The boys considered this in silence for a few minutes.
" Aw, forget it, Spud," advised Chip. " Hal wouldn't do that. He's got us going, and we're sore, that's all. Let's take a canoe and try for that big laker you lost the other day."
" I'm with you," replied Spud promptly. " Bet he don't get away from me again ! "
Meanwhile Walter and Tug had paddled out to the raft, where boys from both wigwams were enjoying a morning swim. Walter was a fair swimmer, but he soon found that Tug quite outclassed him. As a matter of fact Tug was the star swimmer of the tribe, and in the water was as much at home as a fish. He watched Walter critically for a few minutes.
" You'll do best at long distance," he decided. " We'll put you in for the quarter mile. You're rotten on the crawl, and the crawl's the only thing for the hundred yards. You've got something to learn on that overhand, too. You fight the water too much.
You don't get in your full power, and when you try to hit it up you waste your strength. Here, let me show you ! "
With a clean-cut dive Tug left the raft, and Walter watched with admiration, not unmixed with envy, the powerful yet easy overhand strokes that sent the swimmer through the water without apparent exertion, yet at a speed that made his own best efforts seem hopeless. Tug regained the raft, and Walter noted that he was breathing as easily as if he had not been in the water at all.
"Say, Tug, will you coach me?" he asked eagerly.
" Surest thing you ever knew! That's what I'm here for," was Tug's hearty reply. " But you've got to keep at it every day. No soldiering, and, kid, no getting mad when I throw the hooks into you ! If we can get even a third in the quarter we'll pretty near break even with the Hurons. The Algonquins have only one man we're really afraid of, and the Senecas don't cut much ice in the water, but are all to the good on it."
" Paddling?" asked Walter.
"Yep," replied Tug. " They've got a great tandem team, and a four I'm afraid we can't touch at all. And then you know they've got a long lead on points for fish, thanks to Harrison. By Jove, I should like to know where he gets those big fellows, and what bait he uses. He's mum as an oyster."
Just as they stepped into the canoe to paddle back to camp the notes of a bugle rang clear and full across the water.
" Hello ! " exclaimed Tug, pausing to look over the camp. "That's the recall.' Wonder what's up. That means everybody report at once. Hit her up, kid I"
As soon as the canoe touched shore the boys sprang out and turned it bottom up on the beach. As they hurried up to headquarters boys were pouring in from all directions, on every face a look of wondering curiosity. The recall was sounded only in case of an emergency.
When the last straggler within sound of the lbugle had hurried in, Dr. Merriam stepped from the office. His face was very grave as he studied the expectant faces turned toward him. An instant hush fell over the waiting boys.
" Scouts of Woodcraft Camp," began the doctor slowly, and it seemed as if he measured each word as he spoke, " I have had the recall sounded because of a discovery made an hour since—a discovery unprecedented in the annals of Woodcraft Camp. It is that there is or has been a thief in our midst." He paused for an instant while his keen eyes scanned the startled faces before him. Then with one of his rarely beautiful smiles he added, " But I do not believe that any member of this camp is guilty."
Instantaneous relief rippled over the faces before him and the doctor, noting it, smiled again. Then once more his face grew grave and stern, as he continued :
" For some days little things have been missed around headquarters. That they were stolen we have not been willing to believe, preferring to think that they had been mislaid. But this morning occurred a loss which admits of no doubt that there has been a thief in camp. You all remember the little gold clasp pin in the shape of a Maltese cross, set with three small diamonds, which Mrs. Merriam always wears at her throat ? "
The boys nodded. They would have been poor Scouts indeed had they not noticed the one bit of jewelry which "Mother" Merriam allowed herself in camp.
" This morning Mrs. Merriam laid the pin on the sill of the north window of her room. Five minutes later she went to get it, but it was not there. Nor was it on the ground outside or on the floor inside. The actual value is not great but, because of sentimental associations, the value is not to be computed in dollars and cents. To Mrs. Merriam that little pin is priceless. I have called you together to tell you of this loss, believing that there is not one among you but will gladly give of his time and best endeavor to discover the thief and secure if possible the return of Mrs. Merriam's valued keepsake. I ask each one of you to report to me privately any suspicious circumstances he may be aware of or may discover. That is all."
The boys at once broke into excited groups. That there could be a thief among them was inconceivable. Still, there had been few strangers in camp, two or three guides and a few lumber-jacks passing through, and all of these above suspicion.
Chip Harley joined Walter and Tug, and the three walked on in silence. It was broken by Chip.
" Say, fellows," said he, " you remember what was said about Pat Malone this morning ? Well, he was in camp just afterward."
" How do you know ? " asked Tug.
" Saw him," said Chip. " He came in while you fellows were swimming. Left a message for Tom Mulligan. When he left he took the trail up past headquarters."
Tug and Walter considered this information soberly.
" Looks bad," said Tug. " Shall you report to the big chief?"
" I don't know," replied Chip. " It's suspicious, any way you look at it."
"Don't do it yet," said Walter. "You haven't got any real evidence, you know. And let's not say anything about it to the other fellows. It does look mighty suspicious, but I don't believe that a fellow who would take a licking and then get up and shake hands the way Pat did with me would steal. Let's do a little scouting before we say anything. What's the matter with us three working together on this thing? "
"Good!" agreed Tug. "Each night we'll get together and report all clues discovered. Gee, but I'd like to find that pin for Mother Merriam !"
" You bet!" said Walter. " And I'd like to clear Pat, too," he added to himself.
The three shook hands on the compact, and separated to look for clues. True to their agreement, they said nothing about Pat. But others had seen the sawmill boy in camp, and by night there was a pretty general conviction that Pat was the thief, so easy is it for mere suspicion to pose as truth. A few of the more hot-headed were for rounding Pat up the next day and forcing him to confess, but wiser council prevailed, and it was agreed that Pat should be left alone until real evidence against him was produced. After evening mess Chip, Walter and Tug met in a quiet corner to report.
" Well ? " said Tug.
" Footprints," said Chip sententiously. "Found 'em leaving the regular trail just north of the office, and pointing toward Mother Merriam's window. Just about Pat's size, they were. Prints of the hobnails in the right showed clearly, and three are missing on the ball. Sprinkled some dirt over the tracks so that no one else would find them. What did you find, Tug ? "
" Nothin', except that Pat went from here straight up to the Durant lumber camp," replied Tug.
"And you, Walt?"
" Nothing but this," said Walter, drawing the tail feather of a crow from his pocket. " Found it caught in the window screen."
"Worse and more of it," growled Tug. " Pat usually has a feather sticking in that old hat of his. Don't you remember ? "
" Yep," responded Chip.
They sat in silence for a while, considering the evidence.
" Looks bad, doesn't it? " said Chip gloomiiy.
" It sure does," assented Walter, "but footprints and a feather are mighty small things on which to brand a fellow a thief. Let's wait till we get something else before we say anything."
" Right-oh!" responded Tug, rising to stretch. " I'm going to turn in. Nine o'clock sharp at the raft to-morrow, Walt."
" Sure ! " replied Walter.
Then, with the sounding of "taps" the boys sought their bunks.