my trouble, and never offering to raise a hand to help me out."
Exclamations of indignation arose on all sides.
"He needs another lesson, boys!"
"Say the word, William, and we're with you. Guess I might think up a few ways for you to get even with the old skinflint!"
Paul saw that they were rapidly being swayed by their feelings of natural resentment. He had no particular reason for liking Peleg Growdy any more than the balance of the group; but the lesson of returning good for evil had taken full possession of his soul.
Once he would have been only too ready to join in with his chums in redressing what seemed to be a positive wrong; but somehow it was different now.
Before he could speak, however, Jack had elbowed his way into the midst of the excited lads, his face full of determination.
"Wait a bit, you fellows, before you decide what you're going to do. I want to tell you something that ought to interest you."
"All right, Jack; speak up. Any objection to joining in with us and having a little fun while we help a brother even up his score?" demanded a voice.
Then Jack repeated as well as he was able the conversation that had taken place at the breakfast table in his house. He went even further than this, for it happened that he knew something about the old man's past.
"Peleg Growdy is a crabbed old chap, I admit; but perhaps you wouldn't blame him so much if you knew the trouble he has had."
"What was that?" asked one boy.
"His wife and two children were burned to death when his house caught fire many years ago. Another child grew up to be a man, and committed some crime that made him run away. His last one, a daughter, was killed in a railroad wreck. Ever since then the old man shuns people, and just works as if he never wanted to know a living soul."
"That's tough, for a fact!" admitted one boy, slowly.
"But it don't excuse him for hating all boys. What business did he have sitting there and taking two-thirds of the road, to let William upset in the ditch trying to pass him?" demanded Jud, still rebelling.
"Oh! well, that's a rule of the road that isn't always carried out. For instance, the loaded vehicle is generally given more than its half; and William admits he was going light, while the old man carried a heavy load," said Jack.
"Yes, that's so," grunted William, unable to hold out against such logic.
"And perhaps, if he told the actual truth, William would admit that there was room enough for him to pass, if he had been a little more careful!"
"Sure; but I was in a hurry, you understand; and didn't see that the edge of the ditch was crumbly. But he laughed, I tell you, and that riled me!"
"And now you want to bring a dozen and more of your friends down on his place to commit some prank that will make him dislike boys more than ever. It's all wrong, I tell you, fellows, and for one I refuse to lend a hand," and Jack folded his arms as though his mind were made up once and for all.
Paul saw that they were very near a division that might be fatal to the future good of the cause. He wondered whether he could swing the crowd to the other side, like the pendulum of a clock. It would take considerable eloquence, as well as all his powers of leadership to accomplish it; but the crisis was upon them, and he would be false to himself if he did not meet the issue squarely.
"Will you listen to me, fellows?" he said, quietly, stepping forward to occupy the place just vacated by Jack, and managing to whisper to the other in passing: "back me up for all you're worth, and we may win the day!"
"Of course we will! You're the scout leader, Paul, and when you hatch up any game it's sure to be worth the powder. Let her go!" came from Jud, who seemed to be a sort of ringleader in this little rebellion in the camp.
"All right, boys. I'm going to make a proposition that will take your breath away; but I have strong hopes that after what you've listened to from that manual to-night, you'll be ready to back me up," continued Paul.
"We believe in you, Paul. You never fooled us yet; and you never will. What's your queer game?" asked Bobolink, ready to swing over already, such was his faith in the one they had elected their leader.
The boys crowded around Paul, more than eager to hear what his proposal might turn out to be; for novelty always appeals to the average lad.
"All of you know that old Peleg keeps his dooryard in a horrible condition. Why, my mother says she doesn't believe it has been cleaned up in years; and he hardly ever takes the trouble to even put his wagons and that old buggy in the shed. It's a disgrace to the town to have him so near. I've heard that the women talked about asking him to do something to make it look cleaner."
"He's a stubborn old man, and can't be driven, my dad says," remarked Jud.
"Now here's what I'm going to propose. You know he's pretty deaf, and can't hear much that goes on. He used to have a savage dog, but it died a couple of weeks ago, and since then he's been trying to get another, but so far without success. Get that?"
"Yes, but go on, Paul," demanded Bobolink.
"Let's go over to Peleg's in a body," continued the scout leader; "and while he sleeps clean up that dooryard of his so that in the morning he'll just rub his eyes and begin to think the fairies have paid him a visit in the night. And when he learns who did it perhaps he may feel something like you did, William. Don't you see, it'll be rubbing it in good and hard!"
Paul waited to see how his suggestion took.
The boys stared at each other in amazement. It is doubtful whether a parcel of wide-awake lads ever before had such a novel proposition made to them. And perhaps it was the sensational character of the appeal that stirred them more than any desire to return good for evil.
"Count me in that job, Paul," said Jack positively.
He had timed his interruption with exceeding cleverness. Boys are like sheep, and given a bell wether they will follow blindly where the leader goes.
"Me too!" cried Bobolink, quickly.
"Ditto! I'm for the game just as Paul says!" exclaimed Nuthin'.
And every one in the crowd followed suit, laughing at the idea of their turning the tables on the old farmer in such an unheard-of fashion; though several doubtless secretly scoffed at the project, and only agreed because it seemed to be a necessary evil if they wanted to become Boy Scouts.
THE TRAP THAT PELEG SET
"There's Growdy's shack and barns!"
"Don't seem to be anything stirring, fellows!"
"Look out for a trap. Once bitten, twice shy. Perhaps he's just laying for some fellers to come along, and play some more paintin' job trick. I heard that he said he would find some way to stop the nuisance!"
This from "Red" Betts, who was known as a cautious chap, and able to vanish at the first sign of danger better than any fellow in town.
"Suppose we hold up here, and send out scouts to see how the land lies? That's the military way of doing it," ventured Bobolink.
"A good idea, and I appoint you, Bobolink, with Jud Elderkin, to carry out the little business," remarked Paul, in a low tone.
"Trot along, you chaps; the rest of us will bunk right here alongside the road and wait till you report," and suiting the action to his words William dropped in his tracks.
A brief time elapsed, and then the pair of spies returned.
"Not a single light in the house, and the coast clear, fellows; so come on!" and Jud waved his long arms as though enjoying his brief assumption of authority to the limit.
It would have doubtless astonished the old farmer had he chanced upon the scene just then. A young moon hung in the western sky, and while giving little light, still the figures of some score of stooping boys might have been discovered, advancing in broken formation along the road.
The leader silently opened the gate leading to the dooryard of Growdy's place. His barns stood near the house, so that the confusion which reigned was all the more noticeable. Its equal had never been known around Stanhope; and could only be expected in the case of a place where a woman's influence for cleanliness had been totally absent during the past ten years.
Over to the stable went some of the boys.
Paul had talked it all over with them as they walked, and each knew what part he was to take in the general clean-up.
To some of them it was simply another form of a lark. Boys are queer creatures even to those who imagine they know them well. They must be doing something all the time. Once get them started in the right direction, and they will labor just as sturdily to bring about a good object, as under other conditions, they would work to play a joke. It all depends on how they begin. And thanks to the sagacity of Paul, he had succeeded in interesting them in the novelty of his proposal.
Some secured rakes and hoes, and began to systematically gather up the scattered loose material that covered the place, ankle deep. Others pushed the wagons, and the old dilapidated buggy, back into the shed in systematic order.
They worked like busy bees, chuckling, whispering and evidently getting considerable fun out of the strange frolic.
Paul himself went over the job to make sure that it had been thoroughly done, and that nothing remained uncared for.
Up to this time fortune had favored the busy workers, since no sound had come about to betray their presence.
"How is it, Paul?" asked Jack Stormways, as he ran across the other in making his rounds.
"About at the end. The boys are putting the old tools back where they found them; and then we can go home. It's the best half hour's work any of us have done for a good while, I tell you, Jack."
"Some of the boys don't seem to think it quite so funny now as when they started in. They say they can't see where the pay is going to come in, and have begun to grumble," whispered the other.
"Perhaps it never will, and again, who knows what might come out of this? Anyhow, the ladies will be glad to see this dirty place clean for once. Some others I know may take a notion that if Old Growdy can clean up they ought to. Listen! what in the world is that?"
A rattling of tin pans came to their ears, as if one of the boys in prowling around had accidently upset a bench on which a milk bucket and some flat tinware had been airing.
"That settles it! He'll hear all that row and be out on us in a jiffy!" said Paul, annoyed because the affair had not gone off according to schedule.
"Look! there's a light sprung up inside the house. He's getting his trousers on, all right, and the sooner we skip out the better!" declared Jack.
The boys now came running from every direction, while sounds from within the nearby farmhouse told that Old Peleg must be switching on his heavy boots.
So Paul, knowing that the only thing left now was a hasty flight, gave the signal arranged for. It meant every fellow for himself until they had put a reasonable distance between themselves and the seat of danger. Then they could meet at a given place, and go home, laughing over the whole affair, and wondering what Peleg would think when he saw what a miraculous transformation had taken place while he slept.
Paul happened to be the very last to run away. Instead of passing out by way of the gate as most of the others did, Paul started to pass over the fence at an inviting point, where two of the bars seemed to be down, and he could gain the adjoining woodlot, from which he might reach the road at his pleasure.
But alas! the best of plans often go amiss. And that gap that yawned in the fence proved a delusion and a snare.
Hardly had Paul made the jump over the two lower bars than he found himself suddenly jerked down, and his head came with a crash on the ground, causing him to see a myriad of stars.
Nor was this all. An unknown power at the same time seemed to lift his lower extremities up in the air at least two feet, so that he appeared to be trying to swim on dry land.
For a moment he was puzzled to account for this remarkable happening; but as his head cleared a bit, and the stars ceased to shoot before his mental vision, he began to get an idea as to what had happened.
Apparently the fellows who had painted the farmer's pigs on the other night must have entered his place from the woods, and through this gap in the fence.
Old Peleg had remembered, and anticipating another invasion sooner or later, he had succeeded in arranging some sort of ingenious trap on the spot.
In jumping Paul had set off the trigger, with the consequence that a noose had instantly tightened around his ankles, and a hogshead partly filled with stones, starting to roll down the slope, had drawn his legs upward.
Well, at any rate there he was, clinging to the grass, and with an unseen force pulling at his elevated feet, so that he was helpless to assist himself.
It was very funny, no doubt, but Paul hardly felt like laughing, just then. He tried to wriggle around so as to get at the loop, in the hope that he might loosen the same; but all his efforts were wasted.
Old Peleg had builded better than he expected when he set that trap in which to catch his tormentors.
He was coming now to see the result of his cunning. No doubt he had heard the tremendous rattle as the bulging barrel of stones started to roll down the slope after being liberated; for even a deaf man could hardly have missed that racket. Lantern in hand he was even now hobbling along, chuckling in anticipation of what he would find in his trap.
Closer came the limping farmer. Paul saw now that he held a vicious black whip in his right hand, while gripping a lighted lantern in the other.
Laughter in the distance told that the boys had all taken themselves off. They could not suspect what a dire calamity had befallen their leader, or a rescue party must have certainly been formed.
Another minute and Peleg had arrived at the fence, and bending over held the lantern so that its light fell upon the figure of his captive.
"Gut ye, have I? Mebbe ye'll try to paint some critters of mine agin, an' mebbe ye won't!" said the farmer, as he raised the ugly black whip which he held, with the evident intention of bringing it down good and hard on the helpless boy.
TURNING THE TABLES
"Wait, Mr. Growdy!" Paul hastened to exclaim.
The old man laughed harshly as he flourished the whip. Perhaps he had never struck a boy before in all his life, and hardly knew how to begin; but his temper was plainly disturbed, and he meant to make a start.
"What should I wait fur, when I cort ye in the very act? Paint my critters red, white an' blue, will ye? P'raps ye wanted to pull all the feathers out o' my flock o' chickens this time, an' think it funny. Sarve ye right if I gi'e ye a dozen stripes!"
"Mr. Growdy, I did you a favor once!" said the prisoner of the trap, wishing to keep the old man as long as possible from starting operations.
"Say ye so? Wall, this wipes it out then. Who air ye, anyway?"
The farmer bent lower, and thrust his lantern so that its light would fall upon the face of the boy. Immediately he uttered a grunt, for it was plain that he had recognized his captive.
"So, it's ye, is it, Paul Morrison? This is some surprise, seein' as ye're the last boy I'd expect to be up ter sech meanness. What d'ye think yer father'll say w'en he hears 'bout this?"
"I guess he'll laugh, and say it was about the cutest trick ever played on you, Mr. Growdy," came the immediate answer; "but please get me down from this. Perhaps the blood will all run to my head. Tie my hands if you want, and fix it so I can't run away; but I couldn't stand this long."
"So ye think yer father'd larf, do ye? I never wud 'a' b'lieved Doctor Morrison was the kind o' man to encourage practical jokes on anybody," grumbled the old man, plainly at a loss to understand what was meant.
"Well, he isn't, and I'd be sorry to have him know I was guilty of such a thing. But you're barking up the wrong tree, Mr. Growdy, I give you my word we none of us had any trick in mind when we came here to-night."
"Then what took you in my dooryard here; for I heard a pack runnin' away when I kim out of the house? Tell me that, Paul," insisted the farmer; but the hand that held that cruel looking whip had fallen to his side, which was a good sign.
"I'll be only too glad to do so if you let me up. Tie my hands, my legs too if you want, sir; but I'm getting dizzy from having my head below my heels."
Peleg stooped still closer. He again held the lantern down so that he could look into the face of his prisoner; after which he did something that Paul had hardly expected—bent over, seized the rope connected with the laden hogshead, and pulling hard succeeded in casting the loop that had just encircled Paul's ankles, over a post of the fence.
"Get up, Paul!" he said, grimly, yet with a flicker of curiosity in his wrinkled face; as though a dim suspicion that there might be something out of the ordinary back of this, had begun to take possession of his mind.
Paul regained his feet, a little wobbly to be sure, for he had experienced a bad fall, and his head felt rather tender where it had come in contact with the hard ground.
"Thank you, Mr. Growdy. And now I'm going to tell you something. Perhaps you will find it hard to believe me, and again you may not just appreciate our way of taking matters in our own hands, when the request of the women of Stanhope didn't have any effect. Look around your dooryard, Mr. Growdy. Do you see anything changed here?"
The farmer held up the lantern, and what he saw caused him to utter an exclamation.
"Ev'ry one o' 'em gone, by hokey! If so be ye've smashed all my rigs, Paul Morison, I'll have the law on ye, as sure as my name's Peleg Growdy!" he roared, aghast at what he deemed a serious discovery.
"Come with me, Mr. Growdy. Notice as you go that this place doesn't look much like a pigpen now. In fact, I calculate it's as clean as any dooryard around Stanhope. Even the ladies can drive past now without being shocked. And Mr. Growdy, if you will take the trouble, sir, to look under that wagon shed, you'll see every one of your vehicles just where they should be when not in use!"
The old man stared, as well he might.
"By gum!" Paul heard him mutter; and the words seemed to express the situation so well that the boy could hardly keep from laughing outright.
Finally the puzzled farmer turned and looked at the lad who stood there beside him. Easily might Paul have made his escape at any time now; but that was really the last thing he thought of doing. He would much rather remain and see the bewilderment of Peleg Growdy reach its conclusion.
"Look here, Paul, what's this hull thing mean?" finally demanded the farmer.
And Paul, remembering the fact that the old man was hard of hearing, raised his voice as he thought fit when making reply.
"Do you want me to tell you the whole thing, sir?"
"I sartin do, every word. Blest if I kin make head or tail out o' it. Reckons as how them leetle fairy twins ye read about must 'a' ben workin' wile I slept; er else I'm dreamin' things that caint be true."
"Listen, Mr. Growdy," Paul went on. "Perhaps you may not know that we have started a troop of the Boy Scouts here in Stanhope. Some twenty of us have joined, and later on we hope to get uniforms, and other things needed, when we have earned the money to buy them. Those boys you heard running away were my friends and comrades, every one going to be a true scout."
"Soldier bummers then, out on a raid, and ready to kerry off everything they kin lay hands on," grumbled the old man, still unable to grasp the true condition of affairs.
"At a meeting to-night in Mr. Shipley's barn we made further progress looking to perfecting our organization. But boys will be boys, you know; and one of our number asked the rest to help him get even with you, because you forced him into the ditch this afternoon, upsetting his wagon."
Old Growdy moved uneasily.
"I was real sorry to see William do that. If he'd only waited till I lighted my pipe I 'spected to pull out a leetle more, so's to let him git by; but he was that impatient he must push on," he said.
"Just as I thought. Well, Mr. Growdy, one of the rules of the scouts is that a member must never return an evil deed by another of the same kind. I proposed that we try to make you change your mind about detesting all boys. So we came here, not to paint your pigs as some other fellows did, I'm told; not to let your stock loose, or run off with your wagons; but to clean up your dooryard, and give you the greatest surprise of your life when you came out in the morning!"
"Sho! now. That takes the cake!"
"When one of my chums upset that bench by accident, and the pans fell with a racket, of course it gave the whole thing away, and we started to run; but unfortunately I happened to drop into your nice little trap, and you found me upside down. That is all, Mr. Growdy. Do you want to whip me now, or take me in to the lockup, which?"
Peleg Growdy found himself strangely thrilled as he looked into that frank, smiling face of Paul Morrison.
For almost a full minute they stood thus.
Then Peleg spoke.
"Reckon as how them comrades o' yers must 'a' gut a long start by now, Paul. S'pose ye see if ye kin ketch up with 'em, son."
That was all, but as Paul hurried off he was conscious of a strange feeling deep down in his breast; and he felt sure that after all it had paid. Peleg Growdy at least had met with the surprise of his life. After this possibly his ideas of juvenile depravity might undergo a violent change; for such positive natures as his usually swing from one extreme to the other, just like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.
Paul did not catch up with his fleeing comrades, for they had secured too good a start. When he reached the rendezvous, however, he found them there, one and all, and wondering what could have happened to detain him.
Loud were the expressions of astonishment as he calmly announced that having been caught in a trap, he had held a face to face talk with Peleg Growdy himself; when he managed to relate the whole surprising adventure the boys were stunned at the possible consequences of their little prank.
Those who had considered it only in the light of a joke began to see that Paul had something deeper in mind when he proposed such a thing.