Harry's Island/Chapter 8
A GUEST AT CAMP
“FOR his nerve!” gasped Dick.
Then they all howled with laughter until Dick leaped to the stove to rescue the coffee which was bubbling out of the spout.
“Think of his needing anything for his nerve!” said Chub. “Isn’t he the dizzy joker? I guess he’s squared himself now for the butter and the bread, eh?”
“I suppose so,” answered Roy, “but he had no business stealing our things.”
“Oh, well, he’s paid us back.”
“Just the same he had no right to—”
But just at that moment there came an imperative tooting from the Ferry Hill landing, and Roy and Chub shoved the canoe into the water and paddled over for Harry and Snip. Harry was wildly excited as soon as she had learned of “W. N.’s” latest vagary, and insisted that they should at once set out on a hunt for him. The boys, however, were unanimously in favor of eating breakfast first, and Harry was forced to submit to the delay. The fish were delicious; even Snip agreed to that; and before the repast was ended the four were feeling very kindly toward the Licensed Poet.
“I tell you what we’ll do,” said Chub. “We’ll get Snip to trail Seth Billings to his lair.”
“How?” demanded Harry.
“Let him smell the piece of birch bark,” answered Chub promptly. “Here, Snip! Come, smell! Good dog! Find him, sir, find him!”
Snip sniffed at the bark in a really interested manner, and Chub was quite encouraged until Roy remarked that what Snip smelled was the fish. Snip next evinced a strong inclination to chew up the bark, and, foiled in this, he wagged his tail cordially, just to prove that there was no ill-feeling, and sat down. Chub shook his head.
“He doesn’t understand,” he said. “He will never make a man-hunter.”
As though pained at this observation, Snip got up and ambled down to the river for a drink, and Chub turned to the others triumphantly.
“There!” he cried. “How’s that for intelligence? He smelled the fish and went right down to the river where they came from! Talk about your bloodhounds!”
“Come on,” laughed Dick. “We’ll be our own bloodhounds.”
“What are we going to say to him if we find him?” asked Roy as they set off, Snip far in the lead, along Inner Beach.
“Thank him for the fish,” suggested Chub.
“Tell him to keep out of our camp,” said Dick.
“I don’t think I’d say it just that way,” remonstrated Harry cautiously. “You see, Dick, he’s a poet, and poets are very easily offended; they’re so—so sensitive, you know.”
“Seems to me you know a lot about them!” said Roy.
“I’ve read,” answered Harry oracularly.
“Well, I’ll bet you anything this poet isn’t very sensitive,” scoffed Chub. “Any fellow who will swipe your butter can’t be suffering much that way!”
“I don’t believe we ought to accuse him of swiping anything, either,” said Harry. “Swiping is a very—very ordinary word, Chub.”
“Gee!” exclaimed Chub. “You must want us to thank him for stealing our grub and invite him to dinner!”
“I think it would be very nice to invite him to dinner. I’ve never met a real poet.”
“Well, if we do,” said Dick grimly, “I’m for hiding the solid silver.”
They reached Point Harriet without finding trace of the quarry, although whenever Snip barked in the woods Chub insisted that the poet was treed. They turned homeward and passed the Grapes and Hood’s Hill. Then, as they scrambled down to Outer Beach, Roy gave a shout. At their feet lay the still smoldering remains of a small fire. The sand between the fire and the edge of the water was trampled, and marks showed where a boat of some sort had been pulled partly out of the water. But there was no one in sight.
“He’s gone,” said Harry disappointedly.
“Yes,” answered Dick. “He spent the night here, I guess, although there isn’t any sign of a tent or anything. Perhaps he slept in his boat.”
“Well,” said Roy, “we won’t have to hide the grub when we leave camp. That’s one comfort.”
“Maybe he will come back.” Harry spoke at once questioningly and hopefully.
“Guess not,” answered Dick. “I suppose he has gone on down the river.”
“Maybe he didn’t like our butter,” suggested Chub. “I’ve thought sometimes myself that it wasn’t all it should be. He can’t have been gone very long, though, fellows; look at the fire.”
“Well,” said Roy, “he’s gone, and that’s enough for us.”
They went on finally along the beach and so back to camp. They had planned a trip to the hills after huckleberries. Harry knew a place where there were just millions of them, she declared; and so as soon as camp was cleaned up they set out for the west shore at a point a mile or so above Coleville, armed with an empty lard-pail, two tin cans which had once held preserved peaches, and a pint measure. It was a long walk, made more so by the fact that Harry had forgotten just how to reach the spot, and it was well on toward eleven before they began picking. But Harry’s startling tales of the fruitfulness of the locality proved in no wise exaggerated.
“Thunder!” exclaimed Chub, as he pushed back his cap and wiped the perspiration from his forehead, “there’s just slathers of ’em!”
And there was. By one o’clock their pails were filled to overflowing and Dick’s cap had been called into service. So they started homeward, very warm and hungry. Only one incident marred the return. Dick in a moment of forgetfulness, finding the sun uncomfortably warm on his head, thoughtlessly attempted to put his cap on, and half a pint of berries was lost. They still had fully five quarts, however, and, as Chub pointed out, philosophically, there was no use in crying over spilled berries. They reached the island again at a little after two and found a note pinned to the front of the tent.
“Very sorry,” it read, “to be out when you called. Come again. W. N.”
“He’s back!” cried Harry.
“Wonder why he didn’t write it in poetry,” said Chub.
“Wonder what he swiped,” growled Roy.
“By Jove!” exclaimed Dick. “That’s so. I guess we’d better look around.”
“I think it’s horrid of you to be so suspicious,” said Harry. “I just know he didn’t take a thing!”
And as far as they could find out Harry was right.
“As soon as we’ve had dinner,” said Dick, “we’ll go around there and see him. How would it do to take some berries along? We’ve got heaps more than we need.”
“Bully!” said Chub.
“And let’s ask him to supper,” added Harry. The boys laughed.
“Harry’s fallen in love with the Licensed Poet!” cried Chub.
“I haven’t!” denied Harry warmly. “But I do think it would be nice to ask him to supper.”
“Maybe he didn’t bring his dress-clothes,” said Roy.
“I guess we’d better have a look at him first,” said Dick. “Then if we want to ask him we can. Only there isn’t very much in the pantry just now; I guess bacon or ham and some fried potatoes will be about all we can set before his poetship.”
“There’s plenty of preserve and jelly,” said Harry, hopefully; “and there’s huckleberries, too, and fancy crackers. I do wish I’d made some doughnuts to-day.”
Dick had been very busy meanwhile, and already a slice of steak was sizzling on the dry skillet. A quarter of an hour later they were very eagerly assuaging their hunger: three famished boys, one famished girl, and a famished dog.
It took some time to get enough to eat to-day, and so it was well into the middle of the afternoon before the procession set out for the farther end of Outer Beach, bearing a quart of huckleberries as an offering to the Licensed Poet. But once more they were doomed to disappointment, for the poet was again away from home. A new fire had been built since the morning and some egg-shells at the edge of the bushes showed that the poet had not wanted for food. I think Harry resented the sight of those egg-shells as being unromantic and opposed to her notion of poets, who, according to her reading, always starved in garrets. Roy pretended to be relieved at finding “W. N.” away, but in reality he was quite as curious as any one, and just as anxious to see the mysterious person.
“We can’t invite him to supper,” said Harry sorrowfully.
“Let’s leave him a note and put it on the berries,” said Chub.
After some discussion this plan was agreed to. Dick supplied a scrap of paper from the back of an envelop and Chub had a pencil at the end of his watch chain.
“I suppose this ought to be in rhyme,” said Chub, “but it’s beyond me.”
“Oh, never mind that,” said Roy. “We can’t all be poets.”
“Well, how will this do? ‘The pleasure of W. N.’s company is cordially requested at Camp Torohadik this evening at six thirty for supper. R.S.V.P.’ Is that all right?”
“Dandy!” cried Harry.
“Fine,” said Dick and Roy in unison. “Only,” added Roy, “I’d leave off the ‘R.S.V.P.’ part of it. We don’t want him coming around this afternoon while we’re away.”
“That’s so,” laughed Chub, cancelling the letters, “the tent’s only pegged down.”
“If he’d wanted to steal anything he could have done it when he left that note,” said Harry indignantly.
“Please be careful how you speak of Harry’s poet,” begged Dick, “or we won’t get any more doughnuts and cookies.”
They placed the can of berries with the note on top of it beside the smoldering ashes and, calling Snip, who was trying very hard to eat an egg-shell, they returned to camp. Later Roy and Chub went canoeing down the river while Dick and Harry and Snip rowed over to the landing in the skiff and went up to the Cottage to see if there was any news of the launch. They found word from the freight agent that the boat had arrived and was awaiting the consignee at the wharf at Silver Cove. It was too late to go after it to-day, so, after Harry had begged for and received half a loaf of cake from her mother, they returned to the landing and set forth in search of Chub and Roy to tell them the news. The canoe was finally descried half a mile above Fox Island and Dick rowed toward it. That its occupants had not been entirely upon pleasure bent was evident from the pile of wood which lay in the middle of the craft. Firewood was getting low at Camp Torohadik and the cargo would be welcome. When within hailing distance Dick shouted his news:
“Fellows, the launch is here!”
Chub looked around him and searched the horizon.
“Where?” he shouted back.
“Down at the Cove,” answered Dick. “We’ll go down the first thing in the morning and bring it up. What do you say?”
“Sure,” answered Roy. “I suppose it’s too late to go this evening?”
“Yes, I guess so. Besides, we’ve got company coming to supper, you know, and I’ll have to get busy pretty soon. Mrs. Emery gave us a whole half a cake.”
“That’s rank partiality,” grumbled Chub as the two boats drew together. “Here we’ve been camping out for over a week and not a bit of cake have I seen. And now, just because the Licensed Poet is going to take supper with us, Harry brings a whole half loaf! Gee! Wish I was a poet!”
“You always have cake when there’s company,” answered Harry.
“Wish I was company, then,” said Chub. “I tell you what, fellows; I’ll go off and camp by myself at the other end of the island and then you can invite me to take dinner and supper with you and feed me cake. Chocolate cake, for choice,” he added reflectively.
The two boats drifted down to the island and presently were side by side on Inner Beach. In the intervals of assisting Dick with the task of preparing the evening meal, the others played quoits with horse-shoes which had been left from spring camping. At six Harry stopped playing and seated herself with dignity on a log near the tent, smoothing her skirt and retying her hair-ribbons. Chub wondered whether they ought to dress for their guest.
“About all I could do,” he reflected, “would be to change my necktie and put on another shirt. But as the shirt would be just like this one, he wouldn’t know that I’d changed. In fact, as he has never seen me at all, he wouldn’t know whether this one was the one I’d been wearing right along or one that I’d put on in his honor; and so if I changed this one for another one he wouldn’t know which one—”
“That’ll do for you,” interrupted Roy. “Seeing that you’ve got only two shirts on the island you do an awful lot of talking about them. I’m not going to change anything. If Seth Billings doesn’t like what I wear he can get off our island.”
Harry’s gaze wandered frequently toward the path from Outer Beach as half past six drew near; and so did that of the boys; but the half hour came and passed and no guest arrived.
“He’s awfully fashionable,” grumbled Chub.
“Maybe he didn’t come back,” said Roy.
“Perhaps he didn’t find the note,” Dick suggested. “Perhaps one of those bears which Chub’s always talking about ate the huckleberries and the note too.”
“Most likely he’s dropped his collar stud under the bureau and can’t find it,” said Chub. “I vote we sit down and eat.”
But Harry begged for another ten minutes and the boys agreed to wait. But at last they were forced to begin the meal without the guest of honor. It was plain that Harry was greatly disappointed, but I can’t truthfully say that the absence of the Licensed Poet interfered with the appetites of any of the others. And a very nice supper it was, too, for Dick had gone to extra pains, while Harry had ransacked the packing-case cupboard and had set out everything which she thought might tempt the palate of a starving poet.
They had been eating several minutes when Snip, who since the return to camp had been appearing and disappearing as he pleased, treeing mythical bears and barking himself hoarse over the scent of a squirrel, trotted out of the woods with his tongue hanging and crawled into Harry’s lap.
“You must wait awhile, Snip,” said Harry, “for your supper. I guess you’re a pretty hungry little dog, aren’t you?”
“I should think he would be,” said Chub, “the way he’s been—say, what’s that on his neck?”
It proved to be a piece of twisted paper tied about the middle and attached to Snip’s collar.
“Hold him still,” said Chub, “and I’ll get it off.”
The others had gathered around and, in spite of Snip’s struggles—he laboring under the delusion that Chub wanted to play with him—the paper was untied and unfolded amid the breathless interest of the group.
“It’s ‘W. N.’ again!” cried Chub. “Poetry, too! Listen, fellows!
“A man with his clothes on the line
With friends is unable to dine;
So he shivers and frets
And sends his regrets
By messenger No. K 9.”
“But—but how did he manage to get hold of Snip?” marveled Dick. They all talked at once for a minute and great excitement reigned at Camp Torohadik. Finally Harry’s voice triumphed above the babel.
“I think it’s perfectly wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Snip will never go near strangers. It just shows that he must be a beautiful character!”
“Who?” asked Dick. “The dog?”
“No, the poet,” replied Harry, earnestly. “Couldn’t we lend him some clothes, Roy?”
“Yes, if we knew his size. But we don’t. He may be as big as all outdoors or as small as Chub.”
“We might offer to do it, anyway,” said Chub, ignoring the insult. “I’ve got a shirt he can take, and a sweater—”
“And he can have my duck trousers,” said Dick. “We might take them over to him and tell him we’d be glad to have him come, no matter if he wasn’t dressed quite conventionally.”
“Who’ll go?” asked Chub.
“Tie the things on to Snip and let him take them,” Roy said.
“I don’t mind going,” Dick volunteered. “Get your shirt and sweater, Chub, and I’ll find those trousers. I dare say he has shoes and stockings. It’s a jolly good lark, anyhow, isn’t it?”
“It’s downright exciting,” answered Chub. “I’m all of a tremble. Want me to go along?”
“Oh, no, Chub,” said Harry, earnestly. “You mustn’t! It might embarrass him if so many went. Let Dick go alone. Tell him we don’t mind what he wears, Dick; that we will feel—feel much honored—and pleased—”
“Tell him we’ll send the carriage for him in a quarter of an hour,” interrupted Roy unkindly. “You’d better take Snip along to show you the way.”
Perhaps Snip understood what Roy said. At all events, he jumped up at once and bounded over to where Dick was bundling the garments under his arm, wagging his tail and barking hysterically.
“Snip, too, has fallen victim to the charms of the Unknown One,” said Chub. “Tell Seth that I’ve got a necktie he can have if he’s fussy, and that if he wants me to, I’ll go over and tie it for him.”
“All right; but you’d better put the supper back on the stove so it won’t be all cold if he does come. I’ll be right back and let you know.” Dick, with Snip running excitedly ahead, moved toward the path leading to Lookout and Outer Beach.
“Be sure and tell him, Dick, that we don’t mind what he wears,” called Harry. “Tell him we’re none of us dressed up, and that—”
“Dear young lady, say no more!”
Harry gave a little shriek, the boys turned quickly around and Snip barked valiantly. Behind them, standing in the mellow glow of the setting sun, bowing with one hand on his heart, stood as strange a looking figure as had ever met their sight.