“All right, Jack; speak up. Any objection to joining in with us and having a little fun while we help a brother even up his score?” demanded a voice.
Then Jack repeated as well as he was able the conversation that had taken place at the breakfast table in his house. He went even further than this, for it happened that he knew something about the old man’s past.
“Peleg Growdy is a crabbed old chap, I admit; but perhaps you wouldn’t blame him so much if you knew the trouble he has had.”
“What was that?” asked one boy.
“His wife and two children were burned to death when his house caught fire many years ago. Another child grew up to be a man, and committed some crime that made him run away. His last one, a daughter, was killed in a railroad wreck. Ever since then the old man shuns people, and just works as if he never wanted to know a living soul.”
“That’s tough, for a fact!” admitted one boy, slowly.
“But it don’t excuse him for hating all boys. What business did he have sitting there and taking two-thirds of the road, to let William upset in the ditch trying to pass him?” demanded Jud, still rebelling.
“Oh! well, that’s a rule of the road that isn’t always carried out. For instance, the loaded vehicle is generally given more than its half; and William admits he was going light, while the old man carried a heavy load,” said Jack.
“Yes, that’s so,” grunted William, unable to hold out against such logic.
“And perhaps, if he told the actual truth, William would admit that there was room enough for him to pass, if he had been a little more careful!”
“Sure; but I was in a hurry, you understand; and didn’t see that the edge of the ditch was crumbly. But he laughed, I tell you, and that riled me!”
“And now you want to bring a dozen and more of your friends down on his place to commit some prank that will make him dislike boys more than ever. It’s all wrong, I tell you, fellows, and for one I refuse to lend a hand,” and Jack folded his arms as though his mind were made up once and for all.
Paul saw that they were very near a division that might be fatal to the future good of the cause. He wondered whether he could swing the crowd to the other side, like the pendulum of a clock. It would take considerable eloquence, as well as all his powers of leadership to accomplish it; but the crisis was upon them, and he would be false to himself if he did not meet the issue squarely.
“Will you listen to me, fellows?” he said, quietly, stepping forward to occupy the place just vacated by Jack, and managing to whisper to the other in passing: “back me up for all you’re worth, and we may win the day!”
“Of course we will! You’re the scout leader, Paul, and when you hatch up any game it’s sure to be worth the powder. Let her go!” came from Jud, who seemed to be a sort of ringleader in this little rebellion in the camp.