FRED FENTON ON THE CREW
The Young Oarsmen of Riverport School
OF "FRED FENTON THE PITCHER," "FRED FENTON IN LINE," "TOM FAIRFIELD SERIES," "THE CHUMS SERIES," "BOYS OF PLUCK SERIES," ETC.
NEW YORK CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY PUBLISHERS
BOOKS FOR BOYS
BY ALLEN CHAPMAN
FRED FENTON ATHLETIC SERIES 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.
FRED FENTON THE PITCHER FRED FENTON IN THE LINE FRED FENTON ON THE CREW FRED FENTON ON THE TRACK
TOM FAIRFIELD SERIES 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.
TOM FAIRFIELD'S SCHOOLDAYS TOM FAIRFIELD AT SEA TOM FAIRFIELD IN CAMP TOM FAIRFIELD'S PLUCK AND LUCK
THE DAREWELL CHUMS SERIES 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.
THE DAREWELL CHUMS THE DAREWELL CHUMS IN THE CITY THE DAREWELL CHUMS IN THE WOODS THE DAREWELL CHUMS ON A CRUISE THE DAREWELL CHUMS IN A WINTER CAMP
BOYS OF PLUCK SERIES 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.
THE YOUNG EXPRESS AGENT TWO BOY PUBLISHERS MAIL ORDER FRANK A BUSINESS BOY'S PLUCK THE YOUNG LAND AGENT
CUPPLES & LEON CO. PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK
Copyrighted 1913, by CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
FRED FENTON ON THE CREW
Printed in U. S. A.
I. The Finger of Suspicion 1 II. The Tricky Canoe 9 III. A Boat Club Meeting 17 IV. In Camp on the Mohunk 26 V. Hoofs and Horns 33 VI. A Sudden Awakening 41 VII. Ice Cold Waters 49 VIII. A Surprise 56 IX. A Lucky Win 63 X. Fred's Home Coming 71 XI. News From Over Sea 79 XII. Bristles Has an Idea 87 XIII. A Call for Help 96 XIV. The Missing Opals Again 104 XV. Fred's Brave Stand 113 XVI. The Trial Spin 121 XVII. Snagged and Wrecked 130 XVIII. Lying in Wait 138 XIX. Nipped in the Bud 147 XX. In the Hollow Oak 156 XXI. A Plan to Catch the Thief 165 XXII. Telling the Good News 173 XXIII. The Start of the Race 181 XXIV. A Great Victory 189 XXV. Bright Skies 198
FRED FENTON ON THE CREW
THE FINGER OF SUSPICION
"Hello! there, Bristles!"
"Hello! yourself, Fred Fenton!"
"Why, what ails you this fine summer morning, Bristles? You don't look as jolly as you might."
"Well, I was only waiting to see if you cared to speak to me, Fred."
"Why in the wide world shouldn't I, when you're one of my chums, Bristles Carpenter?"
Andy Carpenter was known far and wide around the town of Riverport as "Bristles," on account of the way in which his mop of hair stood upright most of the time, much after the manner of the quills on a fretful porcupine.
Usually he was a very good-natured sort of a chap, one of the "give-and-take" kind, so universally liked among schoolboys. But, on this particular early summer morning, with the peaceful Mohunk river running close by, and all Nature smiling, Bristles look glum and distressed, just as his friend Fred Fenton had declared.
"You haven't heard the latest news then?" remarked the boy with the thick head of stiff, wiry hair; and he made a grimace as he spoke.
"If you mean anything about you, then I haven't, for a fact," Fred replied, his wonder deepening into astonishment; for he now saw that Bristles was not playing any kind of a joke, as he had at first suspected.
"Huh! didn't know you had an awful thief for a chum, did you, Fred?" the other went on, laying emphasis on that one suggestive word, and frowning.
"Rats! what sort of stuff are you giving me now, anyway, Bristles?"
"Well, some people think that way, Fred; you ask Miss Alicia Muster, f'rinstance," grumbled the other, shaking his head dolefully.
"But she's your rich old aunt, Bristles!" cried Fred, more surprised than ever.
"That doesn't make any difference," complained the boy who was in trouble; "she believes I took 'em, all the same; 'cause, you see, I just happened to drop in to see her twice inside the last week, worse luck for me; and, Fred, each time one of 'em disappeared the funniest way ever."
"Go on and tell me what you mean; I can only guess that your aunt has met with some sort of loss. But why should she try to lay it on you, Bristles?"
"Huh! you don't know how good that makes me feel, Fred, just to think that one feller isn't goin' to believe me a thief," the other boy went on, drawing a long breath. "Why, even over at our house I seem to notice 'em all lookin' kinder suspicious-like at me; just as if they couldn't quite make up their minds whether I might 'a been tempted to take 'em or not."
"Take what?" demanded Fred, determined to learn the cause of his chum's trouble.
"Why," Bristles went on, "don't you remember that time I took you over to see my queer old maiden aunt, who's got the rheumatics so bad, and lives in the big house all alone with a colored woman, and all her silly pets,—cats, squawkin' crows she cares for like they might be humans; and with that big bulldog chained under her window?"
"Sure, I remember all that; keep going, now you've got started?" Fred broke in.
"And don't you remember her showin' us that collection of pretty stones she said were opals from a Mexican mine she had an interest in long ago?" the other asked, almost breathlessly.
"That's right, Bristles; and you said they just about caught your eye the worst kind," Fred observed. "Fact is, the old lady seemed to be tickled because you showed such a fancy for those milky stones that looked like 'moonlight,' as she called it."
"Gee! you remember too much, Fred," complained the other, with a grimace. "Because you see, it was that silly remark of mine that's gone and got me into a peck of trouble. I really didn't care so much for the things as I let on; but you know, my aunt is as rich as all get out; and it's kind of the fashion over to our house to make her feel good when we can. That was why, I reckon, I made out to admire her collection of opals like I did, though they were pretty enough. Wish now I'd kept my tongue between my teeth; or that it'd been you who took that notion to make out you was interested in 'em."
"And you mean she's lost some of the opals; is that it?" asked Fred.
"Two of 'em gone, she told me yesterday afternoon, when mother sent me over to take her a cake she'd made," Bristles continued.
"And did she really have the nerve to accuse you of stealing them, Bristles?"
"Well, hardly that," replied the other boy, gritting his teeth; "if she had, I reckon I'd a flamed right out, and told her what I thought of old maids that had vinegar natures—I've heard my mom say that, though she told me never to repeat it to Aunt Alicia for anything. You see she acted like she suspected me."
"Oh! and you felt bad on that account, eh?" questioned Fred.
"She told me she'd just been saying to Sallie Kemper, when she was in, that it was the queerest thing ever that twice her lovely little opals disappeared when I visited her on my own account. And Fred, you know as well as I do what Sallie is."
"Sure I do," returned the other, promptly; "I hadn't been in Riverport a great many moons when I learned that she was considered the biggest gossip in the place."
"That's right," Bristles went on. "Sallie went around right away, and told how the rich Miss Muster suspected her own nephew of actually taking some of her beautiful and valuable jewels. It kept gettin' bigger as it was told from one to another, and I just guess my sister Kate brought it home. Mom asked me if I'd done anything wrong, and I said point blank that I'd sooner cut my hand off than steal Aunt Alicia's opals, or touch anything she owned."
"Well, didn't that end it?" asked Fred, who had troubles of his own, and could feel for his chum.
"Oh! nothin' more was said; but I saw mom and pop talkin' together after supper; and when I went out I just know they rooted all around in my room, 'cause things was upset. But Fred, it's just awful to feel everybody lookin' at you with a question in their eyes. I'll never be happy again till I find out what did become of those silly jewels of my aunt's."
"Oh! I wouldn't worry so much as that," counselled Fred. "Perhaps by now she's found where she put the things. Cheer up, Bristles, and think of the great times ahead of us boys of the Riverport school, with that jolly shell coming to us, and the river in fine shape for rowing this summer."
As they walked along the bank of the Mohunk, with Fred trying to cheer his companion up, a few words concerning the young fellows might be in place.
Fred Fenton had come to Riverport within the year. He lived with his father and mother, together with three smaller sisters, in a cottage not far removed from the bank of the river.
Mr. Fenton was employed by a concern in the town. He had at first been connected with a large manufacturing firm in Mechanicsburg, which was located some three miles up the river; but lost his position through the influence of Squire Lemington, who had a reason for wishing him to feel the biting pangs of poverty.
An uncle of Fred's had left some valuable property up in Alaska, which would make the Fentons comfortable if they could only get hold of it. Unfortunately a big syndicate, with which Sparks Lemington was connected, pretended to have a claim on this mining property, and was doing everything possible to keep Mr. Fenton out of it.
An important witness, whose evidence would have undoubtedly proved the Fentons to be the genuine owners, had been mysteriously carried off. His name was Hiram Masterson, and he was really a nephew of Sparks Lemington. Mr. Fenton had gone to the city late in the preceding Fall, under the belief that the missing witness was found; but arrived too late, since Hiram had been "shanghaied" aboard a sailing vessel belonging to the big syndicate, and carried away to unknown seas, perhaps never to return.
So hope had gradually dwindled down to a very faint spark in the breasts of the Fentons, though they still refused to utterly give up dreaming that some day all would be made right.
Fred had soon made many friends among the boys of Riverport, and some enemies as well. How he became the leading pitcher of the school team, and played his part in the great games against Paulding and Mechanicsburg, has been described in the first volume of this series, entitled "Fred Fenton, the Pitcher; Or, The Rivals of Riverport School."
The chief enemy of Fred was Buck Lemington, son of the Squire, who had planned to ruin the Fentons' hopes for fortune. And just how the bully of the town, taking pattern from his father's usual methods of procedure, tried to get Fred disgraced, so that he could not play on the football team that Fall, you will find described in the second volume called: "Fred Fenton in the Line; Or, The Football Boys of Riverport School."
During the Winter and early Spring Fred had continued to hold the good opinions of most of his schoolmates; and with the summer now at hand he was ready to join with a boy's enthusiasm in the new sports that the season brought in its train.
Talking earnestly, the two lads were still walking along the edge of the river some little distance above the town, when, just as they turned a bend in the stream, they heard a sharp scream, accompanied by much splashing in the water.
"Listen to that racket, would you, Fred?" cried Bristles, turning toward his comrade, his face filled with alarm; "as sure as you live, somebody's fallen into the river, and it sounds like a child, too."
"Come on!" was all Fred said in reply; indeed, even while throwing these two words over his shoulder he was leaping down the bank of the Mohunk.
THE TRICKY CANOE
Fred reached the edge of the water almost before his companion realized what was going on. Throwing off his coat and discarding his shoes he plunged headlong into the river.
A canoe had unset in the stream, and a small boy was struggling to maintain his desperate clutch on the sloping side of the craft floating with the current.
Fortunately the swift stream was bringing it toward Fred as he plunged into the water. Had it been otherwise he would hardly have been able to reach it before the boy sank for the last time.
Bristles Carpenter had by now recovered his wits, and about the time Fred gave that mighty splash, when going headlong into the river, he too was hurrying down the bank, trying in his clumsy fashion also to discard his coat and shoes.
The Fenton boy had, meanwhile, struck out straight for the canoe, with the little lad trying vainly to get hold of the bobbing gunwales, disappearing under the surface several times, to come up again spluttering, and choking.
Fred was a good swimmer, and never in all his past life had he known such an occasion for making speed as then. He saw that the small boy could not remain long above the water; and if he did go down, it might be next to impossible to find him in time to get him ashore while life remained.
Just as Bristles, panting for breath, and eager to lend a helping hand, arrived at the brink of the water, he saw his chum reach out, and grasp the sinking child by the shoulder.
That was Bristles, trying to give a cheer, but making a sad mess of it because of shortness of breath.
He saw that Fred, by a great effort, had raised the little fellow, and actually pushed him into the canoe, which had not overturned when it threw its occupant into the treacherous river, though the craft was much waterladen.
And now the rescuer was starting to swim back toward the shore, urging the little craft along with him.
Bristles Carpenter had actually started into the river, and was already almost up to his waist when he chanced to remember that he was accounted one of the poorest swimmers among the Riverport boys.
"Don't come out, Bristles; stay there and try to give me a hand!"
From the way Fred called this, it was evident that his recent exertions must have quite exhausted him; and that he felt the need of some assistance, in order to get ashore with the canoe. The current was particularly strong at this place, it being accounted one of the danger spots of the Mohunk; and it seemed averse to letting its intended victim get away from its grip.
Once Bristles had caught hold of Fred's arm he braced himself, and soon the other was able to get his feet on the bottom.
Together they drew the canoe to the shore.
"Why, hello! here's a queer thing!" exclaimed Bristles, as, having clambered out of the river he bent down to look at the half-drowned lad in the canoe; "did you know it was little Billy Lemington you yanked out of the water?"
"Yes, I knew it all along," replied Fred, as he squeezed some of the water from his trousers, and then leaned over to see how the boy was coming on.
Considering what a narrow escape little Billy had just had, he seemed to be pretty well off. He had swallowed some water, it was true, and his face was ashen white; but he could get up on his knees, and was soon feeling better.
"It just kicked me out," he said, when Bristles asked him how the accident had happened.
"Say, that's a way all canoes have, I understand," Bristles chuckled. "They just watch till you're not lookin', and then chuck you overboard. Some of 'em are worse than a bucking bronco at throwing a feller. But looky here, Billy, how does it come you're in this cranky boat? I'd 'a thought your dad would have told you to leave Buck's canoe alone."
"He did," replied the little fellow, with a half sob; "but I thought I knowed how to manage it. But I'm never goin' to try again, no siree. But won't I get it when they hear all about me bein' in the water! Wish you wouldn't tell on me. Pop'll just give me hot cakes for not mindin' him. Please don't tell. I'll promise never to get in this old boat again, sure I will!"
Fred and Bristles exchanged glances.
"What do you say, Fred?" asked the latter; "ought we keep still about it?"
Under ordinary circumstances Fred would have said that the parents of the boy ought to know what chances he had been taking; but the conditions were rather peculiar just then. If he told, it would seem as if he might be trying to "draw the teeth" of his enemy, Buck Lemington, by boasting how he had saved the latter's little brother, of whom the bully was especially fond. And Fred's pride rose at the idea of his being considered that sort of a fellow.
"Oh! I'm willing to keep mum about it, Bristles, if you are," he said, slowly, after having duly considered the matter. "He promises never to get in this cranky canoe again. For the life of me I can't see how he ever paddled it all the way up here."
"I didn't," spoke up Billy, quickly. "Buck lent it to Bob Armstrong, and last night I heard him say he thought it funny Bob didn't drop down with his boat. So I just thought to-day I'd walk up to Bob's and if he was around, tell him I'd come for our canoe."
"And Bob was silly enough to let you have it, eh?" asked Bristles, indignantly.
Billy was rapidly recovering his nerve. He even made a wry face as he went on to answer the question put to him.
"Why no. You see Bob, he wasn't around; so, because I didn't want to have my long walk all for nothin', I just hunted up the paddle in his woodshed, and started for our house. I'd a made it, too, if I hadn't leaned too far over when a rock bumped into us, and the old thing just pitched me out."
"Well," said Fred, laughingly, "suppose you jump around a little, and dry off before you go home, Billy. And neither of us will let on what happened. I'll get the canoe down to your house in some fashion, though I hope Buck will be away this morning."
"He's gone off with some of the fellers to Grafton, to look at somethin' they want to buy," the small chap continued; "and he won't be back till noon. That's just why I thought I'd help get his boat down the river. You see Bob's with him, I guess."
So after they had seen Billy scamper away, keeping in the warm sun so as to get his clothes dried, and avoiding the road so that he might not meet inquisitive people who would wonder how he came to be so wet, Fred and Bristles together entered the canoe, the latter having recovered his shoes and coat.
They recovered the paddle and Fred pushed off, and went quietly along down the river until finally he was able to bring the craft to the shore at the place where Buck generally kept it housed in a small shanty he had built.
They tied it up, and sauntered away. By this time their clothes had dried fairly well.
They were just leaving the vicinity of the boat house where Buck kept the canoe, when Bristles caught sight of a boy staring hard at them from a little distance along the river bank.
"After all, Fred, I reckon that we'll hear something drop about this little matter," he declared; "because, you see, there's Sam Jinks watching us with his eyes just popping half out of his head. He wonders what we've been doing with Buck's canoe, because he knows right well we never borrowed it. And make up your mind Sam'll tell him all about it the first chance he gets, because he wants to get in with that bunch."
"All right," replied Fred, with a shrug of his shoulders; "I don't see where we've got any reason to worry about it. Just say we found the boat drifting on the current of the river, which is the truth, Bristles. Buck can carry on any way he likes; we won't give him any satisfaction. And now, let's get back to what we were talking about when all this rumpus came along; the chances for a boat club in Riverport."
A BOAT CLUB MEETING
"Great news, Fred! Our boat's come!"
"Come on down to the railroad yards, and see her, Fred!"
Two boys stood outside the Fenton cottage, and shouted these words up at Fred Fenton, who was leaning from the window of his room. It was several days after the events narrated in the preceding chapters, and Fred had meanwhile gone quietly on his way, saying not a word about the accident, whereby little Billy Lemington would have surely lost his life only for the good luck that brought Fred and Bristles to the river in time.
Fred had not happened to run across Buck Lemington since, and hence did not know whether or not the bully had been told about Bristles and himself arriving with the canoe.
Of course Fred made haste to rush out of the house at hearing the news brought by Bristles Carpenter and Sid Wells, the latter his most particular chum.
"When did it arrive?" he demanded, adjusting his cap as he came up, and immediately falling into step with the other eager fellows as they hurried off.
"Last night, I reckon," replied Sid. "I just happened to wander down there this morning, never thinking to run across a surprise, when what did I see but a long crate, and inside that a splendid eight-oar shell, just what we ordered with that money we earned in the winter, giving minstrel shows and gymnastic performances. It's a great day for Riverport school, fellows; and well have a dandy time this summer, believe me!"
"I wish Mechanicsburg or Paulding would get a boat like ours, and give us a race on the river," remarked Bristles, eagerly.
"Say, wouldn't that be just the best ever?" Sid went on; "we beat 'em out at baseball, and on the gridiron; perhaps we might win another victory on the water. The Mohunk is a good stream for rowing, at certain times of the year."
"I suppose a lot of the boys are down there right now, all talking about what a great time this summer will be for the nine lucky fellows, and their substitutes?" remarked Fred, as they walked on into the town; for the Fenton's lived a little way outside.
"Why, nearly the whole school is down there, and such jabbering you never heard," laughed Sid.
Bristles tried to catch the eye of the third member of the group.
"Yes," he remarked, with emphasis, "and Buck Lemington, he's there on deck, big as ever. To hear him talk you'd think he was already made coxswain of the crew, and could lord it over the rest of us like a king."
"That's always his way, to claim everything at the first, and then give up a little, inch by inch," declared Sid. "There are just seventeen members of the rowing club, all picked out as being the best in the school. And who will be coxswain depends on the vote they'll take at the meeting to-night. I know one right now who'll never vote; for Buck Lemington."
"Make it two, just for luck," Bristles said, with a grin; "and there are others to be heard from, also. Between you and me and the lamp-post, boys, I reckon Buck will get just five votes, besides his own; and they'll come from his cronies, Whitey, Clem Shocks, Oscar Jones, Con Jimmerson and Ben Cushing. The rest will go in another direction that I won't mention right now."
He and Sid exchanged winks and nods as though there might be a secret between them; but Fred was paying no attention to this "wireless telegraphy."
"Tell me, did you run across Buck, yourself, Bristles?"
"Sure I did," replied the other; "and that was just what I was goin' to tell you about. He came swaggering up to me, just like he always does, you know, and wanted to know what business I had in his canoe—that he heard you'n me was seen fastening up alongside his boathouse t'other day."
"And what did you say?" demanded Fred, smiling at the aggressive manner of the boy who had the mop of hair.
"Me? Oh! I pretended that we'd found the little boat driftin' down the river, and waded in to get her," Bristles went on.
"Of course he didn't believe you?" Fred questioned.
"Not much. But I didn't get riled up worth a cent, Fred, just grinned in his face, and kept on saying it was so, and we did find the boat adrift. Then, what d'ye think, he says that Bob Armstrong told him the paddle was all the while in the woodshed, so if the canoe did break loose, however in the world could it have been with the boat, 'less we took it?"
"We know, all right; don't we, Bristles? Oh! never mind winking, and looking at Sid here, because I told him all about it, and he'll never peach; will you, Sid?"
"Not much," replied the other, promptly; "all the same, I think you're doing the wrong thing to keep so close-mouthed about it. I'd just glory in telling Buck how his little brother Billy would have been drowned if you hadn't happened to be nearby when he was pitched out of the canoe."
"Well, we made up our minds to keep quiet about it," Fred continued, quietly; "and what Buck believes cuts mighty little figure in it. But there's the railroad yard, and what a mob of boys and girls I've seen since school closed. Whew! I should think every fellow in town had got wind of it by this time; and I'm the last to know."
There was indeed great excitement around the spot where lay the long shell, cased in its stout crate, having been lifted off the car upon which it had come from the boat-building establishment.
Temporary quarters had been arranged for, until some later date, when possibly a new boathouse might be erected, provided the town people contributed the amount necessary.
That night, in the schoolhouse, there was called a meeting of the members of the Riverport Boat Club in order to transact business of great importance. Buck Lemington was more friendly than he had ever before been known. But those boys who knew him so well understood what his sudden conversion meant. He aspired to fill the important position of coxswain on the crew, and was figuring to gain the votes of a majority of those entitled to pass judgment and select officers.
It was well known that Brad Morton, the same boy who had carried the football team to victory during the last season, as captain, had once rowed in a racing shell when visiting a relative in a college town. And his name had been mentioned pretty much in opposition to Buck, who also claimed to have had experience.
And as the coxswain was to have the power of choosing the members of his crew, it can be seen that the position was one carrying a certain amount of influence with it. As only eight fellows could be given places on the regular crew in the shell, and Buck's five cronies were all eager to be ranked as members, they electioneered for him most industriously.
Fred had been given the place as chairman of the meeting, and he tried to carry out the duties of his position without fear or favor. What he wished to see was a square deal, with the best man winning out.
After considerable talk, in which many of the boys joined, two candidates for the position of coxswain were put in nomination, Buck and Brad. And each had a noisy send-off when his backer started to tell what virtues as a coxswain the candidate possessed.
"Move we vote!" shouted Bristles Carpenter, anxious to get the agony over.
"Question! A motion that we proceed to vote has been made, Mr. Chairman!" called out Corney Shays, whose father was an old college man, and had once, many years back, rowed in a junior four-oared race.
"Any second?" asked the Chairman.
"I second the motion!" came from half a dozen throats.
It was carried with a rush; and then the tellers went around, giving each one a slip of paper on which he was to write the name of the candidate he preferred to serve as coxswain during the season that was at hand.
A few minutes later the tellers collected the slips, which were accurately counted, so that there should be no chance of fraud or mistakes. Then the result was announced by the chairman, as written out by the tellers.
"Whole number of votes cast, seventeen. For Buck Lemington, six votes; for Brad Morton eleven. Which, being a majority, makes Brad Morton the coxswain of the Riverport Boat Club."
Then a great uproar broke out, all of the boys shouting or cheering. Those who had voted for Buck Lemington, taking cue from their leader, declared that the election had not been fairly carried on; and that had all those interested in the club been allowed to vote, and not just those who expected to take part in the actual rowing, he would have carried the day.
Buck himself was crimson with rage. He never could take defeat in a manly way, but burst into a passion. Jumping up, he rallied his five cronies around him. There was mutiny in the air, Fred saw, nor was he in his heart at all sorry, for Buck had promised to be the disturbing element in the association from the start.
"Cheat me out of the position, will you?" he shouted, shaking his fist at the others, after the shouting had stopped, and everybody was staring at him; "make Brad Morton coxswain when I know more about the duties of the job in a minute than he can in a year! All right, I'm going to wash my hands of the whole bunch; and here's five husky fellers that'll go along with me. Keep your old boat, if you want to. I expected somethin' like this'd happen; and let me tell you, fellers, we've been up to Grafton to see an eight-oar shell that once won a college race. We've got an option on her, too, and just understand we'll buy her in, challenge your crowd to a race, and beat you to flinders! Come along, fellers, we don't train with this crowd any more," and the six stalked out of the building with sneers on their faces, amid a dead silence.
IN CAMP ON THE MOHUNK
On the day following the exciting meeting in the schoolhouse, the members of the boat club connected with Riverport school were in camp some miles up the Mohunk river, wishing to practice in their new shell, where curious eyes might not watch them.
It was expected that they would stay several days in camp; so tents had been taken along, as well as all sorts of supplies calculated to help the cooks in their work.
The rebellion of Buck Lemington had not bothered Brad and his friends very much. True, several of their best scullers had been lost by the mutiny; but some of the more promising substitutes were moved up into regular positions, and others taken on to fill the places thus vacated; for there was no lack of candidates among the boys of Riverport school.
Ever since Buck had let out his secret the talk had been about the possibility of the rival crew sending them a challenge, and an actual race taking place somewhere near Riverport, with hundreds of cheering people to watch the contest.
It thrilled the boys just to talk about such a happening.
"Don't get too gay, fellows," remarked a tall lad, whose name was Colon, and who had always been a good friend of Fred Fenton, from the day the latter first came to town. "Buck Lemington is a big bag of wind when it comes to bragging about what he's going to do. I think I can see him buying that shell over at Grafton, that Colonel Simms owns. His boy who went to college rowed in her, you know. There isn't money enough in Riverport to buy that boat."
"Oh! I don't know," broke in Dave Hanshaw, who had always been more or less of a crack athlete on Riverport's teams; "I heard my father saying only last night that the old Colonel had lost all his money, and was selling out over in Grafton. So you see, perhaps he might be willing to let that pet boat, in which his son rowed to victory, go for a certain sum."
"And Buck," observed Colon, "must have got wind of it a while back. Oh! he's a cute one, all right. He knows how to feather his nest. When he came to count noses he understood that there wasn't a show for him to be elected cox. in our club; so he gets ready to organize a little one on his own account. Wise old Buck, he knows which side his bread is buttered."
"Hey! look who's coming on his wheel over yonder!" called out Dick Hendricks.
"Who is it?"
"Why, it looks like Sandy Richards. But what can he want up here, when they all understood we didn't expect to have visitors?" Corney Shays observed.
Some of the boys began to show signs of sudden nervousness. They were not used to being away overnight from home, and could immediately picture all sorts of things as having happened since their departure very early that morning. Possibly to some of them it already seemed as though they had been off for a week.
The younger boy on the wheel soon arrived at a point close to the camp. Abandoning his bicycle at the roadside he climbed the fence, crossed the field, and came to the fringe of timber.
"Who's it for, Sandy?" asked Brad; and possibly there was just a trifling tremor in his own voice, though he tried to hide it in a fashion.
"Got your name on it, Brad; and she's addressed to the Coxswain of the Riverport Boat Club," answered the boy, promptly; looking around him curiously at the camp, where he would very naturally have liked to remain, simply because it was forbidden territory.
"A challenge, that's what!" yelled Bristles.
"Buck's made good already, just think of it!" cried Corney Shays, throwing up his cap, and then jumping on it when it landed; a habit he had of working off any excitement.
All eyes were turned on Brad as he tore off the end of the envelope. They saw his eyebrows go up in a manner to indicate surprise; and there also came a look of considerable satisfaction upon his honest face.
"Where'd you get this, Sandy?" he demanded, turning to the bicycle rider.
"Why, you see, Felix Wagner brought it over; and they wouldn't think of letting him come along up here, so I was sent with it," the boy replied, promptly.
"Felix Wagner!" ejaculated Sid Wells; "say, has Buck had to go and borrow a Mechanicsburg fellow to fill out his eight?"
"Hold on," interrupted Brad; "don't jump at things that way, Sid. This isn't a challenge from Buck at all. It's from Mechanicsburg!"
"What's that?" shouted Colon; "are you telling me they've gone and got a boat up at that town, and want to race us for the championship of the Mohunk? That would be the best news ever, fellows!"
"That's just what's happened," Brad went on. "This paper is signed by Dub Jasper, who used to pitch for their baseball club, you remember fellows. Well, he's the coxswain of the Mechanicsburg Boat Club crew. He says they've got a shell on the way, and he hereby challenges us to a match, to be rowed within a month from date, and according to regular rules, the distance being marked off between their town and ours, in just what happens to be the best water at the time. How about that?"
"Accept it, Brad!" several shouted, in great excitement.
"Say, things in the boating line are picking up ground here," Corney Shays cried, laughingly. "Three shells on the river, to make things lively. If this keeps on the Mohunk will become the most famous boat course in this part of the country."
As a unanimous vote to accept the challenge followed, Brad retired to his tent, where he wrote out a reply to the proposal made by Mechanicsburg; details to be decided later on. Sandy was accordingly dispatched with this missive, and requested to drop in again after he had seen the rival young athletes of the neighboring town.
When Sandy returned, showing by the signs that he had made a swift passage from Mechanicsburg, some miles down the river, all the boys crowded around to ask him questions.
"Oh! they're all worked up over there about it," replied the panting boy. "Seems like every feller in the old town is wild with the news that they're a-goin' to have a boat like ours, a present from the big manufacturer, Mr. Gobbler; and they all say they expect to lick the stuffing out of poor old Riverport this time, because the boys in their town have always been more like water ducks than we have, rowing boats, skating, making ice-boats, and all such things."
"They're welcome to a think that way," laughed Corney Shays, apparently delighted with the prospect; "but perhaps we Riverport boys aren't so sleepy after all. We're just going to surprise 'em some; eh, fellers?"
Judging from the shouts that broke out, all of them believed the same as the confident Corney. Sandy was soon sent back to the home town to report that the members of the boat club were nicely fixed in camp, and that none of their folks need worry a minute about them.
So evening found them, with the several appointed cooks busily engaged in their work preparing supper. It was pronounced a fine meal, and as every lad had brought his vacation appetite along with him, the inroad they made upon the stock of provisions gave small hope that there would be anything to take back, when the little camping and training trip was over.
Afterwards they sat around the blazing logs, for the evening had turned a bit cool, and it was pleasant near a cheerful camp fire. The conversation changed from one thing to another; but always seemed to return again to the exciting event of that day—when the challenge was received from Mechanicsburg.
In imagination some of the young oarsmen doubtless already saw the scene that would take place upon the banks of the Mohunk when the rival towns cheered their pet crews on to victory, or defeat.
Into the midst of all this good-natured chaffing and chattering, Bristles Carpenter suddenly burst, with his hair more on end than ever, it seemed, and his face white with apprehension.
"Hey! wake up, fellers!" he cried. "There's some sneak down near our boat, and just as like as not he's been trying to cut a hole in her, so we can't row in any race! I saw him creeping around, when I stepped out just now!"
HOOFS AND HORNS
"Get a move on, boys!" yelled Colon, as he unlimbered his long legs, on which he had been coiled after the fashion of a tailor at work.
"Capture him!" shouted Corney Shays. "We ought to give him a licking if he's hurt our boat!"
"First catch your rabbit!" warned another.
Everybody was on the jump, and it was a furious crowd that went rushing down toward where the new shell had been laid, along the shore of the river, at a point where a little beach offered an ideal spot for launching.
"Where is he?" shouted several, as they drew near the spot, and failed to discover the skulking figure of any enemy, trying to get away.
"I see him, fellow's; right there in that shadow!" cried Corney, pointing.
"Surround the spot, boys; and if he makes a dash for it, Colon, we look to you, with your sprinter legs, to overhaul the coward!" declared Brad.
The lines were immediately extended so as to take in the dark spot indicated; and every fellow gritted his teeth, indignant at the mean trick being played by some unknown enemy, whereby perhaps harm was intended their boat.
"Make him out yet, Corney?" asked one who was further removed.
"Sure I do," came the exultant answer. "We closed in around so fast he didn't have sense enough to light out. Oh! we've got him cornered, all right, boys. And won't we make him sick of his bargain though!"
"We ought to tie him up to a stake, and make him tell who sent him here to stick a knife through our shell, ripping her wide open!" declared Dick Hendricks, warmly.
"Is there more'n one feller in all Riverport that would get down low enough to be back of a job like that?" asked Colon.
"Mebbe we don't know who you mean, but we think we do," sang out Sid Wells; who had always been at loggersheads with Buck Lemington, from the time they were, as Sid used to say, "knee high to grasshoppers."
"How about it now, Corney; is he there yet? Perhaps it was only a stump you set eyes on," called another from the opposite side of the circle.
"Do stumps move, and duck their heads up and down?" asked Corney, indignantly; "well, that's what this one is doing right now. Don't you see him too, Brad?"
"I sure see something in that shadow, and it keeps right on moving," the one addressed replied, positively. "Hey Colon, suppose, now, you run back to the fire and fetch us one of the blazing sticks you'll find handy? We'll give this thief in the night a little illumination. He thinks he can hide, does he; well, it's up to us to show him. Close up, boys, and don't you let him have a chance to sneak it."
"He's our prisoner, all right, Brad; just you count on that," remarked Corney, jubilantly. "Say, what we'll do to him will be aplenty. There, didn't you see the way he yanked his head up that time? Reckon he's beginning to get scared right now; and can you blame him."
"With all this crowd around," ventured Brad; "every fellow willing to give him a punch to pay him up for what he tried to do to our boat—well, I should guess not! Hurry along, Colon; that's the kind of torch for you; just look at her blaze, will you?"
The long-legged boy came hurrying up, holding the burning stick in his hand. And as he advanced closer to the spot where the suspected spy was believed to be, the circle gradually narrowed, as the eager boys began to push in.
"Wow! what do you think of that, now?" burst from Corney, as the light gave a sudden flash, and plainly revealed the spot that had up to now been in the shadows.
"It's an old red cow, and she's getting her dander up too, fellows, because of all this noise, and the torch there! Look out if she charges you; and run like everything! There she comes, fellows, like a tornado! Run, boys! Scatter, to beat the band!"
It was Brad who gave this advice. He himself did not hesitate to take it literally, for when the alarmed cow actually lowered her head, whipped her tail around several times, and then made a lunge toward the spot where Brad happened to be stationed, he whirled on his heels, and fairly flew to place a tree between himself and the frightened animal.
Then there was a wild scene, every fellow being for himself. Colon flung his blazing torch at the advancing beast, and with such good aim that it actually came in contact with the cow's flank. Perhaps it stung, or at any rate gave the beast a new spasm of fear, for there immediately followed a fierce bellow, and the lunges grew more violent.
With flying tail and lowered horns the cow went charging past the scattering boys. Luckily none of them was in her way, or they might have been flung high in the air; since the most expert athlete among them knew nothing about bull fighting.
"She's going to charge our tents!" shrieked Corney, who was part way up a tree, so rapid had been his action after being warned by Brad of the danger.
"Head her off, somebody!" whooped Colon, who, however, showed not the least intention of doing anything in that line himself; for he had found a convenient tree, that would afford plenty of shelter if necessary, against the charge of half a dozen frightened cows.
If the animal headed directly toward the camp it was because she had been so bewildered by the various shouts of the boys that she hardly knew which way to turn, in order to escape from what she doubtless considered an attack.
There came a crash.
"There goes one of the tents!" cried Colon; "that's because nobody would do what I said, and head her off. Lots of you were closer than I was. Anyhow, she's gone gallopin' away. Let's see what damage she did!"
Another torch was pulled from the fire; indeed, now that Colon had shown the way, several of the others made haste to secure flaming brands.
"Take care, there, and don't set anything afire!" warned Brad, seeing that a few were inclined to be reckless; "there's quite a lot of dead stuff around here, left over from last Fall. Look out how you handle that torch boys!"
A hasty investigation disclosed the pleasing fact that no harm had come to the racing shell through the wandering about of the grazing cow. Then the campers set to work to get up the tent that had been knocked over.
Of course the excitement died down presently, since there had been no particular damage done, and the boat was uninjured. The boys sat around for an hour or two, talking. Then some of them began to yawn, and to examine the places inside the three tents where they had stowed their blankets, carried along because the summer nights were apt to get cool toward morning.
One by one they crept off, until by degrees the ranks were thinned down to just three—Brad, Bristles and Fred. Even the captain of the club finally declared he was done up with the exercise of the day, and might as well "hunt up the soft side of a board," as he chose to remark; though a soft blanket, doubled on the ground, was really the kind of bed awaiting him.
Fred had a reason for waiting up. He had received a signal from Bristles that the other wanted to speak with him in private; and remembering that he had been made a sort of confident before by the boy who was in trouble. Fred, though feeling very sleepy himself, sat it out.
Bristles waited a few minutes after Brad had crawled into the nearest tent. Apparently he did not want the others to overhear anything he said to our hero. This caution on his part told the other that Bristles must have more reason for feeling gloomy; though he had somehow kept from saying anything all day.
Presently Fred saw him get up, and start around the now smouldering camp fire, as if to join him; so he made a place on his blanket, which he had brought out some time before, to sit upon.
"Did you want to see me about anything, Bristles?" Fred asked, as the other dropped down close beside him.
"Yes, Fred," began the other, in a low voice; "you were so good to stand up for me when I told you about those pesky opals, that I just thought after all I'd let you know about some more that's happened."
Fred started, and looked uneasily at the other's long face.
"Does that mean, Bristles, your aunt has been missing more of her precious stones?" he asked.
Bristles nodded his head in a forlorn fashion.
"Two of 'em gone this time, Fred, and I guess I'm the unluckiest feller ever, because they disappeared yesterday afternoon; and mom sent me over with a message to Aunt Alicia about four o'clock."
A SUDDEN AWAKENING
"Well, that's a funny thing, Bristles," Fred remarked, as he allowed the full force of the other's story to sink into his mind.
"Not so very funny for me, let me tell you, Fred," muttered Bristles.
"Why, of course I didn't mean it that way, you know, old fellow," Fred hastened to say; "I meant that it was queer. Three times now you've just happened to drop in to see your aunt, and every time one or more of her precious stones have disappeared, as if they went up in smoke?"
"Say, perhaps they did!" the other went on, moodily. "Always smells smoky to me in that house. Then again do you know, Fred, when I see that old black crow perched on the back of aunty's chair, it somehow makes me think of haunted houses, it's so spooky."
"Now what do you want me to believe—that the old colored woman sits on the back of your aunt's chair, and smokes her pipe?" Fred asked, chuckling a little.
"Oh! shucks! perhaps I am twisted up somehow in trying to tell you what happened; but then," and Bristles' voice sank into a half whine, "I just guess any feller would be rattled, if he'd bothered his head as much as I have the last few days. I meant the old tame crow Aunty's got, that talks sometimes to beat the band. Now do you know, Fred?"
"Sure I do," replied the other, promptly; "I've never forgotten how Black Joe looked, blinking his eyes at us when we stood there talking to your aunt. But you're wrong in one thing, Bristles; it isn't just a plain, everyday crow at all. She said it was a raven, one of the wise old kind you read about; and that she brought it across the water. They're more cunning than our crows; and goodness knows I've always found them smart enough, when you had a gun."
"Oh! well, crow or raven, what does it matter to me?" grumbled Bristles. "But as I was saying, Fred, my mom sent me over in the afternoon. I didn't want to go; not much! That house gives me the creeps; and aunty has such sharp, piercing eyes. But there wasn't any getting out of it, so I went. But let me tell you, I was determined to toe the mark, and not even give a think to the measly opals that once I was silly enough to admire."
"Well?" said Fred, encouragingly, as the other paused for reflection.
"I gave my little message, and came away as quick as I could," Bristles presently went on, with a big sigh. "All the rest of the afternoon I was patting myself on the back, Fred, and saying the old lady would have a chance to change her mind about little Andrew. But it didn't wash, Fred, not a bit of it."
"You said, I believe, that two more of the opals had vanished; when did you hear about that?" asked Fred, to hurry his chum along.
"Why, after I came in just before supper time, feeling better than for several days. I saw with one eye that mom was bothered again over something, and I understood what it was when she handed me a little note she'd got late that afternoon from Aunt Alicia."
He fumbled about in his pockets for several minutes, until Fred grew impatient.
"Never mind about the note," he remarked; "perhaps you handed it back, or you may have lost it, Bristles. I should think you could tell me the gist of it."
"You'd better guess I can!" burst forth the other, with renewed feeling. "It ran about this way, Fred: She had the unpleasant duty to perform of telling mother that two more of her opals had disappeared that afternoon, and could not be found, high or low. She was not accusing anybody of taking them, oh! no, not for worlds; but it was a strange coincidence, that was all."
"Whew! that sounds hot off the bat!" remarked Fred, with a low whistle to indicate his feelings in the matter.
"Yes, she used that very word," Bristles went on; "and I guess it hit the case right well, for it is a coincidence, I give you my solemn word, Fred, and nothing more."
"I believe you. Bristles; I'm as sure of it as if she suspected me of taking her opals, and I knew I was innocent. But was that all the note said?"
"Well, not quite, Fred. She went on to say that she would be very much obliged to mom, if, after this, when she had to communicate with her aunt—for that's what Miss Muster is to mom, you know—she'd send my sister Kate; because you see, Andrew is an unpleasant boy to have around!"
Bristles tried to laugh as though his heart were steeled against showing any natural feeling; but Fred felt sure he was winking very fast, and he had little difficulty in guessing why.
"It is a hard problem you're up against, Bristles," he went on to say, while he laid a hand affectionately upon the other's quivering arm; "but just perk up, and make sure that it's bound to come out right, sooner or later. If you don't go to see your aunt again, after a bit, another of her opals will disappear; and then the quick-tempered old lady must see that it wasn't you after all."
Immediately Bristles raised his head, as though new life had come to him.
"Say, I never thought of that, Fred!" he exclaimed. "It's a good idea, too, and is sure to work, sooner or later. Whoever is taking her opals will get tired of waiting for me to come around again, to be the scapegoat; and crib another lot. Then won't Rome howl, though! If it turns out to be the old mammy, she'll lose her steady job all right; because Aunt Alicia is stern and unforgiving. I used to be her favorite; but never again for me, after this."
"Well, if you feel better now, Bristles, and there's nothing more to tell me, suppose we both crawl in, and get a little snooze? I'm as tired as all get-out; and I reckon you're in the same boat."
"Just what I am," returned the other, actually yawning; "but you've made me feel a hundred times better, Fred. It's a mighty good thing to have a chum like you, once in a while, and that's the truth. You've got a way about you that just makes the clouds seem to roll right off, and the sunshine come again."
"Oh! I'm glad if I've been able to do you any good, Bristles; but let me know if any more things come up, will you?"
"I just will, and no mistake," the boy who had found new hope replied, while his face beamed.
"But don't think I'm going to forget all about it. No siree; if there's any way I can learn whether a jeweler in Riverport or Mechanicsburg has been buying an opal lately, I'm bound to get on the track."
"Be careful, that's all, when you make inquiries," cautioned Fred.
"Now, I don't get on to what you mean?" remarked Bristles.
"Why, don't you see, if your aunt should also choose to look around, and heard that you were making inquiries about the value of opals, and all that, of course she'd jump to the conclusion that you wanted to learn how the market stood, so you'd be posted when you wanted to sell the ones you'd hid away!"
"Granny! I never once thought of that, Fred!" gasped the other, lost in astonishment.
"But it's so, don't you think now, Bristles?"
"That's right, it would look suspicious. But Fred, what ought I say if I wanted to find out?"
"Tell Mr. Rhinehart, our jeweler, the exact truth, and what your object is in asking about opals. He seems to be a pretty decent sort of a man, and like as not he'll feel for you, Bristles. Anyhow, he can prove to your aunt that you wanted to know if anybody offered opals for sale."
"That's just fine of you, Fred, and I'll do it as sure as anything. I'm going to crawl in now, and get a few winks. I need 'em the worst kind, because I rather think I didn't sleep any too much last night, I felt so bad."
Both boys were soon under their blankets; and no doubt sleep quickly came to banish all thoughts of opals, boat races, and all such things.
Fred's sleep was broken by dreams, and they were pretty well mixed up. At one time he was swimming in the river again, trying to locate little Billy Lemington, who had disappeared from sight, and could not be found. Then again he seemed to be in a city, somewhere, when there was great confusion, a rushing of heavy vehicles over the pavement, and loud shouts that seemed to thrill him.
Fred sat upright.
For a second he believed his dream had been so vivid that it was haunting him still; for he fancied that he could hear the rumbling of engines over the granite blocks; and surely that was a wild alarm of fire that broke upon his hearing.
Then like a flash it came to Fred that there was nothing of a dream about it—some one was shrieking the startling word "fire!" at the top of his voice; and even in that dreadful moment the aroused sleeper believed he could distinguish the well known tones of Bradley Morton.
ICE COLD WATERS
"Fire! Fire! Wake up, everybody! Help! Help!"
So Brad was shouting at the top of his lusty young voice. Such an upheaval as his thrilling cries brought about in the three tents! Every one of the sixteen inmates scrambled out from under the blanket in which he had been so snugly rolled.
They came flocking out just as they were, some in pajamas, others in all sorts of apparel suited to sleeping; and not a few about half disrobed, they having failed to provide for the night time.
Nobody needed to ask any questions, because they had eyes, and could easily see what was the matter.
A fire was blazing in the pile of dead stuff over near where the new boat lay. The sight gave every fellow a sensation of dread; for he naturally thought of what a disaster it would be should the racing craft be injured or destroyed.
"Save the boat, fellows!" shouted Fred, who seemed to be able to keep his wits about him better than most of the others.
"Yes, rush in, and get hold of her!" added Brad. "I don't believe she's been hurt yet. This way, boys! Everybody help!"
There was at least no lack of volunteers. It seemed as though everybody felt anxious to have a hand in saving the boat, for there was a concerted rush on the part of all.
One or two tripped, and fell down in their haste. Others stubbed their toes on stones or roots, and doubled up, groaning with pain. But all of a dozen managed to reach the vicinity of the shell, which rested there so dangerously close to the roaring blaze.
"Take hold, all that can!" called Fred, as he himself clutched one of the out-riggers, and made ready to lift. "All ready now? Yo heave 'o! and away we go! That's the way to do it, boys! We've saved our boat, and don't you forget it!"
With lusty cheers they carried the frail craft to a place of safety, each fellow proud to be counted among the savers.
"Bully for us!" cried Colon, who was limping around as if he had struck his foot against something hard.
"But look here, fellows, hurry and get some shoes on," Fred continued. "We've got to put that fire out, or it may spread. Anyhow, it'll make our camp a tough place if we let it burn itself out."
Several who had been wise enough to pull on their shoes before starting out at once volunteered to get busy under Brad; and the balance hurried to the tents to provide themselves with foot covering.
There were a couple of buckets in the camp, and these were immediately pressed into service by the enthusiastic young fire-fighters. One fellow stood down by the river, and dipped each bucket in as it came back empty. Then in turn it was relayed along from hand to hand, until finally either Brad or Fred received it.
They used their judgment as to where the water was to be thrown, and with such good results that after a short time it was seen that the fire did not burn so brilliantly as before.
"Hurrah! fellows, we're doing the business, all right!" shouted Corney, who had been working like an industrious beaver all the time.
"It's dying out, and that's a fact!" cried Colon, the one who dipped up the water at the other end of the line. "Getting much darker down here. About time, too, I reckon, because I've just about emptied the whole river!"
"Oh! quit your grumbling, Colon!" called out Sid, who was just above the bank, receiving each bucket that the tall boy reached up to him. "We ought to be sending up a regular chorus because we saved our boat."
"Don't believe for a minute that I'm growling, Sid," the long-legged Colon gasped, for he began to feel winded by his exertion. "I'm only bothered for fear there won't be enough river left for that boat race to be pulled off."
"Plenty more coming from above, Colon; so brace up. Perhaps it'll rain cats and dogs before the race comes off, and the river be bank full," and Dave Hanshaw tossed an empty bucket down to the boy at the brink of the stream.
"A few more and we can let up, boys!" came the cheering news from Brad, who, being close to the burning brush, ought to know.
And indeed, it did suddenly become gloomy as the fire failed to find any more dry fuel to feed upon, so that it gasped fitfully, and threatened to go out entirely.
So, presently, there was no further need of exertion on the part of the now weary passers of water; and the boys began to gather around their own blaze, which some one had rekindled with fresh wood.
Some of them were wet, and all more or less chilly after giving up their exertions; so that they were glad to gather around the fire, with coats on, or blankets thrown over their shoulders.
Sleep, for the time being, had been utterly banished from their eyes; for one and all were desirous of comparing notes as to the origin of the furious fire.
"Was it the work of some sneak, who wanted to burn our boat, Brad?" asked Dick Hendricks.
"That's hard to say, Dick," was the reply. "I'd hate to think anybody could be so mean as to want to do that."
"Huh! we happen to know one feller who wouldn't stop a minute," remarked Corney.
"There's another possibility that none of you seems to have thought of," said Fred, breaking in just then.
"What's that, Fred?" demanded Brad, turning toward the speaker, quickly.
"Why, perhaps it was an accident, after all," observed Fred.
"An accident!" echoed Colon.
"Well, something started that fire, we all know that," Fred went on, resolutely. "It never caught from a spark that came from the camp blaze, because in the first place there hasn't been a single spark flying for several hours; and then again you want to notice that the wind is right from the opposite quarter."
"Then how could it catch by accident, I want to know?" asked Dave Hanshaw.
"I'm on," sang out Sid. "He means Colon!"
All eyes were instantly turned on the tall boy.
"Well, I did throw that torch at the cow; I admit that much, fellows," he began; "but don't tell me it just kept on smouldering all this time in that brush heap, to take fire after everybody'd gone to sleep! Why, it must have been all of five hours ago. Shucks! you can't prove it; and I won't admit a single thing."
"Well, it might have happened; and that's as near as we'll ever get to finding out the truth," said Fred.
When they had talked it all over they began to feel sleepy once more; and one by one again crawled into the tents. There was no further alarm, and morning came to arouse the camp of the boat club.
The day promised to be a beautiful one, but rather sultry. Indeed, even in the early morning the waters of the Mohunk looked inviting to the boys, so that as they came out of the tents they made a bee-line for the bank, to plunge in.
Soon there was a great splashing and shouting, such as a dozen and more boys in swimming alone can produce. Bristles, remembering a promise he had made to himself, pursued his lessons diligently, and was making splendid progress, so that he began to grow quite encouraged.
"I'll be a swimmer right away," he told Fred, as the two of them sat on the bank rubbing down, after coming from the water. "I'm getting to have confidence in myself, Fred, and already I went more'n twenty feet without touching bottom."
"Good for you, Bristles; I said you had it in you to make a swimmer, if only you'd keep everlastingly at it. Every boy who goes on the water, either in a boat, or to skate, ought to know how to swim. It may save his life, or the life of a chum some day. But those fellows ought to come out, or they'll get blue around their lips, for the water is icy cold. Colon looked shivery the last time he was up on the bank for a high dive!"
"There he is now, swimming across the river again, Fred. He ought not to try that so often, seems to me. Why, look at him, will you; he's making believe he's got a cramp or something!"
Fred sprang to his feet excitedly, exclaiming:
"There's no make-believe about that, Bristles; Colon has got a cramp, and right now he's in danger of drowning away out there in the middle of the river. Quick! fellows, to the rescue! Colon is drowning!"
Fred's words created much excitement. Some of the boys stood and looked out to where Colon was struggling desperately in the deep water, seeming to be almost paralyzed with alarm. Others, who kept their wits about them, started after Fred, who, plunging in, was already swimming across the Mohunk.
Fred knew the danger that awaited them. When anyone is drowning, he or she seems to lose all the good sense which at another time he may have possessed. The instinct of self preservation is so strong that a drowning boy will clutch at his dearest friend, and hold frantically to him, not because he wants to pull the other down, but because he hopes to be himself buoyed up.
"Help! help!" Colon was trying to scream, though the water, getting in his mouth, muffled the sound considerably.
There was no need of his wasting what little breath he still possessed. His chums were doing everything in their power to assist him before it was too late.
Fred presently arrived close to Colon, who had been under water once, and sank again even as his camp-mate arrived on the spot. It gave Fred a sickening feeling to see the poor fellow threshing wildly with his long arms, grasping at a floating chip, which, to his excited mind, was magnified into a log.
Fred had made sure to be above the other when he arrived. He wanted the benefit of the current in carrying out the plan he had in mind.
One last look he took to locate Colon. Then he dove out of sight, so that the other might not see him coming, and try to clutch him. Once those frenzied hands closed upon any part of his person, Fred knew that he would have to strike Colon in the face, and stun him, before he could break loose.
But he had figured well, for he came up just behind the struggling boy, who was making one last effort to keep on the surface, ere going down for the last time.
Quick as a flash Fred threw his arm around Colon, who, just as he expected, tried desperately to seize him. This the other prevented with all his strength.
All he wanted to do now was to continue to hold Colon until some of the others arrived on the scene, when altogether they might be able to work him to the shore.
Had he been alone with Colon, Fred feared he must have resorted to other tactics if he hoped to get the other out of the river alive. But Brad and several more of the strong swimmers had by now reached a point close enough for them to ask what he wanted them to do. Even in that moment they recognized the fact that Fred was the one to whom they should look for orders, because he always knew just what to do in an emergency.
"Each one of you get a grip on an arm; and be sure you don't let him grab you," was what Fred said.
Brad readily carried out the instructions, and helped buoy up the helpless boy; while Sid Wells took the other arm.
"He's dead!" cried the latter, seeing that Colon no longer struggled, but lay like a log in the water.
"Don't you believe it," answered Fred, instantly. "He's swallowed a whole lot of water, and is pretty far gone; but let's get him ashore, and revive him!"
Others had by now come up, and between the lot poor Colon was hurried to the bank, up which he was carried.
"Lay him here, face down, so I can straddle him with my knees!" Fred called out. "Now, some of you begin, and work his arms back and forth regularly, while I press down on his lungs so as to induce artificial breathing. That's the only way to get things started, you see. A little harder, Brad, please. And don't the rest of you look so scared. He's going to come out of this. He wasn't under the water any time at all, but just gave way because of the cramp and the scare."
So Fred talked as he worked, and all the while he was building up the hopes of the fellows, who looked peaked and white, under the belief that they had seen the last of their chum, the good-natured Colon.
And Fred was right.
In a very short time one of the boys who were working Colon's arms like the piston rods of a locomotive cried out:
"He moved a little then, fellows!"
"And listen to that, would you?" exclaimed another delighted chum, as Colon plainly sighed.
In five minutes Colon recovered enough to be helped back to camp, where he was rubbed down until his skin fairly glowed, and then hustled between a pair of blankets, to rest, while the others dressed, and got breakfast ready.
Colon had learned his lesson. He would never again persist in remaining in ice-cold water when he was shivering, and his lips turning blue. Nature has a way of sending up a warning sign, that every intelligent fellow ought to heed.
That day passed all too soon, and another night arrived, the last they expected to spend in camp up on the Mohunk. The following day the wagon belonging to Judge Colon, an uncle of the tall boy, and put at the service of the young campers, would come to "tote" all the stuff back to town again, and some of the boys in the bargain.
Of course nine of them would go back, as they had come, in the boat. And this time there was no need of any secrecy, so they could expect to excite more or less curiosity when they shot past Mechanicsburg.
The mere thought inspired the boys with eagerness. In imagination they could already see the wondering faces lining the bank, and the people running to see as the word was passed hurriedly along that the new eight-oared shell of the Riverport crew was sighted up the river.
They had become very careful now about the boat, which was growing more valuable in their eyes every hour, as they developed its capabilities. Catch any of them throwing torches around promiscuously now; no one ever touched the fire so that the sparks flew, but half a dozen pairs of anxious eyes followed the course they took, and speculation arose as to the chances of their doing any damage.
During the morning another trial spin was taken, with Colon again in his place, and pulling a strong oar. Brad and Fred both declared that the crew was coming on famously, and would be able to give a good account of themselves when the time arrived to meet their old rivals of Mechanicsburg.
Along about three in the afternoon the wagon arrived. As the tents had been taken down, and all the camp things well packed, it took but a short time to load up. Then the wagon started, escorted by the eight fellows who could not find places in the boat.
The crew gave them a cheer for a send-off, and received as loud a salute in return. After which they took their places in the long, narrow boat, for the run of seven miles down the river home.
Brad was keenly alive to every little thing that took place. Like a wise coxswain he felt that he ought to know each man's weakness, if he had any, so as to build him up into a perfect part of the whole machine. For a boat crew must act as though it were one unit, at the nod and whim of the fellow who sits in the stern, doing the steering, and by his motions increasing or diminishing the stroke. If one cog fails to work perfectly, the entire thing collapses.
"Fine! Great work, fellows!" Brad was saying again and again after they had passed over a couple of miles down-stream. "You're doing yourselves proud; and honest now, I believe you could take a little faster stroke. We must be doing our prettiest when we spurt past Mechanicsburg."
Brad had just finished saying this when he received one of the surprises of his life. His eyes were the only ones that could see down the river, and as he happened to glance over toward the left bank, where there was something of a neck of land shutting a large bay out of sight, judge of his amazement when he discovered the pointed prow of a racing boat thrusting out, and headed toward the middle of the river.
And as Brad sat there, almost petrified, as he afterwards declared, the boat shot into view, containing a crew of eight, and a coxswain, in the latter of whom he recognized Buck Lemington.
A LUCKY WIN
When the coxswain said this, every fellow as the oars strained his hearing, under the belief that Brad had something mighty interesting to communicate. Possibly some of them, having their eyes constantly on the coxswain, had seen by his manner that Brad must have discovered something down-stream. But no one dared try and twist his head around, in order to see for himself.
"Don't anybody try to look," Brad went on; "but we're going to have a little brush right now. Buck and his bunch have got that boat from Grafton, and, finding out that we are expected to pass down the river this afternoon, they've been lying in wait for us!"
Every fellow gave utterance to an exclamation, or a whistle, to indicate both his astonishment, and pleasure as well.
"Now, keep on working regularly as you are, and brace yourselves, every fellow, for a furious spurt, if we have to make one. Might as well learn what our boat can do, first as last. Take care how you dip in, because a crab would upset us all. They've struck the middle of the river now, and are letting us catch up on them. I can see Whitey, Clem Shooks, Jones, Jimmerson and Ben Gushing, anyway. And they're grinning as if they meant to make monkeys of the Riverport Boat Club boys. Shall we stand for it, fellows?"
Evidently Brad knew just how to key his crew up to doing their best; for his question was instantly answered with a thunderous:
"Not much we won't!"
"Get ready, then, because we're bearing down on 'em fast now," the wary coxswain continued, in a husky voice, caused by the excitement, no doubt. "There, they've increased their stroke so that we will come up slower, and not take the advantage from them at the start. It's a race, fellows! Let's pitch in now, and overtake the outlaw crew!"
Brad knew that the greatest danger lay in one of the boys becoming so worked up that he would miss a stroke, and "catch a crab," in boating language. This would cause him to break the stroke of the entire crew, if it did nothing more serious; and give the race to their rivals.
And so he continued to speak warning words to them as he regulated his motions, and the stroke in turn.
"Easy there Sid, old fellow; don't try to rush things. Keep in line with Fred, because he's the stroke oar, you know. That was a fine one. Again and yet again, boys! Now we're on even terms with 'em, and we're bound to go ahead, believe me!"
"Like fun you are!" called out Buck Lemington, being close enough to catch what Brad was saying.
Perhaps Buck added just a little more speed to his motions, rendered desperate by the fact that thus far he and his fellows had not been able to keep the other shell from gradually cutting down the lead they had in the beginning.
No matter what he did, he must have helped stop this gain on the part of Brad's crew. Now the two boats were rushing swiftly down the river, neck and neck, as it were, and going at a speed that seemed marvelous to these boys, unused to anything of the sort.
For a short time both crews seemed to be working with clock-like regularity; and it would have won the praise of an old boating man just to have watched them. Of course this could hardly last, for they were both sadly lacking in practice; and at almost any second one of the sixteen lads was apt to be taken with a sudden cramp, or miss his stroke, throwing his crew into confusion, and perhaps upsetting the boat in the excitement.
But they could all swim now, even Bristles Carpenter; so the worst that could happen, should such an accident overtake them, would be the loss of the race, and the consequent disappointment.
To have those fellows with Buck Lemington crowing over them, would be a bitter pill to Brad's crew. And they were really doing their level best to avoid such a punishment.
There was the town of Mechanicsburg right ahead of them. Brad hoped that the river might be quite free of boats that would interfere with the passage of the two fleet racers. To have to dodge any pleasure craft would mar the sport, and give one or the other an unfair advantage.
It was a square race, and Brad wanted to see the best crew win. Naturally he hoped it would fall to his side to arrive at the Riverport bridge ahead; but it must be a clean, fair win to satisfy him; for trickery and Brad Morton did not pull together very well.
Of course the two boats did not always keep exactly on even terms. As one or the other crew exerted themselves a trifle beyond the ordinary there would be a little change. Sometimes it was the outlaw crew that made this gain; and then, on the other hand, Brad would do something to not only even up, but take them a quarter of a boat's length ahead.
It was what might be called a heart-breaking row, and seemed to be anybody's race at the time they shot past Mechanicsburg.
A few score of people were seen running to the river's edge, shouting their astonishment and delight. Nobody paid the slightest heed to them, however, for the warmth of the race occupied their attention.
And now there were only three more miles before they would arrive at the railroad bridge, which must be accepted as the final goal.
Going down-stream, and at the amazing speed they were now traveling, three miles could not take much time.
"Keep it up, fellows, and we win!" Brad said, again and again, almost unconsciously; for he was watching the river ahead closely for signs of a rock which he knew lay under the surface at a certain point, with an eddy betraying its presence.
He hoped Buck was also aware of its being there, for really it would be too bad if the other boat, with such a history back of it, should be finally wrecked. Brad was almost tempted to shout out a warning, when he saw with one look behind, that, judging from the change in course, Buck was fighting shy of the dangerous quarter. He had been brought up on the banks of the Mohunk, and ought to be acquainted with every foot of ground and water in the vicinity.
The pace had now reached the limit. Neither of the young crews seemed capable of doing any more. But Brad made a discovery that appalled him. Colon was weakening! The boy had received such a shock on the previous day, when he came so near being drowned in the river, that he was not in as good condition for bearing the tremendous nervous strain as the balance of the crew.
Brad recognized the signs, and feared the worst. Unless they could relax presently Colon would have to give up exhausted. And, of course, that would lose them the race.
It was too bad, and Brad, being a high-spirited lad, would feel the defeat keenly; but he was determined not to take too great chances. When he saw that Colon had reached the limit he meant to slacken the pace, no matter what happened, nor how much the crew shouted at him for a "quitter."
Buck's boat was coming on again now. Brad doubted whether they had been able to put any fresh vim into their efforts, for that seemed next to impossible, since already every fellow was straining his muscles to the limit. It must be that the growing weakness of Colon was beginning to make itself felt.
Well, what they could not cure they must endure. Colon was too good a fellow to take chances of doing him an injury that would put him off the crew indefinitely. They needed his strong back in that real race with Mechanicsburg.
The others had by now discovered that the outlaw boat was slowly forging ahead, and that, despite all their efforts, the gain continued. Slowly they could see each opposing oarsman creeping along; and it was discouraging to feel that after all Buck seemed to have the better "stayers" in his crew.
Already they could hear the low, taunting remarks which the others were calling out, and they stung. Defeat is hard enough to stand, when pitted against honorable, high-minded fellows, whose first thought is to give an encouraging cheer for their whipped rivals; but it is doubly painful when forced to listen to all manner of insulting remarks from rough lads devoid of decent feelings, and only bent upon "rubbing it in."
Brad had really lost all hope. He was even about to throw up the sponge, and slacken the pace to such an extent that the people of Riverport, seeing the two boats coming down the river so far apart, would never think they had been racing.
Then something happened, unexpectedly, as it always does in a boat race.
Brad heard a sudden loud snap. He saw that the crew in the other boat seemed to be floundering around in the utmost confusion. One fellow even toppled overboard, though he immediately clutched hold of the speeding boat, and was dragged along with it.
Like a race horse, the boat containing the regular Riverport crew shot past the disabled outlaw craft. Buck was shouting in his disgust. He even shook his fist at his rivals as they went on speeding down the river; and they caught the tenor of his remarks.
"We had you beat good and plenty, never fear, only for that pesky outrigger bustin' on us! Next time we'll rub it in all the harder. You fellers had all the luck to-day. Just wait, that's all!"
And so good fortune saved the day for Brad and his crew, when all seemed lost.
"We win! We win!"
The shouts of the fellows who wielded the oars in the leading boat came floating back to those who were still scrambling around in the cranky outlaw craft.
Buck put his hands to his mouth, in order to make his voice carry the better, and yelled disdainfully after them:
"Yes, you win, but only through a foul! Run into us, and broke one of our outriggers to flinders! But just wait till we get a new one made, we'll beat you to a frazzle! Wait!"
"It wasn't so, was it, Brad?" demanded Corney Shays indignantly; "we never touched his boat, did we?"
"Well, I like his nerve!" cried Sid Wells, for all of them were taking things easy, now that the race was over, and the victory won. "Why, hang it, I don't believe we were within thirty feet of their old boat any time."
"And you're right, Sid," added Brad. "I ought to know, because I was in a position to see everything. When that outrigger smashed they were a quarter of a length ahead. Anybody with half an eye can see that it was the second oar that got in trouble. And boys, believe me, that outrigger was away up opposite our stem, far out of reach of our oars, end on end. It's too silly for anything!"
"But I think, from all I know of the fellow, that it's just like Buck to say a thing like that?" suggested Fred.
"You're right there, Fred," declared Dick Hendricks; "he never yet lost a game but what, quick as a flash, he made it a point to claim that it was a foul, and the beat an unfair one. Isn't that so, fellows, all you who've known Buck since he was a kid, and always a fighting bully?"
"You never said truer words, Dick," declared Sid. "And I ought to know, because I've had a dozen fights with Buck in as many years. Fact is, they say we went at each other before we were able to walk, and that he pulled the only tuft of yellow hair out that I owned about then. He used to joke me, and boast that he had that yellow lock at home, tied with a string, just like an Indian would an enemy's scalplock. Oh! we've been at it, hammer and tongs, ever since. And just as you say, Dick, he never yet lost a fight or a race or a game but what he set up a howl that the other fellow cheated, or took an unfair advantage of him."
"But by this time the people of Riverport ought to be on to Mr. Buck, and know how little truth there is in his whine," remarked Fred.
"Well, a lot of them do," answered Brad, scornfully, for he was indignant over the small trick of the beaten coxswain; "but you know how it is, Fred. You'll always find a certain percentage of people in every place only too willing to think the worst of you, given half a chance."
"Oh! well, we don't have to bother our heads about it, I suppose," remarked Sid. "It's the same old story, nine-tenths believing in our side, and the others backing up Buck. But, fellows, we know what we know. That race was won through a streak of luck for our side, perhaps, and I'm sorry to even admit that; but there wasn't the first hint of foul play on our part."
"And given half a chance," said Corney Shays, "Buck would have easily punched a hole in our boat, if he really believed he was going to be licked. I've known him to do things twice as bad as that, and get away with it too, in the bargain. Accuse him of it, and he'd laugh in your face, and ask how you could prove anything."
"Let's drop Buck and his ways for a while, and think of our chances with those husky Mechanicsburg chaps," observed Brad, as they came in sight of the outlying houses connected with the home town, scattered along the river front.
"Oh! I know what you mean, Brad, all right," spoke up Colon, sensitive to anything like criticism; "every one knows that I weakened toward the end, and that's what threw us out of gear. Couldn't help it, if you killed me. That little trouble I had with the river yesterday must have still bothered me. Never had such a queer feeling grip me before, and hope never to again."
"Oh! I wouldn't bother myself about that, Colon," Brad hastened to say, consolingly; "given a few days to rest, and you'll be as tough as ever. That strain was heart-breaking, and nobody could blame you for wilting under it, after what you passed through yesterday. If I'd known we were going to meet that bunch, all primed to give us a race, perhaps I'd have thought it good policy to put Joe in the crew for the run home. But it all turned out right after all."
"And we won, which was the best part of it!" crowed Corney.
"I differ with you there, Corney," declared Brad. "To me the best part of it was the game quality the whole crew showed. That was an eye-opener to me. I know now what you can stand; and next time won't be so much afraid to push you to the limit, if I feel that every fellow is fit."
"Another thing," remarked Fred, "that is pleasant to know, is the fact that luck broke in our favor. It's been my experience always, in nearly every game, when the teams are about even, that when luck takes to turning one way, that side always wins out. Everything comes their way. It's begun to like us, boys."
"And we sure have no kick coming," remarked Corney, with emphasis.
There were quite a few people waiting to see what was going to happen. They had known of Buck and his outlaw crew going up the river in their boat; and since the regular crew was expected down that afternoon, by putting things together, they rather guessed a race might result.
Some of these people had field glasses, and from the wild way they cheered Brad and his interested spectators of at least the conclusion of the race; for the river ran about straight for some distance up toward Mechanicsburg.
"Hello!" Brad called out to a party of five or crew, it might be suspected that they had been six schoolboys who seemed to be trying to crack their voices yelling, as they waved their hats, and one of them a pair of glasses; "did you see us trim Buck's bunch, Lossing?"
"You just bet we did, and you showed 'em up handsomely too," came the reply; "but what happened in their boat when they were in a dead heat with you?"
"Why, they were a quarter of a length ahead at the time," answered Brad, frankly. "We'd been sea-sawing it all the way down, first one leading, then the other. All at once one of their outriggers snapped off short, and that threw them into all sorts of confusion."
"Oh! that was it, eh? I had the glasses, but couldn't make out just what happened. But you did beat them anyhow, Brad?" called the other, jubilantly.
"You'll hear a howl from Buck, all right, Lossing," Brad went on, as they came in to the shore gently enough, this being their landing place.
"Well, we reckoned on that," laughed the other. "It wouldn't be Buck Lemington if he didn't make a kick. What was he yelling out after you, Brad?"
"Had the nerve to say we fouled his boat, and broke that outrigger, Lossing."
"Hasn't he the colossal nerve though?" the boy ashore shouted. "Why, I know for a dead certainty that the boats were at least three lengths apart at the time. That sure does make me snicker, Brad."
And before evening it might be set down as certain that two versions of the race would be circulating all through Riverport, one believed by nearly all the better element, and the other taken as truth by a few select persons who, from various reasons, thought it policy to back up anything done by Buck Lemington; or his father, the rich Squire, who had interest in several factories, and was moreover quite a politician in the community.
Fred waited around the boathouse until the Colon wagon arrived, bringing the rest of the boat club, and all their ordinary clothes as well.
Like the others of the crew, Fred dressed then, and along about dusk started for home, knowing that it was well on toward supper time, and his father must be in from his work.
Once more Fred was thinking of his own troubles, and heaving more than one sigh, as he found himself wishing again and again that something might happen to bring a new joy into the lives of his mother and father. They seemed to be losing hope; and the cares that gathered were beginning to make them look old before their time.
Oh! if only they could hear something from Hiram Masterson, the miner from Alaska, who had been so mysteriously spirited away just when he had determined to testify against his own rascally uncle, Sparks Lemington, and put the Fentons in possession of such information as would enable them to win the suit for the mine.
"But I suppose that would be too great happiness," he mused, as he drew near his home, in the window of which he could see the light placed there by his mother.
He opened the door, and then stood there transfixed, because of what he saw; for his mother was in the arms of his father, her head pillowed on his shoulder, and she seemed to be weeping.
But when she raised her head at Fred's entrance the astonished and delighted boy saw immediately that it must be great joy that brought those tears, and caused this deep emotion, for upon that dear face he could read a new-born happiness.
And again he remembered what he had said to his mates on the crew about luck having chosen to hunt them out as favorites; for it even seemed to wait him at home.
NEWS FROM OVER SEA
"Oh Fred, it's come!" exclaimed his younger sister, Kate.
"What, news from Hiram?" demanded the boy, his heart beating rapidly with the sudden excitement.
"That's it; and he says——" began the impulsive girl, when her mother's voice restrained her:
"Wait, and let Fred read the letter for himself, Kate; he will understand it much better, I am sure; for in your present condition I doubt whether you are capable of making anything clear."
Releasing herself from the arms of her smiling husband, she held out a crumpled sheet of paper to the eager Fred. He saw that there were only a few lines of writing on it, and that even this was done unevenly, as though the one who used the pen wrote under unfavorable conditions, perhaps on the edge of his bunk aboard a sailing vessel.