TOM SLADE AT BLACK LAKE
By PERCY KEESE FITZHUGH
Author of THE TOM SLADE AND THE ROY BLAKELEY BOOKS
Illustrated by HOWARD L. HASTINGS
Published with the approval of THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA
GROSSET & DUNLAP Publishers—New York
Made in the United States of America
Copyright, 1920, by GROSSET & DUNLAP
Several persons have asked me when Tom Slade was ever going to grow up and cease to be a Scout. The answer is that he is already grown up and that he is never going to cease to be a Scout. Once a Scout, always a Scout. To hear some people talk one would think that scouting is like the measles; that you get over it and never have it any more.
Scouting is not a thing to play with, like a tin steam-engine, and then to throw aside. If you once get caught in the net of scouting, you will never disentangle yourself. A fellow may grow up and put on long trousers and go and call on a girl and all that sort of thing, but if he was a Scout, he will continue to be a Scout, and it will stick out all over him. You'll find him back in the troop as assistant or scoutmaster or something or other.
I think Tom Slade is a very good example. He left the troop to go and work on a transport; he got into the motorcycle messenger service; he became one of the greatest daredevils of the air; he came home quite "grown up" as you would say, and knuckled down to be a big business man.
Then, when it came to a show down, what did he do? He found out that he was just a plain Scout, shouldered his axe, and went off and did a big scout job all alone. So there you are.
I am sorry for those who would have him too old for scouting, and who seem to think that a fellow can lay aside all he has learned in the woods and in the handbook, the same as he can lay aside his short trousers. It isn't as easy as all that.
Did you suppose that Tom Slade was going to get acquainted with nature, with the woods and streams and trees, and make them his friends, and then repudiate these friends?
Do you think that a Scout is a quitter?
Tom Slade was always a queer sort of duck, and goodness only knows what he will do next. He may go to the North Pole for all I know. But one thing you may be sure of; he is still a Scout of the Scouts, and if you think he is too old to be a Scout, then how about Buffalo Bill?
The fact is that Tom is just beginning to reap the real harvest of scouting. The best is yet to come, as Pee-wee Harris usually observes, just before dessert is served at dinner. If it is any satisfaction to you to know it, Tom is more of a Scout than at any time in his career, and there is a better chance of his being struck by lightening than his drifting away from the troop whose adventures you have followed with his.
It is true that Tom has grown faster than his companions and found it necessary to go to work while they are still at school. And this very circumstance will enable us to see what scouting has done for him.
Indeed if I could not show you that, then all of those eight stores of his adventures would have been told to little purpose. The chief matter of interest about a trail is where it leads to. It may be an easy trail or a hard trail, but the question is, where does it go to?
It would be a fine piece of business, I think, to leave Tom sitting on a rock near the end of the trail without giving you so much as a glimpse of what is at the end of it.
So you may tell your parents and your teachers and your uncles and your aunts not to worry about Tom Slade never growing up. He is just a trifle over eighteen years old and very strong and husky. Confidentially, I look upon him as nothing but a kid. I keep tabs on his age and when he has to go on crutches and is of no more interest to you, I shall be the first to know it. He is likely to have no end of adventures between eighteen and twenty.
Meanwhile, don't worry about him. He's just a big overgrown kid and the best Scout this side of Mars.
P. K. F.
I. Tom Looks at the Map 1 II. He Sends a Letter 5 III. The New Struggle 10 IV. "Lucky Luke" 16 V. About Seeing a Thing Through 24 VI. "The Woods Property" 29 VII. Just Nonsense 35 VIII. Five, Six, and Seven 45 IX. Roy's Nature 52 X. Tom Receives a Surprise 55 XI. Tom and Roy 59 XII. The Long Trail 66 XIII. Roy's Trail 73 XIV. The Really Hard Part 76 XV. A Letter From Barnard 80 XVI. The Episode in France 86 XVII. On the Long Trail 94 XVIII. Tom Lets the Cat Out of the Bag 101 XIX. The Spectre of Defeat 106 XX. The Friend in Need 110 XXI. Tom's Guest 117 XXII. An Accident 122 XXIII. Friends 132 XXIV. Tom Goes on an Errand 138 XXV. Two Letters 147 XXVI. Lucky Luke's Friend 152 XXVII. Thornton's Story 158 XXVIII. Red Thornton Learns Something About Scouts 170 XXIX. Tom Starts for Home 176 XXX. The Troop Arrives 182 XXXI. Archer 193 XXXII. Tom Loses 197
TOM SLADE AT BLACK LAKE
TOM LOOKS AT THE MAP
Tom Slade, bending over the office table, scrutinized the big map of Temple Camp. It was the first time he had really looked at it since his return from France, and it made him homesick to see, even in its cold outlines, the familiar things and scenes which he had so loved as a scout. The hill trail was nothing but a dotted line, but Tom knew it for more than that, for it was along its winding way into the dark recesses of the mountains that he had qualified for the pathfinder's badge. Black Lake was just an irregular circle, but in his mind's eye he saw there the moonlight glinting up the water, and canoes gliding silently, and heard the merry voices of scouts diving from the springboard at its edge.
He liked this map better than maps of billets and trenches, and to him the hill trail was more suggestive of adventure than the Hindenburg Line. He had been very close to the Hindenburg Line and it had meant no more to him than the equator. He had found the war to be like a three-ringed circus—it was too big. Temple Camp was about the right size.
Tom reached for a slip of paper and laying it upon the map just where the trail went over the hilltop and off the camp territory altogether, jotted down the numbers of three cabins which were indicated by little squares.
"They're the only three together and kind of separate," he said to himself.
Then he went over to the window and gazed out upon the busy scene, which the city office of Temple Camp overlooked. He did this, not because there was anything there which he wished particularly to see, but because he contemplated doing something and was in some perplexity about it. He was going to dictate a letter to Miss Margaret Ellison, the stenographer.
Tom had seen cannons and machine guns and hand grenades and depth bombs, but the thing in all this world that he was most afraid of was the long sharply pointed pencil which Miss Margaret Ellison always held poised above her open note book, waiting to record his words. Tom had always fallen down at the last minute and told her what he wanted to say; suggesting that she say it in her own sweet way. He did not say sweet way, though he may have thought it.
So now he stood at the open window looking down upon Bridgeboro's surging thoroughfare, while the breath of Spring permeated the Temple Camp office. If he had been less susceptible of this gentle influence in the very air, he would still have known it was Spring by the things in the store windows across the way—straw hats and hammocks and tennis rackets. There were moving vans, too, with furniture bulging out behind them, which are just as certain signs of merry May as the flowers that bloom in the Spring. There was something too, in the way that the sun moved down which bespoke Spring.
But the surest sign of all was the flood of applications for cabin accommodations at Temple Camp; that was just as sure and reliable as the first croaking of the frogs or the softening of the rich, thick mud in Barrel Alley, where Tom had spent his childhood.
He moved over to where Miss Margaret Ellison sat at her machine. Mr. Burton, manager of the Temple Camp office, had told Tom that the only way to acquire confidence and readiness of speech was to formulate what he wished to say and to say it, without depending on any one else, and to this good advice, Peewee Harris, mascot of Tom's Scout Troop had made the additional suggestion, that it was good to say it whether you had anything to say or not, on the theory, I suppose, that if you cannot shoot bullets, it is better to shoot blank cartridges than nothing at all.
HE SENDS A LETTER
"Help him, but encourage him to be self-confident; let him take responsibilities. He understands everything well enough; all he needs is to get a grip on himself." That is what Mr. Burton had told Margaret Ellison, and Margaret Ellison, being a girl, understood better than all the army surgeons in the country.
You see how it was; they had made a wreck of Tom Slade's nerves as a trifling incidental to making the world safe for democracy. He started at every little noise, he broke down in the middle of his talk, he hesitated to cross the street alone, he shuddered at the report of a bursting tire on some unlucky auto. He had never been at ease in the presence of girls, and he was now less at ease than before he had gone away.
He had fought for nearly two years and Uncle Sam liked him so much that he could not bring himself to part company with him, until by hook or crook, Mr. Burton and Mr. Temple managed to get him discharged and put him in the way of finding himself at his old job in Temple Camp office. It was a great relief to him not to have to salute lieutenants any more. The shot and shell he did not mind, but his arm was weary with saluting lieutenants. It was the dream of Tom Slade's life never to see another lieutenant as long as he lived.
He leaned against the table near Miss Margaret Ellison and said, "I—I want—I have to send a letter to a troop that's in Ohio—in a place called—called Dansburg. Shall I dic—shall I say what I want to tell them?"
"Surely," she said cheerily.
"Maybe if it isn't just right you can fix it up," he said.
"You say it just the way you want to," she encouraged him.
"It's to the Second Dansburg Troop and the name of the scoutmaster is William Barnard," Tom said, "and this is what I want to say...."
"Yes, say it in your own words," she reminded him.
"We got—I mean received," he dictated hesitatingly, "your letter and we can give you—can give you—three cabins—three cabins together and kind of separate like you say—numbers five, six, and seven. They are on the hill and separate, and we hope to hear from you—soon—because there are lots of troops asking for cabins, because now the season is beginning. Yours truly."
"Is that all right?" he asked rather doubtfully.
"Surely it is," she said; "and don't forget what Mr. Burton told you about going home early and resting. Remember, Mr. Burton is your superior officer now."
"Are you going home soon?" he asked her.
"Not till half-past five," she said.
He hesitated as if he would like to say something more, then retreating rather clumsily, he got his hat and said good-night, and left the office.
The letter which he had dictated was not laid upon Mr. Burton's desk for signature in exactly the phraseology which Tom had used, but Tom never knew that. This is the way the letter read:
MR. WILLIAM BARNARD, Scoutmaster, Second Dansburg Troop, Dansburg, Ohio.
Replying to your letter asking for accommodations for your three patrols for month of August, we can assign you three cabins (Numbers, 5,6 and 7) covering that time. These are in an isolated spot, as you requested, being somewhat removed from the body of the camp.
Circular of rates and particulars is enclosed. Kindly answer promptly, as applications are numerous.
The letter went out that night, and as it happened, a very considerable series of adventures resulted.
Perhaps if Margaret Ellison had looked at the map or even stopped to think, she would have consulted with Tom before typing that letter, which was the cause of such momentous consequences. As for Mr. Burton, he knew that Tom knew the camp like A. B. C. and he simply signed his name to the letter and let it go at that.
THE NEW STRUGGLE
Tom did as he had promised Mr. Burton he would do; he went home and lay down and rested. It was not much of a home, but it was better than a dugout. That is, it was cleaner though not very much larger. But there were no lieutenants.
It was a tiny hall-room in a boarding house, and the single window afforded a beautiful view of back fences. It was all the home that Tom Slade knew. He had no family, no relations, nothing.
He had been born in a tenement in Barrel Alley, where his mother had died and from which his good-for-nothing father had disappeared. For a while he had been a waif and a hoodlum, and by strict attention to the code of Barrel Alley's gang, he had risen to be king of the hoodlums. No one, not even Blokey Mattenburg himself, could throw a rock into a trolley car with the precision of Tom Slade.
Then, on an evil day, he was tempted to watch the scouts and it proved fatal. He was drawn head over ears into scouting, and became leader of the new Elk Patrol in the First Bridgeboro Troop. For three seasons he was a familiar, if rather odd figure, at Temple Camp, which Mr. John Temple of Bridgeboro had founded in the Catskills, and when he was old enough to work it seemed natural that these kindly gentlemen who had his welfare at heart, should put him into the city office of the camp, which he left to go to war, and to which he had but lately returned, suffering from shell-shock.
He was now eighteen years old, and though no longer a scout in the ordinary sense, he retained his connection with the troop in capacity of assistant to Mr. Ellsworth, the troop's scoutmaster.
He had been rather older than the members of this troop when he made his spectacular leap from hoodlumism to scouting, and hence while they were still kicking their heels in the arena he had, as one might say, passed outside it.
But his love for the boys and their splendid scoutmaster who had given him a lift, was founded upon a rock. The camp and the troop room had been his home, the scouts had been his brothers, and all the simple associations of his new life were bound up with these three patrols.
Perhaps it was for this reason that among these boys, all younger than himself, and with whom he had always mingled on such familiar terms, he showed but few, and those not often, of the distressing symptoms which bespoke his shattered nerves. Among them he found refuge and was at peace with himself.
And the boys, intent upon their own pursuits, knew nothing of the brave struggle he was making at the office where his days were spent, and in the poor little shabbily furnished room where he would lie down on his iron bed and try to rest and forget the war and not hear the noises outside.
How he longed for Friday nights when the troop met, and when he could forget himself in those diverting games!
Since the first few days of his return from France, he had seen but little of the troop, except upon those gala nights. The boys were in school and he at the office, and it seemed as if their two ways had parted, after all his hopes that his return might find them reunited and more intimate than ever before. But after the first joyous welcome, it had not been so. It could not be so.
Of course, if they had known how he loved to just sit and listen to them jolly the life out of Peewee Harris, they would doubtless have arranged to do this every night for his amusement, for it made no difference to them how much they jollied Peewee. If they had had the slightest inkling that it helped him just to listen to Roy Blakeley's nonsense, they would probably have arranged with Roy for a continuous performance, for so far as Roy was concerned, there was no danger of a shortage of nonsense. But you see they did not think of these things.
They did much for wounded soldiers, but Tom Slade was not a wounded soldier. And so it befell that the very thing which he most needed was the thing he did not have, and that was just the riot of banter and absurdity which they called their meetings. At all this he would just sit and smile and forget to interlace his fingers and jerk his head. And sometimes he would even laugh outright.
I am afraid that everything was managed wrong from the first. It would have been better if Mr. Burton or Mr. Ellsworth or somebody or other had told the troop the full truth about Tom's condition. I suppose they refrained for fear the boys would stare at him and treat him as one stricken, and thereby, perhaps make his struggle harder.
At all events, it was hard enough. And little they knew of this new and frightful war that he was struggling through with all the power of his brave, dogged nature. Little they knew how he lay awake night after night, starting at every chime of the city's clock, of how he did the best he could each day, waiting and longing for Friday night, hoping, hoping that Peewee and Roy would surely be there. Poor, distracted, shell-shocked fighter that he was, he was fighting still, and they were his only hope and they did not know it. No one knew it. He would not let them know.
For that was Tom Slade.
Next morning Tom had his breakfast in a dingy little restaurant and then started along Terrace Avenue for the bank building, in which was the Temple Camp office.
He still wore the shabby khaki uniform which had seen service at the front. He was of that physique called thick-set and his face was of the square type, denoting doggedness and endurance, and a stolid temperament.
There had never been anything suggestive of the natty or agile about him when he had been a scout, and army life, contrary to its reputation, had not spruced and straightened him up at all. He was about as awkward looking as a piece of field artillery, and he was just about as reliable and effective. He was not built on the lines of a rifle, but rather on the lines of a cannon, or perhaps of a tank. His mouth was long and his lips set tight, but it twitched nervously at one end, especially when he waited at the street crossing just before he reached the bank building, watching the traffic with a kind of fearful, bewildered look.
Twice, thrice, he made the effort to cross and returned to his place on the curb, interlacing his fingers distractedly. And yet this young fellow had pushed through barbed wire entanglements and gone across No Man's Land, without so much as a shudder in the very face of hostile fire.
He always dreaded this street corner in the mornings and was thankful when he was safe up in his beloved Temple Camp office. If he had been on crutches some grateful citizen would have helped him across, and patriotic young ladies would have paused to watch the returned hero and some one might even have removed his hat in the soldier's presence; for they did those things—for a while.
But such honors were only for those who were fortunate enough to have had a leg or an arm shot off or to have been paralyzed. For the hero who had had his nerves all shot to pieces there were no such spontaneous tributes.
And that was the way it had always been with Tom Slade. He had always made good, but somehow, the applause and the grateful tributes had gone to others. Nature had not made him prepossessing and he did not know how to talk; he was just slow and dogged and stolid, like a British tank, as I said, and just about as homely. You could hardly expect a girl to make much fuss over a young fellow who is like a British tank, when there are young fellows like shining machine guns, and soaring airplanes—to say nothing of poison gas.
And after two years of service in the thick of danger, with bombs and bullets flying all about him; after four months' detention in an enemy prison camp and six weeks of trench fever, to say nothing of frightful risks, stolidly ignored, in perilous secret missions, this young chunk of the old rock of Gibraltar had come home with his life, just because it had pleased God not to accept the proffer of it, and because Fritzie shot wild where Tom was concerned. He couldn't help coming back with his life—it wasn't his fault. It was just because he was the same old Lucky Luke, that's all.
That had been Roy Blakeley's name for him—Lucky Luke; and he had been known as Lucky Luke to all of his scout comrades.
You see it was this way: if Tom was going to win a scout award by finding a certain bird's nest in a certain tree, when he got to the place he would find that the tree had been chopped down. Once he was going to win the pathfinder's badge by trailing a burglar, and he trailed him seven miles through the woods and found that the burglar was his own good-for-nothing father. So he did not go back and claim the award. You see? Lucky Luke.
Once (oh, this happened several years before) he helped a boy in his patrol to become an Eagle Scout. It was the talk of Temple Camp how, one more merit badge (astronomy) and Will O'Connor would be an Eagle Scout and Tom Slade, leader of the Elks, would have the only Eagle Scout at Camp in his patrol. He didn't care so much about being an Eagle Scout himself, but he wanted Will O'Connor to be an Eagle Scout; he wanted to have an Eagle Scout in his patrol.
Then, just before Will O'Connor qualified for the Astronomy Badge, he went to live with his uncle in Cincinnati and the Buffalo Patrol of the Third Cincinnati Troop pretty soon had an Eagle Scout among their number, and the Cincinnati troop got its name into Scouting and Boy's Life. Lucky Luke!
It was characteristic of Tom Slade that he did not show any disappointment at this sequel of all his striving. Much less had he any jealousy, for he did not know there was such a word in the dictionary. He just started in again to make Bert McAlpin an Eagle Scout and when he had jammed Bert through all the stunts but two, Uncle Sam deliberately went into the war and Tom started off to work on a transport. So you see how it worked out; Connie Bennett, new leader of the Elks presently had an Eagle Scout in his patrol and Tom got himself torpedoed. Mind, I don't say that Uncle Sam went into the war just to spite Tom Slade. The point is that Tom Slade didn't get anything, except that he got torpedoed.
One thing he did win for himself as a scout and that was the Gold Cross for life saving, but he didn't know how to wear it, and it was Margaret Eillson who pinned it on for him properly. I think she had a sneaking liking for Tom.
Poor Tom, sometime or other in his stumbling career he had probably gotten out of the wrong side of his bed, or perhaps he was born on a Friday. That was what Roy and the scouts always said.
And so you see, here he was back from the big scrap with nothing to show for it but a case of shell-shock, and you don't have bandages or crutches for shell-shock. There was young Lieut. Rossie Bent who worked downstairs in the bank, who had come home with two fingers missing and all of the girls had fallen at his feet and Tom had had to salute him. But there was nothing missing about Tom—except his wits and his grip on himself, sometimes.
But no one noticed this particularly, unless it was Mr. Burton and Margaret Ellison, and certainly no one made a fuss over him on account of it. Why should anybody make a hero of a young fellow just because he is not quite sure of himself in crossing the street, and because his mouth twitches? Boy scouts are both observant and patriotic, but they could not see that there was anything missing about Tom. All they had noticed was that in resuming his duties at the office he had seemed to be drifting away from them—from the troop. And when he came on Friday nights, just to sit and hear Roy jolly Peewee and to enjoy their simple nonsense, they thought he was "different since he had come back from France"—perhaps just a little, you know, uppish.
It would have been a lucky thing for Tom, and for everybody concerned, if Mr. Ellsworth, scoutmaster, had been at home instead of away on a business trip; for he would have understood.
But of course, things couldn't have gone that way—not with Lucky Luke.
ABOUT SEEING A THING THROUGH
But there was one lucky thing that Tom had done, once upon a time. He had hit Pete Connegan plunk on the head with a rotten tomato.
That was before the war; oh, long, long before. It was a young war all by itself. It happened when Tom was a hoodlum and lived with his drunken father in Barrel Alley. And in that little affair Tom Slade made a stand. Filthy little hoodlum that he was, instead of running when Pete Connegan got down out of his truck and started after him, he turned and compressed his big mouth and stood there upon his two bare feet, waiting. It was Tom Slade all over—Barrel Alley or No Man's Land—he didn't run.
The slime of the tomato has long since been washed off Pete Connegan's face and the tomato is forgotten. But the way that Tom Slade stood there waiting—that meant something. It was worth all the rotten tomatoes in Schmitt's Grocery, where Tom had "acquired" that particular one.
"Phwat are ye standin' there for?" Pete had roared in righteous fury. Probably he thought that at least Tom might have paid him that tribute of respect of fleeing from his wrath.
"'Cause I ain't a goin' ter run, that's why," Tom had said.
Strange to relate, Pete Connegan did not kill him. For a moment he stood staring at his ragged assailant and then he said, "Be gorry, ye got some nerve, annyhow."
"If I done a thing I'd see it through, I would; I ain't scared," Tom had answered.
"If ye'll dance ye'll pay the fiddler, hey?" his victim had asked in undisguised admiration....
Oh well, it was all a long time ago and the only points worth remembering about it are that Tom Slade didn't run, that he was ready to see the thing through no matter if it left him sprawling in the gutter, and that he and the burly truck driver had thereafter been good friends. Now Tom was an ex-scout and a returned soldier and Pete was janitor of the big bank building.
He was sweeping off the walk in front of the bank as Tom passed in.
"Hello, Tommy boy," he said cheerily. "How are ye these days?"
"I'm pretty well," Tom said, in the dull matter-of-fact way that he had, "only I get mixed up sometimes and sometimes I forget."
"Phwill ye evver fergit how you soaked me with the tomater?" Pete asked, leaning on his broom.
"It wasn't hard, because I was standing so near," Tom said, always anxious to belittle his own skill.
"Yer got a mimory twinty miles long," Pete said, by way of discounting Tom's doubts of himself. "I'm thinkin' ye don't go round with the scout boys enough."
"I go Friday nights," Tom said.
"Fer why don't ye go up ter Blakeley's?"
"I don't know," Tom said.
"That kid is enough ter make annybody well," Pete said.
"His folks are rich," Tom said.
That was just it. He was an odd number among these boys and he knew it. Fond of them as he had always been, and proud to be among them, he had always been different, and he knew it. It was the difference between Barrel Alley and Terrace Hill. He knew it. It had not counted for so much when he had been a boy scout with them; good scouts that they were, they had taken care of that end of it. But, you see, he had gone away a scout and come back not only a soldier, but a young man, and he could not (even in his present great need) go to Roy's house, or Grove Bronson's house, or up to the big Bennett place on just the same familiar terms as before. They thought he didn't want to when in fact he didn't know how to.
"Phwen I hurd ye wuz in the war," Pete said, "I says ter meself, I says, 'that there lad'll make a stand.' I says it ter me ould woman. I says, says I, 'phwat he starts he'll finish if he has ter clane up the whole uv France.' That's phwat I said. I says if he makes a bull he'll turrn the whole wurrld upside down to straighten things out. I got yer number all roight, Tommy. Get along witcher upstairs and take the advice of Doctor Pete Connegan—get out amongst them kids more."
I dare say it was good advice, but the trouble was that Lucky Luke was probably born on a Friday, and there was no straightening that out.
As to whether he would turn the world upside down to straighten out some little error, perhaps Pete was right there, too. Roy Blakeley had once said that if Tom dropped his scout badge out of a ten-story window, he'd jump out after it. Indeed that would have been something like Tom.
Anyway the saying was very much like Roy.
"THE WOODS PROPERTY"
When Tom reached the office he took a few matters in to Mr. Burton.
"Well, how are things coming on?" his superior asked him cheerily. "Getting back in line, all right? This early spring weather ought to be a tonic to an old scout like you. Here—here's a reminder of spring and camping for you. Here's the deed for the woods property at last—a hundred and ninety acres more for Temple Camp. We'll be as big as New York pretty soon, when we get some of that timber down, and some new cabins up.
"I'm glad we got it," Tom said.
"Well, I should hope," Mr. Burton came back at him. "That's off the Archer farm, you know. Gift from Mr. Temple. Runs right up to the peak of the hill—see?"
Tom looked at the map of the new Temple Camp property, which almost doubled the size of the camp and at the deed which showed the latest generous act of the camp's benevolent founder.
"Next summer, if we have the price, we'll put up a couple of dozen new cabins on that hill and make a bid for troops from South Africa and China; what do you say? This should be put in the safe and, let's see, here are some new applications—Michigan, Virginia—Temple Camp is getting some reputation in the land."
"I had an application from Ohio yesterday," Tom said; "a three-patrol troop. I gave them the cabins on the hill. They're a season troop."
Mr. Burton glanced suddenly at Tom, then began whistling and drumming his fingers on the desk. He seemed on the point of saying something in this connection, but all he did say was, "You find pleasure and relaxation in the work, Tom?"
"It's next to camping to be here," Tom said.
"Well, that's what I thought," Mr. Burton said encouragingly. "You must go slow and take it easy and pretty soon you'll be fit and trim."
"I got to thank you," Tom said with his characteristic blunt simplicity.
"I don't know what we should do in the spring rush without your familiar knowledge of the camp, Tom," Mr. Burton said.
"I think he thinks more of the office than he does of the scouts," Margaret ventured to observe. She was sitting alongside Mr. Burton's desk awaiting his leisure, and Tom was standing awkwardly close by.
"I suppose it's because they don't grow fast enough," Mr. Burton laughed; "they can't keep up with him. To my certain knowledge young Peewee, as they call him, hasn't grown a half an inch in two years. It isn't because he doesn't eat, either, because I observed him personally when I visited camp."
"Oh, he eats terrifically," Margaret said.
"I like the troop better than anything else," Tom said.
"Well, I guess that's right, Tom," Mr. Burton observed; "old friends are the best."
He gathered up an armful of papers and handed them to Tom who went about his duties.
The day was long and the routine work tedious. The typewriter machine rattled drowsily and continuously on, telling troops here and there that they could have camp accommodations on this or that date. Tom pored over the big map, jotting down assignments and stumblingly dictated brief letters which Miss Ellison's readier skill turned out in improved form.
He was sorry that it was not Friday so that he might go to troop meeting that night. It was only Tuesday and so there were three long, barren nights ahead of him, and to him they seemed like twenty nights. All the next day he worked, making a duplicate of the big map for use at the camp, but his fingers were not steady and the strain was hard upon his eyes. He went home (if a hall-room in a boarding house may be called home) with a splitting headache.
On Wednesday he worked on the map and made the last assignment of tent accommodations. Temple Camp was booked up for the season. It was going to be a lively summer up there, evidently. One troop was coming all the way from Idaho—to see Peewee Harris eat pie, perhaps. I can't think for what other reason they would have made such a journey.
"And you will live in the pavilion in all your glory, won't you?" Margaret teased him. "I suppose you'll be very proud to be assistant to Uncle Jeb. I don't suppose you'll notice poor me if I come up there."
"I'll take you for a row on the lake," Tom said. That was saying a good deal, for him.
On Thursday he sent an order for fifteen thousand wooden plates, which will give you an idea of how they eat at Temple Camp. He attended to getting the licenses for the two launches and sent a letter up to old Uncle Jeb telling him to have a new springboard put up and notifying him that the woods property now belonged to the camp. It was a long slow day and a longer, slower night.
Once, and only once, since his return, he had tried the movies. The picture showed soldiers in the trenches and the jerky scenes and figures made his eyes ache and set his poor sick nerves on edge. Once he had almost asked Margaret if he might go over to East Bridgeboro and see her. He was glad when Friday morning came, and the day passed quickly and gayly, because of the troop meeting that night. He counted the hours until eight o'clock.
When at last he set out for the troop room he found that he had forgotten his scout badge and went back after it. He was particular always to wear this at meetings, because he wished to emphasize there, that he was still a scout. He was always forgetting something these days. It was one of the features of shell-shock. It was like a wound, only you could not see it....
How should those scouts know that Tom Slade had been counting the days and hours, waiting for that Friday night? They were not mind readers. They knew that Tom Slade, big business man that he was, had much to occupy him.
And they too, had much to occupy them. For with the coming of Spring came preparations for the sojourn up to camp where they were wont to spent the month of August. At Temple Camp troops were ever coming and going and there were new faces each summer, but the Bridgeboro Troop was an institution there. It was because of his interest in this troop, and particularly in Tom's reformation, that Mr. John Temple of Bridgeboro, had founded the big camp in the Catskills. There was no such thing as favoritism there, of course, but it was natural enough that these boys, hailing from Mr. Temple's own town, where the business office of the camp was maintained, should enjoy a kind of prestige there. Their two chief exhibits (A and B) that is, Roy Blakeley and Peewee Harris strengthened this prestige somewhat, and their nonsense and banter were among the chief features of camp entertainment.
Temple Camp without P. Harris, some one had once said, would be like mince pie without any mince. And surely Peewee had no use for mince pie without any mince.
"Oh, look who's here!" Roy Blakeley shouted, as Tom quietly took a seat on the long bench, which always stood against the wall. "Tomasso, as I live! I thought you'd be down at the Opera House to-night."
"I don't care thirty cents about the movies," Tom said, soberly.
"You should say thirty-three cents, Tomasso," Roy shot back at him: "don't forget the three cents war tax."
"Are you going to play that geography game?" Tom asked hopefully.
"Posilutely," said Roy; "we'll start with me. Who discovered America? Ohio. Correct."
"What?" yelled Peewee.
"Columbus is in Ohio; it's the same thing—only different," said Roy; "you should worry. How about it, Tomasso?"
Tom was laughing already. It would have done Mr. Burton and Mr. Ellsworth good to see him.
"We were having a hot argument about the army, before you came in," Connie Bennett said. "Peewee claims the infantry is composed of infants...."
"Sure," Roy vociferated, "just the same as the quartermaster is the man who has charge of all the twenty-five cent pieces. Am I right, Lucky Luke? Hear what Lucky Luke says? I'm right. Correct."
"Who's going to boss the meeting to-night?" Doc Carson asked.
"How about you, Tom?" Grove Bronson inquired.
Tom smiled and shook his head. "I just like to watch you," said he.
"It's your job," Doc persisted, "as long as Mr. Ellsworth is away."
There was just the suggestion of an uncomfortable pause, while the scouts, or most of them, waited. For just a second even Roy became sober, looking inquiringly at Tom.
"I'd rather just watch you," Tom said, uneasily.
"He doesn't care anything about the scouts any more," Dorry Benton piped up.
"Since he's a magnet," Peewee shouted.
"You mean a magnate," Doc said.
"What difference does it make what I mean?" the irrepressible Peewee yelled.
"As long as you don't mean anything," Roy shouted. "Away dull care; let's get down to business. To-morrow is Saturday, there's no school."
"There's a school, only we don't go to it," Peewee shouted.
"For that take a slap on the wrist and repeat the scout law nineteen times backward," Roy said. "Who's going to boss this meeting?
"I won't let anybody boss me," Peewee yelled.
Roy vaulted upon the table, while the others crowded about, Tom all the while laughing silently. This was just what he liked.
"Owing to the absence of our beloved scoutmaster," Roy shouted, "and the sudden rise in the world of Tomasso Slade, alias Lucky Luke, alias Sherlock Nobody Holmes, and his unwillingness to run this show, because he saw General Pershing and is too chesty, I nominate for boss and vice-boss of this meeting, Blakeley and Harris, with a platform...."
"We don't need any platform," Peewee shouted; "haven't we got the table?"
"It's better to stand on the table than to stand on ceremonies," Dorry Benton vociferated.
"Sure, or to stand on our dignity like Tomasso Slade," Westy Martin shouted.
"Put away your hammer, stop knocking," Doc said. "Are we going to hike to-morrow or are we going to the city?"
"Answered in the affirmative," Roy said.
"Which are we going to do?" Peewee yelled.
"We are!" shouted Roy.
"Do we go to the city?" Doc asked seriously.
"Posilutely," said Roy; "that's why I'm asking who's boss of this meeting; so we can take up a collection."
"All right, go ahead and be boss as long as you're up there," Connie Bennett said, "only don't stand on the cake."
"Don't slip on the icing," Westy shouted.
"I'll slip on your neck if you don't shut up," Roy called. "If I'm boss, I'd like to have some silence."
"Don't look at me, I haven't got any," Peewee piped up.
"Thou never spak'st a truer word," Westy observed.
"I would like to have a large chunk of silence," said Roy; "enough to last for at least thirty seconds."
"You'd better ask General Slade," said Doc; "he's the only one that carries that article around with him."
"How about that, Tommy?" Wig Weigand asked pleasantly.
Tom smiled appreciatively, and seemed on the point of saying something, but he didn't.
There was one other scout, too, who made a specialty of silence in that hilarious Bedlam, and that was a gaunt, thin, little fellow with streaky hair and a pale face, who sat huddled up, apparently enjoying the banter, laughing with a bashful, silent laugh. He made no noise whatever, except when occasionally he coughed, and the others seemed content to let him enjoy himself in his own way. His eyes had a singular brightness, and when he laughed his white teeth and rather drawn mouth gave him almost a ghastly appearance. He seemed as much of an odd number as Tom himself, but not in the same way, for Tom was matter-of-fact and stolid, and this little gnome of a scout seemed all nerves and repressed excitement.
"Let's have a chunk of silence, Alf," Roy called to him.
"Go ahead," Doc shouted.
"If there's going to be a collection, let's get it over with," Westy put in.
Roy, standing on the table, continued:
"SCOUTS AND SCOUTLETS:
"Owing to the high cost of silence, which is as scarce as sugar at these meetings, I will only detain you a couple of minutes...."
"Don't step on the cake," Doc yelled.
"The object of this meeting is, to vote on whether we'll go into the city to-morrow and get some stuff we'll need up at camp.
"Artie has got a list of the things we need, and they add up to four dollars and twenty-two cents. If each fellow chips in a quarter, we'll have enough. Each fellow that wants to go has to pay his own railroad fare—Alf is going with me, so he should worry.
"I don't suppose that Marshall Slade will condescend and we should worry. If we're going up to camp on the first of August, we'll have to begin getting our stuff together—the sooner the quicker—keep still, I'm not through. We were all saying how numbers look funny on scout cabins—five, six, seven. It reminds you too much of school. Uncle Jeb said it would be a good idea for us to paint the pictures of our patrol animals on the doors and scratch off the numbers, because the way it is now, the cabins all look as if they had automobile licenses, and he said Daniel Boone would drop dead if he saw anything like that—Cabin B 26. Good night!"
"Daniel Boone is already dead!" shouted Peewee.
"Take a demerit and stay after school," Roy continued. "So I vote that we buy some paint and see if we can't paint the heads of our three patrol animals on the three cabins. Then we'll feel more like scouts and not so much like convicts. If we do that, it will be thirty cents each instead of twenty-five."
Before Roy was through speaking, a scout hat was going around and the goodly jingle of coins within it, testified to the troops' enthusiasm for what he had been saying. Tom dropped in three quarters, but no one noticed that. He seemed abstracted and unusually nervous. The hat was not passed to little Alfred McCord. Perhaps that was because he was mascot....
FIVE, SIX, AND SEVEN
Then Tom Slade stood up. Any one observing him carefully would have noticed that his hand which clung to the back of the bench moved nervously, but otherwise he seemed stolid and dull as usual. For just a second he breathed almost audibly and bit his lip, then he spoke. They listened, a kind of balm of soothing silence pervaded the room, because he spoke so seldom these days. They seemed ready enough to pay him the tribute of their attention when he really seemed to take an interest.
"I got to tell you something," he said, "and maybe you won't like it. Those three cabins are already taken by a troop in Ohio."
"Which three?" Westy Martin asked, apparently dumbfounded.
"Oh boy, suppose that was true!" Roy said, amused at the very thought of such a possibility.
"Which three?" Westy repeated, still apparently in some suspense.
"Tomasso has Westy's goat," Roy laughed.
"Look at the straight face he's keeping," Doc laughed, referring to Tom.
"I might as well tell you the truth," Tom said. "I forget things sometimes; maybe you don't understand. Maybe it was because I wasn't here last year—maybe. But I didn't stop to think about those numbers being your—our—numbers. Now I can remember. I assigned those cabins to a troop in Ohio. They wanted three that were kind of separate from the others and—and—I—I didn't remember."
He seemed a pathetic spectacle as he stood there facing them, jerking his head nervously in the interval of silence and staring amazement that followed. There was no joking about it and they knew it. It was not in Tom's nature to "jolly."
"What do you mean, assigned them?" Connie asked, utterly nonplussed. "You don't mean you gave our three cabins on the hill to another troop?"
"Yes, I did," Tom said weakly; "I remember now. I'm sorry."
For a moment no one spoke, then Dorry Benton said, "Do you mean that?"
"I got to admit I did," Tom said in his simple, blunt way.
"Well I'll be——" Roy began. Then suddenly, "You sober old grave digger," said he laughing; "you're kidding the life out of us and we don't know it. Let's see you laugh."
But Tom did not laugh. "I'm sorry, because they were the last three cabins," he said. "I don't know how I happened to do it. But you've got no right to misjudge me, you haven't; only yesterday I told Mr. Burton I liked the troop, you fellows, best——"
Roy Blakeley did not wait for him to finish; he threw the troop book on the table and stared at Tom in angry amazement. "All right," he said, "let it go at that. Now we know where you stand. Thanks, we're glad to know it," he added in a kind of contemptuous disgust. "Ever since you got back from France I knew you were sick and tired of us—I could see it. I knew you only came around to please Mr. Ellsworth. I knew you forgot all about the troop. But I didn't think you'd put one like that over on us, I'll be hanged if I did! You mean to tell me you didn't know those three cabins were ours, after we've had them every summer since the camp started? Mr. Burton will fix it——"
"He can't fix it," Tom said; "not now."
"And I suppose we'll have to take tent space," Connie put in. "Gee williger, that's one raw deal."
"But you won't have to take tent space, will you?" Roy asked. "You should worry about us—we're nothing but scouts—kids. We didn't go over to France and fight. We only stayed here and walked our legs off selling Liberty Bonds to keep you going. Gee whiz, I knew you were sick and tired of us, but I didn't think you'd hand us one like that."
"Don't get excited, Roy," Doc Carson urged.
"Who's excited?" Roy shouted. "A lot he has to worry about. He'll be sleeping on his nice metal bed in the pavilion—assistant camp manager—while we're bunking in tents if we're lucky enough to get any space. Don't talk to me! I could see this coming. I suppose the scoutmaster of that troop out in Ohio was a friend of his in France. We should worry. We can go on a hike in August. It's little Alf I'm thinking of mostly."
It was noticeable that Tom Slade said not a word. With him actions always spoke louder than words and he had no words to explain his actions.
"All I've got to say to you" said Roy turning suddenly upon him, "is that as long as you care so much more about scouts out west than you do about your own troop, you'd better stay away from here—that's all I've got to say."
"That's what I say, too," said Westy.
"Same here," Connie said; "Jiminies, after all we did for you, to put one over on us like that; I don't see what you want to come here for anyway."
"I—I haven't got any other place to go," said Tom with touching honesty; "it's kind of like a home——"
"Well, there's one other place and that's the street," said Roy. "We haven't got any place to go either, thanks to you. You're a nice one to be shouting home sweet home—you are."
With a trembling hand, Tom Slade reached for his hat and fingering it nervously, paused for just a moment, irresolute.
"I wouldn't stay if I'm not wanted," he said; "I'll say good night."
No one answered him, and he went forth into the night.
He had been put out of the tenement where he had once lived with his poor mother, he had been put out of school as a young boy, and he had been put out of the Public Library once; so he was not unaccustomed to being put out. Down near the station he climbed the steps of Wop Harry's lunch wagon and had a sandwich and a cup of coffee. Then he went home—if one might call it home....
Roy Blakeley was a scout of the scouts, and no sooner had he got away from the atmosphere of resentment and disappointment which pervaded the troop room, then he began to feel sorry for what he had said. The picture of Tom picking up his hat and going forth into the night and to his poor home, lingered in Roy's mind and he lay awake half the night thinking of it.
He had no explanation of Tom's singular act, except the very plausible one that Tom had lost his former lively interest in the troop, even so much as to have forgotten about those three cabins to which they had always seemed to have a prior right; which had been like home to them in the summertime.
When you look through green glass everything is green, and now Roy thought he could remember many little instances of Tom's waning interest in the troop. Naturally enough, Roy thought, these scout games and preparations for camping seemed tame enough to one who had gone to France and fought in the trenches. Tom was older now, not only in years but in experience, and was it any wonder that his interest in "the kids" should be less keen?
And Roy was not going to let that break up the friendship. Loyal and generous as he was, he would not ask himself why Tom had done that thing; he would not let himself think about it. He and the other scouts would get ready and go to camp, live in tents there, and have just as much fun.
So no longer blaming Tom, he now blamed himself, and the thing he blamed himself for most of all was his angry declaration that Tom was probably acquainted with the scoutmaster of that fortunate troop in Ohio. He knew that must have cut Tom, for in his heart he knew Tom's blunt sense of fairness. Whatever was the cause or reason of Tom's singular act it was not favoritism, Roy felt sure of that. He would have given anything not to have said those words. Lukewarm, thoughtless, Tom might be, but he was not disloyal. It was no new friendship, displacing these old friendships, which had caused Tom to do what he had done, Roy knew that well enough.
In the morning, unknown to any of the troop he went early to the bank building to wait for Tom there, and to tell him that he was sorry for the way he had spoken.
But everything went wrong that morning, the trails did not cross at the right places. Probably it was because Lucky Luke was concerned in the matter. The fact is that it being Saturday, a short and busy day, Tom had gone very early to the Temple Camp office and was already upstairs when Roy was waiting patiently down at the main door.
TOM RECEIVES A SURPRISE
When Tom reached the office, he found among the Temple Camp letters, one addressed to him personally. It was postmarked Dansburg, Ohio, and he opened it with some curiosity, for the former letters in this correspondence had been addressed to Mr. Burton, as manager. His curiosity turned to surprise as he read,
DEAR MR. SLADE:
In one of the little circulars of Temple Camp which you sent us, your name appears as assistant to Mr. Burton in the Temple Camp office.
I am wondering whether you can be the same Tom Slade who was in the Motorcycle Corps in France? If so, perhaps you will remember the soldier who spent the night with you in a shell-hole near Epernay. Do you remember showing me the Gold Cross and saying that you had won it while a scout in America? I think you said you had been in some Jersey Troop.
If you are the same Tom Slade, then congratulations to you for getting home safely, and I will promise my scouts that they will have the chance this summer of meeting the gamest boy on the west front. I suppose you will be up at the camp yourself.
Send me a line and let me know if you're the young fellow whose arm I bandaged up. I'm thinking the world isn't so big after all.
Best wishes to you, WILLIAM BARNARD,
Scoutmaster 1st Dansburg Troop, B.S.A., Dansburg, Ohio.
Tom could hardly believe his eyes as he read the letter. William Barnard! He had never known that fellow's name, but he knew that the soldier who had bandaged his arm (whatever his name was) had saved his life. Would he ever forget the long night spent in that dank, dark shell-hole? Would he ever forget that chance companion in peril, who had nursed him and cheered him all through that endless night? He could smell the damp earth again and the pungent atmosphere of gunpowder which permeated the place and almost suffocated him. Directly over the shell-hole a great British tank had stopped and been deserted, locking them in as in a dungeon. And when he had recovered from the fumes, he had heard a voice speaking to him and asking him if he was much hurt.
And he had given the three cabins on the hill to Scoutmaster Barnard's troop in Dansburg, Ohio.
No one but Tom had arrived at the office and for just a few moments, standing there near Miss Ellison's typewriter and with the prosy letter files about, he was again in France. He could hear the booming of the great guns again, see the flashes of fire....
He sat down and wrote,
DEAR MR. BARNARD:
I got your letter and I am the same Tom Slade. I was going to ask you where you lived in America so I could know you some more when we got back, but when the doctors came to take me away, I didn't see you anywhere. I had to stay in the hospital three weeks, but it wasn't on account of my arm, because that wasn't so bad. It was the shell-shock that was bad—it makes you forget things even after you get better.
I was sorry early this morning that I gave you those cabins, because they're the same ones that my own troop always used to have, and it was a crazy thing for me to forget about that. But now I'm glad, because I have thought of another scheme. I thought of it while I was lying in bed last night and couldn't sleep. So now I'm glad you have those cabins. And you bet I'm glad you wrote to me. It's funny how things happen.
Maybe you'll remember how I thought I was going to die in that hole, and you said how we could dig our way out with your helmet, because if a fellow has to do something he can do it. I'm glad you said that, because I thought about it last night. And thinking of that made me decide I would do something.
I would like it if you will write to me again before summer, and you can send your letters care of Temple Camp, Black Lake.
When you come, you bet I'll be glad to see you.
Your friend, TOM SLADE.
When Tom had sealed and stamped this letter, he laid the other one on Miss Margaret Ellison's desk, thinking that she might be interested to read it.
TOM AND ROY
Anxious that his letter should go as soon as possible, Tom went down in the elevator and was about to cross the street and post it when he ran plunk into Roy, who was waiting on the steps.
"Good night, look who's here," Roy said, in his usual friendly tone; "I might have known that you were upstairs. You've got the early bird turning green with envy."
"I always come early Saturdays," Tom said.
"I want to tell you that I'm sorry about the way I spoke to you last night, Tom," Roy spoke up. "I see now that it wasn't so bad. I guess you have a whole lot to do up in the office, and maybe you just forgot about how we always had the hill cabins. You can't do everything you want to do, gee I realize that."
"I can do anything I want to do," Tom said.
Roy looked at him as if he did not quite understand.
"Going back on people isn't the way to square things," Tom said. "You got to make things right without anybody losing anything. There's always two ways, only you've got to find the other one."
Roy did not quite understand the drift of his friend's talk, it was not always easy to follow Tom, and indeed he did not care much what Tom meant; he just wanted him to know that their friendship had not been wrecked—could not be wrecked by any freakish act of Tom's.
"I don't care thirty cents what anybody says," Tom said; "I got to be fair."
"I'm not mad, you old grouch," Roy said, "and you should say sixty cents, because the price of everything is double. We should worry. I was waiting here to meet you so as to tell you that I don't know why you did that and I don't care. People have done crazier things than that, I should hope. We can bunk in tents, all right. So don't be sore, Tomasso. I'm sorry I said what I did and I know perfectly well that you just didn't think. You don't suppose I really meant that I thought you knew anybody in that troop out in Ohio, do you? I just said it because I was mad. Gee whiz, I know you wouldn't give anybody the choice before us—before your own fellows. I was mad because I was disappointed. But now I know how maybe you were all kind of—you know—rattled on account of being so busy.
"I ain't mad," said Tom, in his dull, stolid way; "I got to go across the street and mail this letter."
"And you'll come to meeting next Friday night?" Roy asked, anxiously.
"I don't know," Tom said.
"And I'm going to tell the fellows that you assigned five, six, and seven, to that Ohio troop just because you were thinking about something else when you did it, and that you didn't know anything more about those fellows than if they were the man in the moon," Roy paused a moment. "Did you?" he said conclusively.
"You can tell them whatever you want to," Tom said. "You can tell them that I didn't know anything about them if you want to. I don't care what you tell them."
Roy paused, hardly knowing what to say. In talking with Tom one had to get him right just as a wrestler must get his victim right and Roy knew that he must watch his step, so to speak.
"You can tell them they won't lose anything," Tom said.
"They'll lose something all right if they lose you, Tomasso," Roy said, with a note of deep feeling in his voice. "But we're not going to lose you, I can tell you that. They think you have no use for the scouts any more, because you met so many people in France, and know a lot of grown-up people."
"Is that what they think?" Tom asked.
They both stepped aside for Margaret Ellison, the Temple Camp stenographer, to pass in, and spoke pleasantly with her until she had entered the elevator.
"I don't care what they think," Roy said; "a scout is observant. Can't I see plain enough that you have your pioneer scout badge on? That shows you're thinking about the scouts."
"I put it on for a reason," said Tom.
"You bet your life you did," Roy said, "and it shows you're a scout. Once a scout, always a scout; you can't get away from that, Tomasso."
"Maybe you'll find that out," Tom said, his meaning, as usual, a little cloudy.
"I don't have to find it out, Tom," Roy said. "Don't you suppose I know where you stand? Do you think I'll ever forget how you and I hiked together, and how we camped up on my lawn together, when you first got to be a scout—do you think I will? I always liked you better than any fellow, gee whiz, that's sure. And I know you think more of us than you do of any one else, too. Don't you?"
"I got to go and mail this letter," Tom said.
"First you've got to say that you're for the scouts first, last and always," said Roy gayly, and standing in his friend's path.
Tom looked straight at him, his eyes glistening.
"Do you have to ask me that?" he said.
And then was when the trails went wrong, and didn't cross right and come out right. Roy went up in the elevator to get some circulars from Temple Camp office, and Tom, on his way back from across the street went into the bank to speak with Mr. Temple's secretary. And the girl spoiled everything, as Peewee Harris always said that girls are forever doing.
She was in a great hurry to get the cover off her machine and other matters straightened out, before Mr. Burton came in, so she did not trouble herself to talk much with Roy. She did, however, think to call after him just as he was leaving and he heard her words, with a kind of cold chill, as he stepped into the elevator.
She called to him in her sweetest tone, "Isn't it too funny! A scoutmaster, named Barnard, from out in Ohio who is going to be up at camp knew Tom in France. Won't they have a perfectly scrumptious vacation together, talking about old times?"
THE LONG TRAIL
"You can tell them whatever you want to. You can tell them that I didn't know anything about them if you want to. I don't care what you tell them." These were the words that rang in Roy Blakeley's mind as he went down in the elevator, and they made him sick at heart. That Tom had so much forgotten about the troop, his troop, as to assign their three cabins to strangers—that Roy could overlook. He could not understand it, but in his fondness for Tom, he could overlook it, as his talk with Tom had proved.
But that Tom should lie to him and make him a party to that lie by authorizing him to repeat it, that he could not forget or forgive. "You can tell them that I did not know anything about them if you want to." And all the while he, Tom, had known this Barnard, or whatever his name was, and had fixed things so that he and Barnard might be together at Temple Camp. Barnard was a grown-up fellow, Roy told himself, and a soldier, and he didn't exactly blame Tom, but....
And then their trails crossed again, right there at the foot of the elevator shaft, where Tom was waiting to go up.
Roy's first impulse was to brush past his friend saying nothing, but when he had all but reached the door he wheeled about and said, "If you want to hand out any lies to the troop, you'd better do it yourself; I'm not going to do it for you."
"What?" said Tom, a little startled out of his usual stolid manner.
"Oh, you know what, all right," Roy answered sneeringly. "You thought I'd never find out, didn't you? You didn't think I'd go up to the office. You thought you'd get away with it and have me lying to the troop—the fellows that used to be your friends before you met Barnyard or whatever you call him. I know who he is, all right. If you wanted to give him our cabins, him and his troop, why didn't you come and say so? Gee whiz, we would have been willing to do them a good turn. We've camped in tents before, if it comes to that."
Tom stood perfectly motionless, with no more expression, either of anger or sorrow or surprise, than he usually showed. His big, tight set, resolute mouth was very conspicuous, but Roy did not notice that. The elevator came down, and the metallic sound of its door opening was emphasized in the tense silence which followed Roy's tirade.
"Going up," the colored boy said.
The door rolled shut and still Tom Slade stood there, stolid and without any show of emotion, looking straight at Roy. "I didn't ever tell a lie—not since I got in with the scouts," he said simply.
"Well, that makes two," said Roy mercilessly; "do you mean to tell me you don't know what's-his-name—Barnard? Will you stand there and say you don't know him?"
"I do know him," Tom said; "he saved my life in France."
"And didn't you tell me only ten minutes ago that I could tell the fellows that you didn't know anything about—about that troop—about him and his troop? Didn't you? Do you deny that you did? You told me I could go back and lie to the fellows—you did! If you think I'll do that you've got another guess, I can tell you that much!"
"I never told you you should lie," said Tom with straightforward simplicity, "and I admit I forgot about the cabins. I was away two summers. I had a lot of different things to think about. I got shell-shocked the very same night I met that fellow, and that's got something to do with it, maybe. But I wouldn't stand here, I wouldn't, and try to prove that I didn't tell a lie. If you want to think I did, go ahead and think so. And if the rest of the troop want to think so, let them do it. If anybody says I forgot about the scouts, he lies. And you can tell them they won't lose anything, either; you can tell them I said so. I ain't changed. Didn't I—didn't I ride my motorcycle all the way from Paris to the coast—through the floods—didn't I? Do you think it's going to be hard to make everything right? I—I can do anything—I can. And I didn't lie, either. You go up to Temple Camp on the first of August like you—like we—always did; that's all I say."
He was excited now, and his hand trembled, and Roy looked at him a bit puzzled, but he was neither softened nor convinced. "Didn't you as much as say you didn't know anything about who made that application—didn't you?" Roy demanded.
"I said it good and plain and you can go and tell them so, too," Tom said.
"And you do know this fellow named Barnard, don't you?"
"I know him and he saved my life," Tom said, "and if you——"
"Going up," the colored boy called again.
And the young fellow, scout and soldier, who would not bother to prove his truthfulness to his old companion and friend, was gone. He had hit his own trail in his own way, as he usually did; a long devious, difficult, lonesome trail. The clearly defined trail of the sidewalk leading to the troop room, where a few words of explanation might have straightened everything out, was not the trail for Tom Slade, scout. He would straighten things out another way. He would face this thing, not run away from it, just as he had set his big resolute mouth and faced Pete Connigan. They would lose nothing, these boys. Let them think what they might, they would lose nothing. To be falsely accused, what was that, provided these boys lost nothing? That was all that counted. What difference did it make if they thought he had lied and deceived them, so long as he knew that he had not?
And what a lot of fuss about three cabins! Had he not the power to straighten out his own mistake in the best possible way—the scout way? And how was that? By going to Mr. Burton and taking the matter up and perhaps causing disappointment to those boys out in Ohio, for the sake of these boys in Bridgeboro? Robbing Peter to pay Paul?
Perhaps Mr. Burton would have done that, under all the circumstances. Perhaps Mr. John Temple, head of the whole shebang, would have approved this—under the circumstances. Perhaps the average clerk would have proposed this; would have suggested hitting this convenient little trail, about as short and prosy as a back alley. All you need on that trail is a typewriter machine. Perhaps Tom Slade was not a good clerk. His way out of the difficulty was a longer and more circuitous way. But it was the scout way. He was a scout and he hit the long trail.
As for Roy, he went home feeling heavy of heart, but he was not sorry for what he had said. He had known that Tom had been slipping away from the troop and that his interest in the old associations had waned ever since his return from France. But that Tom should have lied to him and that he should use Temple Camp and that old beloved spot up on the hill for new friends, deliberately giving them precedence over these companions of his real scouting days—that Roy could not stand. And he told himself that he was through with Tom, even as Tom was through with the troop.
The trail of Roy and his friends is short and easy to follow, and it is not the main trail of this story. It took them into the city where they bought a tent, (not a very large one, for they could not get together much money), but big enough to bunk in and enable them to spend their vacation at the beloved, familiar spot. He said that "he should worry about that fellow Barnard," and that he guessed Tom's fondness for that individual was like Peewee's fondness for mince pie—a case of love at first bite. But did he forget about Tom, and miss him at the meetings?
We shall have to guess as to that. Tom was seldom mentioned, at all events. The first member of the Bridgeboro troop to outgrow his companions and turn his thoughts to new friends and associates had broken away from the hallowed circle and deserted them, and repudiated them with a lie on his lips; that was what the scouts said, or at least, thought. They had seen it coming, but it had hurt just the same.
And so the days went by, and the breath of Spring grew heavier in the air, and the dandelions sprang up in the field down by the river, and tree blossoms littered the sidewalks, and the frogs began croaking in the marshes. When the frogs begin croaking it is time to think of camp.
But Tom Slade, late of the scouts, was ahead of the dandelions and the blossoms and the frogs, for on that very day of his talk with Roy, and while the three patrols were off on their shopping bee in the city, he went into Mr. Burton's private office and asked if he might talk to him about an idea he had.
"Surest thing you know, Tommy," said his superior cheerily. "You want to go to the North Pole now?"
For Mr. Burton knew Tom of old.
THE REALLY HARD PART
"Maybe you'll remember how you said this would just be a kind of an experiment, my starting to work again in the office, and maybe it would turn out to be better for me to go away in the country," said Tom.
"Yes sir," said Mr. Burton, with prompt good nature intended to put Tom at his ease.
"I was wondering if maybe you could keep a secret," Tom said.
"Well, I could make a stab at it," Mr. Burton said, laughing.
"Do you think Margaret could?" Tom asked.
"Oh, I dare say, but you know how girls are. What's the trouble?"
"I want to go away," Tom said; "I can't do things right and I want to go away. I'm all the time forgetting."
"I think you're doing fine," said Mr. Burton.
"I want to go up to Temple Camp until I feel better," Tom said.
Mr. Burton scrutinized him shrewdly and pursed up his lips and said, "Don't feel first rate, eh?"
"I get rattled awful easy and I don't remember things," Tom said. "I want to go up to camp and stay all alone with Uncle Jeb, like you said I could if I wanted to."
Again Mr. Burton studied him thoughtfully, a little fearfully perhaps, and then he said, "Well, I think perhaps that would be a very good thing, Tom. You remember that's what I thought in the first place. You made your own choice. How about the secret?"
"It isn't anything much, only I thought of something to do while I'm up there. I got to square myself. I gave the troop cabins to a troop out west——"
"Well, I was wondering about that, my boy; but I didn't want to say anything. You'll have Roy and Peewee and those other gladiators sitting on your neck, aren't you afraid?"
"They got no use for me now," Tom said.
"Oh, nonsense. We'll straighten that out. You send a letter——"
"The scoutmaster of that troop out west is a friend of mine," said Tom, "but I never knew it until this morning, when I got a letter from him. They think I did it because I knew it was him all the time and liked him better, but I don't care what they think as long as nobody loses anything; that's all I care about. So if you'd be willing," he continued in his dull, matter-of-fact way, as if he were asking permission to go across the street, "I'd like to go up and stay at Temple Camp before the season opens and fell some of those trees on the new woods property and put up three cabins on the hill for Roy and the troop to use when they get there. I wouldn't want anybody to know I'm doing it."
"What?" said Mr. Burton.
"I want to go up there and stay and put up three cabins," said Tom dully.
"Humph," said Mr. Burton, sitting back and surveying him with amused and frank surprise. "How about the difficulties?"
"That's the only thing," Tom said; "I was thinking it all over, and the only difficulty I can think about is, would Margaret keep it a secret until the work is done, and you too. They think I'm not a scout any more, and I'm going to show them. If you think I can't do it, you ask Pete, the janitor. And if I straighten things out that way nobody'll get left, see? The hard part is really your part—keeping still and making her keep still."
"I see," said Mr. Burton, contemplating the stolid, almost expressionless face of Tom, and trying not to laugh outright.
"My part is easy," said Tom.
A LETTER FROM BARNARD
When Tom reached Temple Camp he found a letter awaiting him there. It was stuck up among the antlers of Uncle Jeb's moose head which hung in the old camp manager's cabin. He found Uncle Jeb alone in his glory, and mighty glad to see him.
It was characteristic of the old western scout and trapper whom Mr. Temple had brought from Arizona, that he was never surprised at anything. If a grizzly bear had wandered into camp it would not have ruffled him in the least. He would have surveyed it with calm, shrewd deliberation, taken his corncob pipe out of his mouth, knocked the ashes out of it, and proceeded to business. If the grizzly bear had been one of the large fraternity who believe in "safety first" he would have withdrawn immediately upon the ominous sound of old Uncle Jeb's pipe knocking against the nearest hard substance. Uncle Jeb, like Uncle Sam, moved slowly but very surely.
It was not altogether uncommon for some nature loving pilgrim to drop in at camp out of season, and such a one was always sure of that easy-going western welcome. But if all the kings and emperors in the world (or such few of them as are left) had dropped in at camp, Uncle Jeb Rushmore would have eyed them keenly, puffed some awful smoke at them, and said, "Haow doo." He liked people, but he did not depend on them. The lake and the trees and the wild life talked to him, and as for human beings, he was always glad of their company.
It was also characteristic of Uncle Jeb that no adventurous enterprise, no foolhardy, daredevil scheme, ever caused him any astonishment. Mr. Burton, engrossed in a hundred and one matters of detail and routine had simply laughed at Tom's plan, and let him go to Temple Camp to discover its absurdity, and then benefit by the quiet life and fresh air. It would have been better if Tom had been sent up there long before. He had humored him by promising not to tell, and he was glad that this crazy notion about the cabins had given Tom the incentive to go. He had believed that Tom's unfortunate error could be made right by the romantic expedient of a postage stamp. Mr. Burton was not a scout. And Tom Slade was the queerest of all scouts.
So now Uncle Jeb removed his pipe from his mouth, and said, "Reckoned you'd make a trip up, hey?"
"I'm going to stay here alone with you until the season opens," Tom said; "I got shell-shocked. I ain't any good down there. I assigned our three cabins to a troop in Ohio. So I got to build three more and have 'em ready by August first. I'm going to build them on the hill."
"Yer ain't cal'latin' on trimming yer timbers much are yer?" Uncle Jeb asked, going straight to the practical aspects of Tom's plan.
"I'm going to put them up just like the temporary cabins were when the camp first opened," Tom said.
"Ye'll find some of them same logs under the pavilion," Uncle Jeb said; "enough for two cabins, mebbe. Why doan't you put up four and let that Peewee kid hev one all by hisself?"
"Do you think I can do it in six weeks?" Tom asked.
"I've seed a Injun stockade throwed up in three days," Uncle Jeb answered. "Me'n General Custer throwed up Fort Bendy in two nights; that wuz in Montanny. Th' Injuns thought we wuz gods from heaven. But we wuzn't no gods, as I told the general; leastways I was'n, n'never wuz. But I had a sharp axe.
"I knew I could do it," Tom said, "but I wanted it to be a stunt, as you might say."
"'Tain't no stunt," Uncle Jeb said. "Who's writin' yer from out in Ohio? I see the postmark. 'Tain't them kids from out Dayton way, I hope?"
Tom opened the letter and read aloud:
When I save a fellow's life I claim the right to call him by his first name, even if I've never seen him. If anybody ever tells me again that the world is a big place, I'll tell them it's about the size of a shell-hole, no bigger, and that's small enough, as you and I know. All I can say is, "Well, well!" And you're the same Thomas Slade!
And the funny part of it is, we wouldn't know each other if we met in the street. That's because we met in a shell-hole. I tried to hunt you up along the line, made inquiries in the hospital at Rheims, and tried to get a line on you from the Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. Nothing doing. Somebody told me you were in the Flying Corps. I guess I must have fainted while they were taking you away. Anyway, when I woke up I was in a dressing station, trying to get my breath. I asked what became of you and nobody seemed to know. One said you were in the Messenger Service. When I left France I didn't even know you were alive.
And now you turn up in Temple Camp office and tell me to write you at Temple Camp. What are you doing up there before the season opens, anyway? I bet you're there for your health.
Do you know what I'm thinking of doing? I'm thinking of making a trip to camp and looking over our dug-outs and seeing what kind of a place you have, before I bring my scouts. How would that strike you? I've got three patrols and take it from me, they're a bigger job than winning the war. They're all crazy for August first to arrive.
Well, Tommy old boy, I'm glad I've met you at last. I have a hunch you're kind of tall, with gray eyes and curly hair. Am I right? I'm about medium height and very handsome. Hair red—to suggest the camp-fire.
I don't know whether my scouts will let me off for a week or two, but my boss wants me to take a good rest before I knuckle down to work. I'm off for August anyway. Don't expect me before that, but if I should show up on a surprise raid, don't drop dead. I may go over the top some fine day and drop in on you like a hand grenade. Are you there all alone?
Write me again and let's get acquainted. I'd send you a photo, only I gave my girl the last one I had.
So long, BILLY BARNARD, Scoutmaster.
THE EPISODE IN FRANCE
Uncle Jeb smoked his pipe leisurely, listening to this letter. "Kind of a comic, hey?" he said. "I reckon ye'd like to hev 'em come. Hain't never seed each other, hey?"
Tom was silent. The letter meant more to him than Uncle Jeb imagined. It touched one of the springs of his simple, stolid nature, and his eyes glistened as he glanced over it again, drinking in its genial, friendly, familiar tone. So he had at least one friend after all. Cut of all that turmoil of war, with its dangers and sufferings, had come at least one friend. The bursting of that shell which had seemed to shake the earth, and which had shattered his nerves and lost him Roy and all those treasured friends and comrades of his boyhood, had at least brought him one true friend. He had never felt the need of a friend more than at that very moment. The cheery letter seemed for the moment, to wipe out the memory of Roy's last words to him, that he was a liar. And it aroused his memories of France.
"Maybe you might like to hear about it," he said to Uncle Jeb, in his simple way. "Kind of, now it makes me think about France. I wouldn't blame the scouts for not having any use for me—I wouldn't blame Roy—but anyway, it was that shell that did it. If you say so I'll start a camp-fire. That's what always makes me think about the scouts—camp-fire. Maybe you'll say I was to blame. Anyway, they won't lose anything. And when they come I'll go back home, if they want me to. That's only fair. Anyway, I like Temple Camp best of all."
"Kinder like home, Tommy," Uncle Jeb said.
The sun was going down beyond the hills across the lake and flickering up the water and casting a crimson glow upon the wooded summits. The empty cabins, and the boarded-up cooking shack, shone clear and sharp in the gathering twilight. High above, a great bird soared through the dusk, hastening to its home in the mountains, where Silver Fox trail wound its way up through the fastness, and where Tom and Roy had often gone. And the memory of all these fond associations gripped Tom now, and he had to tighten his big ugly mouth to keep it from showing any tremor of weakness.
"Maybe it won't be as easy as Uncle Jeb thinks," he said to himself, "but anyway, I'll be here and I won't be interfering with them, and I'll get the cabins finished and I'll go away before they come. They'll have to like Billy Barnard, that's sure; and maybe he'll tell them about my not knowing who he was until after I gave them the cabins. They'll all be on the hill together and they'll have to be friends...."
Yes, they would all be on the hill together, save one, and they would be friends and there would be some great times. They would all hike up the mountain trail, all save one, and see Devil's Pool up there. Tom hoped that Roy would surely show Barnard and his troop that interesting discovery which he and Roy had made. The hard part was already attended to—making Margaret and Mr. Burton keep still. And, as usual, Lucky Luke's part was the easiest part of all—just building three cabins and going away. It was a cinch.
"Shall I build a camp-fire?" he asked of Uncle Jeb.
And so, in the waning twilight, Tom Slade, liar and forgetter of his friends, built a camp-fire, on this first night of his lonely sojourn at Temple Camp. And he and Uncle Jeb sat by it as the night drew on apace, and it aroused fond memories in Tom, as only a camp-fire has the magic to do, and stilled his jangling nerves and made him happy.
"In about a month there'll be a hundred fellows sitting around one like this," he said.
"En that Peewee kid'll be trying to defend hisself agin Roay's nonsense," Uncle Jeb remarked.
"I ain't going to stay to be assistant camp manager this season," Tom said; "I'm going back to work. I'm having my vacation now. I kind of like being alone with you."
"What is them shell-holes?" Uncle Jeb asked. "Yer got catched into one, huh?"
And then, for the first time since Tom had returned from France, he was moved to tell the episode which he had never told the scouts, and which he had always recalled with agitation and horror. Perhaps the camp-fire and Uncle Jeb's quiet friendliness lulled him to repose and made him reminiscent. Perhaps it was the letter from Barnard.
"That's how I got shell-shocked," he repeated. "When you get shell-shocked it doesn't show like a wound. There's a place named Veronnes in France. A German airman fell near there. It was pretty near dark and it was raining, but anyhow I could just see him fall. I could see him falling down through the dark, like. I was on my way back to the billets for relief. I had to go through a marsh to get to that place where he fell. I thought I'd sink, but I didn't.
"When I got there I saw his machine was all crumbled up, and he was all mixed up with the wires and he was dead. I was going to give him first aid if he wasn't. But anyway, he was dead. So then I searched him and he had a lot of papers. Some of them were maps. I knew it wouldn't be any use to take them to billets, because the wires were all down on account of the rain. So I started through the marshes to get into the road to Rheims. Those marshes are worse than the ones we have here. Sometimes I had to swim. It took me two hours, I guess. Anyway, if you have to do a thing you can do it.
"When I got to the road it was easy. I knew that road went to Rheims because when I was in the Motorcycle Service I knew all the roads. Pretty soon I got to a place where a road crossed it and there were some soldiers coming along that road. I kept still and let them pass by and they didn't see me. I knew there were more coming and I could hear the sound of tanks coming, too. Maybe they were coming back from an attack.