Tom Slade’s Double DareMarch 12, 2008
There’s a particular kind of plot, particularly common in adventure novels, where the hero, after having done something particularly heroic, is thought to have done something bad instead and is shunned by everyone until he is vindicated at the end.
I suspect that this was the only plot Percy Keese Fitzhugh knew how to write. His Tom Slade series is a paean to it. But if he only did one thing, he did it well. The Tom Slade series is my favorite boys’ series. None of the several companion series have the same self-righteous (but not sulky) angst that the Tom Slade books do.
In the earlier books, Tom tends to be the unjustly accused one, but in the later books, after his stint overseas in World War I, he is often the guide and champion of a younger boy scout. Tom Slade’s Double Dare, like Tom Slade on Mystery Trail, finds him coming to the defense of Hervey Willetts, who no one else quite understands.
It has been raining for weeks at Temple Camp when the story opens. A decrease in the depth of the water in the lake tells Tom that the lake must have flooded into a certain cove and the valley beyond, washing out a bridge. He takes Hervey, Roy Blakeley, and Westy Martin to investigate. They discover a rudimentary dam forming at the cove, and Tom sends Roy and Westy back to the camp to drop logs and stuff into the lake, knowing that the current caused by the flood will bring them toward the dam. Tom stays behind to guide the debris into place, and he sends Hervey to try and stop a bus bringing two new troops of scouts to the camp.
It’s dark and wet out, the route to the road is difficult, and it is extremely unlikely that Hervey can make it in time, but although he has practically no attention span, Hervey’s not afraid of anything, either. He runs all the way, reaches the road just as the bus is going past, and with his last ounce of strength grabs onto the bridle of one of the horses, stopping the vehicle. He’s so tired that he can barely speak, and the few words he does say are taken to be in reference to his twisted ankle, not the bridge. But his arrival forces some of the boys on the bus to get out and walk, and one of them, Gilbert Tyson, discovers that broken bridge and stops the bus.
Everyone thinks Hervey was just out looking for fun, as he often is, and his scout leader, who had forbidden him to leave the camp again, sends him home. Hervey, full of injured pride, won’t say anything to defend himself, not that Mr. Denny would listen, and leaves immediately.
When Tom finds out that Hervey has gone home, he does what he can to retrieve the situation, and eventually Hervey is vindicated. There’s also a secondary plot where a young man who thinks he’s run over a little boy in his automobile later saves the same boy from a particularly gruesome death. It’s all pretty much what you would expect, but it’s skillfully done. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I think there’s something very appealing about these tales of honor and heroism, especially when the hero appears to think nothing of his own feat.