But Captain Tick-Mouse cut him short with a wave of his slender paw. "Not as bad as that, Reddy. This case calls more for a little straight talk than for jail. You are dismissed - I'll take care of the prisoners," and his beady black eyes twinkled as he turned to the amazed twins.
"Davy, my boy, what's Number 7 of the Scout Law?"
"Obey orders," said Davy, hanging his head.
"Right. Obey orders instantly, cheerfully. You've heard your Mother's orders-three times. Run and kiss her good night, both of you, and pop into bed quicker'n a cat can say 'scat!'
Davy and Dorfy were off like a shot, surprising their Mother with the way they hurried upstairs to bed. They hoped that wasn't the last they were going to see of Captain Tick-Mouse, for he had been mysteriously missing for weeks and weeks, and like all Tick-Mouse Club members, they always had lots more fun when their merry little friend was around. .
Sure enough, hardly had they turned out the nursery light when - like a ghostly eye looking in at the window - they saw that magic star again. A moment later, Captain Tick-Mouse slipped nimbly through the window into the room-and the star mysteriously disappeared!
"Here it is," chuckled their bright-eyed little friend, just as if he could see right inside their heads and read their thoughts. He flipped back the corner of his blouse. On the under side blazed the dazzling star, with the letters "U.S.S.S." across the middle. "Know what that stands for?" he asked.
The twins thought hard. "Oh, I know!" cried Davy.
"It's United States Secret Service! But, my goodness, Mr.I mean Captain Tick-Mouse, what are you doing in the Secret Service?"
"Spotting slackers for Uncle Sam. Like to join?" Then he sat down on the edge of Davy's bed and told the excited twins just what had happened.
"I'm putting in all my spare time at it," he said, "and lots that I really can't spare - but it's for my country, so that's enough said. You see, Uncle Sam was talking with Santa Claus last Fourth of July, and Santa told him about my work with the boys and girls - about our Tick-Mouse Clubs and our work for 'gifts that last a lifetime'. 'Why,' said Uncle Sam, 'he's just the Mouse we want, then - the most precious thing Miss Columbia and I have is our boys and girls. We are looking a long way ahead, now that we're in this war for keeps, and we need someone who knows Young America.'
"We'd better hurry, Davy. That's three times she's called us," said his twin, gently stroking the shining feathers of the dead bird she held in her hand.
"We ought to have remembered to put on our Elgins again after our bath then we'd have begun this earlier." "Fudge!" sniffed Davy. "She doesn't care. She won't do anything to us. Besides, we've just' got to finish this funeral. Here, hand him to me, Dorfy." "Poor Flicker" murmured Dorfy, giving one last mournful pat to the crimson head and the speckled breast as her brother laid the bird in the box and covered him over. "Poor old Flick. Too bad the cat got you! We'll have to fix him a headstone, Davy."
"Sure." Davy reached for the shingle he had brought out for that purpose. The shadows deepened, and they built a tiny bonfire of leaves to see by. The minutes melted away.
Suddenly they heard a low, weird sound that sent cold chills chasing up and down their spines. They looked up-and saw a ghostly star rising over the hill, coming nearer and nearer. It blazed and burned like a powerful spotlight, with a greenish glare that made their faces look fairly spooky and out of the inky blackness stepped their old friend, Mr. Tick-Mouse!
He was in uniform, and very handsome indeed he looked.
He smiled kindly at them, but not so the two guards who marched up with him. They wore Boy Scout uniforms, and were as sad and stern as if the twins were to be shot at sunrise.
Davy rubbed his eyes and looked again-surely that was Reddy Fox with the merit badges on his sleeve! And wasn't that Peter Rabbit beside him?
Up spoke Reddy Fox: "Where shall we take them, Captain? Off to the guard house?"
"To the guard house?" cried Dorfy, trembling. "Why - why - "
"That's where all slackers go!" snapped Reddy. "You've broken the two magic numbers - Number 7 and Number 91"
"Do you know, Davy and Dorfy, that shot hit me hard ? For, you see, our whole Elgin family have this war very much on our hearts, and are on the lookout for every chance to serve Uncle Sam. Father Time himself bought Liberty Bonds for all the workers in our great big watch factory down at Elgin - and gave thousands upon thousands of dollars to the Red Cross. And when it comes to realizing what a help our boys and girls can be to Uncle Sam, didn't I see the Boy Scouts turn in and raise twenty-three million dollars for the Liberty Loan in three short days?"
Captain Tide-Mouse thoughtfully fingered his Secret Service star. "Well, twinnies, I talked with Uncle Sam and Miss Columbia almost all night; and I only wish you could have seen how their faces shone when they talked about you youngsters. 'Young America is the hope of the world today,' said Uncle Sam to me, earnestly. 'The eyes of the whole world are on our boys and girls, and it means everything, yes, everything to have our young folks keep fit and straight, strong and clean through and through. You, Mr. Tick-Mouse, shall be my Captain. We need somebody like you to do some real detective work among the children.'
'What sort of detective work, Uncle Sam?' I asked. 'Spotting slackers,' was the way Uncle Sam answered me.
'Not grown-up slackers, to be dragged off to jail; but finding the soft spots in our boys and girls - spots in their character that might grow to be rotten spots in the nation. Miss Columbia and I want you to help train our little folks, so they'll grow up into the best citizens a country ever had. Turn the spotlight on them, Captain Tick. And when you find them wasting anything-you know how Miss Columbia and I do hate waste of any kind - why, show them the way to do better for their country.'
"So that's how I got into detective work, twinnies. And that's why you've not seen me for so long-but I've been watching you, every day, though you couldn't see me.
"And I saw you were getting slack on two points of the Scout Law: Number 7, which is obeying orders, and Number 9, which is against waste. I noticed that Mother had to call you over and over when she wanted you to get up in the morning, and over and over at bedtime too tonight, for instance. Of course I knew you didn't mean anything wrong. I felt sure - you didn't mean to waste one of the most precious things a boy or girl has the power of wasting or using-do you know what that most precious thing is?"
"T-t-time!" cried Dorfy with a smothered sob as she buried her face in the pillow. And Davy-eager for the day when he would be a real Boy Scout-swallowed hard.
"That's all," said Captain Tick-Mouse. "I thought I'd just come and tell you, and see what, you thought best to do about it."
"DO?" cried Davy, slipping to the floor and standing up very straight and soldierly in his little night suit. "DO? Why, stop it-right off! You just watch us from now on we'll obey orders instantly! And if we waste any more of Uncle Sam's precious time, we'll know the reason why!"
"Yes," added Dorfy, earnestly, "and we'll join the Secret Service, too, if Uncle Sam and Miss Columbia will let us; and-we'll spot the slackers and help train them by being so prompt and cheerful in obeying orders that they just can't kelp doing the very same thing!" Captain Tick-Mouse's eyes were shining now, and he blew his sharp nose suspiciously hard. He patted both curly heads and his friendly smile made the room fairly glow.
"Why of course, my dears of course. That's exactly the way I knew you'd both feel about it, once you realized what it means to Uncle Sam. That's why I got his permission in advance to bring you these" - and on the twins' morning suits he pinned two tiny, sparkling stars, like his own! When the moon peeped in at midnight, how he did laugh! The twins were smiling as if in pleasant dreams. Their precious Elgins were safely strapped on their sturdy wrists, ready for tomorrow-and on each loyal little breast there blazed a tiny star.
For they were dreaming of their new work in life - of helping Uncle Sam!