Half-way between Woodcraft and the Durant lumber camp the trail crosses Speckled Brook, once a noted trout stream famed for the size of the spotted beauties that lurked in the black depths of its pools, or hung on the edge of its boiling rapids watching for the unfortunate grub or fly struggling helplessly on the shimmering surface of its swift current. Persistent whipping day in and day out through the open seasons by anglers whose creed is little more than greed has robbed it of its fame for big strings, and the ruthless destruction of cover on its watersheds by the axe of the lumbermen has so reduced its water supply that a note of pathos has crept into the sweetness of its song and sadly marred the beauty of its forest setting.
Yet even now there is an indescribable charm about Speckled Brook, and in some of the deeper pools are finny warriors worthy the skill and patience of lovers of the rod. Walter never could come within sound of its purling song without experiencing an irresistible desire to linger,
It was calling to him now as with noiseless step he strode along the trail toward the Durant camp. Since his trip to Lonesome Pond he had continually practiced " still walking," whenever the opportunity offered, it had been the chief incentive tor many a morning tramp, lie had become fairly proficient by now, and on an ordinary trail walked with freedom and ease without giving conscious thought to his feet. Twice he had surprised deer and frequently approached smaller came to within close range of observation before they became aware of his presence. Each success brought with it a sense of growing skill, a feeling that in time he might fairly hope to pit his trained knowledge against the wonderful senses of the wild life around him with the advantage not wholly on their side.
Now as he came within sound of Speckled Brook he quickened his step that he might linger for a few minutes on the log bridge over which the trail ran. It was hidden from his view by a sharp turn so that he was almost upon it before he became aware that soma one was before him.
Seated on a stringer of the bridge, his face buried in his arms, was a khaki and flannel clad figure. An expensive split-bamboo rod lay beside him unheeded, the tip jerking up and down in a way that evidenced something more than the current tugging at the end of the line. It was a pathetic figure, contrasting strangely with the joy of the beautiful morning. Now and then there was a heave to the drooping shoulders, while a muffled sob mingled with the song of the brook.
Walter paused, irresolute. He had recognized Harrison at the first glance, and his heart went out to the boy who had sought the sanctuary of the wilderness to give way to his misery where none should see. With an inborn delicacy of feeling Walter turned softly, and without a sound stole back up the trail until the turn had effectually hidden him from view. The bitterest thing in a boy's life is to be seen in his hour of weakness by another boy. Somehow it seems to rob him of something of his manhood. Without analyzing it in this way Walter felt that it would be unfair to Hal to lot him know that he had been seen crying.
At the end of a hundred yards or so Walter once more turned in the direction of the bridge, whistling shrilly. This time when he rounded the turn Hal was on his feet rebait-ing his hook, while a ten-inch trout flapped at his feet. His hat was pulled low over his face, but on his cheeks were traces of tears hastily wiped away.
" Hello, Hal! What luck ? " called Walter cheerily as he approached.
" I don't know as it's any business of yours. You see I'm not buying 'em, anyway," was the surly and bitter reply.
Waiter Hushed, and an angry retort rose to his lips, but with if came a vision of the picture of utter misery he had witnessed a tew minutes before. He stepped forward and held out his hand.
" Don't, Hal," he pleaded. " Let's be friends."
" You don't want me for a friend ; nobody does," growled the other.
" Hal, I came pretty near punching your head once, or trying to, anyway. Now I am coming back at you. When you say that I don't want you for a friend you are not telling the truth. Now, are you going to punch my head or are you going to shake hands?" Walter once more extended his hand, all his good humor restored.
Slowly the other reached forth and gripped it. "I—I guess I'll shake," he said, a sheepish smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. Then he pushed back his hat and faced Walter squarely. " It's mighty white of you, Walt," he blurted out hurriedly. " I do want you for a friend. I guess I need friends if any fellow ever did. Nobody's got any use fur me back there," nodding in the direction of the camp, "and I can't get away, because I haven't anywhere to go. You see, my folks are all in Europe for the summer. I'm stuck here, and I've got to stay."
" I'm glad of it," said Walter heartily.
" Wh-what do you mean ? " demanded Hal. 1
" Just what I say," replied the other. " I'm glad of it. You've got in wrong here with the camp. If you went away now you'd always be in wrong with tile whole crowd Maybe you think that if you got away and never came back it wouldn't matter what the fellows think, but it would. They'd always remember you, not for what you really are but for what they think you are, and no matter how great a success you might make when you grow up you'd know all the time that a lot of people didn't believe in you. You've made a lot of mistakes. Now you've got a chance to correct 'em right where you made 'em. You can't forget 'em yourself, and don't want to, but you can make the other fellows forget 'em ; and they will, too, if you'll give 'em a chance.
" Your dad's got a lot of money, and I guess you've grown up to think that money is the only thing that counts. I s'pose it does count for a lot in the city, but out here in the woods it doesn't count a little bit. It's the fellow himself, the stuff that's in him, and not what he's got. You forget all about your dad, I mean his money, and sail in for everything that's doin' here, and you'll find that the boys will meet you more'n half-way. Gee, I'm getting to be a regular preacher ! "