Hal laughed, the first genuine laugh he had had for many a long day. "It's the best sermon I ever heard, Walt," he said. His jaw suddenly shot forward in set lines. " By George, I believe you are right, and I'm going to fight it out right here !—If you'll help me," he added wistfully.
"Sure I'll help!" replied Walter heartily, " and so will the rest of the fellows, if you'll give 'em a chance."
Hal gazed at the brook thoughtfully for a few minutes. " I—I hardly know how to begin," he said hesitatingly.
" Go hunt up Chief Avery of the Senecas and tell him that you know you've made a mess of things and that you want to square yourself with the tribe and with the rest of the fellers. He'll help you out, and tell you what to do. He's white all through," advised Walter.
"I know he is," admitted Hal. "He's been mighty decent to me. I guess if it hadn't been for him the other fellows would have refused to speak to me at all. I wish— I wish there was some way I could make up some of those points the tribe lost when I was found out. I can't do it fishing, for honest, Walt, I don't know the fishing grounds at all. I tried to bribe Pat Malone to tell me where he caught those big fish, but he knew which side his bread was buttered. Said he'd catch 'em for me, but I couldn't make him loosen up and show me where I could catch 'em myself. There's one fellow in the woods that money talks to all right, all right! He knew that as long as I had to have the points I'd pay for 'em, and he held me up a little stiffer each time. I don't see what got into him to come peach on me. Did—did you put him up to it ? "
Hal had the grace to blush as he asked the question, and before Walter could reply he hastened to apologize. " I know you didn't. At first I was sure you did. I guess I was pretty sore. I thought you had it in for me, and I wouldn't blame you a little bit if you had had. But I don't see now what struck Pat. Do you know, I've always had more'n half a suspicion that he stole Mother Merriam's pin. I guess he could tell something about it if he was pinned right down to it."
" Forget it, Hal," Walter broke in. " You and most of the other fellows have got Pat sized up all wrong. I don't know who stole the pin, but I do know it wasn't Pat Malone. I tell you that there isn't a Scout in Woodcraft Camp that right down in his heart is whiter than Pat. Oh, he's tough, but that's because he's never had half a show. I didn't know a thing about his comin' into camp to see the big chief until it was all over. He did it because he's just begun to learn a few things about honor and what honor means. Fact is, Hal, I was up against it on this honor business myself. I didn't want to blab on you, and yet it wasn't fair to the other fellows to let you go on scoring when I knew that you weren't getting the points on the level. I was fishing with Pat that morning and he found what was troubling me. He didn't say a word, but while I was off in the woods that afternoon he took a quick sneak into camp, and you know the result."
Hal nodded grimly.
" I tell you, Pat did a big thing," continued Walter. " Money doesn't grow on every bush in these woods, and those few dollars Pat got from you meant more to him than a thousand dollar check would to you or me. And I don't think he did it just for me, either. I think he saw that you were playing it low down mean on the other fellows, and he began to see that by keeping mum and taking the money he was a party to it. Pat came in and told, to clear himself in his own mind. I tell you he has the Scout idea all right, and he's got it straight. I don't believe I'd have had the sand to do what he did."
The expression on Hal's face had changed curiously as Walter spoke. He was seeing things in a light that he had never seen them before, getting a new perspective of life.
" Walt, did Pat show you his fishing ground ? " he asked abruptly.
" No, I stumbled on it myself."
The other laughed a little embarrassed laugh. "I just wanted to be sure," he replied. " I've tried mighty hard to fool myself into believing that you succeeded in bribing Pat where I failed, perhaps not with money, but in some way. I heard all about how you licked him the morning you got here and I thought that—that maybe you—you—he paused and flushed painfully.
" You thought that I promised Pat another licking if he didn't show me where the fish are," Walter finished for him.
" Something of that sort," admitted Hal. " I didn't really believe it, but I wanted to, and I guess I tried mighty hard. But all the time I knew you were on the level and—and it made me sore to have you beat me twice with fish when I'd risked so much to win the points."
" Well, that's all past, and we'll let the past dig its own grave and bury itself," said Walter. " We're both on the level now, and we're goin' to stay there. I'd let you in on that fishin' ground, only when I found it I found Pat there and I promised him not to tell a soul. Isn't there somethin' else you're interested in that you can go in for points on ? "
" I don't know," replied Hal thoughtfully, " I like to paddle pretty well."
" Great! " cried Walter. " Go in for it, and go in hard. You know I'm out for the quarter-mile swim. Pluggin' at it every day. You do the same thing with your paddling. Get next to Avery and tell him what you want to do and that you really mean it. He'll get a coach for you. before you can turn 'round. The Senecas need every point they can get, and Avery knows it. You see the Delawares are just naturally goin' to trim you fellows," concluded Walter with a grin.
" They sure would if there were any more Senecas like me," said Hal mournfully. Then his face cleared, and he began to reel in his line. " I'm goin' straight back to camp now and hunt up Avery and ask for a chance to make good ! "
" That's the stuff!" cried Walter heartily. " Here's luck to you, old man ! I'm awfully glad we're friends at last. I'm off to the Durant camp. Got a permit this morning. Never was in a real logging camp, and Pat's goin' to show me the whole thing. Keep a stiff upper lip ! "
The boys shook hands warmly, and while Walter with a light step and lighter heart hit the trail for the lumber camp Hal resolutely set his face toward Woodcraft. It was not an easy thing that lay before him. It was hard, bitterly hard. He had not realized how hard until he had left Walter and faced the thing alone. Never in his whole pampered life had he had to stand alone on his own feet. Now he faced the severest test a boy can face. Dimly he realized that it was a crisis in his life—a call to his manhood. Could he meet it? Could he?
"I will! I will! I will!" he repeated over and over. " I will! I will! I will! " Presently he began to run, fearing that his courage would fail him before he could find Avery and make a clean breast of matters. When he came in sight of the camp he slowed down. It was going to be even harder than he had thought. Perhaps Avery wouldn't be there. He found himself hoping that he wouldn't. Was it really necessary after all to so humiliate himself? Perhaps if he waited a little he could do some big thing that would win the fellows over to him. Other fellows were all the time doing things, why shouldn't he? There was Billy Buxby with his bee trees and bear. Why couldn't he do something big like that ?
Hal was fighting a battle, the hardest battle that boy or man is ever called to engage in— a battle with self, a fight to a finish for the right to look himself in the face without blushing, a fight for his manhood. Beads of cold perspiration broke out on his forehead. And then he looked up and saw Avery standing in front of the wigwam. The battle would be won or lost in the next few minutes.
For an instant he faltered. Then his jaw shot forward in hard set lines as it had back there in the woods with Walter. " I will! I will ! I will! " he muttered. Somehow with every repetition of those little words the way seemed easier. And then in a flash came the idea for the supreme test of the manhood within struggling to come into its own. He began to run once more, to run away from the coward striving to hold him back, from the Hal Harrison he had known so long, that the whole camp knew.
" Chief," he panted, saluting Avery, " may I—may I see you alone for a few minutes ? "
Avery led the way into the deserted wigwam. What passed there is known only to the two lads themselves. When they came out the face of the younger boy was pale, but it bore a look of fixed resolve, and there were lines of character which had wiped out much of the old weakness.
" You are quite sure you want to do this thing, Hal? You know it is not necessary," said the chief.
" Yes it is necessary—for me," replied Hal firmly, " and I've simply got to do it for—for myself."
After evening mess Chief Avery requested the Senecas to remain for a few minutes, and after the Hurons had filed out he briefly announced that one of their number wished to say a few words.
Hal rose and faced his comrades. His knees shook so that he could hardly stand, and little streams of perspiration trickled down his face. But there was that new set to the jaw, and though he gulped painfully once or twice, he plunged into the task he had set himself.
" Fellow Scouts," he began, " I—I want to apologize to all of you for what I have done and for the disgrace I've brought on the tribe. I'm sorry. I didn't realize what I was doin'. I knew that the fellows didn't like me, and-— and I wanted to be popular," he blundered on. " I thought if I scored a lot of points for the tribe that maybe I should be and—and I didn't see any other way. I've made an awful mess of things, and I see it now. I'd like a chance to start over again, and—and maybe really do something for the tribe. I—I—want to make good and—and have some friends among the fellows," he ended lamely.
He sat down weakly, and buried his face on his arms. At a sign from the chief the tribe filed out quietly. When the last one had gone he walked over and put his hand on the bowed head at the end of the table. "Hal," he said gently, " you have made good. That was the bravest act I've ever seen in Woodcraft Camp. We're prouder to have you a Seneca than we would be to win that deer's head. That was the supreme test, and we're proud, all of us, to have a fellow tribesman with the sand to meet it as you have done. You'll find that you have won your friends, boy."
Later, when Hal had recovered his self-possession somewhat and went out among his comrades, he found that it was as Avery had said. On all sides were friendly hands to greet him, and in a quiet unobtrusive way his fellow Scouts made it clear to him that at last he was one of them. He had already made good.