Chapter XIX. The Surprise
 

It was somewhat late as Rod and Phil hurried along the street toward the hotel where they and Mr. Dexter were to spend the night. This place was near the steamer, and it would not be far for them to catch the early boat next morning. It was a comfortable house, where countrymen generally stayed.

Only a few people did the boys meet as they moved on their way. Presently they encountered a policeman, who looked at them very closely, and enquired where they were going. Rod informed him, so with a warning that they should not be out so late, the official passed on. This was a new experience for the boys, and they were now fearful lest they should meet other policemen who might not be so lenient.

They had just reached a dark place when they heard some one walking with a heavy tread on the opposite side of the street. Thinking that it might be another policeman, the boys kept close together, and glided on as swiftly as possible. They did not run lest they should be heard. Their hearts beat fast, and they glanced nervously from side to side. The ways of the city, especially at night, were strange and mysterious to them, and all kinds of dangers seemed to be lurking around. Had they been on a country road they would have felt perfectly at ease. But here it was different.

They had almost gained a part of the street where an electric light flooded the pavement, when they heard a cry behind them, and then a thud as of some one falling. They stopped and looked back, but all was shrouded in darkness. On the opposite side of the street they could hear sounds of struggling, while an occasional gasping cry fell upon their ears.

"There's something wrong," Rod whispered to his companion.

"W-what d'ye s'pose it is?" was the frightened reply.

"Somebody is hurt, I guess. Maybe that man we heard has been knocked down. It often happens in cities."

"Let's run," Phil suggested, now trembling violently.

"Run where?" Rod enquired.

"To the hotel."

"And leave that man to be killed! Scouts don't do that," and Rod straightened himself up with a jerk.

"But what are we going to do?"

"Go after that policeman, see? He can't be far away. Come!"

The next instant the boys were bounding along the street after the policeman they had met but a few minutes before. Fortunately they ran across him sooner than they had expected, for hearing the sound of hurrying footsteps, the official blocked the way, caught the lads by the shoulders, and demanded what they were running for. Rod pantingly explained, and soon the three were hastening back to where the struggle had taken place.

At first the policeman had been doubtful as to the truth of the story, but when he flashed his light upon the prostrate form of a man lying in the gutter, he gave vent to an exclamation of astonishment. The man was unconscious, and he was bleeding from a wound in the head. Rod never forgot the look of that face lying there so white beneath the light of the lantern. It was the face of a man about thirty years of age, with a dark moustache, and a slight scar upon the right cheek. The policeman felt the man's pulse, and found that he was alive. He then placed a whistle to his lips and gave several long shrill blasts. He next enquired the names of the two boys, where they were from, and what they were doing out at that time of the night. To these questions Rod answered in such a straightforward manner that the policeman was satisfied.

"You had better get on now," he ordered, "But, remember, we'll want you in the morning to give evidence. Don't leave the city until you get permission."

Though both the boys would like to have stayed to see what would be done with the unconscious man, they did not dare to disobey the policeman, so they hurried off, and at last reached the hotel. They found Mr. Dexter anxiously waiting their return, and to him they related what had happened on the street.

"This is what comes of your galavanting around at such hours of the night," he growled. "You should have been in your beds long ago. And so we've got to wait, have we? This is a pretty state of affairs. I can't afford to stay here all day to-morrow. Get away to bed now. You've done enough mischief for one night."

Rod went to bed, but he found it hard to sleep. His thoughts turned not only to the wounded man, but to the concert to be held the next day. Suppose he could not get home in time to take his part, what would Whyn and Captain Josh think, and how could they get along without him?

Early the next morning a message came summoning Rod and Phil to appear at the court room at ten o'clock. Mr. Dexter went with them, which was a great relief. Everything was strange to the boys, and they were very nervous as they were examined and cross-questioned. But they both told what they knew in such a manner as to give much satisfaction. At last the Police Magistrate told them that they could go home, but must appear before him whenever they were needed.

The newspapers that morning gave considerable space to the assault of the previous night. They told of the cowardly attack, and the assistance the two country boys had given, mentioning their names, and where they were from. The injured man was unknown, and though careful search was made, there was nothing found upon his person to identify him. He had no money, and it was believed that his pockets had been gone through by his assailants. He was taken to the hospital where he was lying unconscious, and in a serious condition.

Mr. Dexter bought copies of both morning papers, which was a great extravagance for him. He was quite proud of the part his son had taken in the affair, and the notoriety which had come to his family. Rod and Phil read every word on their trip up the river that afternoon. It was the first time they had ever seen their names in print, and they felt very important. This was increased when they saw people looking at them, and pointing them out as the boys who had figured in the affair of the night before.

Parson Dan's eyes opened wide with astonishment when he opened his paper, which arrived just before dinner, and read to his wife the story of the assault in the city.

"Well done for the boys!" he exclaimed, as he laid the paper aside, and began his meal. "I wish they had caught the rascals who did that deed."

"The boys might have got badly hurt," Mrs. Royal replied. "I am very thankful that they escaped without any harm. What terrible things take place in cities. We live such quiet lives here that we little realise what is going on elsewhere."

"I do hope that the police will get those fellows," the parson mused. "The paper says that there have been several hold-ups lately, and it is believed that they have been done by the same ones who made the assault last night. I am anxious to see Rod to hear what he has to say."

"Perhaps the boys will have to stay as witnesses, Daniel."

"Sure enough!" and the clergyman put down his cup he was about to raise to his lips. "I never thought of that. And this is the night of the concert, too. What will Captain Josh do without the boys? I must go over and tell him the news. It will certainly upset his plans, for he depended so much upon Rod."

That same morning Anna Royanna, while at breakfast, read the description of herself and her singing in the Opera House. This did not greatly interest her, for she was beginning to weigh such articles at their true value. It was the custom now for papers to say pleasant things about her. It was the same wherever she went. She recalled the time, several years before, when the same newspapers had so begrudgingly given her a few lines concerning a certain performance of hers. She had to plead with the editors then. She was not famous, and how a sympathetic article would not only have encouraged but assisted her as well. Now she was Anna Royanna, the noted singer, and a slight smile of contempt hovered about the corners of her mouth as she began to fold up the paper.

Just then something caught her eye, which caused her to pause, and look more closely. "Rod Royal" were the words she first saw, but they were enough to make her devour eagerly the whole story of the adventure of the previous night. She studied the two words which had first arrested her attention, paying no heed to her breakfast which was getting cold. Neither did she notice the number of eyes turned upon her by various people in the room, for all were greatly interested in the famous singer, who had made such a remarkable hit the night before. There came to her again the picture of a sturdy little lad standing before her, with tousled auburn hair, pleading on behalf of an invalid girl away up in the country. Then her mind went back to that terrible night when she had carried him to the door of the rectory, and left him to the mercy of those within. And now she was looking upon his name in the paper. He was hers, and yet he did not know her.

It seemed to Rod that the steamer would never reach Hillcrest wharf. There were so many stops to make for passengers to disembark, and freight to be unloaded, that the boat was later than usual. He was almost certain that the concert would be over before they arrived. At last they were there, and the steamer's guard had scarcely touched the wharf, as he and Phil leaped ashore. Then they scurried down the road, leaving Mr. Dexter far behind. They were well aware that they had no time to go home for their scout suits, and this was a great disappointment. As they came in sight of the Anchorage they saw many people moving about the grounds. Rod waited to speak to no one, but hurried at once into Whyn's room. The girl greeted him with a cry of joy.

"Oh, Rod!" she exclaimed; "I am so glad you are back. Captain Josh is in a terrible state of worry."

She was sitting by the open window where she could see all that was going on outside. It was a beautiful evening, and the sun of the long summer day was still high above the horizon.

"How is everything going, Whyn?" Rod breathlessly enquired, as he wiped his hot face with his small handkerchief.

"Great," was the reply. "That is, so far. And only think, Rod, Miss Arabella has been here all day helping Mrs. Britt. She is a wonder. She is selling refreshments now."

"Is grandad here?" Rod asked.

"Yes, and everybody else, I guess. The summer people have turned out splendidly. There are several autos here, and so many strange people. I don't know any of them."

As Whyn mentioned the autos an expression of anxiety came into Rod's eyes. He wondered if Miss Royanna had arrived. Perhaps she was waiting for him. He must go and find out at once.

Left once more alone, Whyn sat and watched all that was going on. Her face was flushed with excitement, and her eyes sparkled with animation. But she was disappointed, nevertheless. The choir could not come, and so there would be no singing. Several of the members were away, so Parson Dan had told her, and the others would not come without them. The people will think it so strange, she said to herself, and the scouts will feel badly. Whoever heard of a concert without singing and music of some kind.

Ere long the crowd began to gather about the large platform which Captain Josh and the scouts had built in front of their club-room. Then it was that the performance began. First came a staff-drill by all the boys. They did it well, and were called upon to repeat it. This was followed by signalling. The scouts were lined up, each holding two small flags in his hands. The captain in a deep voice called out the letters from A to Z, and not one boy made a mistake. He next picked out letters at random, and closed by an exhibition of sending and receiving a short message. One boy stood about fifty yards away, and sent words which were received by another at Headquarters. This won the hearty approval of the spectators, which rejoiced the hearts of the scouts. After this came military drill, and here the captain was in his element. One would have thought that he was on board of the Roaring Bess, giving orders to his crew. He paced up and down, shouting out in a tremendous voice, "Right--turn!" "Form--fours!" "Quick--march!" "Mark--time!" and so on. It was really excellent the way the boys rose to the occasion, showing to all what training and discipline could accomplish.

They had barely finished their marching ere Rod darted suddenly away toward the front of the Anchorage, and as Whyn followed him with her eyes she saw that he was hurrying to meet a large auto which had just arrived. Several people were in the car, and soon they were accompanying Rod to Headquarters, which they entered.

The watching girl was puzzled over this, and wondered who they could be. They must be people Rod knew, and was expecting, she reasoned. But why did they go into the club-house instead of staying outside?

Presently she saw Rod reappear and go straight to Parson Dan, who was sitting near a large willow tree. A short whispered conversation ensued, and then the clergyman followed the boy into the building. It seemed a long time to Whyn before the former came out again, and when he did, he at once mounted the platform, and motioned the people to be quiet. This latter was hardly necessary, as all on the grounds had noticed the arrival of the strangers, and were naturally curious about them, especially as Rod seemed so excited and delighted.

"I have a great announcement to make," the clergyman began, "and I myself can hardly believe it is true. It seems that the scouts have sprung a complete surprise upon us of a most enjoyable nature, and I am almost overcome by their audacity. In order to make this affair an unbounded success, they invited the noted singer, Miss Anna Royanna, to come here and sing. She complied with the request, and is now here."

What more the clergyman said Whyn did not know. With a half-smothered cry of delight, she leaned as far as she could toward the window in order to catch the first glimpse of the wonderful woman. Tears came suddenly into her eyes as the meaning of what the scouts had done flashed into her mind. It was for her sake, she very well knew, that they had asked Miss Royanna to come. That was the reason why Rod and Phil had gone to the city. She understood it all just as plainly as if they had told her. And so she was to hear Anna Royanna after all! It seemed too good to be true. Surely it must be only a beautiful dream. But, no, it was real, for there were the people before her, and the singer, too, now standing upon the platform by the clergyman's side. She heard the loud and excited cheers of the people, and saw the woman bowing in acknowledgment of the reception. What was that she was saying? That she was delighted to come to the entertainment; that she was very fond of boys, and when they had asked her to come she had not the heart to refuse. How soft and pleasing was her voice, so Whyn thought. How nice she must be, and she longed to speak to her, and to look into her eyes. And to think that such a person had come all the way to Hillcrest to sing for her benefit!

But when Miss Royanna began to sing, Whyn forgot everything else. There were various kinds of songs, both humorous and pathetic, but all simple and familiar, which appealed to the hearts of the listeners. Last of all she sang "My Little Lad, God Bless Him!" and then went back into the building, followed by the clapping and cheering of the assembled people.

Whyn paid little attention to the excitement outside. She leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, and listened once again to the sweet singer. How distinctly she could hear that voice, and the words of the last song. What a treat this would be to her for months to come. She must write at once to her mother and Douglas and tell them of the great joy which had come into her life.

She was aroused by voices outside the door. Opening her eyes, great was her surprise to see the famous singer standing before her. Parson Dan was there, too, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Markham, while Rod brought up in the rear as bodyguard. But Whyn had eyes only for one person, and her glad look of welcome went at once to Miss Royanna's heart. Stepping quickly forward, she stooped and kissed the invalid girl.

"We do not need any introduction," she said. "We are old friends, are we not? Rod has told me about you."

For once in her life Whyn found it impossible to reply. Her eyes were moist as she lifted them to the singer's face in mute admiration.

"What a lovely room," the woman continued, noting Whyn's embarrassment. "And you were able to see everything from the window. How nice."

"And I heard you sing, too," Whyn replied. "Oh, it was great, and so good of you to come. I can never thank you enough."

"Don't try," and the woman smiled. "The enjoyment has been all on my side. It is the best time I have had in years."

For about half an hour Miss Royanna stayed, but it seemed only a few minutes to the invalid girl. The rest went out and left them alone. It appeared to Whyn as if heaven had suddenly opened, and an angel in the form of this singer had come down. She felt perfectly at ease now, and talked freely, telling about herself and her mother. It was only natural, however, that Rod should form the principal object of conversation. In fact, Miss Royanna led the girl on to talk about him, and the mother's heart was made happy as Whyn told how kind Rod was to her, and what a fine boy he really was.

"Will you write to me, dear?" the singer asked, as she bade the girl good-bye.

"Oh, may I?" and Whyn's face glowed with pleasure. "But you will not care to hear about our uninteresting affairs in Hillcrest."

"Indeed I shall. Tell me everything, and especially about Rod. You see, I know him better than the rest."

"Will you come to see me again?" Whyn enquired.

"Yes, just as soon as I can. I want to spend several weeks here in this lovely place. Then I shall be right near you, and find out all about the scouts."

"Oh, how nice!" and Whyn clasped her hands together. "I shall look forward to your coming. It will be something more to live for now."

All the people on the grounds crowded around the car as the singer stepped on board. Rod was standing right by the door, watching her face with great interest. How she longed to stoop, fold him in her arms, kiss mm, and proclaim that he was her own boy. But, no, not now. She must wait. Waving her hand to the crowd, she was borne swiftly away, leaving the people with a great and new topic of conversation, which would last them for many a day.