Walter stood on the pier at Upper Lake looking down the long stretch of water. A mist gathered before his eyes and blurred hie vision. For the moment he was alone. His father and Mr. Harrison were over by " Woodcraft Girl," which was made fast farther down the pier, and were talking earnestly with Louis Woodhull. How beautiful it was, and how hard to leave. What a glorious summer it had been!
His thoughts ran back to the morning when he had stood in this same place with Big Jim and felt for the first time the mystery of the great wilderness. Was it possible that that was only eight weeks before ? What a lot had happened in that short time! What a tenderfoot he had been! How much he had thought he knew of woodcraft, and how little it had been compared with what he knew now.
And yet even now he had learned little-more than the elementary lessons. Big Jim had been right; " Woodcraft never yet was larned out o' books." And still how much he owed to those same books. In the light of the knowledge obtained from them how much better he had been able to apply the lessons learned from his practical experiences. Even the big guide had come to see this, and had grudgingly admitted that there might be some good in the despised books, after all.
Walter stretched his arms out toward the lake and the mountains. "How I hate to leave it all," he said, unconsciously speaking aloud.
" Same here," said Hal Harrison, who had come up behind him unobserved. " And a few weeks ago I would have given anything I possessed to get away. Now I can't wait for next summer to come, so that I can get back here. You'll be back, of course?"
" I don't know. I want to. Seems as if I'd simply got to. It's all a matter of whether Dad can afford to let me," replied Walter frankly.
Just then there was a warning toot from the engine attached to the single coach which was to take them over to Upper Chain to connect with the New York express. Woodhull came up to say good-bye. He, with some of the older boys, would remain in camp for the opening of the hunting season. " I shall look for you back next year, Upton," he said extending his left hand for the Scout grip. " The Delawares need him," he added, as he shook hands with Mr. Upton.
Then turning to Hal with his winning smile he said, " Hal, if we didn't have so much regard for Avery the Delawares would certainly annex you too."
At Upper Chain there was a half hour wait, and the boys started out for a final look at the sawmill village. Suddenly Walter caught sight of a familiar figure. " Jim ! Oh, you Jim !" he whooped in delight.
At the sound the big guide turned and his face lighted with pleasure as he strode over to the boys. " I was afraid I was goin't' miss yer, son," he drawled. " Jest got back from th' county seat, whar I've been t' see th' last o' a friend o' yourn, leastwise fer some time, I reckon."
" Red Pete ?" exclaimed both boys together.
The guide grinned. " You've sure hit th' right trail," he said. " Pete's on his way to whar he won't hev t' lock th' doors t' keep folks from takin' a look at his shakedown. He'll be in a sort o' permanent camp 'fore sundown—ten years at hard labor. When thet picter o' yourn, son, was sprung on him he broke down an' owned up t' a lot more mischief than jest th' killin' o' th' King o' Lonesome. Th' warden got him thet day o' the fire on Old Scraggy. When th' warden an' deputy got t' the hanted cabin they found Pete wasn't ter hum. So they made themselves comfortable an' waited. Long 'bout four o'clock in th' afternoon Pete walked right into their arms, an' didn't seem none pleased t' see 'em.
" I hed a suspicion thet Pete knew somethin' 'bout thet fire on Scraggy, an' when they charged him with it he owned up thet he hed set it t' git even with Dr. Merriam fer puttin' the warden on his trail. I reckon, son, thet if Pete had knowed what thet leetle picter box o' yourn was goin't' do t' him he'd 'a' smashed it plumb t' pieces th' mornin' yer met up with him an' me over thar in th' deepo. Well," he sniffed the sawdust-scented air, " seems t' me th' air in these old woods will smell some sweeter now thet he ain't a-taintin' it no more."
When they returned to the railway station they found another familiar face awaiting them. It was Pat Malone. A broad grin overspread his freckled face as they approached. Walter was delighted. He had seen nothing of Pat for the last week, and it was with real regret that he had left Woodcraft without an opportunity to say good-bye.
Pat came forward and rather sheepishly shook hands with Hal. The latter blushed, and then manfully he apologized to the Irish lad for his fault in the fish buying episode of the summer. The other's eyes twinkled.
" Sure, 'tis more than mesilf has larned how ter shpell honor, Oi be thinkin'," he said. " Yez can buy no more fish av Pat Malone, but if ye coom in nixt summer 'tis mesilf will show ye where ter catch thim."
Turning to Walter he thrust into his hands a pair of snow-shoes. " Will ye take these ter show Noo Yorrk th/ latest shtoile in shoes?" he asked hurriedly. " Oi made thim for ye mesilf so ye will remimber th' bye in the woods ye licked—but thot ye can't lick now," he added, the twinkle reappearing in his eyes.
" An' say," he concluded as the heavy express drew in to the station, " Oi be goin' ter shtart a Scout patrol av th' Upper Chain byes thot'll make yez hustle fer honors when ye coom back nixt summer."
The farewells were over. Lolling back in the luxury of a Pullman seat Walter and Hal were rushing down through the mountains, back to the busy world, a world of brick and stone and steel, of clang and roar, of dust and dirt and smoke, of never ending struggle, the world to which they had been accustomed, of which they had been a part all their lives. Yet now it seemed a very dim and distant world, an unreal world.
They sat in silence, gazing out at the darkening forest, each buried in his own thoughts, each vaguely conscious that he was not the same boy who had taken this same iron trail into the wilderness a few short weeks before ; that there had been a change, a subtle metamorphosis for which the mere passage of so brief a space of time could not be accountable. Hal was the first to come out of the revery.
" I guess," he said slowly and thoughtfully, " that I've just begun to learn what life is. They really live it back there."
In the seat in front of them the fathers of the two boys were in earnest conversation, and Mr. Harrison was voicing almost the same thought. " I tell you, Upton, that is real, genuine life up there ! Merriam's idea is right. It's great! That isn't a camp up there—it's a ' man factory.' Why, look at that boy of mine ! I sent him up there to get him out of the way and keep him out of mischief. Sent him up there a helpless infant in all but years. Been petted and coddled and toadied to all his life. My fault, I admit it. And yet less my fault than the fault of the unnatural and artificial conditions that wealth produces. On the impulse of a moment I run up there to have a look at him, and what do I find ? A man, sir !
" I tell you I never in my life put through a big financial deal with one-half the pride that I watched that boy push his canoe over the line yesterday I And when they told me about that fire exploit of his I was happier than I'd be if I cornered the market to-day. I'm proud of him, sir, just as you're proud of your boy ! You've got to strip a man down bare to know whether he can stand on his own feet or not. He's got to, then, or go under. And Merriam is showing them how to do it. Now I've been thinking of a plan for next summer for these two youngsters, and perhaps a couple more from the camp, and the expense, you understand, is to be wholly mine."
He leaned forward and for half an hour the two men were absorbed in earnest discussion. Finally Mr. Upton turned to the seat behind.
" Walter," said he, " how should you like to spend next summer at Woodcraft ? "
" Like it! " cried Walter. " There's nothing in all the world I'd like so much !"
Mr. Upton smiled. " Unless," said he, " you like equally well the plan that Mr. Harrison has just proposed, which is a canoe cruise."
"A canoe cruise !"
" Yes, for you and Hal, and one of the older Woodcraft boys, and one other, if you can get u them to go with you. How should you like that for the last two or three weeks of your vacation ? "
" Hurrah ! " shouted Hal, throwing himself at his father, and giving him a bear hug. " That's the bulliest plan you ever made! We'll get Louis Woodhull to go with us, won't we, Walt?"
" The very one I had in mind," said Mr. Harrison.
The train rushed on through the gathering night. It roared over bridges and rumbled through tunnels. It shrieked at lone crossings and slowed to a jolting halt at busy stations. But unheeding, oblivious to it all two happy boys sat in the Pullman section and excitedly discussed who should be invited and where they should go when the next summer should bring to them the promised opportunity to launch their canoes on strange waters.