“Sure it was stolen,” Pee-wee said; “you just mention—”
“Keep still. I say—was your automobile stolen—STOLEN? Well, it’s for your sake—what’s that? All right.”
There followed a pause. Justice Fee waited but did not address the company. A dead silence reigned. They could hear the ticking of the big grandfather’s clock in the corner. Peter thought that signalling was better than this. Ham thought how wonderful it was for a man to have so much “book learning” that he could go right to the heart of a matter like this. Pee-wee thought how, in about ten seconds, he would be able to denounce these strangers, and appear as the real hero that he was. He would ignore Peter Piper entirely and give Justice Fee an edifying lecture on scouting. In about ten seconds they would all see....
“What’s that?” said the justice, busy at the ’phone. “Your car is in your garage? I say—what’s that? Oh, you looked? Sure about that, eh? Yes—yes—yes. You haven’t got two cars? Six cars? Oh, six cylinders. No—no.... It’s all safe in your garage, you say? Yes. Well, sorry to trouble you. No, not at all. Yes. All right. Good-bye.”
Peter Piper looked at Pee-wee with a kind of awe. He had seen the other thief escape in the darkness; everything had been exciting and confused. But now, in the lamplight and within the safety of those four walls he beheld a real crook, caught, cornered, at bay.
Justice Fee had simplified the whole thing, talking little, depending on hard, cold facts. He had hit the vital spot of the whole mysterious business. He had caught this little hoodlum satellite of thieves in an ugly lie. Yet Peter Piper, who had in him the makings of a real scout, was not happy. He had thought that he would be happy, but now he was not.
“If—if you’ll—maybe—if I could take him to my house,” he began, twitching his fingers nervously as he gazed wistfully at the Justice who embodied the relentless law, “if you’d let me do that he couldn’t run away, it’s so far, and he said he was hungry and—and anyway there isn’t anything to steal at my house.”
That was better than reading the signal. And Peter Piper, pioneer scout of Piper’s Crossroads was a better scout than he knew....
There was one place where the searchlight message was translated with a readier skill than at Piper’s Crossroads, and where it created quite as great consternation. That was at the camp on Frying-pan Island. It was like A.B.C. to half a dozen of those practiced scouts, and to others not so well practiced, for the skill of the sender had made the reading easy. In less than a minute the camp was the scene of hurried talk and lightning preparation.
“What do you know about that?” asked Sparrow Blake. He was in the Mammoth Patrol, made up of the smaller scouts in Safety First’s troop.