At a respectable distance from the woods near the shore where Pee-wee stood was a sizable village, or young town, big enough to have traffic signs and parking zones and a main street and a movie show and such like pretentious things. Between this town and the shore were a few outlying houses, but mostly sparse woodland. To the north the woods were thicker.
The lights of this neighboring town formed a cheery background to the dark, silent lake shore. This town was West Ketchem and the chief sensation in West Ketchem during the last few years had been the destruction by fire of the public school, a calamity for which every boy went in mourning.
Across the lake, Pee-wee could see other and fewer lights. These belonged to a smaller village in which nothing at all had ever happened, not even the burning of its school. Far from it. The school stood there in all its glory, under the able supervision of Barnabas Wise and Birchel Rodney, the local board of education.
About in the center of the lake, Pee-wee saw a small red light. Sometimes there seemed to be two lights, but he thought that one was the reflection of the other in the water. The light seemed very lonely, yet very inviting out there. He supposed it was on a boat Perhaps some one was fishing....
But in all this surrounding beauty and peacefulness, Pee-wee saw no sign of the murder of any captive maiden. His eagle eye did see where a boat had been drawn up on shore, and if any “shoves” and other cruel and abusive “handling” had been administered by those scoundrels with seventy pistols, it must have been to that poor defenseless boat. Or perhaps they were out in the middle of the lake at that very minute sinking their victim.
Anything might happen—in the mind of Scout Harris.
ENTER THE GENUINE ARTICLE
At another time Pee-wee would have delighted to linger in this scout’s Utopia. But his chief thought now was to take advantage of his fortunate escape. He had not the faintest idea where he was, more than that he was a full two hour’s ride from home. That would be a long and lonely hike, even if he could find his way in the darkness.
He tried to recall the names of the various lakes in New Jersey and in the neighboring state of New York, and he recalled a good many, but that did not help him to identify this one. So he started up toward the town in the hope of identifying that.
The village petered out toward the lake; there were but a few houses. It was about eleven or twelve o’clock or after and the good people in the straggling cottages thereabout had put out their lights and retired to slumber before that wicked hour.
There was a stillness and gloom about these uninviting, dark houses; a cheerlessness not to be found in the densest woods. They made Pee-wee feel lost and lonesome, as the dim, silent wilderness could never do.