Fred Fenton on the Track
The Athletes of Riverport School
AUTHOR OF "FRED FENTON THE PITCHER," "TOM FAIRFIELD SERIES," "BOYS OF PLUCK SERIES," "THE DAREWELL CHUMS SERIES," ETC.
CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
BOOKS FOR BOYS BY ALLEN CHAPMAN
FRED FENTON ATHLETIC SERIES
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Price per volume, 40 cents, postpaid.
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. Price per volume, 40 cents, postpaid.
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. Price per volume, 60 cents, postpaid.
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
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CUPPLES & LEON CO. PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK
Copyrighted 1913, by CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
FRED FENTON ON THE TRACK
I. THE CROSS COUNTRY RUNNERS 1
II. A STRANGE SOUND FROM A WELL 9
III. OUT OF THE DEPTHS 17
IV. FRED GETS A SHOCK 25
V. HOW GOOD SPRANG FROM EVIL 32
VI. THE NEWS CORNEY BROUGHT 40
VII. WHERE IS COLON? 49
VIII. A CLUE IN THE DITCH 58
IX. THE COVERED WAGON 66
X. THE AMBUSH 75
XI. THE HAUNTED MILL 83
XII. A BROKEN DOOR 92
XIII. HOW GABE MADE GOOD 100
XIV. PRACTICE FOR THE RACE 109
XV. THE ACCIDENT 117
XVI. A GLOOMY PROSPECT 126
XVII. AN UNEXPECTED ALLY 134
XVIII. FORCED TO LEND A HAND 142
XIX. GLORIOUS NEWS 150
XX. A WELCOME GUEST 158
XXI. THE ATHLETIC MEET 167
XXII. FRED ON THE TRACK 174
XXIII. A CLOSE COUNT 182
XXIV. THE LONE RUNNER 191
XXV. THE ALASKA CLAIM 200
FRED FENTON ON THE TRACK
THE CROSS-COUNTRY RUNNERS
"I see you're limping again, Fred."
"That's right, Bristles. I stubbed my toe at the very start of this cross-country run, and that lost me all chance of coming in ahead. That's why I fell back, and have been loafing for a stretch."
"And let me catch up with you; eh? Well, I reckon long-legged Colon will have a cinch in this race, Fred."
"Seems that way. He can get over ground for a certain time like a deer, you know."
"Huh! more like a kangaroo, I call it; because it always seems to me he takes big jumps every chance he gets."
Both boys laughed heartily at the picture drawn by Andy Carpenter, who was known all through the country around the town of Riverport as "Bristles," on account of the odd way in which his heavy hair stood up.
His companion, Fred Fenton, had assumed a leading place in school athletic sports since coming to the town on the Mohunk something like a year previous to the early Fall day when we meet them taking part in this cross-country run.
That Fred was a pretty fine fellow, as boys go, nearly everybody seemed agreed. He was modest, and yet could stand up for his rights when imposed upon; and at the same time he was always ready to lend a helping hand to a companion in trouble.
Fred had himself occasion to know what it meant to lie awake nights, and wonder if fortune would ever take a turn for the better. His father had been left a valuable property away up in Alaska, by a brother who had died; but there was a lot of red tape connected with the settlement; and a powerful syndicate of capitalists had an eye on the mine, which was really essential to their interests, as it rounded out property they already owned.
A certain man, Hiram Masterson by name, who had been in Alaska for years, and who had come back to the States to visit an uncle, Sparks Lemington, living in Riverport, had at first been inclined to side with the syndicate. Later on he changed his mind, and determined to give evidence for the Fentons which would, in all probability, cause the claim to be handed over to them.
How this change came about in the mind of Hiram Masterson, through an obligation which he found himself under to Fred Fenton, has already been told at length in the first volume of this series, called: "Fred Fenton, the Pitcher; Or, The Rivals of Riverport School."
Then it turned out that Hiram suddenly and mysteriously disappeared; and those who were so deeply interested in his remaining in Riverport learned that he had really been carried off by agents of the rich association of mine owners, of whom Sparks Lemington was one. How the search for the missing witness was carried on, as well as an account of interesting matters connected with the football struggles in the three towns bordering the Mohunk, will be found in the second book in the series, entitled "Fred Fenton in the Line; Or, The Football Boys of Riverport School."
Once again when hope ran high in the breasts of the Fentons they were doomed to disappointment, and long waiting. A brief letter was received from Hiram, written from Hong Kong, telling them that he was on the way home by slow stages, and would doubtless appear under another name, to avoid recognition by his uncle, Sparks Lemington. What new expectations this letter raised in the humble Fenton home; together with the story of the boat races on the Mohunk, has been related at length in the third volume, just preceding this, and issued under the name of "Fred Fenton on the Crew; Or, The Young Oarsman of Riverport School."
But now several months had passed, and as yet Hiram had not come. This was telling heavily on Fred, who counted the days as they dragged past, and kept wondering if, after all, the missing witness had died abroad, and they would never get the benefit of his evidence.
He knew his father was once more falling back into his old condition of mental distress, and he saw the lines gather on the usually smooth forehead of his mother. But Fred was by nature a light-hearted lad, who tried to look on the brighter side of things. He put these dismal thoughts resolutely aside as much as he could and took his part in the various pleasures that the young people of the town enjoyed.
Those who were at his side in all sorts of athletic rivalries never suspected that the boy often worried. And even pretty Flo Temple, the doctor's daughter, whom Fred always took to picnics, and on boat rides on moonlight nights, as well as to singing school and choir meetings, if she thought him a trifle more serious than seemed necessary, did not know what an effort it required for Fred to hide his anxieties.
Of course both Bristles and Fred were in running costume, in that they wore as scanty an outfit of clothes as possible. They were jogging along leisurely, and this allowed plenty of time for talk between them.
Bristles was one of Fred's best chums. Not a great while back he had fallen into what he called a "peck of trouble, with the pot boiling over," and Fred had been of great help to him. In fact, had it not been for him the mystery of who was taking some of Miss Muster's opals might never have been cleared up; and the elderly spinster, who was Bristles' mother's aunt, must have always believed that her grand-nephew was the guilty one.
But Fred had proved otherwise. He had even been smart enough to have the rich old maid on the spot when Gabe Larkins, the butcher's hired boy, was secreting his last bit of plunder. In her gratitude at finding that the culprit was not her own nephew, Miss Muster had even forgiven Gabe, who had promised to turn over a new leaf.
Somehow the thoughts of Bristles seemed to go back to several things which had happened to himself and Fred not a great while previous.
"That was a great time we had, Fred," he went on to say, as they fell into a walk, with a hill to climb; "I mean when we worked in double harness, and ran up against so many queer adventures last summer, in boat-racing time. Remember how we managed to rescue little Billy Lemington when he fell out of his brother's canoe; and how he begged us not to tell a single soul, because his father would whip him for disobeying?"
"Do you think Buck ever knew the truth of that canoe business?" remarked Fred. "I recollect your telling me he accused you of taking his canoe, and using it, because some fellow saw us putting it back in the place he kept it, and reported to Buck. And he was some mad, too, threatening all sorts of things if ever we touched his boat again."
"Say, d'ye know, between you and me and the henhouse, Fred, I don't believe he's ever heard the truth about that little affair to this day!" exclaimed Bristles, earnestly. "Want to know why I say that, do you? Well, just yesterday he threw it at me. We were with some fellows on the school campus, when the talk turned to canoes, and I happened to say I knew mighty little about the cranky things, as I'd had no experience in one."
"Oh! I can see how ready Buck would be to take advantage of that opening, and give you one of his sneering stabs with his tongue," observed Fred, quickly.
"Just what he did, Fred," asserted the other, frowning; "he turned on me like a flash, and remarked that he guessed I forgot a certain occasion when I had enjoyed one canoe ride, anyhow, if it was in a stolen boat. I came mighty near telling the whole thing, how we had saved his little brother from drowning, or at least how you had, while I helped get you both ashore. But I stopped myself just in time, and let it pass by."
"Well," Fred went on to say, looking around at the dusty road they had just reached; "here's where we draw in close again to Riverport, to strike off again on the second leg of the run after we pass the Hitchen hotel at the crossroads. I suppose I ought not to keep on, with my toe hurting as it does; but you know I just hate to give up anything I start. Perhaps I'll be game enough to hold out to the end; and, besides, the pain seems to be passing off lately. I could even sprint a little, if I had to."
"Too late now to dream of heading off Colon, who has kept on the jump right along, while we took things easy. But I always like to be with you, Fred. You're a cheery sort of a feller, you know; and I feel better every time I chat with you."
Poor Fred,—who was secretly nursing deep anxiety to his heart, not willing to confide in even his best friends, lest in some way Squire Lemington get wind of the fact that they had heard from Hiram Masterson,—winced, and then smiled. Well, if he could put on a cheerful front, in spite of all that tried to weigh his spirits down, so much the better.
"We must turn at the crossroads, Bristles," he remarked. "The course heads into the northwest from there, up to Afton's pond; then due east two miles to Watch Hill; where we turn again and follow the turnpike home again."
"Oh! I guess I can stand for it, if you keep me company all the way, Fred; though I never was built for a runner, I reckon. But listen to all that shouting; would you? Some feller is excited, it sounds like. There, just what I expected was the matter; there's a horse taken the bit between his teeth, and is running away. I can see a boy sprinting after him, and that's his voice we get. Now, I wonder what it's up to us to do; step aside and let the runaway nag pass by; or try something to stop him? What say, Fred; can we block the road, and make him hold up, without taking too much risk?"
A STRANGE SOUND FROM A WELL
"Hi! there! Stop that horse! Head him off!"
The excited boy who was chasing wildly along in the rear of the runaway shouted these words as he waved his arms to the two lads coming so suddenly on the scene.
"Why, it's Gabe Larkins, as sure as you live!" ejaculated Bristles, recognizing the boy who drove the butcher's cart, and who had been concerned in the affair of Miss Muster's vanishing opals.
"Never mind who the boy is!" Fred called out; "if we want to head that runaway off we've got to be moving. Stand over there, wave your arms and shout 'Whoa!' as loud as you can. I'll try to cover this side of the road and do the same. The beast has just taken a notion to bolt home, that's all, and isn't badly frightened. We may be able to stop him right here."
"How far do we go, Fred?" cried Bristles, who was always ready and willing to do his share of any exciting business.
"Be careful, and keep ready to jump aside if he refuses to let up on his speed, Bristles."
"All right; I'm on, Fred!" And with that Bristles started to make as great and hostile a demonstration with arms and voice as he was capable of exhibiting.
His chum was doing likewise; so that between them they seemed to entirely block the road. The runaway horse was, as Fred had said, not worked up to the frantic stage where nothing would stay his progress. Indeed, seeing that these determined figures in running costume acted as though they meant to keep him from passing, the beast gradually slackened his pace.
The butcher's cart came to a standstill not twenty feet away from the boys; and the animal even started to back up into a fence corner, when the driver arrived on the scene, and took hold of the trailing lines. After that he soon gained the mastery over the horse.
"Got the slip on you that time, did he, Gabe?" remarked Fred, pleasantly; for he had been given to understand by Miss Muster, who was keeping track of the boy, that Gabe Larkins was doing what he could to make good; and Fred believed in extending a helping hand to every fellow who wanted to better his ways.
"Oh! he's a slick one, I tell you, fellers!" declared the panting and angered boy, as he reined in the animal that had given him such a scare and a race. "Nine times out of ten I tie him when I go to deliver meat. He knows when I forget, and this is the fourth time he's run away on me. Smashed a wheel once, and nigh 'bout scraped all the paint off'n one side of the pesky cart another time. Old Bangs says as how he means to fire me if it ever happens again."
"Well, we're right glad, then, Gabe, that we've been able to keep you from losing your job," Fred went on to say. "But that horse has a trick of going off if he isn't tied. I've heard about him before, and the trouble he gave the boy who was ahead of you. If I was driving him I'd never leave him unfastened."
"And I ain't a-goin' to no more, you just make sure of that!" Gabe declared, as no doubt he had done after every previous accident, only to grow careless again. "But it was nice in you fellers to shoo him that way. I sure thought he'd run right over you, but he didn't. Must 'a knowed from the way you talked to him you didn't mean to hurt him any."
"Well, we must be going on, Gabe, as we're in the cross-country run," said Bristles, who had been trying to study the face of the butcher's boy.
"Say, I'd like to be along with you, sure I would," remarked Gabe, wistfully. "Used to be some runner myself; but don't get no chanct nowadays. But I reckon it's all right, 'cause she says I'm a-doin' fine. Mebbe some day I can have a little fun like the rest of the fellers. I'm a heap 'bliged to both of you for holdin' up the hoss. G'lang, Rube!"
Swish! came the whip down on the withers of the late frisky runaway, and Gabe went helter-skelter down the road, headed for his next stopping place.
During the late summer the public spirited citizens of Riverport, led by Judge Colon, had started to raise funds in order to equip a much needed gymnasium with the latest appliances required by those who would train their muscles, and make themselves healthier by judicious exercise.
Mechanicsburg, up the river three miles, had done that for her school; and Riverport was trying to at least equal the generous spirit of the business men of the other town.
"Oh! the gym's just booming right along," declared Bristles, enthusiastically. "You know they've already got a long lease on the big rink where they used to have roller skating years ago. A cinder path has been laid around the whole of the circuit, equal to any outdoor track going. Great times we're going to have this winter, I tell you, Fred!"
"And, Bristles, how about the money for all the outfit—punching bags, parallel bars, boxing gloves, basketball stuff, and all the other things needed in an up-to-date gym?"
"Heard last night," said the other, joyfully, "that it had all been subscribed, and the order sent on. We'll soon be in the swim for keeps. But, while the good weather lasts let's keep outdoors. We can practice all sorts of stunts, so as to be ready to contest with those Mechanicsburg boys in an athletic meet. Great times ahead of us yet, old fellow! Hope we manage to snatch some of the prizes away from our old rivals; though they say it's just wonderful how clever they're sprinting and jumping up-river."
"We heard that sort of talk about football, and then when the boat race was planned didn't they say Mechanicsburg had a crew that was just a wonder?" Fred remarked, with a pleasant and cheery laugh.
"You're right, they did, Fred; and yet we licked the spots out of 'em both times. And we can do it some more, if we keep on practicing our stunts as Brad wants us to. Ten to one now they haven't got as fast a sprinter as our long legged Colon in their whole school. And when it comes to long-distance racing they'll have to look pretty far to find anybody who can hold out like Fred Fenton."
"Oh! let up on that kind of talk, Bristles; perhaps I might hold up my end of the log; and again there's a chance they've got a better man up there. I remember some of their fellows got around the bases like fun; and could carry the ball across the gridiron once they got hold of it. You never can tell what the best runner might be up against in a long race. Look at me to-day, stubbing my toe at the start; if this had been the big occasion that would have put me out of the procession in a hurry."
"Let's start on a little sprint again, now that we're getting close to the cross-road tavern. I can see it yonder through the trees. Old Adam will think we're handicap runners, catching up on the leaders. Here we go, Fred!"
Reaching the tavern at the spot where the roads crossed, they halted to get a cool drink, and ask a few questions. Somehow they saw nothing of any of the other runners, though the proprietor of the place told them several had come and gone. They found the names of Colon, Dave Hendricks and Corney Shays on the official pad that had been left at this important point, in order that each contestant might place his signature on it when he arrived, proving that he had fully covered the requirements of the run.
Once more the two lads started on their way at a good pace, since their short rest had refreshed them considerably.
"Look at the gray squirrel!" exclaimed Bristles, who was beginning to get winded after a mile of this jogging work, because he had not yet learned never to open his mouth while running, if it could be avoided.
"He's laying in his store of shagbark hickories for the winter," declared Fred; "and you better believe he picks only the good ones. I never yet found a bad nut in any store laid away by a squirrel. They know what's juicy and sweet, all right."
"Hold on!" said Bristles, coming to a stop.
"What's the matter now; hear any more runaways?" asked Fred, laughing; but at the same time coming to a walk in order to accommodate his panting chum.
"No, but there's an old farmhouse through the trees there, and I can see a fine well. Makes me feel dry again just to glimpse it. Come on, let's have a drink," and Bristles led the way between the trees toward the lonely looking place.
"A queer spot, Fred," he remarked. "Looks like it's deserted; and yet there's smoke coming out of the chimney; and I saw a pig run around the corner of that little stable. Here's our well; draw a bucket while I get my wind. Oh! did you hear that, Fred? It sounded just for all the world like a groan; and, as sure as anything, it came right out of this same well!"
OUT OF THE DEPTHS
The two boys turned to look at one another; and if they showed signs of alarm it was hardly to be wondered at.
"Oh! there it is again, Fred!" whispered Bristles, as a second sound, that was certainly very like a groan, came from the well.
Fred caught his breath. It was an unpleasant experience, to be sure; and might have tried the nerves of much older persons than two half-grown lads; but, after all, why should they be afraid?
"Somebody may have fallen down the well, and can't get out again," Fred remarked, with just the least tremor to his usually steady voice.
"Say, that's so," Bristles hastened to admit, as he cast a quick glance at the almost ropeless wooden windlass; "don't you see the bucket's away down? Whoever it is, Fred, they just can't climb up again. It takes you to get on the inside track of things, Fred."
"If that's so, it might account for the fact that nobody seems to be around the place," Fred went on to say.
"P'raps an old man lives here all alone, and he tripped over these stones when he went to lift the bucket of water out, and fell in himself. Gee! Fred, then it's up to us to get him out!"
The other stepped directly up to the edge of the old well. He saw that the coping was uneven, some of the stones being loose. It looked very much as if what Bristles had suggested might be the truth, and that some person, when striving to raise a heavy bucket, had lost his balance, slipped on the treacherous footing, and toppled into the well.
And, even as Fred Fenton bent down, he was thrilled to hear a third groan come out of the depths. Nevertheless, instead of starting back, he bent over further, as though hoping to look down and discover the truth.
"Can you see him?" asked Bristles, very white in the face, but bent on sticking it out as long as his chum did.
"Sorry to say I can't," replied the other, calmly now, and with an air of business about him that inspired Bristles to conquer his own weakness. "My eyes have been so used to the sun that it looks as black as a pocket down in this well. But perhaps he might answer a call."
"Give the poor fellow a hail, then, Fred, please. Just think how he must have suffered, hollering all this time, with nobody to help him out," and Bristles, who really had a very tender heart himself, leaned over the curbing of the well.
"Be careful not to push one of these big stones in, or you'll finish the poor fellow," warned Fred; and then bending low he called out very loudly: "Hello! down there! We want to help you get out. Are you badly hurt?"
"Oh! I don't know, but I'm so cold. Please hurry, or I'll die!" came in a faint voice from far below.
"Good gracious!" gasped Bristles; "did you hear that, Fred?"
"I certainly did," replied the other.
"But—the voice; it was a woman's or a girl's!" continued the amazed Bristles.
"Just what I thought; and that makes it all the more necessary that something be done in a hurry to get her out. That rope looks pretty sound; doesn't it, Bristles?"
"What do you mean to do now, Fred; go down there?" and the boy shuddered as he looked at the gaping hole.
"Somebody's got to, and what's the matter with my doing it?" Fred demanded. "I'll tell you what to do while I'm sliding down the rope; just carefully take away all these loose stones, so none of 'em can drop on top of me. And, Bristles, when I give the word, buckle down to turn that windlass for all you're worth!"
"I'll do it, Fred. Gosh! if it don't take you to think of things that wouldn't come to me in a thousand years. Say, he's gone, as quick as that! I guess I'll get busy with these stones."
Fred was indeed already slipping carefully down the rope. He believed it was fairly new, and could easily sustain the weight of himself, and another as well, if only the stout Bristles could turn the handle of the windlass long enough to bring them to the top.
Once below the region of sunlight his eyes began to grow more accustomed to the surrounding gloom. He could make out the rough stones all about him that went to form the well itself.
Then he stopped, wondering if he must not be pretty nearly down to the water. The rope still went on, and he could hear what seemed like heavy breathing not far away.
Bristles was working like a beaver above, taking away the loose stones, but exercising great care so that not even a bit of loose earth, or mortar, should fall down the shaft to alarm his chum.
"Hello! where are you, below?"
"Close by you now. Oh! do you think you can get me up again, mister?" came in a quavering voice.
Fred let himself slip down a little further, inch by inch as it were. He was afraid of striking the one who must be clinging to the rope below, undoubtedly chilled to the bone, and sick with fear.
Even at that moment the boy was filled with amazement, and could not imagine how a girl could have gotten into such a strange situation. But his first duty was to get her out.
Ten seconds later and he could feel her beside him.
"Don't be afraid, we'll get you on dry land in a jiffy," he said, as cheerfully as possible. "Can you hold on to the rope if my friend turns the windlass? I'll do all I can to help you. If only the bucket could be used for you to stand on! It's the only way to work it, I guess."
"Yes, yes, anything you say, I'll do, mister. Oh! what if they have hurt him, and me such a coward as to run away like I did and hide. But pop made me, he just said I must. He'll tell you that same, mister, if so be he's alive yet."
The girl said this in broken sentences. She was almost in a state of complete collapse, and Fred knew that unless he hurried to get her up where she could obtain warmth, she would be a dead weight on his hands.
"Hello! Bristles!" he called out.
"Yes; what d'ye want, Fred? Shall I begin to wind up?" came from above, accompanied by the musical clank of the iron brake falling over the cogs that were intended to hold it firmly, and prevent a slip, should the one at the handle let go suddenly.
"Go slow, Bristles, and stop when you hear me shout!"
"O. K. Fred; slow she is! Are you coming now?"
Fred had felt the rope slip through his hands inch by inch. He was feeling with his dangling feet for the bucket, and presently discovered it.
"Hold on till I tilt the bucket, and empty out the water; we have to use it to stand on as you pull us up!" he shouted.
With more or less difficulty he managed to accomplish this task. It would relieve Bristles considerably; and even as it was, the straining boy up there would have a tremendous task ahead of him, raising two persons at a time.
Fred threw his arm around the girl, whom he could just dimly make out. She clung wildly to him, as though realizing that all her hopes of getting out of this strange prison rested in the boy who had come down the rope so daringly.
"Now once again, old fellow, and do your level best!" Fred sang out.
So they went up, foot by foot. He held the girl in a tight clasp, and kept hoping the rope would not break, or any other accident happen. Bristles was tugging wildly away at the handle of the windlass, doubtless with his teeth set hard together, and every muscle of his body in play.
Now they were close to the top, and Fred called out, to caution his chum to slacken his violent efforts.
So once again Fred's eyes came above the curbing of the old well, and he found Bristles, panting for breath, but eager to assist still further in the work of rescue.
"Reach down," Fred said, quietly, wishing to calm the other; "and get your arms around her, if you can; then lift for all you're worth! She isn't heavy, only her clothes are soaked with water. There you are, and well done, old chap!"
Bristles had actually plucked the girl from the grasp of the boy who had to cling to the rope with one hand; she was already placed upon the ground, while he turned to assist Fred, starting to climb out unaided.
But the girl had not fainted, as Fred suspected. She was now on her knees, and trying to get upon her feet.
"Oh! what can have happened to him?" she muttered.
"Who is it you are talking about?" asked Bristles.
"My poor sick father," she replied. "They came in on us, and made me get a meal. Then they began to hunt all over the house for money, just as if we ever had any such thing hidden. Oh! the terrible threats they made; father was afraid for me, and ordered me to watch out for the first chance to run away, to go to the nearest neighbor for help; but he lives two miles away. I was afraid to leave the place, because I thought they might set the house on fire. So I tried to hide just below the curbing of the well; but the brake wasn't set, and I went down with the bucket. I might have drowned, only I held on all these hours, hoping and fearing. Oh! I wonder if he is still alive!"
"Who was it came and did these things?" asked Fred, indignantly.
"Three tramps; and they were bad men, too," she replied, starting toward the old farmhouse, where the door stood open. A few whiffs of smoke curled up from the chimney, yet there was no sign of life.
And, wondering what they would find there, the two boys strode along beside her, ready to catch her should she show signs of falling. But a great hope seemed to sustain the girl they had rescued from the well.
FRED GETS A SHOCK
"Shall we follow, Fred?" asked Bristles, a little dubiously it must be confessed.
The girl had darted eagerly through the open doorway.
"That's the program," replied the leading boy; and with these words he immediately crossed the doorsill.
The interior of the cottage was not any too well lighted, for the shades of the windows were partly down. Fred saw at a glance, however, that a hurried and thorough search had been made by the three tramps, when they thought to find something of value in the lonely farmhouse.
All manner of articles had been thrown recklessly about, drawers emptied, and even chairs overturned as they sought to turn up the edges of the scanty carpet, under the old belief that family treasures are generally secreted either there or between the mattresses of the bed.
Voices in an adjoining room gave Fred a reassuring sensation. Then the sick man had not passed away, as his daughter seemed to have feared; for while one of the voices was undoubtedly that of the girl, the other belonged to a man. It was weak and complaining, however, as might be expected, under the circumstances.
So Fred, again followed by Bristles, lost no time in passing through the first room, and entering the adjoining one. A glance showed him a bed upon which a thin-faced man was lying. The girl was gently stroking his forehead with considerable affection, murmuring endearing terms.
At the entrance of the two boys, however, the sick man started half up in bed. He stared at them in utter amazement, nor could Fred blame him. After the experience through which he had recently passed, the sick man must almost believe he was losing his senses, to see two lads in running costume burst in upon him.
"What! who are these, daughter?" he exclaimed. "I sent you for help, to get our German neighbor, Johann Swain, and you come back after all these hours bringing freaks from a circus. But at least they do not look as bad as those terrible tramps."
Bristles laughed outright at this.
"I hope not, sir," he could not help saying, before Fred could utter a word; "you see, we're only a couple of boys from Riverport, engaged in a cross-country run; and we're mightily glad to be on hand in time to help you and—your girl."
"But what makes your dress so wet, child; and you are shivering like a leaf? Don't tell me that you fell into the river?" the sick man asked, turning his attention upon his daughter once more, now that he realized there was nothing to be feared from the two strangers.
"No," she replied, soothingly; "when you sent me away I could not leave you alone with those dreadful men; so, meaning to hide just below the curbing of the well, I took hold of the rope; but the windlass was free, and I fell in."
"And you have been there all this time!" cried the man, reproachfully; "while I lay here, recovering my strength, and expecting you to come every minute with help. Oh! if I had but heard you call, nothing could have prevented me from crawling out to rescue you, child. And did these boys get you out?"
"Yes, and we owe them more than we can ever pay, father," she replied, warmly; "for I could not have held on much longer; and the water was deep enough to drown a helpless girl."
"Oh! Sarah, child! what a blessing that they came!" exclaimed the man, thrusting a weak and trembling hand out, first toward Fred, whom he saw was wet, and somehow guessed must have borne the brunt of the rescue; and then repeating the act with regard to Bristles.
The sick man asked Fred a number of questions. As a rule these concerned his daughter, and in what condition they had found the poor girl at the bottom of the well; but he also seemed anxious as to whether they had seen anything of the three tramps.
"One of them was terribly enraged when they failed to find even a dollar for their pains, and I assured him I did not have such a thing to my name," the aged man said, almost pathetically, Fred thought. "He would have struck me with the poker, as he threatened to do, only his companions held his arm. I have been in mortal fear that he might return."
"No danger of that sir," Fred went on to say; and already in his mind he was determined that some of the good people of Riverport should quickly know about the sick man and his devoted daughter, who lived in such a lonely place, and were almost at the point of starvation.
"I used to have a man who worked on shares with me," the other continued, as though he thought some explanation was due to account for the situation; "but he changed his mind suddenly this summer past, and left me alone. I might have managed, only for this sickness. Sarah has tried to do everything, but, poor child, she was unable to take care of me and the farm too. So it has come to this, and my heart is nearly broken worrying about her."
"Never mind, it will be all right, sir," Fred continued to assure him. "We are from Riverport, and we know a lot of good people there who will be only too glad to do everything they can for you. It is not charity, you see, but just what one neighbor ought to be ready to do for another."
For his years, Fred was wise; he realized that this man undoubtedly had more or less pride, and might hesitate to accept assistance when he had no means of returning favors.
To his surprise the other started, and looked keenly at him.
"Riverport, you say, young man?" he muttered. "I don't seem to know you. Might I ask your name, please?"
"Fred Fenton, sir. But as we only came to the place a year ago last spring, of course you wouldn't be apt to know me."
"No, I haven't been in Riverport for quite a number of years. We do what little trading we have in Grafton, which is just as near, though not so large a town. But you spoke of interesting some people in our condition. For her sake I would even sink my pride and accept their help. But you must make me one promise, boy!"
"As many as you like, sir; what might this particular one be?" asked Fred, cheerfully.
"Don't, under any circumstances, let Sparks Lemington have anything to do with the assistance you bring me; or I would utterly refuse to touch the slightest thing, even if we both starved for it!" was the astonishing reply of the sick man, as a look of anger showed in his face, and he shut his jaws hard.
Evidently, then, he had some good cause for detesting the rich and unscrupulous Squire Lemington. Well, Fred found reason to believe there were a good many others besides this farmer who felt the same.
"Oh! Fred, come out here!" called Bristles, just then, before Fred could ask any further questions.
Believing that his chum might be having some difficulty in finding things, and wanted help, Fred hurried into the adjoining room, which was the kitchen. There was also a dining room next, which they had entered first, and apparently a couple of sleeping rooms up stairs, for the girl had gone above.
Bristles was busily engaged. He had succeeded in getting a fire started, and was rummaging through a cupboard, looking for eatables. Accustomed to seeing a well stocked larder in his own home, Bristles was shocked at the lack of everything a hungry boy would think ought to be found in a kitchen pantry.
"Shucks, Fred," he remarked, in a low voice, for the door between the rooms was open a trifle. "There isn't enough stuff here to feed a canary bird, let alone two human beings. Why, whatever do they live on? They must be as poor as Job's turkey. I can't just place that man, somehow; seems as if I must have known him once; but he's changed a heap. Help me skirmish around for some grub; won't you?"
Fred was perfectly willing, and proceeded to search until he had discovered part of a loaf of home-made bread, and the coffee that was so necessary to warm the poor girl. There was a strip of bacon a few inches thick, some flour, grits—and these were about all.
Just then Bristles came over to where he was putting the coffee in the pot.
"I've just remembered who that sick man is, Fred!" he said, in a low tone, but with a vein of satisfaction in it, for he had been racking his memory all the while.
"Who is he, then?" Fred asked, a bit eagerly.
"Why," Bristles went on, "you see, his name is Masterson!"
HOW GOOD SPRANG FROM EVIL
"Masterson, did you say, Bristles?" Fred asked, hurriedly, as he closed the communicating door between the two rooms, and came back to the side of his chum.
"Yep, that's it," replied the other, briskly, proud of having solved what promised to be a puzzle. "He used to live in Riverport years ago, when I was a kid; he and his girl Sarah."
"Is he any relation to Squire Lemington, do you know?" asked Fred.
"Sure, that's a fact, he is; a nephew, I reckon," answered Bristles, thoughtfully. "I remember there was some sort of talk about this Arnold Masterson; I kind of think he got in a fuss with the Squire, and there was a lawsuit. But shucks, that don't matter to us, Fred, not a whit. These people are up against it, hard as nails, and we've just got to do something for 'em when we get back."
"That's right, we will," asserted Fred.
He was thinking hard as he said this. Was it not a strange thing that he should in this way place another Masterson under heavy obligations? He had done Hiram a good turn that won the gratitude of the man from Alaska; and now here it was a brother and a niece who had cause for thanking him.
Perhaps there was something more than accident in this. If Hiram ever did return, which Fred was almost ready to doubt, he would be apt to hear about what had happened at the lonely farmhouse; and if he cared at all for his folks, his debt must be doubled by the kind deed of the Fenton boy.
"And believe me," Bristles went on, not noticing the way Fred was pondering over the intelligence he had just communicated; "we just can't get busy collecting some grub for this poor family any too soon. Why, they're cleaned out, that's what! Never knew anybody could live from hand to mouth like this. Why couldn't they get that German farmer, who lives a mile or two away, to haul some stuff from Grafton, if the girl couldn't walk there?"
"You forget that the man said he didn't have even a dollar, when those tramps threatened to torture him, to make him tell where he had his treasure; and Bristles, it takes cold cash to buy things these days. Old Dog Trust is dead, the merchants say. But hurry that coffee along. Hello! here's a part of a can of condensed milk, and some sugar. That's good!"
Fred went into the other room about that time; for hearing voices, he imagined the girl must have put on some dry clothes hurriedly, and once more descended to be with her sick father.
She looked better, Fred thought, and there was even a slight color in her cheeks. He was afraid, however, of what the long exposure might bring, and determined that Doctor Temple must hear of the case. A little care right then might be the means of warding off a severe illness.
"Please go in the kitchen, and stand near the stove all you can, miss," he said.
"But I am not cold any longer," she replied, giving him a smile that told of the gratitude in her heart.
"You need all the warmth you can get," he insisted. "As soon as the coffee is ready, you must swallow a cup or two of it, piping hot. And I think it would do your father good, too."
Accordingly, as there seemed to be a vein of authority in his voice, the girl complied. She found that the coffee was already beginning to simmer, and send out a fragrant smell; for Bristles had made a furious fire, regardless of consequences.
"Hope I don't burn your house down, Sarah," he said. "Excuse me, but I used to know you a long time ago, when you lived in Riverport. My name is Bris—that is, at home they call me Andy Carpenter."
"Oh! I do remember you now," she replied, quickly; "but it is so long ago. Father never mentions Riverport any more; he seems to hate the name. I think some one wronged him there, and it must have been my uncle, because every time I happened to speak of him, he would grow angry, and finally told me never to mention that name again. But you have made this coffee very strong, Andy."
"Fred told me to; he said you both needed it," answered the boy. "And I wouldn't worry if I was you, because I used up all there is. We're going to see that more comes along this way, and that before night."
"Oh! it makes me feel ashamed to think that we are going to be objects of charity," the girl commenced to say, when Bristles stopped her.
"Now, that isn't it at all, Sarah!" he declared, with vehemence; "your pa is a sick man, and unless he gets a doctor soon you may lose him. So I'd just pocket that pride of yours, and let the neighbors do what they want. And if you've been fleeced by that shark of a Squire Lemington, why, there are a lot of others in the same fix. I'd like to see them run him out of town; but he owns a heap of property around Riverport, and that would be hard to do, I suppose. Say, don't that coffee smell good though; you know the kind to get, seems like."
"Johann Swain brought that over the last time he came," she replied, somewhat confused on account of having to make the confession that they were already indebted to another for favors.
When the coffee was done Fred came out and secured a cup of it for the sick man; while Sarah sat down at the kitchen table to drink her portion. Bristles was almost famishing for a taste, but he would not have accepted the first drop, had it smelled twice as good.
After making the two as comfortable as possible, the two boys once more prepared to start on their run toward home. Of course they must expect to come in the very last of all, owing to all these delays; but it was little they cared.
"Expect company before long," sang out Bristles, as, having shaken hands with the sick man and Sarah, they turned to wave farewell to the girl, standing in the open door, and with something approaching a smile on her wan face.
Fred made a proposition before they had gone more than fifty yards.
"What's the use of our finishing, Bristles?" he remarked. "We're hopelessly beaten right now. Suppose we head for home, and get busy going around to speak to a few of our friends about these people here. I want Doc. Temple to come out; and I know Flo will insist on it when she hears about that poor girl."
"Three to one she comes with him; and that the buggy is crammed full of all the good things they've got at home," asserted Bristles; "because there never was a girl with a bigger heart than Flo."
Fred was of the same opinion himself, though he only nodded, and smiled.
"You see your father, and then drop in to talk it over with several others," he went on to say. "Leave Judge Colon for me. I want to ask him a few questions about what happened between Arnold Masterson and his rich uncle, to make Sarah's father hate him so, and avoid Riverport in the bargain."
When they arrived home the boys quickly changed their clothes, and then started in to tell the story of their recent remarkable experience. Fred, first of all, enlisted the good will of his own mother, who hurried over to another neighbor to start the ball rolling, with the idea of having a wagon with supplies sent out to the Masterson farm that very afternoon.
His visit to the Temple home was a pleasant affair with Fred. Just as he had expected, Flo was immediately concerned about the family, and asked numerous questions while they were waiting for the genial old doctor to come in at noon from his morning round of sick calls.
Then the doctor drove up, and as soon as he entered the house heard Fred's amazing story. He was quite concerned about it.
"Of course I'll go out there the first thing after lunch, and bring them both through, if I can," he declared, just as Fred had expected would be the case. "Those tramps ought to be followed up, and caged; they're getting bolder every day. I expect that some fine morning we'll find our bank broken open, or else somebody kidnapped, and held for a ransom."
"And I'm going along with you, daddy," said Miss Temple, with an air that announced the fact that she usually had her own way with her parent.
"Did you know this Arnold Masterson, sir; and is he a nephew of the Squire?" asked the boy.
"Yes, to both of your questions, Fred," replied the doctor. "Years back there was a quarrel between them, and a lawsuit that went against Arnold, who disappeared soon afterward. I did not know he still lived within five miles of Riverport, because he is never seen on the streets here. But he was an honest man, which is more than some people think can be said of his rich uncle."
That was all Fred wanted to know, and he took his departure, well satisfied with the way fortune had treated him that morning.
Later on he heard that the people of Riverport had carried enough supplies out to the Masterson farm to last until Christmas. And Doctor Temple reported that not only would Sarah escape any ill results from her experience in the cold waters of the well, but the sick man was going to come around, in time, all right.
THE NEWS CORNEY BROUGHT
The big roller-skating rink had been turned into a splendid gymnasium for the boys and girls of Riverport school; for certain days were to be set aside when the latter should have their turn at basketball and kindred athletic exercises, calculated to make them healthier, and better fitted for their studies.
The headmaster of the school, Professor Brierley, was very much delighted with the way things had gone. He was an advocate of all healthful sports, when not carried to excess. And this spirit which had been awakened in Riverport, was bound, he believed, to make for the betterment of the town in every way.
"Perhaps there'll be less work for Dr. Temple," he remarked, at a meeting of the best citizens, when the gymnasium was handed over to the school trustees; "because there'll be far less sickness among our young people. Though possibly a few accidents, as the result of indiscretion in exercising too violently, may make amends to our physicians."
Meanwhile the young athletes belonging to Riverport school had been as busy as the proverbial bee. Saturdays were devoted to all sorts of work, each class being represented by aspiring claimants for honors.
And when the really deserving ones had finally been selected to do their best for the honor of the school, everyone watched their work with pride, and the hope that they might make the highest pole vault, the longest running jump, the quickest time in the hundred yards, quarter-mile, half mile and five mile races known to amateur athletic meets in that part of the country at least.
Merchants talked with their customers about the coming tournament; and the mildest looking women, whom no one would suspect of knowing the least thing about such affairs, surprised others with their store of knowledge.
The bookstore in town where sporting goods were kept did a land-office business during those days, and had to duplicate their orders to wholesalers frequently.
Stout business men were buying exercisers to fasten to the bathroom doors; or perhaps dumb-bells and Indian clubs, calculated to take off a certain number of pounds of fat. Others boasted of how deftly they were beginning to hit the punching bag; and how much enjoyment the exercise, followed by a cold shower bath, gave them.
Representatives from Mechanicsburg, who wandered down to get a few points that might be calculated to give their athletes renewed confidence, took back tales of the spirit that had swept over the other town on the Mohunk.
And they even said that Paulding was striving with might and main to get in line with the other two places. Her boys expressed a hope that when the favors were handed around, steady old Paulding might not be left entirely out of the running. There were even broad hints that some people were going to get the surprise of their lives when the great day arrived. Paulding always had been a difficult crowd to beat, and would never confess to defeat until the last word had been said.
It was the day just preceding that on which the athletic meet was slated to be held. As before, luck seemed to dwell with Riverport, since the drawing of lots decided that the tournament must be held on her grounds, outside of town. And it seemed about right that this should be the case, since Riverport lay between her two rivals on the Mohunk, one being three, the other seven miles away.
Nothing else was talked of those days, after school, but the proposed meet. On the field itself there gathered crowds of boys and girls who hovered in groups while the various candidates went through their work; and either praised, or criticised; for it is always easy to do the latter.
So on this morning of the day preceding the great event, whenever boys ran across each other on the street, it was always with questions concerning the condition of those upon whom Riverport depended to win the most points in the tournament. At no time in the past had the state of health of these lads interested more than a very small portion of the community. Now everybody heaved a sigh of satisfaction upon learning that Colon was said to be in better trim than ever before in all his life, or that Sid Wells, Fred Fenton and Bristles Carpenter were just feeling "fine."
Whenever one of those who were expected to take part made his appearance on the street he had a regular following, all hanging on every word he spoke, "just as if he might be an oracle," as Bristles humorously remarked.
"Wait till Sunday morning, and then see if some balloons haven't busted," he went on to remark, as several fellows gathered around him that bright autumn morning, when there had been a sharp tang of frost in the air; "a lot of us will fail to score a beat, and then see how quick they drop us. Some will even be cruel enough to say they always knew that Bristles Carpenter was a big fake; and that when it came right down to business he never was able to hold up his end; and they never could see why the committee put him on the roll of would-be heroes."
"Sure! and the next day it rained!" called back little Semi-Colon, whose size debarred him from taking any part in the athletic contests, a fact he deplored many times, for he had the spirit of a warrior in his small body.
"Anyhow, Sunday will be a good day to rest, and stay indoors, to avoid all the cruel things that will be fired at a fellow Monday," grinned Bristles.
"Say, don't talk like that, old man," remarked another of the group; "seems like you might be getting all ready for a funeral. I don't like it. Better do some boasting, and give us a chance to feel we're going to carry Mechanicsburg right off her feet."
"Oh! I'm only taking out a little extra insurance, that's all," remarked Bristles. "They all do it, you know. Never knew a feller to get licked but he began to explain how it happened; and tell how if his foot had been all right, or that stitch in his side hadn't caught him, he'd have swept up the ground with all his rivals. I'm wondering what I'd better mention right now as troubling me."
"But you just said you felt as fit as a fiddle?" protested Semi-Colon.
"So I do," answered Bristles; "but that don't matter. A feller may feel fit, and yet have a sore toe; can't he? But, boys, if I get beaten you're not going to hear me put up a whine. It'll only be because the other feller is the better man."
"Bully for you, Bristles;" remarked a tall student, vigorously; "I always knew you'd stand up and be counted. And just you make up your mind you're going to bring home the bacon. We want every point we can get, to beat Mechanicsburg out."
"Nobody seems to take poor old Paulding seriously," remarked Fred, who was one of the noisy, enthusiastic group on the way to the recreation field for a spell of warming up exercise; for school had been dismissed on Thursday afternoon, giving this Friday preceding the meet as a holiday for the scholars, owing to the great interest taken in the affair, the trustees said, and also the fact that the other towns had decided upon the same thing.
"Well, you never can tell," declared Dick Hendricks, who had come up just in time to catch the last remark. "I've got private information from below, and let me warn every fellow not to be cocksure about Paulding. That fellow they've got coaching them is no slouch. He was a college grad. just the same as our Mr. Shays; and they say he coached Princeton for several years, away back."
"Oh! he's an old man, and a back number," observed Bristles, contemptuously. "I heard he hasn't kept up with the procession, and that his methods are altogether slow compared with the more modern ones."
"Well, I believe in never underestimating an enemy," Fred went on; "and if all of us feel that we've got to do our level best in order to win, even against Paulding, that ends the matter."
"Who's seen Colon this morning?" asked Dick Hendricks.
"Not me," replied Bristles, "and it's kind of queer too, because he said he'd drop in for me at eight this morning, and now it's half-past. Reckon he forgot, and went on with another bunch. There's always a lot of boys trailing after Colon nowadays, you know. They just hang around his door, his mother told mine only yesterday, like a pack of hounds, calling for him to show himself."
"Well, I guess Colon is the best card in our pack," declared Fred, stoutly. "You see, he's slated to run in all the shorter sprints, and we expect him to leave the other fellows at the post, for he's as fleet as a deer—Bristles says kangaroo, because of that queer jump he has. They haven't got a ghost of a show in any race Colon takes part in; and I guess they know it up at Mechanicsburg."
"I was talking with a boy from there the other day," spoke up the tall student. "I think he was sent down here as a sort of spy, to see just what we were doing, and get tabs on our men. He owned up to me that if Colon could do that well in a regular race it would be a procession, because nobody could head him. They'd just run on in the hope he might be taken with cramps, or something."
"Who's that hollering back there; looks like Corney Shays?" remarked Semi-Colon just then, so sharply that the entire group paused to look back.
"It is Corney, late as usual, and with his nerve along; because he wants us all to stop and wait for him," declared Dick Hendricks. "Come along boys, and let him catch up if he can."
"But he acts mighty queer," said Fred.
"You're right he does," added Bristles, taking the alarm at once. "Look at him waving his arms. Say, fellers, something's gone wrong, bet you a cooky. I just feel it in my bones. Oh! what if Colon's been taken sick right now the day before?"
They stood there, silent and expectant, until the running Corney had drawn near.
"What ails you, Corney?" demanded Dick.
"It's Colon!" gasped the other, almost out of breath, and much excited in the bargain, they could see, for his eyes seemed ready to pop out of his head.
"Don't tell us he's sick!" cried Bristles, in real horror.
"Disappeared—never slept in his bed last night, his ma says! Gone in the queerest way ever, and just when Riverport depended on him to win the prize to-morrow!" was what the almost breathless Corney gasped.
WHERE IS COLON?
"Oh! what d'ye think of that, now?" cried Bristles.
"How could Colon ever do it; and all Riverport depending on him so?" exclaimed the tall student, Henry Clifford by name, who was always deeply interested in the field sports of his mates, though too delicate himself to take any part in them.
"Why, what d'ye think he's done?" demanded Bristles, aggressively, turning on him.
"Perhaps he just got so nervous over this business that he couldn't stand the push, and thought he'd better skip out," replied the other, weakly.
"Rats! tell that to your grandmother, will you, Clifford!" burst out Semi-Colon, quick to rally to the defense of his cousin. "Nobody ever knew him to flinch when it came to the test; ain't that so, fellers?"
"Sure it is," cried Bristles, sturdily; "and when I saw him last night he was just feeling as if he had a walkover ahead. No, if Colon has disappeared there's some other reason besides a sudden fear of being beaten. He never went of his own account."
"Tell us some more about it, Corney," said Fred, himself considerably shaken by the stunning news brought by the runner.
Corney had by now succeeded in regaining his breath.
"Well, he's gone, that's a dead sure thing," he began. "I went around to his house to get him to come. Found several other fellows sitting there on the bank outside the fence. They didn't have the nerve to go in and ask for Colon, you see. But I walked up to the door, and knocked. Mrs. Colon came out, and smiled to see the mob there, like she might be feeling proud that her boy was so well thought of."
"Oh! cut it short!" growled Dick Hendricks. "Get down to facts. What did she say?"
"That she was letting Chris sleep longer this morning, because he was working so hard these days; but would go and wake him up. A minute later I heard her call out, and then I ran in, fearing that something had happened to our chum. She was there in his room, wringing her hands, and carryin' on like everything. Then I saw that the bed hadn't been slept in. Fellers, it gave me a cold creep, because you see, I just knew something terrible must have happened to poor old Colon."
Fred tried to keep his head about him in this trying moment. He knew that this peculiar disappearance of Colon could not be an accident; nor had the long-legged sprinter gone away of his own accord. There must be more about the matter than appeared on the surface.
"One thing I think we can be sure of, right at the start," he remarked, seriously; and it was wonderful how eagerly the others listened to what he was about to say, as if they had more than ordinary confidence in Fred Fenton's judgment.
"What is that, Fred?" asked Dick Hendricks.
"Colon never went off willingly," the other declared.
"Sure he didn't; but who could have done it, Fred?" demanded Bristles, clenching his fists aggressively, and looking ready for a fight, if only he knew on whom to vent his anger.
"That's where we're all up a tree, and we'd better turn back right now," Fred declared. "No use practicing this morning, with Colon lost to us. Who'd have any heart to do his best?"
"Just what I was going to say, boys," spoke up Corney. "Come along back to his home with me. There's getting to be the biggest excitement in old Riverport that you ever heard tell of. Even when I chased after you they were running about in the streets, talkin' about the latest sensation. Women was gatherin' in knots on the corners, and discussin' it from all sides. They had sent for the chief of our police force, and I saw him headin' that way as I came along, with a whole mob of the fellers at his heels."
"Whew! ain't this a stunner, though?" gasped the tall student, hurrying to keep up with the excited little bunch of schoolboys as they headed back toward the town.
Just as Corney had declared, they found the place buzzing with excitement. All thought of business seemed to have been utterly abandoned for the time being; and merchants, as well as clerks, gathered outside the stores, engaged in discussing the news that had burst upon them.
Fred, Bristles and the rest were soon at Colon's home.
"Gee! look at the crowd; would you?" ejaculated Corney, as they came in sight of some scores of men, women and the younger element, who jostled each other in front of the house. "Ain't it funny how a thing like this spreads? Talk to me about wildfire—excitin' news has got it beat a mile. Why, they're still comin' in flocks and droves. The whole town will be around here before long."
"Can you blame them?" remarked Dick Hendricks; "look at us right now, heading for the hub of the wheel for all we're worth. But there's one of the constables keeping 'em out of the gate. Wonder if he'll let us in?"
"He's just got to," said Corney. "I'll tell him Mrs. Colon sent me out to get the whole bunch, and he'll pass us all right."
Several did get in with the bold Corney, among them Fred and Bristles; but the main part of the group had to content themselves with kicking their heels against the fence, and waiting to get any additional news when their comrades came out.
Inside they found Judge Colon, looking very much flushed. The missing boy was his nephew, and he was taking more than usual interest in the matter.
Just now he seemed to be trying to comfort the alarmed mother, who, being a widow, with her only boy taken away in this mysterious manner, was much in need of sympathy and advice.
"Depend upon it, Matilda," the judge was saying; "it will prove to be only some wild prank on the part of his mates; Christopher will turn up presently, safe and sound. You say he went out last night; do you happen to know where?"
"He was over to my house, Judge," spoke up Bristles, boldly, wishing to give all the information in his power.
"Ah! yes, it's you, Andrew, is it?" the gentleman remarked, looking around. "And about what time did he start away for home, may I ask?"
"It couldn't have been much after ten, sir," replied the other. "We were playing cribbage, and he got the odd game. Yes, I remember, now, he said his mother would be in bed anyway when he got home."
"And I did retire about nine, as I usually do," remarked Mrs. Colon, upon whose face the marks of tears could be plainly seen. "I didn't hear Christopher come in, because I slept unusually well the early part of the night. Then came that cruel shock this morning, when I saw his bed all made up, and knew he hadn't come home at all."
"You went to the door with him; didn't you, Andrew?" the judge went on, with the persistence a lawyer might be expected to show when he had a willing witness on the stand, and was bent on getting every fact, however slight, from him.
"Yes, sir, I even went out to our gate; and we stood there for nearly five minutes, I guess, talkin' about athletic matters. Then he said good-night, and walked down the road. There was a moon in the west, and I could see Colon swinging along in that sturdy way he has. Then I turned around and went up to bed."
"When you stood there at the gate did anybody pass by?" asked the judge.
"No sir, not a living soul," responded Bristles, after a few seconds of thought.
"And you didn't hear any suspicious sounds, like boys laughing partly under their breath; did you, Andrew?"
"Not a chuckle, sir," replied the other. "It was just a fine night, I noticed, and looked like we'd have good weather right along for the meet. But if you think there are any fellers in this town mean enough to kidnap Colon, just to give us a black eye to-morrow, I must say I can't understand it, sir."
"Well, I believe I have known of a certain lot of young fellows who happen to hold forth around Riverport, and who would not be above doing a thing like that, given just half a cause," the judge replied, meaningly; and every one knew whom he had in mind, for their thoughts immediately flew to Buck Lemington and his cronies.
"But perhaps it wasn't any prank of boys at all," Bristles went on, eagerly; "Colon said the night was so bright he had half a notion to take a two mile dash out over the Grafton road, just to wind up his big day. I advised him not to think of it, but he only laughed. But he's awful set in his ways, sir, once he makes up his mind."
"He said that; did he?" asked the judge, apparently thinking that there might be something worth while taking note of in this latest assertion.
"Yes, sir, he certainly did," the boy answered. "Colon's a queer fish anyhow, and does heaps of things nobody else'd ever think of. Now, what if he did start on that run; why, something might have happened to him—perhaps he tripped, and fell, and broke a leg, so he couldn't even crawl home."
The mother started to cry again as she pictured her boy suffering all through the night as Bristles described so recklessly. And so the judge moved aside with several of the boys, the better to talk unheard by Colon's mother.
"Things are beginning to take on shape, I see," he remarked, grimly. "Possibly the boy did foolishly start on that late run by moonlight, and met with trouble. Some people with whom I talked on the way here were of the opinion he had been kidnapped by tramps, and was being held for a ransom, just as if this might be Sicily or Greece."
"I don't think that way, Judge Colon," said Fred, speaking for the first time.
"I'm pleased to hear that you have another idea, my boy; let us know its nature," said the lawyer, who had always been favorably impressed with the sterling worth of Mr. Fenton's son, and now hoped he had struck on a plausible explanation of the odd mystery.
"My idea is," Fred began, modestly, yet firmly, "that Colon has been abducted by some of those Mechanicsburg fellows, who know they haven't a ghost of a chance to win the three shorter running events on the schedule, with him in line. They've got a college man for a coach, you see, sir, and like as not he's been telling them of the tricks that are played among all the big universities; so they've just thought to spoil our game for us by holding our best man a prisoner till after the meet."
A CLUE IN THE DITCH
Judge Colon looked keenly at Fred as he made this suggestion.
"I don't suppose now, my boy," the gentleman remarked, "you have any reason to suppose that what you say is the actual fact; that is, proof positive?"
"No sir, I haven't," replied Fred. "It is only an idea that came into my mind."
"Based upon what, might I ask?" the judge continued.
"Well, I've known that a good many Mechanicsburg boys have been down here lately, curious to see what sort of a showing Riverport would make in the meet."
"Yes, quite natural that they should want to know; because these must be anxious and trying times for the young people of the three towns," the judge remarked.
"And," Fred went on, "of course they've heard a lot about our sprinter; for Riverport boys are like all other boys, and like to brag, especially when they've really got a phenomenon of a runner, like our Colon, to boast about."
The judge smiled at that; for was not that same wonder a member of his family—a Colon?
"And you think then, Fred, some of those up-river boys, convinced that if Christopher ran in the meet he would easily capture all the prizes in his class, made up their minds that something must be done to prevent such a wholesale delivery? You suspect, Fred, that they got up a bold little scheme to actually abduct the boy on one of the two nights preceding the tournament?"
"Do you believe it impossible, Judge?" asked the boy, quickly.
"Well, to be frank with you, I don't," answered the gentleman, gravely. "Indeed, while my knowledge of boy nature is not so extensive as that of some persons, I've got one myself who can think up more schemes in a minute than I could solve in an hour. And, Fred, I should be pleased if your supposition turned out to be true. It would at least relieve my mind with regard to graver things; however unpleasant the absence of Christopher might prove to the school that believes in him."
"But he may be found in time!" declared Corney Shays, who had listened to all this talk with bated breath, and wide open eyes.
"He will, if a pack of hounds like the boys of Riverport school are worth their salt!" avowed Bristles.
"That has the right sort of ring to it," remarked the judge, with kindling eyes. "And in order to induce men, as well as boys, to take part in the hunt for your missing comrade, I'm going to offer a reward of one hundred dollars for his return inside of twenty-four hours, uninjured. I'll have half a dozen cards posted in the public places of the town, so that every person will know of my offer."
"Hurrah for the judge!" burst out the impetuous Corney.
"Then the sooner we get to work, fellows," said Fred, impressively, "the better."
"Yes, spread the news as fast as you can," observed the judge; "tell it to that crowd of boys outside the fence, and get them to scatter with it all over town. Scour the whole territory, looking in every barn and woodshed to see whether they may have kept him a prisoner there. Boys sometimes can be more or less thoughtless, and even cruel when engaged in what they term sport. As the old saying has it, 'this is often fun for the boy, but death to the frog.' Be off, boys; and success to you!"
Apparently the judge was not quite so much concerned as before Fred had made his suggestion. The unpleasant idea of lawless tramps having caught Colon, to hold him for ransom, had begun to lose plausibility in the mind of the reasoning lawyer.
"Come along, fellows!" cried Bristles, who scented the pleasures of action, with something of the delight that an old war-horse does the smoke of battle.
They hurried out of the house, leaving to the judge the task of explaining to Mrs. Colon how the situation had improved.
There was an immediate scattering of the clans. Boys ran this way and that, telling the astonishing news to every one they met. Housewives stood in doorways and anxiously inquired as to the very latest theory to account for the mysterious disappearance of a Riverport lad. Such a thing had never happened before, save when little Rupert Whiting wandered off in search of butterflies, and was found two days later, living on the blueberries that grew so abundantly in the woods.
And when the latest suggestion, connected with the boys of Mechanicsburg, began to be current it created no end of unfavorable comment.
Meanwhile Fred and several of his chums had started in to see what they could do toward finding Colon. As usual they looked to Fred to do pretty much all the planning. Somehow, in times like this, when boys are called upon to meet a sudden emergency, they naturally turn toward the strongest spirit. In this case it happened to be Fred.
"Now, in the beginning, fellows," he remarked, when he found that only Corney, Sid Wells, Bristles, and Semi-Colon were gathered around him; "we've got to go into this thing with some show of system."
"That's right," admitted Corney.
"Too many already just prancing around," observed Bristles, scornfully; "up one road, and down another, peekin' into barns, and asking questions of every farmer around. All that's what we call 'wasted endeavor,' at school. Fred, system is the thing. But just where do we make a proper start, so as to cover the field, and not go over the same ground twice?"
"That's just it," replied the other; "we want to map out our course beforehand, and then stick to it. Now, to begin with, Bristles, let's decide which way Colon would have gone from your house, if he had really made up his mind that he must have a last two mile practice spin before he went home, and to bed."
"Say, I can tell you that right off the reel," declared Bristles, officiously.
"Then get busy," remarked Corney.
"Why, you see," said Bristles, "when he talked of doing that little stunt, he said he'd a good notion to run up to the graveyard and back, which would make an even two miles."
"But you didn't say anything about that before?" Fred objected.
"Clean slipped my mind," his chum admitted, frankly; "fact is, I never thought it made the least difference what Colon said. The main thing seemed to be he was gone, like the ground had opened and swallowed him. But if he took that run, Fred, make up your mind it was up there."
Corney gave a little whistle.
"Gee! the loneliest old road inside of ten miles around Riverport, too. I guess old Colon must have been wanting to give them fellers the best chance ever. If he'd been offered a prize to accommodate 'em, he couldn't have hit the bulls-eye better."
"Then that's the road we want to take," said Fred, decisively. "Don't mention it to anybody, but come along. Somebody who knows all the quirks of that road better than I do, lead off. And every fellow keep on the lookout, right and left, for signs."
So they hurried away toward the house where the Carpenters lived.
Bristles showed them just where he stood when, in the moonlight, he saw the last of his tall chum, turning to wave a hand at him.
With that they started off. Little talking was indulged in, for all of them understood that they had a serious matter on their hands. With Colon gone, their hopes of landing a majority of the prizes offered for the various events of the athletic meet would begin to grow dim indeed. It would take the heart out of other contestants on the part of Riverport, and in all probability accomplish just the end those who had abducted Colon had in view.
After they had passed along for some little distance, eagerly scanning every object in sight, their hopes fell a trifle. Boylike, they had imagined that as soon as they started out upon this promising theory they would find plenty of evidence calculated to prove its truth.
"Ain't seen a sign of him yet!" grumbled Corney; "and we're nigh half-way to the old graveyard, too."
"Wait!" said Fred, as he suddenly drew up, and the others followed suit; though none of them could imagine what had caused their leader to stop his quick walk.
"Seen something; have you, Fred?" asked Bristles, eagerly.
"Why, I was wondering," Fred remarked, quietly, and with a twinkle in his eye, "if they grew things like that around here on bushes, instead of blueberries!"
He pointed down as he spoke. Alongside the road at this point lay a ditch that was a couple of feet lower than the surface of the pike. Straggly bushes partly over-ran the watercourse; and caught on the twigs of these was some sort of object that had attracted the attention of the observant boy.
"Say, it's a cap!" ejaculated Corney.
"And a good cap, too; not an old cast-off thing!" Sid declared.
"Hold on, let me take it up out of there with this stick," said Fred. "No use getting our feet wet; and besides, it's easier this way."
So saying, while the others clustered around, he reached down, and deftly thrusting the end of the stick under the cap, drew it to him.
Immediately Bristles uttered a loud cry of astonishment, not unmixed with joy.
"You recognize the cap, then; do you?" asked Fred.
"Sure thing," answered Bristles, promptly. "It's Colon's cap."
THE COVERED WAGON
"What makes you so sure it belonged to him?" Fred asked.
"Oh! I know it as well as I do my own cap," replied Bristles. "It's a queer mixture, you can see; and here's the place where Colon shot that arrow through it one day, when he asked me to throw it up in the air for him."
"And I ought to know it too, Fred," remarked the short legged cousin of the missing boy. "Because I bought it for Chris. You see, I lost his other for him, and I had to spend some of my hard-earned cash to get him a new one. I found that at Snyder's Emporium; and I thought he'd kick like fun because it was so odd; but say, he just thought it the best thing ever! That's Colon's headgear, all right."
"Then we'll consider that point settled," Fred went on to say. "The next thing on the program to decide is, how does it happen to be lying here in this ditch? As I remember it, there wasn't much of a wind last night when I went to bed, and it doesn't seem then that it could have blown off his head when he was running."
"There wasn't a ripple in the leaves of the trees," declared Bristles.
"And if it did blow off, wouldn't he have stopped to look for it in the moonlight?" remarked Sid Wells.
"Colon is too careful of his things not to make a hunt for his cap," came from Semi-Colon, who ought to know if any one did, about the peculiarities of his own cousin.
"Well, the cap was here," Fred said; "and we found it; now why was it lying in the ditch as if it had been thrown there, or knocked off in a scuffle?"
"Wow! now perhaps we ain't gettin' down to brass tacks!" ejaculated Bristles.
Fred bent over to examine the road, along the edge of the ditch.
"Looks like somethin' might have been going on here," Corney suggested.
"You're right," Sid added, excitedly. "Why, anybody with one eye could see there'd been a scramble around here. Look at the scrapings in the dust; would you? just like a pack of fellows had set on one; and the bunch were jumping around him, trying to get away, and the others holding on. Fred, here's where it must have happened, sure!"
"I think so myself," returned the leader of the five boys, gravely surveying the tell-tale marks in the dust of the road.
"Eureka! ain't we the handy boys, though, to get on the track of the kidnappers so quick?" exclaimed Bristles, proudly.
"Go slow," advised Fred; "we've only made a start as yet. Even if it happened here we don't know who jumped on Colon, and captured him. It might have been those Mechanicsburg fellows; or the three tramps who searched the Masterson farmhouse; and then again, why, perhaps some of our own Riverport boys may have been having a little fun, as they would call it, giving the rest of us a bad scare, just to have the laugh on us."
"Say, do you think Buck Lemington and his bunch would get down as low as that?" demanded Bristles.
"I didn't mention his name," replied Fred; "but you all knew what was on my mind. Well, from what I've seen of Buck, it strikes me he'd never stop one minute if the idea once came into his mind. Perhaps some of you noticed that he wasn't running around like the rest of the fellows. Buck was watching the row, and I thought once I saw him grin as if he might be enjoying something."
"And Fred," spoke up Corney just then, "you just ought to have seen the ugly look he gave you when you happened to pass. Buck's never gotten over it because when you dropped into Riverport his star began to set. It's been going lower all the time, and he keeps nursing his ugly feeling for you. Some fine day he means to get you when you're not thinking, and even up all scores. Look out for him, Fred."
"I used to think Buck hated me about as bad as he could anybody," remarked Sid; "but lately I've changed my mind. I never gave him one-half the cause to feel ugly that Fred has."
"You don't say," remarked the one mentioned, looking surprised; "what have I done to Buck that is so dreadful? I've tried to mind my own business, and never went out of my way a single step to bother with him."
"But it just happened," ventured Sid, "that your way was Buck's own road in some cases. Now, time was, and every fellow here will bear me out in what I say, when Buck used to take a certain pretty girl to lots of places. They squabbled more or less; but Buck wouldn't allow any other fellow to be Flo's escort. All that is changed these days. She cuts him dead; and every time she turns him down he grins and grits his teeth, and I reckon thinks of you kindly—not."
"Oh! well, that's ancient history," remarked Fred, smiling. "And it cuts no figure in what we're trying to find out now. If Colon was waylaid here, and made a prisoner, how can we discover who did the job?"
As he spoke he once more threw himself down on hands and knees as if bent upon closely examining the dusty road.
"I can see a plain footprint here, that has a mark I'd know again," he presently exclaimed. "Do any of you happen to know whether Colon is wearing a shoe with plain patch on the sole running diagonally across about half way down?"
Bristles spoke up immediately.
"He wasn't last night, and that's a cinch. Because he had on his running shoes, and they were new this season. I know, for he showed me where he meant to have a little extra sewing done on each shoe to-day, for fear something might happen in the races, and he has only the one pair. I handled both, and the soles didn't have a sign of a patch, Fred."
"Then that settles one thing," remarked the other; "we've got a clue to the first of his enemies, whoever he proves to be. And wherever we go we'll keep a sharp lookout for that shoe with the patch on the sole. Get down here, fellows, and take the measure of it right now."
While they were doing this Fred was looking around; and no sooner had his four chums regained their feet than he was ready with a new proposition.
"There's a house over yonder," he said; "now, it's possible we might learn something if we asked questions. No harm trying it, anyway, so come along, boys."
A woman stood in the doorway. She seemed to be a farmer's wife, and she had been watching the actions of the five boys, puzzled to account for their queer behavior.
Thinking that the quickest way to enlist her sympathy would be to relate what a peculiar thing had happened on the preceding night, Fred politely accosted her, and as quickly as he could find words to do so, told the story of Colon's vanishing.
"Now, you see, ma'am," he went on, after he had aroused her interest in this way, "we've reason to believe that they jumped on our chum right over where you noticed us examining the ground. And seeing you standing here, with your house so near the place, I thought that perhaps you might have heard something last night."
"Well, that's just what I did," the farmer's wife replied, thrilling the boys who had clustered around the doorway where she stood.
"Do you happen to know about what time it might have been?" asked Fred.
"Along about half after ten, I should say," she answered.
Fred looked at his chums, inquiringly.
"Just to the dot," declared Bristles, "Mebbe you remember that I said it was some time after ten when Colon broke away. Then we stood talkin' at the gate a little bit; and when he got this far on his mile dash up to the graveyard, it must have been close to the half hour. That tallies fine, Fred."
"What was it you heard, ma'am?" Fred continued, after the talkative Bristles had had his say, and subsided again.
"Why, I'd gone to bed long before. My man is as deaf as a post, and never hears a thing. I thought I caught a shout, like a boy whooping. We've got a few trees of fine Baldwin apples back here, and twice now, boys from Riverport have raided the orchard; so I'm on the watch to fire a gun out of the window to give 'em a scare."
"And you thought they were in your trees again; did you?" asked Fred, when the woman paused.
"That's what struck me at first," she went on; "but as soon as I got up I knew better; because all the noise came from up the road there. I stayed by the window listening and heard a lot of shouting. Then it was all still, and pretty soon a covered wagon went past the house."
"Which way; toward Riverport or in the other direction?" Fred inquired.
"Oh!" the woman replied, "it was going up toward the graveyard; but then I didn't think that so strange, because I've seen that same limpy white horse, and the covered wagon, go by here lots of times for years now."
"That is, you knew it, and could even tell it in the moonlight?" the boy asked.
"It belongs to old Toby Scroggins," she replied. "The hoss limps, and you can always hear Toby saying 'gad-up! gad-up!' every ten feet, right along."
"I know him, and what she says is so," remarked Sid. "Why, years ago he had the same old crowbait of a horse, and the boys mocked him when he'd keep using the whip, and telling the beast to get along."
"Did you hear Toby talking to his limping nag last night, ma'am?" asked Fred.
"Why, lands! no, I didn't, now you mention it," she answered; "but then sometimes he goes to sleep on his wagon, returning from market, where he buys corn for his hogs, 'stead of raisin' it like the rest of us. And he lives a long way up the road, you see."
Fred turned upon his companions.
"What do you think, fellows," he asked; "was that wagon filled with corn last night, or had it a lot of boys under the cover when it passed here, one of them being our missing chum, Colon?"
"I reckon you've struck pay dirt, Fred," declared Corney.
"My opinion too!" echoed Semi-Colon.
"Count me in on that, and make it unanimous!" Bristles remarked.
"And what about you, Sid?" asked Fred, turning on his nearest chum.
"H'm! I not only agree to all you say, Fred, but I reckon I know right now where they've got Colon shut up. He's in the haunted mill, boys!"
Several of the other boys had uttered exclamations when Sid made this statement. Fred, however, did not seem to be very much impressed.
"A haunted mill!" he repeated; "that's something new to me. I thought I'd heard about everything queer around Riverport; but I didn't know you had ghosts hanging out here. Where's it at, Sid; and why do you call it haunted?"
"Oh! I'd almost forgotten all about that place," the other replied; "you see none of the boys ever go up any more to the mill-pond swimming, since Dub Jasper from over in Mechanicsburg way, got caught in that sucker hole, and near drowned. Folks said it was too dangerous for us there. But I thought I'd told you about the old mill, and how it hadn't been used for years now."
"But is it haunted; did anybody ever see a ghost there?" asked Fred, determined to get at the truth.
"Shucks! no," Bristles broke in with; "the boys just started to call it that because it looks so gloomy like, standin' there deserted. We used to play around it. I've slid over on the big wheel myself, lots of times, and gone all the way around, under water as well. But I guess there's no real ghost about it, Fred."
"All the same," continued Sid, "it would make a great place to keep a fellow so nobody could find him. I understand that the owner closed it up, boarded the windows, and locked the doors, after we quit going there."
"How far away is it from here?" Fred next inquired.
"All of three miles, I should say," the woman remarked; for she had been listening to what the boys were saying, with more or less interest.
"And about as far from Mechanicsburg," Sid went on. "You see, it's on a road that runs into this some ways up. And old Toby, he lives about half a mile further on. Now, I wonder how they ever got his limpy horse? Perhaps they hired it for the time; or else just sneaked it out of his barn, to come down here with."
"Just now," remarked Fred, "we don't care much about how they did it. What we want to do is to start right off, and get up there to that same region of the mill. Are you good for the hike, fellows?"
"Are we?" echoed Bristles; "why, if you say the word we'll give you a run for your money, Fred, and put you in practice for to-morrow."
"Let's start right now," suggested Corney.
When the second mile had been covered, Semi-Colon was gasping for breath, but sticking to it gamely. He was a most persistent little fellow, and had always played a good game of ball, despite his lack of stature.
Fred eased up a bit. There was no great need for haste, after all. The day was before them, and they must by now be getting up in the region where the mill spoken of was to be found.
He kept a bright lookout ahead, but trees concealed much of the view, so that he could hardly have made any discovery. Besides, upon asking Sid, he learned that the deserted mill was not upon this road at all; but down a private lane, that was almost wholly overgrown with briars and bushes, not having been used for teams in nearly twenty years.
They had met very few persons on the road—a haywagon headed for Riverport to supply some of the local demand; a farmer making his way slowly homeward after an early visit to the market with produce—these two going in opposite directions made up about the sum total.
In these days it had become such a common sight to meet groups of boys clad in running togs, and sprinting along the country roads, that neither driver paid much attention to the bunch that loped easily onward.
"There's where the Mechanicsburg road joins this one," Sid had said, as they passed the junction point; but there was no reason why they should stop; though Fred did find himself wondering whether, if he examined the ground very carefully around on that other turnpike, he would discover such a thing as a footprint, with the sole patched.
"If it was done by Mechanicsburg fellows," he remarked, "I reckon they'd have come out here then, and gone along the road to borrow Toby's white horse with the covered wagon. It must have been that last which drew them; because, you see, they could hide inside, and nobody would think they were carrying off a fellow."
"We're getting pretty close now, Fred," remarked Sid; "suppose you slacken up, and give Semi-Colon a chance to get his wind. He's nearly done for."
"Ain't neither!" snapped the game little fellow, stubbornly; "c'd keep it up—all morning—if I—had to."
But Fred immediately stopped running, falling back into a walk. He was looking ahead along the road.
"There's a boy just passing that opening yonder, and coming this way," he remarked; "and strikes me he doesn't look like a regular buck-wheat farmer's boy."
"Where?" demanded Sid, eagerly, and immediately adding; "Ginger! if it ain't that Wagner, the Mechanicsburg fellow who always puts up such a stiff fight in baseball, football and the rowing contest. Now whatever in the wide world d'ye think he can be doing here, three miles and more from home?"
"Oh!" said Fred, drily, "perhaps they've heard the news up there, and some of their boys have started out to see about earning that hundred dollars reward. It might have been telephoned up, you know."
"But all the same you don't believe that, Fred!" Corney exclaimed.
"It looks mighty suspicious, in my eyes, with that deserted mill so near by, and us believin' they've got our chum held up there," Bristles remarked, mysteriously.