Chapter XIV. Unexpected Assistance
 

When Miss Arabella left the Anchorage she seemed like a different person from the one who had entered it but a short time before. Her step was quick and decisive, as if she had something important on hand.

"It was wonderful," Mrs. Britt told her husband, "the way Miss Arabella went out of that door. She had hardly time to say 'good-bye.' I wonder what has come over her."

"H'm," the captain grunted contemptuously, "most likely the hawk has been worryin' that poor little bird in there, and it was that which made her so happy. I don't know of anything on earth that would please that skinny creature as much as naggin' at some poor little innocent thing like Whyn, fer instance. Her long nose is gettin' more hooked every day."

"Hush, hush, Joshua," his wife remonstrated, "you mustn't say such things about a woman. Remember, Miss Arabella was greatly concerned about you this morning. She thought you had gone out of your mind when she saw you signalling in front of the house."

"She did, eh? Ho, ho! And I suppose she wished that I was crazy enough to be sent to the 'sylum. That's a good one, and I must go and tell Whyn."

Miss Arabella had almost reached her house when she met Rod walking slowly along, with his eyes fixed upon the ground. He was thinking deeply, and wondering how he was to earn the money to buy his scout suit. So far he could see no way out of his difficulty. He knew that if he spoke to Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal they would gladly give him the money. But he must earn it himself, for that was the scout rule.

"Well, what are you after now?" was Miss Arabella's sharp greeting.

"Grandmother sent me after the basket," Rod explained. "I couldn't get into the house, and so I thought maybe you were dead."

"Do I look like a dead person?" the woman asked, while a grim smile lurked about the corners of her mouth.

"No, not now, Miss Arabella. But yesterday you looked as if you might die at any moment."

"Well, yesterday is not to-day," she snapped. "I'm much better, so if you'll come back, I'll give you the basket you left here."

When they had reached the house and entered the kitchen, Miss Arabella, instead of getting the basket, sat down upon a splint-bottom chair, and began to take off her wraps. Rod stood in the middle of the room and watched her without saying a word. When the hat and shawl had been removed and laid carefully upon the table, the woman turned to the boy.

"You told me yesterday," she began, "that you are a scout. Is that so?"

"Yes, Miss Arabella."

"But where is your scout suit?"

"I haven't it yet, and I can't get it until I have the money."

"Well, that's just what I want to speak about. Look here, Rod, you're not such a bad boy after all, even though you did put a toad in my lap, and drop that key down my neck. Now, I've made up my mind to help you. I'm going to give you your suit, see?"

Rod started, while, an expression of joy leaped into his eyes. He was about to speak, when he suddenly hesitated, and his face grew grave.

"What's the matter?" Miss Arabella demanded, noticing his embarrassed manner.

"I--I can't take it," he stammered.

"And why not? I'd like to know."

"'Cos I have to earn the money myself, and if you give me the suit it won't be fair."

"Oh, rubbish! What's the difference?" was the disgusted reply. "The other scouts will have their suits given to them, and why shouldn't you? I don't want them to get ahead of you."

"But they've got to earn their own money, Miss Arabella, and they'll have to tell how they earned it, too. Captain Josh won't let them wear their suits unless they do."

"H'm, is that so? Well, I call it a queer arrangement. How do you expect to earn yours?" and the woman looked keenly at the boy.

"I don't know. I've been thinking over it a lot. If I only knew some way, I would work so hard. Haven't you anything for me to do, Miss Arabella? I would run errands, carry in wood and water, or do anything else."

"No, there's nothing like that you could do around here. Tom is supposed to look after such things, and I don't want to take his jobs from him. He does little enough as it is, dear knows. He spends so much of his time at the store that he won't look after the garden. The strawberries are getting ripe, and I expect they'll rot before he'll touch them. I never saw such a man. I wish to goodness he had to work for his living instead, of depending upon what his father left him."

"Let me pick the berries, Miss Arabella," and Rod stepped quickly forward. "I'll do it for a cent a box, or less if you want me to. I know a boy who did that and he earned three dollars."

Miss Arabella did not at once reply, and Rod was afraid that she did not agree to his proposal. She remained silent for a while, plucking at her dress in a thoughtful manner.

"Rod," she at last began, and her voice was softer than he had ever heard it, "I am going to give you that patch of berries. It will be your very own, and you can do what you like with it."

"Oh, Miss Arabella! Surely----"

"There, that will do, now," she snapped. "None of your thanks for me. You'd better go and get ready to go to work. I saw a good many ripe berries out there this morning, and you can't afford to waste any time."

Rod didn't walk across the field. There was no slow sauntering home when he was once out of the house. He burst into the rectory like a whirlwind, just as the Royals were sitting down to dinner. Breathless and excited, he blurted out his story, and when he was through Mrs. Royal told him to get ready for dinner.

Rod could eat but little, as his mind was so taken up with the good fortune which had come his way. He was anxious to be off to the store to get some berry-boxes.

"Where are you going to send your berries, Rodney?" Parson Dan inquired when they were through with their dinner.

"To the city, I suppose," was the reply. "I can't sell them here very well. Nearly all of the summer people raise their own."

"You should have some one place in the city to send them, Rodney. I have heard that Peter McDuff gives good prices. You might try him."

"Will you write him a letter, grandad?"

"I think you had better do it yourself. This is your business, and you must carry it through from beginning to the end."

It took Rod some time to write that letter. It was the first business one he had ever written, and he did not know just what to say. At last, after numerous efforts, he decided that this would be satisfactory:

HILLCREST, N. B.
July 12th, 1911.

"MR. PETER McDUFF,
St. John.

"Dear Sir: I have some strawberries which I am going to pick myself. I want to buy a scout suit, and Miss Arabella has given me her berries. What will you give me for them? I will send them down on the boat when I hear from you.

"Yours very truly,

"ROD ROYAL."

Rod carried this letter to the office, mailed it, and brought back a number of berry-boxes from the store in his little hand-waggon. The rest of the afternoon he spent in making a crate to hold the boxes. Long and patiently he toiled, and at times Mrs. Royal went into the workshop to see how he was getting along. When supper time came it was a queer ramshackle affair he had constructed, which would hardly hold together long enough to reach the wharf, let alone the rough handling it would receive on the steamer.

That evening after Rod was in bed, Parson Dan took a lamp and went out to the workshop. His heart was strangely moved as he looked upon the pathetic efforts of the little lad. Casting aside his coat, he started to work, and in about half an hour he had fashioned a neat strong crate, capable of standing the strain of travel. Into this he put the berry-boxes, placed upon it a good strong cover, and went back into the house.

Rod was surprised and delighted next morning when he went into the workshop. He had his misgivings, however, and asked the parson whether it was right for him to receive any help.

"That's all right, Rodney," the clergyman explained. "You can hardly be expected to make the berry-boxes any more than you can make the large crate. There are some things others must do for us. You will need two or three more crates, so the one I made last night will show you just how the work is to be done. You did remarkably well yesterday with nothing to guide you, but to-day I expect you to do better."

Thus encouraged, Rod once more set to work, and by night he had finished two crates which greatly pleased Mr. and Mrs. Royal. They were overjoyed at the boy's enthusiasm, his skill and his work, as well as his willingness to be taught.

The next day a reply was received from Peter McDuff. Rod was greatly excited as he tore open the envelope.

"MR. ROD ROYAL," so the letter began,

"Dear Sir: Your favor of the 12th received, and its contents noted. I shall be pleased to receive as many berries as you can send, and will give you market prices for the same.

"Yours respectfully,

"PETER McDUFF."

This was the first business letter Rod had ever received and he was delighted. After showing it to Mr. and Mrs. Royal, he rushed over to tell the good news to Captain Josh and Whyn. The latter was much pleased, and she gave him some sound advice.

"You must keep that letter," she told him, "for you cannot always trust people. I have heard some queer stories of mean tricks which have been done. Then, you had better read the market prices every day in the paper, and cut the piece out, so you will know just exactly how much your berries are bringing. How I wish I could help you pick them."

Monday morning Rod began to pick his first berries. The patch was not a large one, but it seemed big to him. Hour after hour he worked, and at times his back ached. The day was hot, and the perspiration poured down his face. But he kept faithfully at his task, stopping only long enough to eat his dinner. When supper time came he had twenty boxes of nice ripe berries lying side by side upon the kitchen table. He could not eat a bite until all had been placed safely in the crate, and then he stood back and gazed upon them with admiration. In fact, he had to come out several times before he went to bed to view his treasures. But at last the cover was placed on, nailed down, and the ticket tacked upon the top.

Early the next morning Parson Dan and Rod took the berries to the wharf in the carriage, in time to catch the first steamer of the day. Thus at last his precious berries were off on their way to the city, and as Rod watched the Heather Bell as she glided away from the wharf he tried to catch a glimpse of his box where it was lying among the rest of the freight. He pictured Mr. McDuff's delight when he saw what fine berries he had received.

That day Rod picked twenty more boxes, fifteen in the morning, and five during the afternoon. They were becoming scarcer now, and it would be necessary for him to let them ripen for a day before he could expect to fill a third crate. The rest of the afternoon he spent with the scouts. It was their regular meeting, at which they were to tell how they were getting along with the raising of money for their suits. The reports were by no means encouraging from most of the boys, as they had accomplished nothing. Rod alone told what he had done, and how much he hoped to make out of his berries.

"I am going to earn every cent myself," he said in conclusion, "and I am not going to get my suit until I can pay for it."

"Good fer you!" the captain exclaimed. "That's the kind of talk I like to hear. And look here, you fellows," he continued, turning to the rest of the scouts, "if ye want to remain in this troop ye've got to git a hustle on. I've got letters in my pocket from several boys who want to join. Some are willin' to walk quite a distance, and if ye don't want to obey orders, out ye go. A troop can't be run right, any more than a ship, unless orders are obeyed. I'll let yez off this time, but, remember, a week from to-day ye'll report again, and then I'll give my decision. That'll do now, so let's go fer a sail."

Every day Rod studied the price of berries in the newspaper, and cut out the list. He also kept his account in his little note-book. At the end of the first week he had made the following entries:

  "July 17th--20 boxes at 7 cents . . . . $1.40
   July 18th--20 boxes at 8 cents . . . .  1.60
   July 20th--15 boxes at 7 cents . . . .  1.05
   July 21st--10 boxes at 9 cents . . . .   .90
                                          -----
                                         "$4.95"

The next week he sent off several more boxes which amounted to three dollars according to his reckoning. He knew that the freight would have to come out of this, which he believed would not be over one dollar at the most. Thus he would have about seven dollars to spend upon his suit, billy-can, axe, haversack, knife, and several other things he saw in the scout list which had been sent from the store in the city where the supplies were kept.

Rod showed his account to Captain Josh, and the latter believed that the figures were about right, as he had each day found out from the farmers what they had received for their berries. He was somewhat surprised that Peter McDuff had sent no regular statements to Rod. He, accordingly, made careful inquiries from several people who knew McDuff, and what he learned gave him considerable uneasiness.