Then, and only then, did Scoutmaster Ned sit up and rub his eyes, holding his splitting sides, the while he gazed after that official delegation constituting the entire school board. He gave one look at the fixer (and the fixer’s face was worth looking at) and at the gaping countenances all about him. Then he fell back again and shook as if he had a fit and rolled over and buried his face in his folded arm and roared and roared and roared.
“Retreat! Retreat across the line! A disorderly retreat! That is our only hope! Who will lead a disorderly retreat?”
The desperate cry was not unanswered. “I will!” said Fido Norton. “Get the stuff together! Every scout for himself! Our freedom hangs on a disorderly retreat! Vaccination—I mean evacuation—is our only hope! Our freedom is more dear than our lives! Give me vacation or give me death! We’ve been foiled by a school principal disguised as a boy scout! Remember his pal, the manual training teacher? Spies! Traitors! We fell into their clutches. Follow me, we will foil the schools yet! Every scout grab his own stuff, or anybody else’s, and retreat as disorderly as possible. Our liberty is at stake! I love the west shore so muchly now that I wouldn’t even knock the West Shore Railroad.”
Alas, such is fame! The thunderous voice of P. Harris was mute, his blankly staring eyes spoke volumes, libraries in fact, but they did not make a noise. The voice which had aroused the echoes at Temple Camp, which had filled the crystal back room at Bennett’s Candy Store in Bridgeboro, was still. And it did not speak again for—nearly twenty minutes. Even then it did not speak in its former tone of thunder. It could not have been heard for more than—oh, half a mile.
The first occasion on which the voice of Scout Harris arose to its former height was on the last day before West Ketchem summoned its bronzed scouts over to the makeshift school which had been prepared in a vacant, old-fashioned mansion. They had had plenty of fun in the meantime and they went with a good will. Far be it from me to publish any unworthy hopes, but if your school should ever burn down in the summer, try camping in the autumn. You will find the woods more friendly then. Even the birds and chipmunks and squirrels seem to say, “Come on, let us get together and be friends, for it’s getting cool.”
But to return to Pee-wee’s-voice. On the last day of the autumn camping, the silver stunt cup was to be awarded. It was an open secret that this was to go to Nick Vernon, and the scouts of both troops were agreeable enough to this disposition of it.
Many of them had performed conspicuous stunts, but they were all agreed that Nick’s feat in flashing the message by searchlight was the stunt of the season. Perhaps Nick’s personality, and consequent popularity, had something to do with this. At all events when the two troops were ordered to congregate under the old half-naked elm, to which they had returned after their inglorious invasion of the east, it was generally understood that the ceremony of presentation was to be purely perfunctory having no surprises for anybody.