Chapter XXIX. The Troops Decide
 

A few days after the big thunder-storm, Captain Josh received an official letter from the Provincial Secretary of the Boy Scouts. It was so important that he at once called his own scouts to Headquarters that he might place the whole matter before them. The boys were naturally curious to know why they had been so hurriedly summoned, and they accordingly lost no time in getting together.

The captain, seated at a little table, with the open letter before him, seemed much puzzled, and all waited anxiously for him to speak.

"Boys," he began, looking keenly into their faces, "I've got a strange letter here from the Provincial Secretary. He tells me that in two weeks' time the Lieutenant-Governor wants to meet all the troops in the province, review them, and give the prize which was offered last year. Now, we all know about that, and so are not surprised. But the Governor wants to come to Hillcrest to hold the Review, and so the secretary asks me to make arrangements, that is, if I agree to the plan. They will all come from the city on the mornin' boat, bring their lunches with them, and, hold the Review near the wharf. Now, what d'yez think about that?"

This was certainly astonishing news to the scouts. Several weeks ago they would have given shouts of delight at the suggestion. But it was different then. At that time they were almost sure of winning the prize, and had often thought of the day when it would be presented to them amid the cheers of the other scouts. But now such a thing was impossible. Every cent of their savings had already been withdrawn from the bank to help Whyn, and they had nothing to show at the Review for all their efforts. They were, therefore, silent when the captain finished speaking. The latter noted this, and surmised the reason.

"I know jist what ye're thinkin' about, lads," he continued. "We'll go to that meetin' empty-handed, so to speak. But that needn't matter. We know that we've done right, and I think we should fall in line with the Governor's idea, and try to give the visitin' troops a good time."

"So do I," Rod replied. "Though we can't get the prize, it will be nice to meet the other scouts, see how they march, and what they look like. I think it will be great to have them come to Hillcrest."

"I wonder what made them think of coming here," Phil remarked. "They never did it before."

"It is to give the scouts an outin', so the letter says," the captain replied. "It is the Governor's treat, and he thought it would be so nice to visit a place on the river where there is a troop. The secretary wants to know why we have sent no account of what we have done during the past year in connection with the prize-contest. He says that all the other troops have done so, and he is surprised that we have done nothin'."

"I guess there won't be anything to report now," Rod replied. "Don't say anything about what we have done, captain, when you write."

"I don't intend to," and the old man glared upon the boys as if he had been charged with some serious offence. "De' yez think that I'm goin' to blab all about our good-turn? Not a bit of it. Let's git down to business now, and arrange about that Review."

The following days passed very quickly. There were many things the scouts had to do for the great event. The large field below the wharf was obtained, and here boards were brought for the grand-stand, which the captain was bound to have erected for the noted men who were coming. Stately elm, beech, and birch trees stood at the back and along the edge of the field, which would afford excellent shade should the day be hot. Flags, too, were gathered, and these were to be hung upon the grand-stand, while one big Union Jack was to surmount a pole from the top of the tallest tree.

There was other work for the boys as well. They were not yet second-class scouts, and the captain was most anxious that all should pass the examination before the Review took place. He accordingly kept the troop busy, and Doctor Travis was most helpful in his lectures and in examining the boys. It was the day before the meeting when the captain proudly presented each scout with his second-class badge.

"There, I'm thankful that's over," and he gave a deep sigh of relief. "Yez kin hold up yer heads now among the rest. I wish it was the first-class badge, though. Yez should have it by this time, and I guess ye would if we hadn't spent so much time in earnin' money."

The morning of the Review was clear and warm, and the scouts in full uniform were early on the grounds. The flags were all arranged, and everything was in readiness for the meeting. Word had passed throughout the parish that the Lieutenant-Governor was to be present, and all during the morning people kept coming, some by motor-boats, and others by teams. They brought their dinners with them, intending to make a holiday of it. Even Tom Dunker was there with his family. He had no use for Captain Josh or the scouts, but he did want to see the Lieutenant-Governor, and hear what he had to say.

When the River Queen at last appeared in sight, the wharf was black with people. As the steamer drew near and gave forth two raucous blasts, a band on board began to play the National Anthem. When this was ended, the scouts, crowding the bow, gave three cheers and a "tiger." Flags were flying fore and aft, and as the river was like a mirror, the River Queen presented a perfect picture of majestic gracefulness as if proud of the load she was carrying.

Captain Josh with his scouts kept guard at the outer edge of the wharf, and stood at attention as the various troops filed ashore. When at last the Lieutenant-Governor and several noted men came out, the boys gave the full salute, and then preceded them to the main highway where the other scouts were already lined up. Then down the road they all marched, the band going before, playing a lively air, the Governor, and others in carriages, followed by a long line of scouts, with the Hillcrest troop leading. It was a proud moment for Captain Josh, as he marched ahead of the procession. Drawn to his full height, and with his long beard sweeping his breast, he might have been taken for a great warrior of olden days leading his men into action.

After the troops had reached the grounds they disbanded, and then various games were begun. Baseball came first between two crack teams. Those not interested in this made for the shore, where, protected by thick trees, they were able to enjoy a good swim.

When the baseball match was over it was time for dinner. Soon the smoke of numerous fires rose above the trees near the shore where the scouts boiled water, cooked eggs and meat like old veterans. It was a scene of gay festivity, mingled with much laughter and fun. All kinds of mistakes were made, due to ignorance of cooking or the excitement of the moment. One patrol put their tea into their can with the cold water, and boiled all together. Some boys mixed their coffee with salt instead of sugar. But all mistakes and the bantering which followed, were taken in good part, for no one felt like getting angry, no matter what happened.

The Hillcrest troop took no part in the games. They were content to stand by and watch. They knew nothing about baseball such as is played in the city, and were accordingly greatly interested, noting everything, and determined that they, too, would learn to play in the proper manner. But when it came to making a fire and preparing dinner, they easily led all the rest. Here they felt more at home, and were able to give considerable assistance to the less fortunate.

During the morning the Lieutenant-Governor, and the three who accompanied him, enjoyed themselves in their own way. They viewed the baseball game with much interest in the cool shade of a large tree, and then strolled to the shore to watch the scouts as they prepared their dinners. As they were seated upon a log, thinking it about time to go back to the steamer lying at the wharf where they were to have dinner, Captain Josh approached, and lifted his hat. He had disappeared shortly after the steamer's arrival, and no one knew what had become of him. The Governor at once rose to his feet, and held out his hand.

"You are Captain Britt, I believe," he began. "I have heard of you, and am very glad to meet you. We have been enquiring for you."

"Had other business on hand, sir," the captain replied, giving the Governor's hand a vigorous shake. "But I'm mighty glad to meet you."

"Allow me to introduce my friends," and the Governor turned to his three companions, "Senator Knobbs, Judge Sterling, and our Provincial Secretary, Mr. Laird."

"Glad to meet yez all," the captain exclaimed, as he gave the hand of each a hearty grip. "It isn't every day our parish is so honoured. Now, what about dinner? Yez must be hungry by this time."

"We are about to go back to the steamer," the secretary replied. "They have made ready for us there."

"Dinner on the steamer!" the captain cried in surprise. "Whoever heard of sich a thing at an outin' like this. Now, look here, I want yez to be my guests to-day, at a real out-of-doors meal. Yez kin eat on a steamer at any time. Will yez come? Everything is ready."

"But what about the dinner on the boat?" the Governor enquired.

"Oh, I'll send one of the scouts to tell them that ye're invited elsewhere. Will that do?"

"I shall be delighted to go with you, and I know that my friends will, too. It is very kind of you to ask us."

Calling to Rod, who was not far off, the captain sent him at once to the steamer. Then bidding the men to follow him, he left the shore, crossed the field, and entered the forest at the back of the grand-stand. Here a trail led off to the left, and after a few minutes' walk they came to a little brook gurgling down through the forest. Tall trees formed an arch over the water, birds twittered and sang, while a squirrel high up on a branch scolded noisily at the intruders. A few rods along the brook brought into view a grassy spot under the shade of a large maple tree. As the three strangers looked, their eyes opened wide with surprise, for there before them was a tempting repast spread upon a fair white linen cloth.

"Sit down, gentlemen," the captain ordered, "while I make tea."

"This is great!" the Governor exclaimed, as he seated himself upon the ground, and leaned back against the bole of the tree.

"It certainly is," the Judge assented. "It reminds me of my boyhood days. This is good of you," and he turned to the captain, "to take all this trouble for us."

"It's only a pleasure, I assure yez," the captain returned. "Much nicer than the steamer, eh? Fall to, now. Ye'll find them trout rather good. Caught them myself in the brook. Betsey'll be right pleased if ye'll try her biscuit and pie. She was afraid they wouldn't be good. Have some tea, sir?" and he held the tea-pot over the Governor's cup. "Not too strong, eh? That's good. Ye'll find cream and sugar right there. Help yerselves, now, and don't be backward."

"Well, that's the best meal I've had in a long time," the Senator remarked, as he finished, and drew forth his cigar case and passed it around. "You didn't do all this yourself, did you, captain?"

"Should say not," was the reply. "Betsey, that's my woman, did the cookin', but Miss Royanna helped me fix things up here. It was her idea, not mine."

"Miss Royanna, did you say?" the Governor queried. "It seems to me I've heard that name before."

"Sure ye have. She's the great singer. Anna Royanna, she's generally called. She's livin' with us fer awhile. Greatest woman out."

"Strange," the Governor mused. Then he shot a swift glance toward the secretary, but that young man was staring hard at the captain.

"There is certainly some tone to all this," and the Judge gave a hearty laugh. "We little expected to have our dinner served by such a noted person, and to be waited upon by a worthy sea-captain, did we, sir?" and he turned toward the Governor.

But the latter had risen to his feet, as if suddenly aroused by some pressing engagement.

"Come," he ordered, "let's get back. It's time for the Review to begin. The scouts will be getting impatient."

It took them but a few minutes to return to the grand-stand where Parson Dan was waiting to receive them. He and the Governor were old friends, and hearty was the greeting between the two. Then the call was sounded, summoning the scouts. Soon they were lined up according to troops before the stand, where the officials were already seated, with the clergyman by their side. They invited Captain Josh to a seat on the platform, but he refused, saying that he preferred to remain with his boys.

After the band had played a couple of inspiring national airs, the speeches began. They were not long, but full of interest, dealing with the scout movement. The Senator spoke first, and was followed by the Judge. Parson Dan was asked to say a few words, but he declined, saying that the boys wanted to hear the Governor, and not a prosy old parson.

When the Governor at last arose, he was greeted with great cheers. All the people had crowded as close as possible, so as not to miss a word of the address of the prominent man who had come into their midst. Near the platform stood Anna Royanna. The speeches mattered very little to her, for it was Rod's face she was watching. She noted the eager interested look in his eyes, and his erect bearing as he stood at attention at the head of his patrol. How few the Hillcrest scouts were compared with the others, and a slight smile lightened the woman's face as she thought of the surprise which perhaps was in store for them.

The Governor at first complimented the scouts upon their neat smart appearance, and what an excellent thing the movement was. He then referred to the prize which had been offered a year before, and that the time had at last arrived when it was to be awarded. At these words the assembled troops stood straighter than ever, eager and intense to hear the name of the successful troop.

"I have the list before me," the Governor continued, as he arranged his eye-glasses, "and I consider it a very creditable one indeed, showing most plainly how active the scouts have been. The committee has gone most carefully over the reports received, and has examined the bank-books accompanying them. I wish that I had time to read to you the many and ingenious ways in which the different troops have raised their money, and I sincerely wish that all could win the prize. According to this list there is one troop which leads all the others, having earned the sum of two hundred and fifty dollars. The account of how this was raised is splendid, and by the rules laid down, that troop has won the prize."

Here the Governor paused, and a breathless stillness reigned as all waited to hear the name of the fortunate troop.

"I understand, however," the speaker slowly continued, "that there is only one troop present which did not send in a report of its doings during the last year. This, perhaps, seems strange to you, and I have good reason to ask the scout-master of that troop to step forward and give some explanation. I would really do so if I did not have the full information myself, and before presenting the prize, I am going to tell you something about that troop."

Then in a few words he told what the delinquent troop had done; how they had raised almost four hundred dollars, and how they had done it. He next told about the sick girl, and that the scouts of this troop had freely given every cent of the money they had earned to send her to a specialist in New York. There was a strong note of pathos in the Governor's voice as he mentioned the sick girl and the act of loving sacrifice on the part of the troop. He was a master of speech, and his words thrilled the hearts of his listeners.

"You now know," he said in conclusion, "why that troop has made no report. The prize was within their grasp. They had to decide between it and the life of a sick girl. They chose the nobler course, and so they are not the winners to-day. I wanted you to know this before we go any further. I shall now proceed to present the flag, and I ask troop number seven to step forward."

At once thirty scouts advanced, gave the full salute, and stood at attention. When the Governor stepped to the front of the platform and held forth the written order for the bugle band, the scoutmaster refused to take it.

"We cannot accept it, sir," he simply said. "It doesn't belong to us, but to that troop which did so much for the sick girl."

The Governor was about to reply, when he was checked by an outburst of wild enthusiastic cheers. The scouts could restrain themselves no longer. With the greatest difficulty they had remained silent as the Governor told about what had been done for an invalid girl. But now this generous act on the part of troop seven following immediately after, was more than they could stand. They cheered at the top of their voices, and threw their hats high into the air. It was some time before order could be restored, for all were talking at once, notwithstanding the frantic efforts of the scoutmasters to restrain them.

"Do you really wish to give up all claim to the prize?" the Governor asked troop seven, as soon as he could get a hearing.

"We do," came as one from the thirty boys. "We cannot accept it."

"Is that the wish of the other troops?" the Governor asked.

The only answer was another outburst of cheering, if anything, more vehement than before. Scarcely had they finished, when Captain Josh strode rapidly forward, and confronted the Governor.

"We can't allow it," he shouted. "It's not right." He could say no more, for another deafening uproar forbade further speech.

"It is no use for you to refuse, captain," the Governor told him, when peace was once more restored. "The troops won't let you speak. Bring your scouts up here."

For a few seconds the captain hesitated. Then he wheeled, and ordered his troop to advance. Reaching the platform, the men there shook hands with each one of them. No one could say a word, for again the troops had let loose. The band struck up the air of "For They Are Jolly Good Fellows," and soon the assembled troops were singing the words for all they were worth.

To Rod the whole thing seemed like some wonderful dream. He could not remember anything the Governor said after that. He only heard the captain giving the order for them to leave the stand. When they were dismissed, they were surrounded by such a crowd anxious to shake hands with them that the boys, and even the captain, were more bewildered than ever. Rod was finally rescued by Anna Royanna, who placed her arm about his shoulder and led him away. This loving act, and the look of pride in her eyes, spoke louder than many words. That she was pleased was to him a greater reward than all the wild cheering of the scouts.