Harry's Island/Chapter 1
ON HOOD’S HILL
THREE boys lay at their ease in the shade of the white birches which crown the top of Hood’s Hill, that modest elevation on Fox Island at the upper end of Outer Beach which, with the exception of Mount Emery, is the highest point on the island. From this proud vantage, some twelve feet above the surface of the river, the view was unobstructed for two miles up and down the Hudson. At the foot of the little slope, where coarse grass sprouted from the loose sand, Outer Beach began, shelving abruptly to the lapping waves and shimmering with heat waves; for in the neighborhood of Ferry Hill and Coleville, toward the end of the month of June, the sun can be very ardent when it tries; and to-day it was evidently resolved to be as fervent as it could, for, although it still lacked a few minutes of eleven, the heat was intense even out here on the island.
In front of the three boys and across the river, which dazzled the eyes like a great sheet of metal, Coleville glimmered amid its broad-spreading elms and the buildings of Hammond Academy were visible. Back of them, on the opposite shore and a little farther down-stream, a modest boat-house and landing lay at the margin of the river, and from these a path wound upward until it disappeared into the dim green depths of the grove which spread down the side of the hill. Where the trees ended the red, ivy-draped buildings of Ferry Hill School appeared, crowning the summit of the slope. There was School Hall with its tower, the dormitory, angular and uncompromising, the gymnasium, the little brick Cottage, and the white barns. And, looking carefully, one could see, beyond the dormitory, fence-like erections of gleaming new boards marking the excavations for Kearney Hall, the new dormitory building which was to be rushed to completion for the next school year.
It would have been apparent even to a stranger that to-day was a gala day, for along the shores for a quarter of a mile up-stream and down, little groups of people were daring sunstroke, while below the Ferry Hill landing rowboats, canoes, sailing craft, and motor-boats rocked lazily on the sun-smitten surface of the water. Every craft flew either the brown-and-white of Ferry Hill or the vivid cherry-and-black of Hammond. The show boat of the fleet was a gleaming, sixty-foot gasolene yacht, resplendent in white paint and glistening brass, which lay just off the lower end of the island, and which had supplied an interesting subject for conversation to the three boys under the birches.
The yacht was the Idler of New York, and on board were the Welches, whose son, “Sid,” was a student at Ferry Hill, and who had journeyed up the river for to-day’s festivities, and were to remain over for the school graduation. Sid had been in a state of excitement and mental intoxication ever since the yacht had dropped anchor yesterday evening and a flippant little mahogany tender had chugged him away from the landing to a dinner on board. At this moment, had you known Sid by sight, you could readily have discerned him under the striped awning, the proudest person aboard. With him were several of his school-mates, Chase, Cullum, Fernald and Kirby being visible just now. If there was any fly in the ointment of Sid’s contentment it was due to the fact that the three boys sprawled under the trees here on Fox Island were not aboard the Idler instead. He had begged them to come almost with tears in his eyes, but in the end had been forced to content himself with a promise to become his guests in the evening. Sid’s devotion was about equally divided among the trio, with the odds, if there were any, slightly in favor of the big, broad-shouldered, light-haired youth who lies with closed eyes beatifically munching a birch twig, and whose name is Dick Somes.
But there are two light-haired youths present, and lest you get them confused I will explain that the other, the boy who is sprawled face downward, chin in hands, he of the well-developed shoulders and chest and hips, sandy hair and nice blue eyes, is Roy Porter. Roy is Dick’s senior by one year, although that fact would never be suspected.
The third member of the trio is Tom Eaton, but as he is never called Tom save in banter perhaps it would be well to introduce him as Chub. Chub, like Roy, is seventeen years old. He is more heavily built than Roy, has hair that just escapes being red, eyes that nearly match the hair, and an ever-present air and expression of good-humor and self-confidence. Strangely enough, each of the three has captained one or more of the Ferry Hill athletic teams during the school year just closing, and each has won victory. Roy has been captain of the foot-ball eleven and the hockey team as well; Dick has organized a track team and led it to a well-deserved triumph, and Chub, as captain of the base-ball nine, has plucked victory from defeat so recently—to be exact, only yesterday afternoon—that the feat is still the chief topic of conversation about the school. Roy and Chub are first seniors, and will graduate in less than a week. Dick is a second senior and so is due to return again to Ferry Hill in the autumn. Already he is pointed to as the probable leader to succeed Roy.
Chub rolled over and sat up Turk-fashion, yawning loudly.
“What time is it, anyway?” he asked with a suggestion of grievance.
“Four minutes past,” answered Roy, glancing at his watch and then following his chum’s example and sitting up.
“Wonder why it is,” Chub complained, “they can never get a boat-race started on time.”
“Or a hockey game,” added Dick with a chuckle. Roy tossed a twig at him and Dick caught it and transferred it to his mouth.
“Well, I wish they’d hurry,” said Chub. “I’m roasting. Say, wouldn’t you think those folks over there on the bank would die with the heat?”
“It’ll be a wonder if Harry doesn’t die,” said Roy.
“Why?” Dick asked.
“Because she had an examination this morning, and she’s going to try and get through by a quarter of eleven, and then race back here all the way from the Cove in time to see the finish of the race. And that Silver Cove road is just about the hottest place on earth!”
“She’s silly to try to do that,” said Dick anxiously. “You ought to have told her so, Roy.”
“I did. I told her worse than that, but she just laughed at me.”
“You and I are losing our authority now that we’re going to leave so soon,” said Chub, sadly. “Dick’s the only one she will listen to, nowadays.” Dick smiled.
“You fellows ought to know by this time,” he said, “that it isn’t any use trying to dictate to Harry. If you want her to do anything very much you’d much better ask it as a favor.”
“Your wisdom is something uncanny,” replied Chub. “You’d better soak your head or you’ll have a sunstroke or something. You needn’t worry about Harry, though; you can’t hurt her.”
The others received this in silence. Roy looked up the river toward the starting-point of the race almost two miles distant. But the glare made it impossible to discern even the little gathering of boats, and he turned away blinking.
“Just think,” said Chub presently, “in another week we three fellows will be scattered to the four winds of heaven.”
“Now whose head needs soaking?” asked Dick. “‘Four winds of heaven!’ My, but you are poetical!”
“I don’t just see how we’re going to manage that,” Roy laughed. “How can three fellows be distributed over four winds?”
“Oh, you run away and play,” answered Chub, good-naturedly. “You know what I mean.”
“It isn’t so bad for you fellows,” said Dick mournfully. “You’ll see each other again at college in the fall; but I’ll be here all alone.”
“All alone, with half a hundred other chaps,” Chub amended smilingly.
“That’s not the same thing,” said Dick. “Just when you go and get kind of chummy with some one, why then something comes along and busts it all up.”
“Vague but beautiful,” murmured Chub. “Why don’t you come to college too, Dick?”
“Me? Thunder, I’d never pass the exams!”
“Oh, I don’t know. They’re not so fierce; Roy expects to get by.”
“I’m not so sure that I do expect it,” answered Roy, seriously. “The nearer the time comes to take them the more scared I get.”
“That’s just your natural modesty,” said Chub. “You’ll get through with flying colors, while I—well, I’ll probably be like the chap whose mother was crowing about him. Some one asked her if her son passed the examinations for college. ‘Oh, yes, indeed,’ she answered, ‘Willie did beautifully. He entered with four conditions, one more than any one else had!’”
“I might be able to get in that way,” laughed Dick. “But, say, you chaps, I wish we weren’t going to split up so soon.”
“So do I,” answered Roy. “I’m real sorry at leaving Ferry Hill. I’ve had some bully times here during the last two years.”
“Well, I’ve only been here six months or so,” said Dick; “but I’ve had the time of my life. And of course I’ve got you fellows to thank for that, you and Harry together. I wish—I wish I was going to see you this summer for a while.”
“Well, why not?” asked Chub, eagerly.
“Dad wants me to go over to London and stay with him,” answered Dick. “I hate London. Folks are so stupid there, and can’t talk decent English. Last time I was there I couldn’t make anybody understand what I wanted.”
“Well, you’ve dropped some of your more picturesque expressions since you came up here,” laughed Roy. “Maybe this time you can make yourself understood.”
“What I’d like to do,” Dick continued, “is to stay right here and—”
“Where?” asked Chub, innocently. “On Fox Island?”
“Well, somewhere around these diggings,” answered Dick.
“A chap might do worse than spend a time on this old island,” said Roy, as he leaned back against the trunk of a birch-tree and smiled contentedly. “It’s a dandy camping place.”
“That’s it!” cried Dick.
“What’s it, you old chump?” asked Chub.
“Let’s do that! Let’s camp out here this summer! I’ll beg off from going across, and we’ll have a swell time. What do you say?”
“Say, are you in earnest?” he asked.
“Well, then, let me recommend the water cure again. If you’ll just hold your overheated brow under the surface for a minute—”
“Look here, though, you fellows,” said Roy, suddenly, “why couldn’t we do it? Not for all summer, of course, but, say, for a month or six weeks. Where are you going, Chub?”
“Me? Same old place, I suppose: Delaware Water Gap. Gee! If the folks would only let me, I’d do it as quick as a flash.”
“Well, write and ask them,” said Roy. “I’ll do it if you fellows will.”
“Do you mean it?” cried Dick, eagerly.
Roy nodded, smilingly.
“Then it’s settled!”
“Not for me it isn’t,” objected Chub, ruefully. “You don’t know my dad. If he gets an idea into his head you can’t get it out with a crowbar!”
“Well, you ask him, anyway,” said Roy.
“That’s right,” Dick added with enthusiasm. “And I’ll write across to my dad, to-night. How about you, Roy?”
“Me? Oh, I’ll get permission all right. But, of course, we’ll have to wait until we’ve taken our exams, Dick.”
“That’s so. How long will that be?”
“About ten days from now.”
“Well, that will be all right,” said Dick, cheerfully. “I’ll have everything all fixed up by the time you fellows get back, and—”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort!” exclaimed Chub, emphatically. “Why, that’s half the fun. You’ll just wait for us, Dickums. We’ll borrow one of the school tents and some cooking things—”
“And a boat,” added Dick, “and we can fish and—and have a high old time.”
“You bet,” said Chub. “It will beat that old summer hotel all hollow. Me for the simple life!”
“And I tell you what I’ll do,” exclaimed Dick. “I’ll get a little old gasolene launch, and we can make trips up the river—”
“Who’s going to run it?” asked Chub suspiciously.
“I am. It isn’t hard. I can learn in a day or two.”
“Oh, very well, but it’s me for the interior of our island home while you’re learning, Dickums!”
Dick laughed. “That’s all right,” he answered. “You’ll be glad enough to go in it when the time comes.”
“Well, maybe,” Chub agreed. “If it isn’t much worse than the ice-boat I guess I can live through it. How fast—”
“There’s the gun!” cried Roy as a distant boom floated down to them.
“That’s right,” said Dick. “We’d better pile into the canoe and find a place at the finish. Come on!”