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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Along the Mohawk Trail » CHAPTER I THE NEEDLE IN THE HAYSTACK
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 Gordon Lord flung his duffel bag into the bench on the station platform and, casting himself precipitately beside it, smiled the smile of the Scouts. It was the genuine, original, warranted scout smile, done to perfection. It had often been remarked of Gordon that when he smiled his lips formed a perfect crescent, so that if the words “Be Prepared” had been printed on his white, even teeth, the effect would have been perfectly natural. Moreover, it was somewhat to his credit that he smiled on the present occasion, for several commuters who were in the same predicament as himself stalked up and down the platform in anything but an amiable humor. One of them was muttering unflattering comments on his chauffeur; another was looking scornfully at the gold watch which had deceived him; two others were discussing the dilatory habits of domestic servants; and the rest were denouncing the railroad.
Only Gordon Lord smiled—and swung his legs back and forth, and smiled more and more. He had made a great sprint down the hill, to no avail, and now, as he sat on the bench pulling up his stocking, which had treacherously worked its way down his leg in the course of his rapid progress, an amusing question presented itself to his original mind; and he resolved then and there to confound Red Deer with it, so soon as he should set eyes on that individual. As every scout in good standing knows, it is his duty to be prepared, to be on hand when he is supposed to be on hand, and to be on time always. But it is also his avowed obligation to do a good turn every day—one good turn, at least. Paragraph 3, Scout’s Law, sets these requirements forth clearly.
And here was Gordon Lord, scout of the second class, who had stopped to do a good turn and as a direct consequence had failed to be prepared. He could not do the good turn and be prepared both; which should he have done? The scout smile broadened as he pondered over this. Here would be a poser for Red Deer. He loved to ask Red Deer such questions as this; it was as good as a circus to hear the two of them engaged in a learned discussion on the technicalities of Scout Law. And Red Deer (who was scoutmaster of the Oakwood troop) enjoyed it immensely.
But now Gordon realized that Red Deer and both patrols, the Beavers and the Hawks, were gliding merrily into the city to catch the Montreal express.
Twenty minutes before his spectacular arrival at the station (one minute after the train had left), he had started from home at “scout pace”—not because this was necessary, but because it was “scoutish” and Gordon was nothing if not thorough. He wore his complete scout outfit; khaki hat, neckerchief showing the Beaver hues (blue and yellow), knotted in the celebrated Beaver knot of his own invention, which had been unanimously adopted by the patrol with a vote of thanks to the inventor. No one but a Beaver could untie the knot except Master Gordon’s mother, who had laboriously discovered the combination one evening when the young Beaver had relieved himself of the scarf by lifting it over his head. His shirt was of a rich, olive-colored flannel, his loose short breeches of khaki, and his khaki-colored stockings were turned over his garters below the knee, whence one or other of them was continually slipping down. He carried his duffel bag on the end of his staff like a peddler with his pack, and as he went down the wide, tree-bordered street of the fashionable suburb of Oakwood, his popularity was attested by many a cheery call or farewell wish from the lawns and porches that he passed.
He was a picturesque figure that early summer morning as he started for the station. He was small and lithe in stature, rather too short for his fourteen years; his complexion was almost of a mulatto brown, and his brown eyes held a kind of dancing mischief. Long before he had entered the scout ranks he was remarked by all as an exceedingly attractive boy, and it needed only the uniform on his compact, active little figure to complete an altogether quaint and charming impression.
Thus he sallied gayly down the hill, past the big family mansion of the Arnolds, and was just turning into the little village park when he came in sight of Miss Leslie, who was in the midst of an exasperating dilemma. Miss Leslie taught in the Oakwood school, and had taught Master Gordon a year or two before. She was at present trying to carry eight rather thick books, which is a very good thing to do when viewed in the light of calisthenics. For it is easier to read eight books than to carry them unless you have a strap or a satchel, and Miss Leslie had nothing but her small white hands.
When Gordon first caught sight of her, his trained scout vision showed him that four books were in Miss Leslie’s arm and four on the sidewalk. She stooped, picked up two and dropped three. She then picked up one and dropped another. Then she picked up two. Then she picked up another one. As she stooped for the last one she dropped three. Matters were about even; at least, she was holding her own. She picked up two more and dropped one. She was one ahead. Encouraged by her success, she made a bold descent for the remaining three, secured two of them and dropped four. The sidewalk had a majority. Miss Leslie glanced covertly up to see if any one were watching. Not seeing the scout as he neared, she cautiously gathered the three books from the sidewalk and for one short, thrilling second held the entire eight under her arm. Then a trifling accident marred her triumph—she dropped one book. With great caution she stooped slowly, grasped the recreant volume, arose victorious, holding it tightly while—the other seven tumbled to the ground.
“Hello, Miss Leslie,” said the young scout.
Miss Leslie, clutching one volume, stood vanquished and humiliated in the midst of the other seven, and contemplated her former pupil with mingled surprise and embarrassment.
“Don’t try to pick them up,” said Gordon; “let me show you something.”
He took the volume which she held and, laying it on the sidewalk, picked up another volume and slipped the front cover of this underneath the cover of the first one. Then he placed the cover of another one underneath the back cover of the second, and so on until he had piled the whole rebellious assortment and effectually locked them together.
“There you are,” said he, and by way of demonstrating the reliability of the pile, he balanced it on his hand, allowing it to incline this way and that like the Leaning Tower. The books held fast as if they were glued together.
“Did you ever in your life?” said Miss Leslie, in complimentary astonishment at this sleight-of-hand performance, and trying to take the books from him.
“There are tricks in every trade,” said Gordon.
“And you know them all,” she answered in genuine admiration.
“But they’re just as heavy as they were before,” he remarked; “I’ll carry them for you as far as the school.”
Her protests were useless, for possession is nine points of the law, and Gordon held the pile of books. So they went along together toward the school building, which was not at all in line with the station, he talking volubly all the way.
“I think you are the boy who once opened a bottle of camphor for me in the school room by means of a piece of string,” she remarked.
“That’s nothing,” said Gordon, who loved to impart information. “Do you know how to open bureau drawers that stick?”
“Indeed, I wish I did,” she answered, smiling.
“Lay a heavy stick on the floor in front of the bureau and hit it a good hard whack with a hammer; if you haven’t a stick, just pound the floor.”
“Well, that is certainly worth knowing.”
“That’s nothing—did you know you can make dandy ink out of typewriter ribbons?”
“The idea!”
“That’s how I got this suit—asked the stenographers in my father’s office to save me their old typewriter ribbons, made ink and sold it; it’s better than other ink.”
“And is that your scout suit? I heard the boys were starting for camp to-day.”
“Who told you?”
“I think it was Dr. Brent.”
“He’s Red Deer; he’s going with us.”
“And how do you manage to pack so many things in there?” said she, patting his thick, curly hair.
“Oh, there isn’t so much in it,” he answered; “a couple of apples, pair of heavy shoes, a shirt—”
“Want to look inside?” he asked, laying the pile of books down and releasing his duffel bag from the end of his staff.
“Oh, no, I meant inside your head,” said she, laughing; “but here we are; I shall remember the things you have told me. Good-by, and I hope your kindness to me will not have made you late for the train.”
She stood on the school steps (it was the last day of the spring term) watching him as he walked gayly down the street, his khaki hat on the back of his round head, and his duffel bag on the end of his scout’s staff. She heard a man across the street call cheerily to him that he had only two minutes to catch the train, and she distinctly heard him answer, “That’s nothing,” and saw him start to run down the hill toward Oakwood station.
But it proved to be a great deal, despite the boy’s laconic comment. Indeed, it is to be seriously questioned whether missing a train ever before had such a variety of delectable consequences.
So there he sat where we first saw him, on the station bench, and thought of the two patrols in charge of Red Deer which were already on their way to the Adirondacks. They knew that he had had a bad headache the day before, and they would doubtless assume that to be the cause of his non-appearance. He pictured their gay trip up the shore of the lordly Hudson, their luncheon at Albany, their leaving the train at Ticonderoga and tramping forth in quest of a suitable camp. But whether they would settle north or south or west of Ticonderoga, he did not know. They would pitch their tents this very night somewhere along the shore of that watery serpent, Lake Champlain, but exactly where Red Deer would lead them would depend largely on information gathered en route.
He wondered what Arnold would think of him. Those had been fine plans that he and Arnold had made for hanging together and testing their new signal system, and tracking and stalking in each other’s company. It was Harry Arnold who had brought Gordon into the troop as a tenderfoot, and it had been a great discovery for the elder boy. It had also opened up a field for Master Gordon which belittled his fondest dreams. For even before the organization came into existence he was, in all essential particulars, a thorough, out-and-out Boy Scout. And indeed, it might reasonably have seemed to him that the local troop had been organized in order to afford a wider scope for the exploitation of his particular accomplishments.
His laconic phrase of “That’s nothing,” when confronted with difficulties, had come to be a familiar quotation among his intimates, and he retained the expression after he blossomed forth with his staff and badge and khaki attire. He could shoot a curve with a marble; he could tell in which direction a bicycle had gone by its track; he was a master worker in birch bark; he could make washers and other useful articles of hardware by the aid of the railroad track; he could kindle an open air fire in a pelting rain; he was the sole inventor of the celebrated suction-pad for walking on narrow cliffs and ledges; and he had memorized the Oakwood fire-signal system.
A whistle had been recently installed on the Town House, which uttered an unearthly din whenever there was a fire in town. If it rang ten it meant one locality; if it rang fifteen it meant another, and thus every street and corner of the town was provided for. Whenever the whistle blew, there was frantic hunting in every Oakwood home for the card which showed the various locality calls. Of course, it is absolutely important that a boy shall attend a fire, and Gordon at once realized that to memorize the entire system would enable him always to be first on the scene. Hence, if he happened to be walking along the street and heard the screech of the whistle sounding 57, he knew at once in which direction to go, and it was not uncommon for him to be waiting for the firemen to point them out the house. Also in school when the lessons were interrupted by the whistle’s ominous sound, the teacher, after fumbling in her desk in a vain quest for the elusive card, would say, “Perhaps Master Gordon can tell us;” and Master Gordon would promptly answer, “Elm St. near Park Place.”
He knew the number of paving stones between his home and the corner; he knew how to locate a baseball in a drain pipe; he could look at a kite caught on a telegraph wire and tell you approximately where the flier of the kite had stood when the mishap occurred; he knew just how far it was to the Guild Room, to the church, to the public library. He loved such little tidbits of information for their own sake, and like all wide-awake boys, he had a habit of finding things.
You will see that here was the material for an A-1 scout, and when I add that Master Gordon’s only vice (if you call it a vice) was an unconquerable and excessive fondness for apples, you will know enough of his character to last you for a chapter or two.
After the first excitement of missing the train had passed and he had smiled the matter off, scout fashion, he opened his duffel bag and sought consolation in a gigantic and mellow specimen of his favorite fruit. Then he rose and retraced his steps up the hill. There on the summit stood the fine, old-fashioned mansion of the Arnolds, and beyond it a hundred yards or so the more modern residence of the Lord family, standing well back upon its spacious, well-kept lawn.
There was not a soul stirring about the Arnold place, and as he passed it he thought again of the boy whose particular companion he had meant to be. He had a great admiration for Harry Arnold, and Harry, though he jollied the younger boy and called him “Kid,” was quite under the spell of his young friend and protégé.
Surely they would write to him and tell him where they were and how to get to them; Arnold would attend to that. But perhaps Arnold did not care so much, after all. He knew he furnished a good deal of amusement to his friend, but whether Arnold really cared enough—no, very likely he didn’t. They would all say it was his business to be prepared—to be on hand; Arnold would be the first to say that.
So Master Gordon Lord walked slowly up the quiet, suburban street until the roof of his own home was visible through the trees. He had finished his apple, and he now sent the core spluttering against a tree. The scout smile had gone under a cloud for the time being, for the boy now began to realize the extent of his disappointment. There was not another boy in sight. Ordinarily Arnold would have been mowing the lawn or attending to some other outdoor work about the place at this time; but there was no Arnold in sight now, and he seemed doubly absent because Gordon knew where he had gone. Then his disappointment began to take the form of anger, and even his anger was not well-directed, for it included the very boy who had made him a scout and who had helped him into the second class. But the thought that both patrols would soon be rushing gayly up the Hudson while he trudged homeward in an almost boyless Oakwood was too much for him, and he sat down on a rock along the stretch of road between his own home and the Arnold house and blamed them all and told himself that Arnold was a “lobstereen”—whatever may be the meaning of that dreadful appellation.
Now there are many ways in which a man may afford a vent to his anger, but the very best way for a boy to do so and by far the most satisfactory is to choose a suitable target at an appropriate distance and to sit down on a rock or log and proceed to pelt it with stones. For with every cast of a missile goes a certain quantity of the unwholesome spirit till it has all been dissipated in the free air. The first stone is usually thrown in wrath, the next several in a kind of sullen carelessness, and lo, the marksman presently finds himself captured by the sporting instinct and aims, calmly and cheerfully, at his target with no feeling but the sportsmanlike desire to hit the mark. This method is strongly recommended to boys and its effects will be found to be immediate and magic.
On the present occasion Gordon Lord passed quickly through the wrathful and sullen stages and rose with characteristic determination and a sure aim. You cannot aim true when you are angry, and at the present moment Gordon cared more about hitting the mark than about anything else. Presently the stone sped from his hand and went banging against the slender tree.
“Good shot!” he heard a cheery voice call.
Gordon turned, and there, as sure as you live, stood Arnold.
There was no doubt about it. There was the blue flannel shirt with the double row of pearl buttons. There was the thin book-strap for a belt, and there was the full scout’s badge, not on his sleeve, but on the front of his hat. There was the seamanship badge on his right arm. There was the Beaver neckerchief tied in the celebrated Beaver knot. There was the leather wristlet. It was Arnold, all right.
“H-hello, Harry,” gasped Gordon; “what—where did you come from?”
“Where did I come from? Why, from the station—on a fool hunt after you. What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Just throwing stones.”
“Do you know you’ve missed the train?”
“I knew that fifteen minutes ago.”
“Well, you’re a—”
“No, I’m not, Harry,—now just hold on a minute,—I started down—”
“Yes,” said Arnold, crossly, “and I waited till five minutes before train time, then cut up through the fields to your house.”
“If you’d only come up by the park, you’d have seen me showing Miss Leslie—honest, Harry, you ought to have been there. She was trying to juggle eight books down to school and most of them were on the sidewalk. So there was the chance for your Uncle Gordon. I happened to know a trick—”
“I know,” interrupted Arnold, smiling in spite of himself, “you showed her a way.”
“Did a good turn.”
“Right for Harry.”
“And missed the train.”
Gordon took a careful aim and sent another stone to the mark.
“And you did a good turn, too, Harry; a bully one, coming to find me. You’ve started the day fine.”
“Yes, we’ve made a grand starter,” said Arnold, as they sauntered toward his home. “We’re a couple of A-1 scouts—not. The whole troop will be laughing at us.”
“But remember the good turns, Harry.”
“I don’t see us doing any stalking together,” was the reply.
“Do you know how I fixed those books for her, Harry?”
“No, and I don’t want to know.”
They walked on in silence to the Arnold place, and Gordon followed his somewhat disgruntled friend to the latter’s room. It was familiar ground to him, for much of their planning and preparation had taken place in it, and now he threw himself into the comfortable recess of a Morris chair and tactfully awaited some sign of improvement in his companion’s humor. Meanwhile, Harry made a tour around his well-filled apartment, rearranging things and collecting the boyish litter, by way of affording a vent to his mood. He took a canoe paddle from one corner and placed it in another. He straightened his school diploma on the wall. His manner was anything but cordial, and Gordon watched him with a twinkle in his eye but did not venture a remark.
“There’s the blazing system,” grunted Harry, throwing a paper over to the bed. “A lot of good it’ll do us now.”
He hammered a nail in the wall and hung a pair of moccasins on it. The nail came out.
“Put it eighteen inches from the door casing, Harry.”
“How’d you know that?”
“Don’t know—just found it out.”
“Well,” said Harry, after a few minutes more of sullen silence, “what are we going to do about it?”
“Do about it?”
“Yes, what are we going to do about it? Hang around in Oakwood for two months?”
“They’ll write.”
“Yes, I suppose they will,” said Harry. “We’ll hear something in a few days. The trouble is they may not know for a few days just where they’re going to settle. You know, they’re going to get out at Ticonderoga and strike up into the woods north. Red Deer spoke of following the old Mohawk trail. I wish I had his map.”
He thrust his hands into his pockets, and stood gazing out of the window. Neither spoke.
“Harry,” said Gordon, at length, “it would be a great stunt for us to go up there and find them.”
“You must be crazy, Kid.”
“Of course, they’ll write and tell us where they are, but that may be a week or more, and when we got to them they’d all laugh at us. Now, if we could just—”
“It’s out of the question, Kid.”
“No, it isn’t either,” persisted Gordon. “Here we are, a couple of scouts—been tracking and stalking and signaling and woodcrafting and all that sort of thing for six months. We know the troop is going to camp along Lake Champlain on the New York side.”
“Lake Champlain’s a hundred and fourteen miles long,” interrupted Harry.
“That’s nothing. We know they’re somewhere along the west shore of that lake—I say, let’s go and find them.”
“Why, you hair-brained kid, it would be like hunting for a needle in a haystack,” said Harry, warming up a little to the idea under the younger boy’s enthusiasm.
“Well, there’s a way to find a needle in a haystack, Harry. You fix a big magnet on the end of a long stick and then begin—”
But that was as far as he got. Harry Arnold sat down on the edge of the bed and laughed himself hoarse. He came out of this fit in much the same condition as one comes out from the crisis of a fever. His ill humor was quite gone and his mood was more agreeable and receptive than it had been since he left the station in quest of his delinquent friend.
“It would be a great thing,” said he, “only—”
“There’s no only about it, Harry. It can be done and we can do it. We’ll start before there’s a chance to hear. No sirree! They’ll not have the laugh on me. We’ll drop in on them some fine day as if we’d dropped from the clouds.”
The attractive features of the scheme began rapidly to appeal to the older boy. It was all very well tracking and stalking in the Oakwood woods, where any member of the troop could take his bearings by the church steeple. It was all very well pretending to be lost. It was a good enough makeshift to think up emergencies, to make them to order, and then gallantly to surmount them by a knowledge of woodcraft. But here was a real test for their ability, their endurance, their sagacity, their observation, resource, and experience. A Saturday afternoon grapple with the little patch of Oakwood woods was like a bout with a punching bag—the exercise was good, but the element of uncertainty and real peril was absent. For a punching bag cannot hit back. And after all they had only been playing a game in which Nature—the opponent—had been frightfully handicapped. She had held no surprises for them and presented no obstacles. The difficulties they had overcome had been manufactured for that especial purpose. They had pretended to be lost—but they could hear the Town House bell every half-hour. No, the whole thing seemed tame beside the enchanting picture of a real encounter with Nature up among the rugged foothills of the Adirondacks.
There, along the winding course of Lake Champlain, somewhere within hail of its shore and nestling among the hills that flank it—somewhere in that wilderness would be encamped the two patrols of the Oakwood scouts. And shielding them and baffling the searchers would be the swamps, the mountains, the valleys, and the strange, dim woods. Here would be a foeman worthy of their steel, and beside it the modest, familiar little patch of woodland that skirted their suburban home seemed pitiably small. So that Gordon very truthfully remarked:
“Honest, Harry, I feel as if I’d been hitting a fellow under my size.”
Was there a way? What weapons had they with which to encounter this great silent, enveloping foe, and make it yield up its secret? The wilderness, the hills and streams, the swamps and thickets, must pay the cost of the encounter and sustain them in their quest. They would lay the enemy under contribution for their maintenance.
They talked it over, warming to the idea as new obstacles presented themselves. They likened themselves to Stanley hunting for Livingstone in South Africa. And they told each other what Red Deer would think when he saw them come walking in—which, of course, they would do in a very nonchalant and offhand manner, as if they had just happened in for a little social call.
“It’ll be great,” said Gordon.
“After all,” said Arnold, more thoughtfully, “we can’t get lost if we have a compass. A fire with damp leaves on it is as good as a telephone, and—”
“Of course it is,” said Gordon.
“You can’t freeze if you’ve got a match.”
“You don’t need a match, Harry—there’s a way—”
“Yes, there’s always a way when you’re along, Kid.”
So they talked over the pros and cons of the proposed undertaking, taking account of all they had learned of woodcraft, and gloating over the surprise they would give Red Deer and the two patrols, until finally, from mere excess of enthusiasm, they sat silent, contemplating the variety of opportunities which the expedition would present for the testing of their resource and woodcraft skill.
“Kid,” said Harry Arnold, “the troop can be found wherever they are. We can reduce the area a good deal by deduction at the very start. We know they’ll be on the New York shore not far from the lake. It’ll be the greatest thing in the world for us to go up there and find them, and by the powers, I’m going to do it if I—”
“Oh, Harry, let’s start to-night!” said Gordon.


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