English Literature

Tom Slade’s Double Dare by Percy K. Fitzhugh

Tom Slade's Double Dare by Percy K. Fitzhugh



If it were not for the very remarkable part played by the scouts in this strange business, perhaps it would have been just as well if the whole matter had been allowed to die when the newspaper excitement subsided. Singularly enough, that part of the curious drama which unfolded itself at Temple Camp is the very part which was never material for glaring headlines.

The main occurrence is familiar enough to the inhabitants of the neighborhood about the scout camp, but the sequel has never been told, for scouts do not seek notoriety, and the quiet woodland community in its sequestered hills is as remote from the turmoil and gossip of the world as if it were located at the North Pole.2

But I know the story of Aaron Harlowe from beginning to end, and the part that Tom Slade played in it, and all the latter history of Goliath, as they called him. And I purpose to set all these matters down for your entertainment, for I think that first and last they make a pretty good camp-fire yarn.

For a week it had been raining at Temple Camp, and the ground was soggy from the continuous downpour. The thatched roofs of the more primitive type of cabins looked bedrabbled, like the hair of a bather emerging from the lake, and the more substantial shelters were crowded with the overflow from these and from tents deserted by troops and patrols that had been almost drowned out.

The grub boards out under the elm trees had been removed to the main pavilion. The diving springboard was submerged by the swollen lake, the rowboats rocked logily, half full of water, and the woods across the lake looked weird and dim through the incessant stream of rain, rain, rain.

The spring which supplied the camp and for years had been content to bubble in its modest3 abode among the rocks, burst forth from its shady and sequestered prison and came tumbling, roaring down out of the woods, like some boisterous marauder, and rushed headlong into the lake.

Being no respecter of persons, the invader swept straight through the cabin of the Silver Fox Patrol, and the Silver Fox Patrol took up their belongings and went over to the pavilion where they sat along the deep veranda with others, their chairs tilted back, watching the gloomy scene across the lake.

“This is good weather for the race,” said Roy Blakeley.

“What race?” demanded Pee-wee Harris.

“The human race. No sooner said than stung. It’s good weather to study monotony.”

“All we can do is eat,” said Pee-wee.

“Right the first time,” Roy responded. “There’s only one thing you don’t like about meals and that’s the time between them.”

“What are we going to do for two hours, waiting for supper?” a scout asked.

“Search me,” said Roy; “tell riddles, I guess. If we had some ham we’d have some ham and eggs, if we only had some eggs. We should4 worry. It’s going to rain for forty-eight hours and three months more. That’s what that scout from Walla-Walla told me.”

“That’s a dickens of a name for a city,” said Westy Martin of Roy’s patrol.

“It’s a nice place, they liked it so much they named it twice,” Roy said.

“There’s a troop here all the way from Salt Lake,” said Dorry Benton.

“They ought to have plenty of pep,” said Roy.

“There’s a troop came from Hoboken, too,” Will Dawson observed.

“I don’t blame them,” Roy said. “There’s a troop coming from Kingston next week. They’ve got an Eagle Scout, I understand.”

“Don’t you suppose I know that?” Pee-wee shouted. “Uncle Jeb had a letter from them yesterday; I saw it.”

“Was it in their own handwriting?”

“What do you mean?” Pee-wee demanded disgustedly. “How can a troop have a handwriting?”

“They must be very ignorant,” Roy said. “Can you send an animal by mail?”

“Sure you can’t!” Pee-wee shouted.5

“That’s where you’re wrong,” said Roy. “I got a letter with a seal on it.”

“Can you unscramble eggs?” Pee-wee demanded.

“There you go, talking about eats again. Can’t you wait two hours?”

There was nothing to do but wait, and watch the drops as they pattered down on the lake.

“This is the longest rain in history except the reign of Queen Elizabeth,” Roy said. “If I ever meet Saint Swithin——”

This sort of talk was a sample of life at Temple Camp for seven days past. Those who were not given to jollying and banter had fallen back on checkers and dominos and other wild sports. A few of the more adventurous and reckless made birchbark ornaments, while those who were in utter despair for something to do wrote letters home.

Several dauntless spirits had braved the rain to catch some fish, but the fish, themselves disgusted, stayed down at the bottom of the lake, out of the wet, as Roy said. It was so wet that even the turtles wouldn’t come out without umbrellas.6

Rain, rain, rain. It flowed off the pavilion roof like a waterfall. It shrunk tent canvas which pulled on the ropes and lifted the pegs out of the soggy ground. It buried the roads in mud. Hour in and hour out the scouts sat along the back of the deep veranda, beguiling their enforced leisure with banter and riddles and camp gossip.

On Friday afternoon a brisk wind arose and blew the rain sideways so that most of the scouts withdrew from their last entrenchment and went inside. You have to take off your hat to a rain which can drive a scout in out of the open.

It began blowing in across the veranda in fitful little gusts and within an hour the wind had lashed itself into a gale. A few of the hardier spirits, including Roy, held their ground on the veranda, squeezing back against the shingled side whenever an unusually severe gust assailed them.

There is no such thing as twilight in such weather, but the sodden sky grew darker, and the mountainside across the lake became gloomier and more forbidding as the night drew on apace.

The few remaining stragglers on the veranda watched this darkening scene with a kind of idle half interest, ducking the occasional gusts.7

“How would you like to be out on the lake now?” one asked.

The question directed their gaze out upon the churning, black sheet of water before them. The lake, lying amid those frowning, wooded hills, was somber enough at all times, and a quiet gloom pervaded it which imparted a rare charm. But now, in the grip of the rain and wind, the enshrouding night made the lake seem like a place haunted, and the enclosing mountains desolate and forlorn.

“I’ll swim across with anybody,” said Hervey Willetts.

He belonged in a troop from western New York and reveled in stunts which bespoke a kind of blithe daring. No one took him up and silence reigned for a few minutes more.

“There’s the little light on the top of the mountain,” said Will Dawson of Roy’s patrol. “If there’s anybody up there, I hope he has an umbrella.”

But of course there was no one up there. For weeks the tiny light away up on the summit of that mountain wilderness had puzzled the scouts of camp. They had not, indeed, been able to determine8 that it was a light; it seemed rather a tiny patch of brightness which was always brighter when the moon shone. This had led to the belief that it was caused by some kind of natural phenomena.

The scouts fixed their gaze upon it, watching it curiously for a few moments.

“It isn’t a reflection, that’s sure,” said Roy, “or we wouldn’t see it on a night like this.”

“It’s a phosphate,” said Pee-wee.

“It’s a chocolate soda,” said Roy.

“You’re crazy!” Pee-wee vociferated. “Phosphate is something that shines in the dark.”

“You mean phosphorus,” said Westy Martin.

That seemed a not unlikely explanation. But the consensus of opinion in camp was that the bright patch was the reflection of some powerful light in the low country on the opposite side of the mountain.

“It’s a mystery,” said Pee-wee, “that’s what it is.”

Suddenly, while they gazed, it went out. They watched but it did not come again. And the frowning, jungle-covered, storm beaten summit was enshrouded again in ghostly darkness. And9 the increasing gale beat the lake, and the driven rain assailed the few stragglers on the veranda with lashing fury. And across the black water, in that ghoul-haunted, trackless wilderness, could be heard the sound of timber being rent in splinters and of great trees crashing down the mountainside.

Suddenly a word from Westy Martin aroused them all like a cannon shot.

“Look!” he shouted, “Look! Look at the springboard!

Every one of them looked, speechless, astonished, aghast, at the sight which they beheld before their very eyes.a


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