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´╗┐Title: The Chums of Scranton High at Ice Hockey
Author: Ferguson, Donald
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Chums of Scranton High at Ice Hockey" ***

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THE CHUMS OF SCRANTON HIGH

At Ice Hockey



BY

DONALD FERGUSON



THE WORLD SYNDICATE PUBLISHING CO.

CLEVELAND, O.               NEW YORK, N.Y.



Copyright, MCMXIX

by

THE WORLD SYNDICATE PUBLISHING CO.



Printed in the United States of America

by

THE COMMERCIAL BOOKBINDING CO.

CLEVELAND, O.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

     I. GOOD TIMES COMING
    II. A BULL IN THE CHINA SHOP
   III. GIVING NICK A CHANCE
    IV. THE HOCKEY MATCH WITH A SCRATCH SEVEN
     V. THAD BRINGS SOME STARTLING NEWS
    VI. NOT GUILTY
   VII. TURNING A PAGE OF THE PAST
  VIII. OWEN DUGDALE'S ANNOUNCEMENT
    IX. AN ADVENTURE ON THE ROAD
     X. THE MYSTERY DEEPENS
    XI. A MOTHER'S SACRIFICE
   XII. TIP SATISFIES HIS CRAVING--AND LOSES
  XIII. THE LIVELY GAME WITH KEYPORT'S SEVEN
   XIV. ENCOURAGING NICK
    XV. WHERE THE SPARKS FLEW
   XVI. AT THE DEACON'S FIRESIDE
  XVII. A WONDERFUL DISCOVERY
 XVIII. IN A SAFE HARBOR AT LAST
   XIX. MEETING BELLEVILLE'S STRONG TEAM
    XX. NICK MAKES GOOD--CONCLUSION



THE CHUMS OF SCRANTON HIGH AT ICE HOCKEY

CHAPTER I

GOOD TIMES COMING

Hugh looked at the big thermometer alongside the Juggins' front door
as he came out, and the mercury was still falling steadily.

"It's certainly a whole lot sharper than it was early this morning,
Thad.  Feels to me as if the first cold wave of the winter had struck
Scranton."

"The ice on our flooded baseball field, and that out at Hobson's
mill-pond ought to be in great shape after a hard freeze to-night,
Hugh."

"We're in luck this time, chum Thad.  Look at that sky, will you?
Never a cloud in sight, and the sun going down yellow.  Deacon
Winslow, our reliable old weather prophet blacksmith, who always
keeps a goose-bone hanging up in his smithy, to tell what sort of a
winter we're going to get, says such a sign stands for cold and clear
to-morrow after that kind of a sunset.  Red means warmer, you know."

"I only hope it keeps on for forty-eight hours more, that's all I can
say, Hugh.  This being Thursday, it would fetch us to Saturday.  I
understand they're not meaning to let a single pair of steel runners
on the baseball park, to mark the smooth surface of the new ice,
until Saturday morning."

"Which will be a fine thing for our hockey try-out with the scratch
Seven, eh, Thad?"

"We want to test our team play before going up against the boys of
Keyport High, that's a fact; and Scranton can put up a hard fighting
bunch of irregulars.  There are some mighty clever hockey players in
and out of the high school, who are not on our Seven.  I guess there
ought to be a pretty lively game on Saturday; and there will be if
several fellows I could mention line up against us."

The two boys who had just left the home of a schoolmate named Horatio
Juggins were great friends.  Although Hugh Morgan had seemed to jump
into popular leadership among the boys of Scranton, soon after his
folks came to reside in the town, he and Thad Stevens had become
almost inseparables.

Indeed, some of the fellows often regarded them as "Damon and
Pythias," or on occasions it might be "David and Jonathan."  Both
were of an athletic turn, and took prominent parts in all baseball
games, and other strenuous outdoor sports indulged in by the boys of
Scranton High; a record of which will be found in the several
preceding books of this series, to which the new reader is referred,
if he feels any curiosity concerning the earlier doings of this
lively bunch.

Hugh was cool and calm in times when his chum would show visible
signs of great excitement.  He had drilled himself to control his
temper under provocation, until he felt master of himself.

It was the 10th of January, and thus far the opportunities for
skating that had come to the young people of that section of country
where Scranton was located, had been almost nil; which would account
for the enthusiasm of the lads when Thad announced how rapidly the
thermometer was giving promise of a severe cold spell.

Scranton had two keen rivals for athletic honors.  Allandale and
Belleville High fellows had given them a hard run of it before they
carried off the championship pennant of the county in baseball the
preceding summer.

Then, in the late fall, there had been a wonderfully successful
athletic tournament, inaugurated to celebrate the enclosing of the
grounds outside Scranton with a high board-fence, and the building of
a splendid grandstand, as well as rooms where the athletic
participants in sports might dress in comfort.

With the coming of winter the big field thus enclosed had been
properly flooded, so that it might afford a vast amount of healthy
recreation to all Scranton boys and girls who loved to skate.

Hitherto they had been compelled to trudge all the way out to
Hobson's mill-pond, and back, which was a long enough journey to keep
many from ever thinking of indulging in what is, perhaps, the most
cherished winter sport among youthful Americans.

The two friends had been asked around by the Juggins boy to inspect a
wonderful assortment of treasure trove that an old and peculiar
uncle, with a fad for collecting curios of every description, and who
was at present out in India, had sent to his young nephew and
namesake.

These consisted of scores of most interesting objects, besides
several thousand rare postage stamps.  Taken in all it was the
greatest collection of stamps any of them had ever heard of.  And the
other things proved of such absorbing interest that Hugh and Thad had
lingered until the afternoon was done, with supper not so far away
but that they must hurry home.

Thad, apparently, had something on his mind which he wished to get
rid of, judging from the way in which he several times looked queerly
at his chum.  Finally, as if determined to speak up, he started, half
apologetically:

"Hugh, excuse me if I'm butting in where I have no business," he
said; "but when I saw you talking so long with that town bully, Nick
Lang, this afternoon, after we got out of school, I didn't know what
to think.  Was he threatening you about anything, Hugh?  After that
fine dressing-down you gave Nick last summer, when he forced you to
fight him while we were out at that barn dance, I notice he keeps
fairly mum when you're around."

Hugh chuckled, as though the recollection might not be wholly
displeasing; though, truth to tell, that was the only fight he had
been in since coming to Scranton.  Even it would not have taken place
only that he could not stand by and see the big bully thrash most
cruelly a weaker boy than himself.

"Oh! no, you're away off in your guess, Thad," he replied
immediately.  "Fact is, instead of threats, Nick was asking a favor
of me, for once in his life."

"You don't say!" ejaculated Thad.  "Well, now you've got me excited
there's nothing left but to tell me what sort of a favor Nick would
want of you, Hugh."

"It seems that for a long time he's been admiring those old hockey
skates of mine," continued the other.  "In fact, they've grown on
Nick so that he even condescended to ask me to _sell_ them to him for
a dollar, which he said he'd earned by doing odd jobs, just in order
to buy my old skates.  He chanced to hear me say once that my mother
had promised to get me the best silver-plated hockey skates on the
market, for my next birthday, which is now only a few days off.
That's all there was to it, Thad."

"Well," commented Thad, "we all know that Nick is a boss skater, even
on the old runners he sports, and which mebbe his dad used before
him, they're that ancient.  He can hold his own with the next one
whenever there's any ice worth using.  And as to hockey, why, if Nick
would only play fair, which he never will, it seems because his
nature must be warped and crooked, he could have a leading place on
our Seven.  As it is, the boys refused to stand for him in any game,
and so he had to herd with the scratch players.  Even then Mr.
Leonard, our efficient coach and trainer, has to call him down good
and hard for cheating, or playing off-side purposely.  It's anything
to win, with Nick."

"You're painting Nick pretty true to life, Thad," agreed Hugh;
"though I'm sorry it's so, I've got a hunch that chap, if he only
could be reconstructed in some way or other, might be a shining mark
in many of our athletic games."

"Oh! that's hopeless, Hugh, I tell you.  The leopard can't change its
spots; and Nick Lang was born to be just the tricky bully he's always
shown himself."

Hugh shook his head, as though not quite agreeing with his chum.

"Time alone will tell, Thad.  There might come a sudden revolution in
Nick's way of seeing things.  I've heard of boys who were said to be
the worst in the town taking a turn, and forging up to the head.
It's improbable, I admit, but not impossible."

"Oh! he's bad all the way through, believe me, Hugh.  But did you
sell the skates, as he wanted you to do?"

"No, I told him I didn't care to," Hugh replied.  "I was tempted to
agree when he looked so bitterly disappointed; then an ugly scowl
came over his face, and he broke away and left me; so that
opportunity was lost.  Besides, it's best not to be too sure I'm
going to get those silver-plated skates after all, though Mom is
looking pretty mysterious these days; and some sort of package came
to her by express from New York the other day.  She hurried it away
before I could even see the name printed on the wrapper."

"Perhaps," said Thad a bit wistfully, "you might bequeath me your old
skates in case you do get new ones.  Mine are not half as good for
hockey.  I don't blame Nick for envying you their possession; but
then it hasn't been so much what you had on your feet that has made
you the swift hockey player you are, but coolness of judgment,
ability to anticipate the moves of the enemy, and a clever stroke
that can send the puck skimming over the ice like fury."

"Here, that'll do for you, Thad.  No bouquets needed, thank you, all
the same.  According to my notion there are several fellows in
Scranton my equals at hockey, and perhaps my superiors.  Nick Lang,
for instance, if only he had skates he could depend on, and which
wouldn't threaten to trip him up in the midst of an exciting
scrimmage."

"But, see here, Hugh, you were speaking just now about a chap built
like Nick turning over a new leaf, and making himself respected in
the community in spite of the bad name he's always had.  Honestly
now, do you really believe that's possible?  Is there such a thing as
the regeneration of a boy who's been born bad, and always taken
delight in doing every sort of mean thing on the calendar?  I can't
believe it."

Hugh Morgan turned and gave his chum a serious look.

"I've got a good mind to tell you something that's been on my mind
lately," he said.



CHAPTER II

A BULL IN THE CHINA SHOP

On hearing his chum say that, Thad gripped Hugh's arm.

"Then get busy, Hugh," he hastened to remark. "When you start
cogitating over things there's always something interesting on foot.
What is it this time?"

"Oh! just a little speculation I've been indulging in, Thad, and on
the very subject we were talking about--whether a really bad man, or
boy, for that matter, can ever turn right-about-face, and redeem
himself. You say it's impossible; I think otherwise."

"Tell me a single instance, then, Hugh."

"Just what I'm meaning to do," came the ready response, "but it's in
romance, not history; though there are just as strong instances that
can be proven. I've heard my father mention some of them long ago.
But it happens, Thad, that I've been reading over, for the third
time, a book we once enjoyed together immensely. We got a splendid
set of Victor Hugo's works lately at our house, you remember."

"Oh!" exclaimed Thad, "you're referring to his _Les Miserables_, I
guess. And now I remember how you said at the time we read it
together that the scene where that good priest forgave the rascally
Jean Valjean for stealing his silver candlesticks and spoons, after
he had been so kind to him made a great impression on your mind.
But, see here, Hugh, are you comparing that sneak Nick Lang to Jean
Valjean, the ex-convict?"

"Yes, in a way," the other replied.  "The man who had been released
from the galleys, after he had served his term for stealing a loaf
of bread was despised by society, which shut the door in his face.
He was like a wild beast, you remember, and hated everyone. Well, by
degrees, Nick is finding himself in just about the same position.
Everybody looks on him as being thoroughly bad; and so he tells
himself that since he's got the name he might as well have the
game."

"I suppose that's about the way it goes," Thad admitted.

"There's no doubt of it," Hugh told him. "Several times I remember
we had an idea Nick meant to reform; but he went back to his old
ways suddenly. I think people must have nagged him, and made him
feel ugly. But I've been wondering, Thad, what if Nick could have a
revelation about like the one that came to Jean Valjean at the time
that splendid old priest, looking straight at the thief when the
officers dragged him back with those silver candlesticks and spoons
hidden under his dirty blouse, told them the men had committed no
wrong, because he, the priest, had given the silver to him; which we
know he _had_ done in his mind, after discovering how he had been
robbed."

Thad shook his head in a dogged fashion, as though by no means
convinced.

"I reckon you'd be just the one to try that crazy scheme, Hugh, if
ever the chance came to you; but mark me when I say it'd all be
wasted on Nick."

"But why should you be so sure of that?" asked the other.  "The
ex-convict was pictured as the lowest of human animals. Hugo painted
him as hating every living being, because of his own wrongs; and
believing that there was no such thing as honor and justice among
mankind. It was done to make his change of heart seem all the more
remarkable; to prove that a fellow can never sink so low but that
there _may_ be a chance for him to climb up again, if only he makes
up his mind."

Thad laughed then, a little skeptically still, it must be confessed.

"Oh! that sounds all very fine, in a story, Hugh, but it'd never
work out in real life. According to my mind that Nick Lang will go
along to the end of the book as a bad egg. He'll fetch up in the
penitentiary, or reform school, some of these fine days. I've heard
Chief Wambold has declared that the next time he has anything
connected with breaking the law on Nick he expects to take him
before the Squire, and have him railroaded to the Reformatory; and
he means it, too."

"Well, you can hardly blame the Chief," agreed Hugh, "because Nick
and his pals, Leon Disney and Tip Slavin, have certainly made life
hard for the police force of Scranton for years back. Brush fires
have been started maliciously, just to see the fire-laddies run with
the machine and create a little excitement; orchards have been
robbed time and again; and, in fact, dozens of pranks more or less
serious been played night after night, all of which mischief is laid
at the door of Nick Lang, even if much of it can't be actually
traced there."

"Of course, what you say is the exact truth, Hugh."

"Give dog Tray a bad name, and he gets it right and left," chuckled
Hugh. "I've had an idea that once in a while some of the more
respected fellows in town may have broken loose, and gone on night
expeditions. They felt pretty safe in doing it, because every
citizen would believe Nick was the guilty one. But, in spite of your
thinking my idea impossible, I'd be tempted to try it out, if ever I
ran across the chance. It'd settle a thing I've worried over more
than a little."

No more was said on that subject, though afterwards Thad had it
brought to his attention again, and in a peculiar way at that.

The two boys separated a little further on, each heading homeward.

On the following morning it was found that their predictions
concerning the weather had been amply verified. The mercury had
dropped away down in the tube of the thermometer, and every
youngster had a happy look on his or her face at school, as though
the prospect for skating brought almost universal satisfaction.

Thad, with several others, had gone out to Hobson's mill-pond to try
the new ice after high school had dismissed for the week-end. Hugh
wanted to accompany them very much, but he had promised his mother
to spend a couple of hours that afternoon in mending something,
which had gone for a long time. And once his word was given Hugh
never broke it, no matter how alluring the prospect of sport might
be abroad.

It was about half-past three in the afternoon.

Hugh sat in his den amidst his prized possessions. He was working on
his lessons so as to get them out of the way, as there was some sort
of affair scheduled for that evening, which he meant to attend; and
he would be too tired after skating all day on Saturday to study any
that night, as he well knew.

Several times he glanced over to where his carefully polished and
well-sharpened skates, strapped together, lay on a side table. Each
look caused him to shrug his shoulders a bit. He could easily
imagine he heard the delightful clang of steel runners cutting into
that smooth sheet of new ice out at the mill pond; and the figures
of the happy skaters would pass before his eyes. Yes, probably Sue
Barnes would be there, too, with her chums, Ivy Middleton and Peggy
Noland, wondering, it might be, how he, Hugh, could deny himself
such a glorious opportunity for the first real good skate of the
season.

Then Hugh would heave a little sigh, and apply himself harder than
ever to his task. When he had an unpleasant thing to do he never
allowed temptation to swerve him. And, after all, it was pretty snug
and comfortable there in his den, Hugh told himself; besides, that
was a long walk home for a tired fellow to take, even in good
company.

Then he heard his mother speaking to someone who must have rung the
doorbell.

"Go up to the top of the stairs, and turn to the right.  You will
find Hugh in his den, I believe. Hugh, are you there? Well, here's a
visitor to see you."

Supposing, of course, that it must be one of his close friends, who
for some reason had not gone off skating, and wished to see him
about some matter of importance, Hugh, after answering his mother,
had gone on skimming the subject on which his mind just then
happened to be set.

He heard the door open, and close softly.  Then someone gave a gruff
cough. Hugh looked around and received quite a surprise.

Instead of Thad Stevens, Owen Dugdale, Horatio Juggins, "Just"
Smith, or Julius Hobson he saw--Nick Lang!

"Oh, hello, Nick!" he commenced to say, a little restrained in his
welcome; for, of course, he could give a guess that the other had
come again to try and buy his skates, which Hugh was not much in
favor of selling.

He shoved a chair forward, determined not to be uncivil at any rate.
After that talk with Thad about this fellow it can be understood
that Hugh was still bent on studying Nick, with the idea of deciding
whether he did actually have a grain of decency in his make-up, such
as could be used as a foundation on which to build a new structure.

The outlook was far from promising.  Indeed, he could not remember
ever seeing Nick look more antagonistic than just then, even though
he tried to appear friendly.

"But then," Hugh was telling himself, "I reckon now Jean Valjean was
about as fierce looking a human wild beast as that good old priest
had ever seen at the time he invited the ex-convict into his snug
house, and horrified his sister by asking him to sit at table with
them, and spend the night there under his hospitable roof."

"You wanted to see me about something, did you, Nick?" he asked the
other.

Nick had dropped down on the chair.  His furtive gaze went around
the room as if it aroused his curiosity, for this was really the
first occasion when he had ever graced Hugh's den with his company.

When his eyes alighted on the coveted skates Nick's face took on an
expressive grin. Then he turned toward Hugh, to say, almost
whiningly:

"Sure thing, Hugh.  I thought mebbe I'd coax you to let me have the
skates, if I told you I'd managed to get another half dollar by
selling a pair of my pigeons. Here's a dollar and a half; take it,
and gimme the runners, won't you?"

His manner was intended to be ingratiating, but evidently Nick was
so accustomed to bullying everyone with whom he came in contact that
it was next to impossible for him to change his abusive ways. Hugh
felt less inclined than ever to accommodate him. Under other and
more favorable conditions he might have been tempted to promise Nick
to hand him over the skates, _for nothing_, after he had actually
received the expected new ones.

"I'm sorry to refuse you again, Nick," Hugh said coldly; "but at
present I have no other skates, and, as I expect to take part in a
hockey match with the scratch Seven to-morrow, I'll need my
runners."

"But there's nothing to hinder you selling me the same, say next
week, that I can see; unless mebbe you're just holdin' out on
account of an old grudge against me. How about that, Hugh?"

Hugh was still unconvinced.

"Just now I'm not in a humor to sell the skates, Nick," he said.
"If I change my mind, I'll let you know about it. That's final. And
when I dispose of my skates it's my intention to _give_ them away,
not sell them."

He turned to do something at the desk where he was sitting.
Meanwhile, Nick had shuffled away, as though meaning to leave the
room. When Hugh looked up he was half-way through the door, and
turning to say with a sneer:

"I ain't going to forget this on you, Hugh Morgan, believe me.  I
thought I'd give you a chanct to smooth over the rough places
between us; but I see you don't want anything to do with a feller
who's got the reputation they give me. All right, keep your old
skates then!"

With that he hurried down the stairs.  And a minute afterwards Hugh,
happening to glance over to the table at the side of the room, made
a startling discovery. The skates had disappeared!



CHAPTER III

GIVING NICK A CHANCE

"Why, he cribbed them after all!" Hugh exclaimed, as he jumped to his
feet, and hurried over to the table, hardly able to believe his own
eyes.

Something caught his attention.  A dirty dollar bill and a fifty cent
silver piece lay in place of the skates.  Then Nick had not exactly
_stolen_ Hugh's property, but imagined that this forced sale might
keep him within the law.

Hugh at first flush felt indignant.  He gave the money an angry look,
as though scorning it, despite the hard work Nick may have done and
sacrifices also made in order to build up that small amount.

"Why, the contemptible scamp, I'll have to set Chief Wambold after
him, and recover my skates!" he said, warmly for him.  "Serve him
right, too, if this is the last straw on the camel's back, to send
him to the House of Refuge for a spell.  He is a born thief, I do
believe, and ought to be treated just like one."

Hugh, aroused by the sense of injustice, and a desire to turn the
tables on the slippery Nick, even stepped forward to snatch up his
cap, with the full intention of hurrying out to see if he could
overtake the thief; and, if not, continuing on until he came to the
office of the police force.  Then he stopped short with a gasp.

He had suddenly remembered something.  Into his mind rushed the
details of a certain recent conversation in which he had indulged
with his closest chum, Thad Stevens.  Again he saw the picture of
that good priest of the story, looking so benignly upon the wretched
Jean Valjean, brought into his presence with the valuable silver
candlesticks and spoons found in his possession, which he kept
insisting his late host had presented him with, however preposterous
the claim seemed.

"Why, this is very nearly like that case, I declare!" ejaculated
Hugh, almost overcome by the wonderful similarity, which seemed the
more amazing because of the resolution he told Thad he had taken.

He dropped back into his seat, with the money still gripped in his
hand.  He stared hard at it.  In imagination he could see Nick, who
never liked hard work any too well, they said, busying himself like a
beaver, putting in coal for some neighbor, perhaps; or cleaning a
walk off for a dime.  He must have done considerable work to earn
that first dollar.

"Then after that," Hugh was saying to himself, "he sold a pair of his
pet pigeons, and I reckon he thinks a heap of them, from all I've
heard said.  Yes, Nick must have wanted my old skates worse than he
ever did anything in all his life.  And when I refused to sell them
to him he just thought he'd do the trading by himself.  It's a queer
way of doing business, and one the law wouldn't recognize; but, after
all, it was an upward step for Nick Lang, when he could have taken
the skates, and kept the cash as well.  This certainly beats the
Dutch!  What ought I to do about it, I wonder?  Of course, if I told
the whole thing to mother, I suppose she'd let me have the new skates
ahead of time; or I could borrow Kenneth Kinkaid's, because, after
breaking his leg that way in the running race he says he isn't to be
allowed to skate a bit this winter.  But ought I let the scamp keep
my skates?"

He mused over it for several minutes, as if undecided.  Then the
sound of voices outside caught his attention.  One seemed to be gruff
and official, another whining.

Hugh jumped up and stepped to a window.  He could see down the street
on which the Morgan home stood.  Three persons were in sight, and
hurrying along toward the house.  One of these he recognized as his
chum, Thad, who must have returned from Hobson's mill-pond earlier
than he had expected.  Another was the tall, attenuated Chief
Wambold; and the party whom he was gripping by the arm--yes, it was
none other than Hugh's late visitor, Nick Lang!

"Oh, they've caught him, it seems, just like those awful police did
poor, wicked Jean Valjean," Hugh muttered, thrilled by the sight;
"and right now they're fetching Nick back here, to ask me if he
wasn't lying when he said I'd sold or given him my skates!"

He realized that, undoubtedly, by some strange freak of fortune Thad
must have seen the other gloating over his prize; and recognizing the
skates, for they were well-known to him, he had beckoned to the
policeman who happened to be near by, with the result that Nick was
nabbed before he realized his peril.

Hugh had to decide quickly as to what he should do, for they were
coming in through the gate even now.  Once again did the wonderful
story he had been reading flash before his mind.

"I _must_ try it out!" he exclaimed suddenly, gripped by the amazing
coincidence between this case and that so aptly described by Hugo.
"I said I would if ever I had a chance.  It worked miracles in the
story; perhaps it may in real life, Anyway, it's going to be worth
while, and give me a heap of enjoyment watching the result.  So here
and now I say that I've sold my skates to Nick, and that they really
belong to him at this minute.  But I reckon he'll be scared pretty
badly when he faces me again, expecting the worst."

Thad knew how to get in by the side door that opened on the back
stairs; so he did not waste any time in ringing the bell.  Now Hugh
could hear heavy footsteps.  They were coming, and the great test was
about to be made.

The door opened to admit, first of all, Thad, his face filled with
burning indignation, and his eyes sparkling with excitement.  Close
on his heels the others also pushed into the room on the second
floor, transformed into a genuine boy's den by pictures of healthy
sport on the walls, besides college burgees, fishing tackle, a bass
of three pounds that had been beautifully stuffed by Hugh himself to
commemorate a glorious day's sport; and dozens of other things dear
to the heart of a youth who loved the Great Outdoors as much as he
did.

Chief Wambold looked triumphant and grim.  Nick fairly writhed in
that iron clutch, and his face had assumed a sickly sallow color;
while his eyes reminded Hugh of those of a hunted wild animal at bay,
fear and defiance struggling for the mastery.

"Stand there, you cub!" snarled the police officer, as he gave Nick a
whirl into the room, closing the door at the same time, and planting
his six-foot-five figure against it, to prevent such a thing as
escape.

It was quite a tableau.  Hugh believed he would never forget it as
long as he lived.  But Thad, it appeared, was the first to speak.

"Hugh, this skunk has gone and beat you after all!" he cried,
pointing a scornful finger at the glowering Nick, who was eyeing Hugh
hungrily, as if trying to decide whether or not the other would tell
Chief Wambold to lock him up as a thief.  "I chanced to see him pull
something out that he had been hiding under his coat, and recognized
your nickel-mounted skates.  So I beckoned to Chief Wambold, and told
him about it; he made Nick come back here to face you, and confess to
the theft."

Nick growled something half under his breath, that sounded like:

"Didn't steal 'em, I tell you; I bought the skates fair and square
from Hugh here.  You're all down on me, and won't listen to a thing I
say; that's the worst of it."

The tall head of the Scranton police force held up something he had
been carrying all the while.

"Here's the skates he had, Hugh," he went on to say.  "Thad tells me
they are your property.  He even showed me your initials scratched on
each skate.  Take a good look at the same, and let me know about it,
will you, before I lug this sneak off to the lock-up.  I reckon he's
headed for the Reform School this time, sure!"

At that Nick grew even more sallow than before, if such a thing were
possible; and the fear in his eyes became almost pitiable.

Hugh, meaning to make a straight job of his idea, calmly looked the
skates over.  He knew full well how Nick was watching his every
action, trying to hug just a glimmer of hope to his heart that,
perhaps, Hugh might be merciful, and let him off, as the skates were
now once again in his possession.  The shadow of the Reformatory
loomed up dreadfully close to Nick Lang just then, darker than he had
ever before imagined it could look.  It terrified him, too, and
caused him to shiver as though someone had dashed a bucket of
ice-cold water over him unexpectedly.

"Yes, I recognize these skates very well, Chief," Hugh told the
waiting officer.

"And do they belong to you, Hugh?" continued the officer, with a
stern look at the cringing culprit near by, who weakly leaned against
the table for support after his recent rough handling.

"They _were_ my property until just ten minutes, more or less, ago,
Chief," said Hugh, deliberately fixing Nick with his eye, so as to
impress things on him in a way he could never forget.  "Then I had an
offer from Nick here to buy them.  At first I was averse to letting
him have them, but I changed my mind.  These skates belong to Nick,
Chief.  You must set him free, and not hold this against him.  He's
going to wipe the slate clean this time and astonish folks here in
Scranton by showing them what a fellow of his varied talents can do,
once he sets out to go straight.  And, for one, I wish him the best
of success from the bottom of my heart.  I hope you enjoy your
skates, Nick."

He held out his hand, and the astounded Nick mechanically allowed
Hugh to squeeze his digits.  But not one word could he say, simply
stared at Hugh as though he had difficulty in understanding such
nobility of soul; then, taking the skates, he went from the room.
They could hear the clatter of his heels as he hurried down the
stairs, as though afraid Hugh might yet repent and send the officer
after him.

Of course, Chief Wambold departed, shrugging his shoulders as though
still more than half convinced there had been something crooked about
Nick's suspicious actions.

Of course Thad had to be told the whole amazing story.  He shook his
head at the conclusion, and went on record as being a doubter by
saying:

"I wish you success in your wonderful experiment, Hugh, I sure do;
but all the same I don't believe for a minute the leopard is going to
change its spots, or that Nick Lang, the worst boy in Scranton, can
ever reform."

Hugh would say nothing further about it, only, of course, he made
Thad promise to keep everything secret until he gave permission to
speak.  If Nick made good this would never happen.

That night Hugh had a jolly time, and it was fairly late when he
crept into bed.  As he lay there, instead of going to sleep
immediately, he looked out of the window toward the west, where a
bright star hung above the horizon.  It seemed like a magnet to Hugh,
who lay there and watched for its setting, all the while allowing his
thoughts to roam back to the remarkable happening of that afternoon.

"It's a toss-up, just as Thad says, whether anything worth while will
come of my experiment," he told himself; "but, anyhow, I've given
Nick something to think over.  And if he makes the first advances
toward me I'm bound to meet him half-way.  I only hope it turns out
like the story of Jean Valjean did.  But there goes my Star of Hope
down behind the horizon; and now I'd better be getting some sleep
myself.  All the same I'm glad I did it!"

And doubtless he slept all the more soundly because of the noble
impulse that had impelled him to save Nick Lang from the Reform
School.



CHAPTER IV

THE HOCKEY MATCH WITH A SCRATCH SEVEN

There was a large crowd present to watch the local hockey match that
morning.  Not only were Scranton High pupils interested, but many of
the town folks seemed to find it convenient to stroll around to the
field that, during the recent summer, had been the scene of bitterly
contested baseball games.

Even a number of gentlemen were on hand to criticize, and also
applaud, according to what their judgment of the work of the young
athletes proved to be.  Some of these men had been college players,
or, at least, interested in athletic sports.  They hailed the
awakening of Scranton along these lines most heartily.  And most of
them had only too gladly invested various sums in the up-building of
the athletic grounds.

Now that the high board-fence surrounded the large field, and the
carefully planned clubhouse stood at the near end, the grounds had a
business-like air.  Those who knew just how to go about it had seen
that the water was just the right depth, and this was now frozen
almost solid.  As the enclosure was limited in dimensions, it became
apparent that half of the ice should be given over to the hockey
players.  When the game was finished the entire pond could be used by
the general public.

The "rink" had been scientifically measured off, and such lines as
were necessary marked, after the rules of the game.  The two goals in
the center of the extreme ends were stationary, the posts having been
rooted to the ice in some ingenious fashion, with the nets between.

Hugh Morgan had been unanimously chosen to serve as leader of the
Scranton Seven.  He was admirably fitted for the position, since his
playing was gilt-edged, his judgment sound, and he never allowed
himself to become excited, or "rattled," no matter what the crisis.

The other members of the team consisted of fellows who had done nobly
in the stirring baseball encounters of the previous summer, and were,
moreover, well up in the various angles of skating.

By name they were as follows, and those who have read previous
stories in this High School Series will recognize old friends in the
list:

Julius Hobson, Thad Stevens, Joe Danvers, Owen Dugdale, Horatio
Juggins and Justin Smith, commonly known as "J. J."

The scratch team consisted of some fine players in addition, boys who
were swift on the wing and able with their hockey sticks.  When the
two teams were lined up to hear the last instructions from Mr.
Leonard, who, being the physical instructor at Scranton High, had
taken upon himself the duties of umpire and coach and referee all in
one for this occasion, they stood as follows:

  _Scranton High_   _Position_       _Scratch Team_
  Stevens ......... Goal ........... Anthony McGrew
  Hobson .......... Point .......... Frank Marshall
  Danvers ......... Cover Point .... Dick Travers
  Smith ........... Right End ...... Nick Lang
  Dugdale ......... Center ......... Tom Rawlings
  Juggins ......... Left End ....... Phil Hasty
  Morgan .......... Rover .......... Tug Lawrence

Just before the game began there was a hasty consultation among the
players opposed to the regular team.  One of their members had sent
word he could not come up to time, as his mother had refused to let
him play.  This necessitated a change of program.  A substitute must
be found, and as they knew that Hugh's Seven already greatly
outclassed them it was of considerable moment that they pick up a
player who would strengthen their team, regardless of his identity.

So Nick Lang had been approached and offered the position of Right
End, a very important place for swift action and furious fighting.
Nick had been skating quietly by himself and evidently greatly
enjoying his new skates, which many boys recognized as the pair Hugh
Morgan had once owned.

He had hesitated just a trifle, and then agreed to fill the vacancy.
There were those who shook their heads dismally when they saw Nick
the trouble-maker in the line-up.  Previous experiences warned them
that the game was very likely to break up in a big row, for such had
been the fate of many a rivalry when rough-and-ready Nick Lang
entered the lists.

But Hugh, who had secretly been the first to suggest to the captain
of the other Seven that Nick be chosen, somehow believed the one-time
bully of Scranton might surprise his critics for once by playing a
straight, honest game.

Hugh, of course, was mounted on his new silver skates.  He had found
little difficulty in persuading his mother to advance his birthday
gift a few days, after telling her the whole circumstances; and it
must be said that Mrs. Morgan approved of his plan from the bottom of
her heart.

Mr. Leonard had often had trouble with Nick in times gone by.  When
he sternly told the boys before the game was started that he meant to
be severe in inflicting punishment and penalties for foul or off-side
work he had Nick mostly in mind.  Indeed, everyone who heard what he
said concluded that it was meant almost entirely for the Lang chap.

Nick only grinned.  Those who knew him best did not find any
encouragement about his apparent good nature.  Nick could "smile, and
smile again, and still be a villain," as some of them were fond of
repeating.

The game began, and was soon in full progress, with the players
surging from one end of the rink to the other, according to which
side had gained possession of the puck, and were endeavoring by every
legitimate means possible to shoot the little rubber disc between the
goal posts, and into the net of their opponents.

It was soon seen that as a whole the Scratch Team was woefully weak.
Hugh's players had things pretty much their own way.  Before more
than half of the first twenty-minute period had been exhausted the
score stood five goals for Scranton High, and none to the credit of
their opponents.

Then the tactics of the Scratch Team underwent a change.  The captain
put Nick Lang forward to oppose Hugh Morgan when the puck was again
faced for a fresh start.  In a fashion truly miraculous Nick managed
to gain possession of the rubber, and the way in which he sent it
flying before him along the ice was well worth seeing.  Many started
to cheer, forgetting their former antipathy toward the bully.
Despite the clever work of Hugh, and others, as well as the able
defense of the goal-keeper, Thad Stevens, Nick succeeded in shooting
the puck between the goal posts for a score.

Hugh was ready to shake hands with himself, he felt so pleased.  And
not once so far had Mr. Leonard found occasion to reprimand Nick on
account of foul work so flagrant that it could be no accident.

Many rubbed their eyes and asked their neighbors if that could really
be Nick Lang, the terror of Scranton, who played like a fiend, and
yet kept well within his rights?

"But just wait till something happens to upset Nick," they went on to
say, with wise shakes of the head.  "We know how he's just bound to
carry on.  It's a nice game so far, but the chances are three to one
it'll break up in a row yet; they always do when that fellow has a
hand in the going.  He wouldn't be happy without a fuss, and an
attempt to win by some dirty work."

When the first half had passed, and there was a recess of fifteen
minutes called for the warm players to secure a little rest, the
score was five to three.  That looked better for a well-contested
game.  And so far there had not been any flagrant breaking of rules
to call for condemnation on the part of the referee.

Mr. Leonard himself looked a little surprised.  He could not
understand it, but continued to keep an extra sharp eye on the usual
trouble-maker, as though expecting Nick to break loose with more than
ordinary violence because he had kept "bottled up" so long.

Hugh noticed another thing that interested him.  During this
intermission Nick skated by himself.  His old cronies, Tip Slavin and
Leon Disney, were on the ice, and, of course, indulging in their
customary derogatory remarks concerning the playing of the Regulars,
but Nick did not seem to want to join them, as had always been his
habit hitherto.

Twice Hugh saw the crafty Leon skate up alongside and speak
insinuatingly to the other, as though trying to persuade him to agree
to something; but on each occasion Nick shook his head in the
negative, and broke away.  Leon looked after him rather
disconsolately, as though at a loss to understand what could have
happened to take all the fight and "bumptiousness" out of the former
bully.

Then play was resumed.

Hugh had taken his comrades to task during the intermission.  He told
them several weaknesses had developed in their team play, which
should be corrected if they hoped to down the strong Keyport Seven.
Nor did Hugh spare himself in making these criticisms, for he knew
his own faults.  It is a wise boy who does.

Having tested Nick's superb playing and found it good, the captain of
the Scratch Seven was willing to put him forward as their star
player, even if it went against the grain to realize that they had to
depend on a fellow so much in disrepute.

There were several hot scrimmages, as always occur during a strenuous
game of ice hockey.  Even the most careful of players will sometimes
err in judgment at such times, and either be reprimanded by the
referee or having their side penalized on account of their too
energetic work.  Strange to say, Nick Lang never once caused a
penalty to be inflicted on his side, though Rawlings, Hasty and
Lawrence were unwitting offenders, as were also Dugdale and Hobson on
the part of Scranton High.

Everybody was satisfied when the game finally came to an end with the
score nine to six.  It was a pretty good contest, all things
considered.  Perhaps the Regulars did not try quite as hard as they
might, since after all this was to be considered only in the light of
practice, and they were more taken up with correcting certain glaring
errors than in making goals.

The talk of the whole game, however, was the playing of Nick Lang,
who had left the ice after it was all over; but not before Hugh had
congratulated him on his fine work.

"How did he ever go through with it all, and never make a nasty break
once?"

"This must foe one of Nick's special good days, I reckon!"

"He's sure a hummer, all right, when he chooses to play straight.
What a pity he has that crooked streak in his make-up.  Only for that
Nick would be a jim-dandy hand at any old athletic sport.  I wonder
if it will last, or is he due to break loose, to-night perhaps, just
because he's held himself in so long."

These and many similar remarks passed between the astonished boys of
Scranton High, but they did not seem able to understand it at all.
Hugh, however, only smiled when they appealed to him, and would say
nothing; but deep down in his heart he was satisfied that the seed he
had sown had fallen on fallow soil and taken root.



CHAPTER V

THAD BRINGS SOME STARTLING NEWS

"Hugh, have you heard the news this Sunday morning?"

With these abrupt words Thad Stevens burst upon his chum who was
feeding some long-eared, handsome Belgian hares, which of late he had
taken to keeping, as it had become quite a fad among the Scranton
boys.

Hugh turned to look at his friend.  It was plain to be seen that Thad
was laboring under considerable excitement.  His face was flushed as
if with running, while his eyes glowed much more than was their wont
under ordinary conditions.

"Why, no, I haven't heard a thing except the church bells ringing,
and people going past our house early this morning for mass.  You
know we live on a street that is largely used by those who have to
get out shortly after daybreak Sunday mornings in winter.  What's
happened during the night?  There couldn't have been a fire, because
I'd have heard the bell, and been out with the rest of the boys."

"Oh! you couldn't guess it in a dozen trials, Hugh.  It was a regular
down-right burglary that was pulled off, even if the stuff taken
consisted of candy, cigarettes, and the like, as well as some
sporting goods and several revolvers."

Hugh looked interested.

"From the way you talk, Thad, I should say it might have been Paul
Kramer's Emporium that had suffered; because he's really the only man
in Scranton who keeps sporting goods."

"A good guess, Hugh, because Paul is the chap.  They got in through a
back door, and everybody says it was a pretty slick job, too," Thad
went on to say.

"Let's see what you're telling me," Hugh remarked thoughtfully.  "If
they took candy and cigarettes and sporting goods it would look to me
pretty much as if the robbery was the work of unprincipled boys,
rather than men."

Thad stared hard at his companion.

"Well, you are a wonder, Hugh, at seeing through things!" he hastily
declared.  "Why, that was what Chief Wambold said right away.  And,
Hugh, he followed it with the declaration that he guessed he could
put his finger on the guilty fellows without much trouble.  You know
who he had in mind, of course, Hugh?"

"It goes without saying that one of them would be Nick Lang," came
the quick reply, while a small cloud crept over Hugh's face.

"Sure thing," continued Thad, shrugging his shoulders.  "When a
fellow has built up a nice reputation for himself along those lines
he can't blame folks for suspecting him of every single tricky piece
of work that is pulled off in town.  In the past Nick has been
ring-leader in lots of lawless doings, and the Chief was dead certain
he'd get him with the goods on this time, as he called it."

"Perhaps he may, but I hope that for once Chief Wambold will find
himself mistaken," said Hugh soberly, and then adding: "How did you
happen to hear about it, Thad?"

"Oh!  I chanced to be out early this morning on an errand for mother,
taking some things over to that sick colored wash-lady we have do our
weekly work, and passing through the public square on my way back I
saw a crowd around Kramer's place.  Of course I stayed on the job,
and heard all sorts of things said.  But, Hugh, they've got one of
the thieves, all right."

"Who was he, Leon Disney?" asked the other, quickly, as he suddenly
remembered the actions of the boy in question when he twice
approached Nick Lang on the ice during that intermission for rest in
the hockey match; and when he, Hugh, fancied Leon was entreating his
former pal to do something which Nick refused to entertain.

"Just who it is," said the wondering Thad.  "The Chief went to his
house and insisted on making a thorough search.  He's a shrewd old
duck, is Chief Wambold, for all his faults.  He seemed to guess just
where a boy like Leon would hide the spoils of a raid like this.
Under the floor of the old barn on the Disney place he found about
half the stuff that was taken, candy by the wholesale, cigarettes,
two revolvers, and even a pair of choice hockey skates."

"About _half_ you are saying, Thad; then it looks to me as if there
must have been just two of the thieves, for they had divided things
equally between them."

"What a lawyer you would make, Hugh, or a detective either, for that
matter," the other boy exclaimed.

"What did Leon say when they found the stolen stuff hidden under his
barn?" further questioned Hugh, deigning to smile at his chum's
compliment, however.

"Nary a thing would he say, except to declare himself innocent, and
that he himself had heard a noise out there last night, and guessed
that some enemy of his must have set up a mean game on him, wanting
to get him nabbed.  But say, Hugh, the Chief pulled seven packets of
cigarettes out of his coat-pocket, every one stamped with the same
maker's name; and nobody in Scranton handles that brand but Paul
Kramer."

"It looks pretty bad for Leon, I should say," remarked Hugh.

"Oh! he'll get a free pass to the Reform School this time, as sure as
anything!" asserted Thad; "and a good riddance of bad rubbish, most
people in Scranton will be saying.  Of course they'll be sorry for
his mother, who is a respectable woman, and has had heaps of trouble
with that good-for-nothing son of hers."

"But about the other thief, Thad?"

"Well, Chief Wambold said there wasn't any doubt in the wide world
but that it must be Nick Lang, and I guess everybody around agreed
with him, Hugh."

"Did he go up and arrest Nick?" asked Hugh, deeply interested.

"Just what he did, and I was along with the crowd," Thad told him.
"Well, sir, you never saw such a cool customer.  Nick smiled as
brazenly in the face of the Chief as anything you ever saw.  They
searched, and searched, but never a scrap of the stolen goods could
they run across."

"Well, what then, Thad?"

"Why, of course the Chief declared that Nick had only been some
smarter than his pal in hiding the spoils where no one could find the
stuff.  He told Nick he would have to arrest him on general suspicion
because Leon and he were such great pals, and Leon was already as
good as convicted."

"Yes, and what did Nick say to that?" asked Hugh.

"Would you believe it, Hugh, he up and told the Chief that he could
prove an alibi.  You see, the robbery was done before eleven o'clock
last night, because the clock that was knocked down when the thieves
were rummaging around in the store had been broken, and it stopped at
just a quarter to eleven.  Even Chief Wambold agreed on that point."

"Yes, and it was cleverly settled, I must say, Thad.  But how about
Nick's alibi; would the Chief accept his mother's word, knowing that
the chances were Nick had slipped out of the house by a window when
she supposed him to be sound asleep in his bed?"

"Oh!  Nick had much better proof than that, Hugh.  He demanded that
Chief Wambold call up old Deacon Joel Winslow, who, you know, is a
man much respected around Scranton, and keeps the blacksmith shop out
on the road to Allandale where it crosses the one leading to Keyport.
Yes, sir, and when the officer did so from Headquarters the
blacksmith weather prophet plainly told him Nick had been working
alongside himself from seven until a quarter-after-eleven the night
before!"

Hugh laughed.  It really seemed as though a load had been suddenly
taken off his chest.  He had begun to fear lest his experiment might
have already met with its Waterloo.

"I'm pleased to hear you say that, Thad, I certainly am," he
remarked, "And did our wonderful Chief conclude to hold Nick after
that?"

"He wanted to, Hugh,--I could see that plain enough; but Nick
demanded that he be set at liberty.  Say, you know I'm not much of an
admirer of Nick Lang, but he did bluff the tall Chief of Police good
and hard.  He actually told him he'd sue him for damage to his
reputation if he dared to hold him when there wasn't a particle of
evidence connecting him with the robbery, except that once upon a
time he used to go with Leon Disney, as lots of other fellows did,
too."

"Then he was let go free, I take it, from what you say, Thad?"

"Oh! well, the police head said he knew very well Nick was in the
racket, even if he had covered his footsteps so cunningly; and even
fooled Deacon Winslow.  He told Nick he'd parole him temporarily, but
that he might still consider himself as under arrest."

"That must be a joke," chuckled Hugh.  "It was silly on the part of
Chief Wambold.  But then, of course, Nick has made him a whole lot of
trouble in the past.  So only one fellow has been taken, and he
refuses to tell on his pal, does he?"

"Absolutely, though the Chief says he means to put Leon through the
third degree, and force a confession from him.  What does he mean by
that, Hugh?  I've seen it mentioned in the papers lots of times."

"I believe in cities like New York some of the detectives act roughly
with a suspected prisoner, and scare them into saying things.  But a
clever head of police once on a time had a smarter way of getting a
confession than by rough-house tactics."

"Yes?  Tell me about it then," pleaded Thad.

"When he had reason to believe several members of a gang were
implicated in a robbery, or other crime, he would have the weakest
arrested, and brought into his presence.  Then, while the man sat
there nervously waiting for the dreaded ordeal of an interview and
looking out of a window, he would see one of his fellow gangsters
taken past in charge of several plain clothes men.  Of course that
would give him a shock, and when the Chief turned and told him the
other fellow had already promised to make a confession in order to
save himself, the prisoner nearly always broke down, and told
everything to get in ahead."

"Well, the last I saw of Chief Wambold," continued Thad, "he was
starting out to interview Deacon Winslow.  You see, he believes the
old blacksmith must have meant ten-fifteen instead of eleven.  That
would give Nick plenty of time to get back to town, so as to take
part in the robbery of the Emporium."

Hugh rubbed his hands together after the manner of one whose mind was
completely satisfied.

"I fancy he'll have all his trouble for his pains," he went on to say
calmly.

"Meaning that the deacon will stick to his statement, and so clear
Nick of complicity in the crime--is that it, Hugh?"

"We all know Deacon Winslow to be a reliable man," Hugh told him.
"He is accustomed to dealing in figures, and not inclined to make a
mistake about the time.  I'd wager now he has something positive to
settle the matter of Nick's staying there, working at the forge, and
learning how to be a blacksmith, until exactly fifteen minutes after
eleven."

"Well," said Thad, scratching his head as though still confused,
"things look pretty queer to me, and I hardly know what to believe
about that Nick Lang."



CHAPTER VI

NOT GUILTY

At that Hugh, having finished his work in connection with the care of
his tame pets, turned around and faced his chum.

"On my part, Thad," he was saying, quietly but sincerely, "I'm
getting to be hopeful of Nick.  I honestly believe that fellow has
seen a great light.  I think he's made up his mind to turn over a new
leaf and redeem his rotten past.  And I want to say here and now it's
up to every boy in Scranton High to treat him decently while he's
still fighting his old impulses of evil.  I know I shall let him feel
I believe in him, until he does something to forfeit my esteem."

"That's just like you, Hugh; and I guess the rest of us ought to be
ashamed to throw any stumbling block in the way of a chap who is
trying to get out of his old rut.  But it passes my comprehension how
he can change, and play fair and square, when all his life he's been
so tricky and low-down mean."

"As for that, lots of men who were once down in the gutter have
reformed, and proved giants in helping others to get up to
respectability again.  Take that Jean Valjean we were talking about
the other day, who changed right-about-face, and became just as fine
a man as he was bad before.  You don't suppose it all came in a
flash, do you?"

"Why, no, of course not, Hugh.  He was the lowest sort of a beast, as
pictured by Hugo, with the vilest ideas concerning human nature.
After he had that revelation, and saw the good priest actually tell a
lie in order to save him, he woke up, and, as you said, began
thinking for himself.  Then the change came gradually, and he
determined to work to help those who were down and out like himself."

"All right," said Hugh.  "This case of Nick Lang is like this, in a
small way.  But, Thad, do you feel like taking a walk this fine crisp
winter morning?"

"Just for the exercise, or have you any scheme in your mind, Hugh?"

"Both, I might say.  The mile walk will do us good, and then we may
be able to satisfy ourselves about a few things.  It is just half a
mile out to the cross-roads, and Deacon Winslow's house and smithy,
you know."

Thad looked interested at once.

"So, that's the way the wind blows, is it?" he remarked.  "You want
to interview the deacon, too, as well as Chief Wambold?"

"But not from the same motive, Thad.  On the contrary, while he went
out to try and find a reason for believing Nick guilty, in spite of
his alibi, I mean only to ask a few questions that will clear up a
little point that is a bit muddled."

"Perhaps I could guess what that is," said Thad quickly.  "You're
puzzled to understand why Nick should have been out there on just
last night of all times, when any other would have done just as well.
How about that, Hugh?"

"That's one of the things I'd like to have cleared up," Hugh
admitted.  "Between us, Thad, I've got a pretty good notion Nick knew
about this contemplated raid on Kramer's store.  Perhaps in times
past they may even have plotted such a thing, so as to get all the
cigarettes and candy they wanted for once.  I even believe he was
refusing Leon and Tip Slavin, who were urging him to join in with
them, when I saw him shake his head and skate away yesterday."

"Go on, Hugh, you've got me interested again; sure you have."

"While Nick wouldn't think of betraying his former associates, from
whose company he had broken away, at the same time he was smart
enough to see he would be placed under suspicion.  And he must have
arranged this alibi so as to prove his positive innocence.  If that
turns out so, it shows Nick to be a wise one."

Shortly afterwards the pair were trudging along the road outside the
corporation limits of the town of Scranton.  It was some time before
the customary church hour, and they were almost certain to find the
old deacon at home, Hugh believed.

On the way they met a car coming along the road.  In it was Chief
Wambold.  Scranton had advanced far enough toward the dignity of
cityhood to have an auto for the police force, since the Chief often
had to go to neighboring towns on matters of business, taking a
prisoner, or getting one to fetch back.

He nodded to the boys as he shot past.

"Doesn't look very amiable, does he?" muttered Thad.  "So I rather
guess he didn't get much satisfaction from the old deacon.  But he's
awful stubborn, is our efficient head of police; and if he can find
any way to put that business on Nick's shoulders he will, take my
word for it."

Hugh only smiled as though he was not worrying about anything Chief
Wambold could accomplish.  He had known the other to make several
"bone-plays" since coming to Scranton, and hence Hugh did not have a
very high opinion of the official's merits, though not doubting his
honesty of purpose at all.

After a short time they arrived at the smithy.  Deacon Winslow lived
close to his shop.  He was a big man, with the proverbial muscles of
the blacksmith; and for many years he had been looked upon as a
pillar in the church he attended.

Besides this he was reckoned a good man, who could always be counted
on to go out of his way to do a favor for anybody.  The poor of
Scranton loved him better than they did anyone they knew.  His acts
were often "hidden under a bushel," since he did not go around, as
Thad once said, "blowing his own horn, and advertising his goodness
as one would soft soap."

Strange as it might seem, Deacon Winslow had taken quite a fancy to
Nick Lang, and possibly he was the only respectable man in all
Scranton who did.  Perhaps he admired Nick's muscular build, and
believed he would make a fine smith, if the husky boy only took a
liking to the vocation of hammer and forge and anvil.

Then again it was likely that the deacon, who was a shrewd old fellow
as well as good-natured and honest, saw deeper into that bad boy's
soul than ordinary people, judging from surface indications.  Hugh
himself was inclined to believe this might be the case.

Be that as it may, Nick had been known to go out there to the Winslow
shop occasionally after supper, and work alongside the old man for
hours at a time.  Folks considered it only another odd fad on the
part of the deacon.  They prophesied that he would sooner or later he
sorry for having anything to do with such a good-for-nothing
scapegrace as Nick Lang, who would not hesitate to play some nasty
practical joke on his benefactor when the notion seized him and he
had grown tired of bothering with blacksmithing.

The deacon himself came to the door.  He knew both lads, and asked
them to step in and sit with him before his cheery fire, as he had
half an hour on his hands before starting to church.

Hugh plunged into the matter without waste of time.  He told Deacon
Winslow how he had been reading that wonderful story of Jean Valjean;
and then what a strange freak of fate allowed him to play the same
part that the good priest had done.

Step by step he carried it along, and Deacon Winslow appeared to be
deeply interested, if one could judge from the way he rubbed his
hands together, and nodded his head approvingly when he learned of
the motives that had influenced Hugh to act as he did.

Even what had occurred on the ice on the preceding afternoon was
narrated, for, as Hugh explained, he believed it had a great deal to
do with the startling event that had stunned Scranton that same
Sunday morning.

When he had finally ended with a profession of his belief in Nick's
innocence the old man once more nodded his head.  His wise eyes shone
with a rare delight as he gazed at Hugh.  The boy could not help
thinking that the good priest in the story must have been a whole lot
like old Deacon Winslow; who could believe wrong of no one, boy or
man, but was always finding some excuse for forgiving, even those who
deceived him in business transactions.

"You have done well, my lad," said the old man warmly, patting Hugh
on the arm affectionately.  "And rest assured Nick is entirely
innocent of this crime.  I have become deeply interested in that boy.
He has had a bad name, it is true; but somehow I seemed to feel that
there were elements of great good in him, if only he could be brought
to book, and made to change his ways of life.  He must have a new
viewpoint of human nature, to start with.  I thought I might arouse
him through talking, and fatherly advice, but so far I could not see
success following my labors.  But you have hit upon an ingenious
device, my boy, that promises wonderful results.  We may yet make a
second Jean Valjean of the despised Nick Lang; and that would be an
achievement worthy of anyone."

Hugh felt more than repaid for all he had done when he heard the old
deacon say this with such warmth.

"There was one thing I wanted to learn, sir, if you don't mind
telling me," he went on to say.  "It concerns his engagement to come
out here and help you last night.  Were you expecting him?  Was
Saturday night the one he generally took to come and help you get rid
of some of your extra work that couldn't be done in the daytime, for
all the horse-shoeing you have on your hands?"

The deacon smiled, and Hugh really had his answer before the old man
even opened his lips.  All the same he was pleased to hear him say:

"Up to now it has always been on Monday night Nick came out.  That
was more convenient for me, as a rule, and he accommodated himself to
my wishes.   But yesterday afternoon he dropped in to see me here,
with his skates dangling across his shoulder, as if he had been
skating.  He said he would like very much to come for that once on
Saturday night, instead of Monday; and that he had a good reason for
making the change, which meant a whole lot to him."

"I see," remarked Hugh; "and it was clever of Nick.  You agreed, of
course, sir, seeing that he was here?"

"It made no particular difference to me," added the blacksmith, "and
I was glad to know the lad cared enough about the work to want to
make the change.  So I told him to be along as usual about seven, as
I had a raft of work on hand that would keep us until well on after
eleven.  As a fact, it was fifteen minutes after that hour when Nick
started for home."

"You remember that positively then, sir,--the hour, I mean?" asked
Hugh.

"Oh!  I could swear to it," came the reply.  "In the first place I
heard the town clock strike eleven, and counted the strokes myself,
remarking that we must shut up shop soon as it was getting close to
Sunday morning.  Then as he was quitting Nick asked me again just
what time it was, and I consulted my reliable watch.  I can see now
that possibly Nick had an object in impressing the time on my mind,
so I could say positively he was there at eleven, and after.  I don't
like the idea of his having known about the intended robbery, and
keeping silent, but suppose he considered himself in honor bound to
his former chums."

So their interview with Deacon Winslow proved a very enjoyable one
after all.  Hugh felt he should like to know the big amiable
blacksmith better, for he had been drawn to him very much indeed.

"And," he told Thad, as they trudged back along the road to town,
"the way things seem to be working, I'm more than ever encouraged to
keep on with my experiment."



CHAPTER VII

TURNING A PAGE OF THE PAST

"Do you know," mused Thad, as they continued on their way to town,
"the more I see of that blacksmith the better I like him.  In my
opinion, he's a grand old man."

"I was just going to say that myself," Hugh told him.  "He makes me
think of the priest in the story.  And they say he loves boys--all
boys."

"You can't make him believe there's a boy living but who has
_something_ worth while in him," Thad advanced.  "Sometimes it's hid
under a whole lot of trash, as Deacon Winslow calls it, and you've
got to search a heap before you strike gold; but if you only persist
you'll be rewarded."

"His actions with regard to Nick prove that he practices what he
preaches, too," said Hugh.

"Well, the old man went through a bitter experience many years ago,"
Thad went on to say; "and he learned his lesson for life, he often
says."

"Why, how's that, Thad?  I've heard a great many things about
different people since we came to Scranton; but I don't remember
listening to what happened to the old deacon long ago."

"Is that a fact, Hugh?  Well, I'll have to tell you about it, then.
Once upon a time they had a boy, an only child; and, as happens in
some families where the parents are the finest kind of Christian
people, young Joel had a bad streak in his make-up.  Oh! they say he
gave his father no end of trouble from time to time.  And it wound up
in a row, with the boy doing something disgraceful, and running away
from home, nearly breaking his mother's heart."

"Didn't he ever come bad again?" asked the interested listener.

Thad shook his head in the negative.

"They never looked on his face again, either living or dead," he
said.  "Worse than that, they never even heard from him.  It was as
if Joel had dropped out of sight that night when he left a line to
his mother saying he was going west to where they raised men, not
sissies.  And so the years rolled around, and, they say, the old lady
even now sits looking into the sunset skies, dreaming that her Joel,
just as she remembered him, had sent word he was coming back to visit
them in their old age, and to ask forgiveness for his wrong-doing."

Hugh was greatly moved by the sad tale, which, however, he knew could
be easily matched in every town of any size in the country; for it is
of common occurrence, with a multitude of sore hearts turning toward
that Great West.

"That must have been how long ago, Thad?" he asked presently.

"Let me see, I should think all of forty years; perhaps forty-five
would be closer to the mark, Hugh."

"How sad," mused the other lad, with a shake of his head; "and to
think of that poor old lady, an invalid, you said, and confined to a
wheelchair, watching the sinking sun faithfully each evening as it
sets, still yearning for her boy to come back.  It is a dream that
has become a part of her very existence.  Why, even if young Joel had
lived he would now be over sixty years of age, but she never thinks
of him that way.  The deacon, they say, is eighty-five, though you'd
never believe it to see his brawny muscles and healthy complexion."

"You see," continued Thad, anxious that his chum should know
everything connected with the subject, now he was upon it, "the old
man often takes himself to task because he didn't understand boys as
he might have done, when younger.  He believes he could have spared
his wife her great sorrow if he had only been more judicious, and won
the boy's confidence as well as his affection."

"And that accounts for the deep interest he has felt in all boys ever
since," Hugh was saying reflectively; "especially those who seem to
have a streak of badness in them."

"I suppose," Thad remarked, "it is his way of doing penance for what
he considers a fault of his earlier years.  Sometimes I think I'd
just like to be able to follow up that chap when he ran away from
home, and learn what really did become of him."

"He may have met with a sad fate out West, Thad; plenty of fellows
have gone out and been swallowed up in the whirlpool."

"If, on the other end, he didn't, and lived for many years,"
continued the other, "he must have been pretty tough not to write to
his poor old mother at least once in a while.  I could never forgive
Joel for that.  But they say he had an ugly nature, and was very
stubborn.  Well, I'm glad the deacon has taken an interest in the
reformation of Nick Lang, even if I have my doubts about his meeting
with any sort of success."

"Well, you may be a whole lot surprised one of these fine days, my
boy," Hugh smilingly told him.

"The age of miracles has passed, Hugh," remarked Thad skeptically.

"Not the miracles that are brought about by a complete change of
heart on the part of someone the world looks down on as a scamp,"
Hugh persisted.  "But you're one of those who want to be shown; I
reckon, Thad, your folks must have come from Missouri, didn't they?"

"Wrong again, Hugh, because none of them ever saw the Mississippi,
though my grandfather fought through the Civil War, and was with
Grant when Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House.  But I admit I
am a little stubborn, and prejudiced.  It runs in the blood, I
suppose.  The Stevens were always sort of pig-headed."

"I've also heard considerable about the deacon as a weather seer,
Thad; how about that?  Does he manage to hit it off occasionally, so
as to equal our forecaster at Washington, whose predictions come true
every now and then?"

"Oh! the deacon has made that quite a fad," he was told by the
obliging Thad.  "He doesn't confine himself to figuring out just what
sort of day we'll have to-morrow, or even for the coming week.  He
looks ahead, and finds out from the signs of Nature what sort of
winter or summer we're going to have next,--cold, mild, hot, cool,
dry or rainy.  And say, I've heard he hits it nearly every time."

"Well, what did he say about this particular winter?" Hugh asked,
with renewed interest; for such subjects always gripped his
attention, because he believed some of these shrewd countrymen, who
watched the weather and observed what was going on all around them,
could tell better than any scientific gentleman what was liable to
come along during the succeeding seasons.

"He predicted a severe winter," replied Thad promptly.  "Some people
laughed at what he said, especially when Christmas came and went, and
so far we'd had precious little of cold.  But it's come along at
last, and from all reports some of the most dreadful weather ever
known is happening away out in the Northwest right now."

"And how does the old blacksmith get his ideas--from Nature, you
said, I believe, Thad?"

"He studies the bark on the trees; the way the squirrels store the
nuts away; and how the caterpillars weave their cocoons.  Oh! he has
a hundred different signs that he depends on before making up his
mind.  I used to laugh when I heard him talking about it, but since
I've grown older I've decided that there may be a whole lot in that
sort of weather prediction."

"I incline that same way," agreed Hugh.  "Many of the little animals
of the woods are given a wonderful instinct that enables them to know
what to expect.  Even bees that always lay by a certain amount of
honey for winter use, are said to stock up extra heavy on years when
a severe winter comes along.  It must be a mighty interesting study,
I should think.  Some time I mean to know the old deacon better, so
as to get posted on his vast store of knowledge along those lines."

"His wife is rather feeble now," continued Thad.  "She's a fine old
lady though, and as cheery as can be, considering all things."

"But if, as you said, she has to move around in one of those
self-propelling wheel-chairs, how does she ever get her house-work
done, Thad?"

"Oh! they have a girl in during the daytime," came the explanation;
"though Mrs. Winslow still mixes all the cakes and bread.  And, say,
she does make the greatest crullers you ever tasted in your born
days.  I know, because that couple are always sending things out to
houses where there are growing boys.  Their world lies in boys only;
you never hear either of them say a thing about girls."

Hugh could easily understand that.  He had been in numerous homes
where there were only boys in the family; and the parents knew next
to nothing about the delight and constant anxiety of girls.

"As I like crullers about the best of any sort of cakes," he
chuckled, "I think I'll have to cultivate the acquaintance of Mrs.
Winslow.  Some time I may have the pleasure of tasting her famous
cooking that you rate so highly.  But to turn to another subject,
Thad, have you heard any more reports about those Keyport High
fellows we expect to go up against next Saturday?"

"Yes, I have, Hugh.  Podge Huggins was over there two days back.  He
saw them practicing on some thin ice over a pond, and he told, me
they were an exceptionally husky proposition.  He also saw us work
yesterday afternoon in the scratch game, and when I asked him how we
compared with Keyport, why Podge wouldn't give me a straight answer;
but only grinned and turned the subject."

"Evidently then Podge doesn't have the confidence in his school team
that he ought to feel," said Hugh, apparently not at all disturbed.
"Well, we have a whole week still for practice, and ought to keep on
improving.  I'm hoping that Keyport may overdo it, which is always
possible."

"You mean too much work will cause them to go stale; is that it,
Hugh?"

"Physical directors and coaches are always on their guard against
that, Thad.  The boat team is always strongest at a certain point.
If the race comes off when they attain that top-notch pinnacle,
they're apt to do their very best; but should it be delayed, by
weather or something else, the coach becomes alarmed, because he
knows there's a great chance of their losing speed from too much
nervous tension and overwork."

From which talk it was evident that Hugh must have imbibed
considerable valuable knowledge from Mr. Leonard, who, as a college
man, ought to understand a thing or two concerning sporting matters.

So the two chums continued to talk all the way back to town.  Hugh
had picked up a whole lot of information by making the journey out to
the cross-roads.  Somehow he seemed to feel drawn toward the old
blacksmith, who seemed to be such a sterling character.

Hugh had met him in church circles and at sociables, but, not knowing
the tragedy that lay back in the deacon's younger life, he had so far
failed to cultivate his acquaintance.  But he was now determined to
see more of Deacon Winslow, for he believed the weather prophet would
be able to tell him a host of interesting things about Nature's
storehouse, from which he had gleaned astonishing facts during many
years' study.



CHAPTER VIII

OWEN DUGDALE'S ANNOUNCEMENT

Another week of school had commenced, with winter now in full swing.

The weather seemed to have settled down to show what it could do,
after such a long delay.  It was making up for lost time, some of the
boys declared.  But then it could hardly be too cold for fellows
warmly dressed, and who had their three hearty meals a day.  The poor
might complain, because they suffered, especially when such spells
were prolonged.

Deacon Winslow was seen in town more frequently than usual, he
leaving the work to the charge of his assistant for an hour or so at
a time.  He always carried a big basket in his wagon or sleigh; and
those who knew his warm heart could easily understand that his visits
were wholly at homes where there was none too much in the way of
comforts and food.

During the earlier days of the week the talk was pretty much of
winter sports.  Ice hockey occupied a prominent place in the
conversations that were carried on wherever three or more Scranton
High fellows clustered, to kick their heels on the pavement, or sun
themselves while perched on the top of the campus fence that would go
down in history as the peer of the famous one at Yale.

During afternoons the hockey players gathered at the park, and each
day saw them engaging in some sort of practice game,--their opponents
being such fellows as could be gathered together to constitute a fair
Seven.

Hugh seemed satisfied with the progress made, and Mr. Leonard, too,
looked as if he felt well repaid for the trouble he was taking
showing them certain clever moves that might reward them in a
fiercely contested match.

Meanwhile the mystery concerning that robbery at Paul Kramer's
Emporium had not yet been wholly solved.  Leon Disney still
languished in the lock-up at Police Headquarters, his folks having
been unable to secure bail for him.  They could not raise the amount
themselves, and somehow there seemed to be no person in the whole
community philanthropical enough to take chances with Leon, who was
reckoned an exceedingly slippery individual, who would most likely
run away before his trial came off, leaving his bondsman to "hold the
bag," as the boys called it.

He was just as stubborn as ever in his denial of complicity in the
robbery.  Leon doubtless believed that a lie well stuck to was bound
to raise up friends.  There are always well disposed people whose
sympathies are apt to be aroused when they hear of a case like this.

But Leon was not being held on circumstantial evidence.  He had been
caught "with the goods on him."  All that loot hidden under the old
barn on his place was positive proof of his guilt.  Still he held
out, and declared himself the victim of some base plot calculated to
ruin his reputation; which was rather a queer thing for Leon to say,
since the only reputation he had in Scranton was for badness.

Another thing was that he still declined to betray his pal, for
everyone felt positive he had had company when foraging through the
cases in Paul Kramer's establishment, taking such things as naturally
appeal to a boy's heart--candy, cigarettes, revolvers and sporting
goods.

Chief Wambold suspected one boy from the start, after finding that
the former chief offender in these lines could prove a positive
alibi.  This was the third of the bad lot, Tip Slavin.

He had even gone to Tip's humble home and made a thorough search,
high and low, but without the least success.  If Tip were guilty he
must have been smarter than his confederate, who had hidden his share
of the plunder under the loose boards of the floor of his folks' barn.

Not having any evidence beyond suspicion the officer did not dare
arrest Tip, who continued to loaf about his customary corners and
look impudently at every fellow who stared meaningly at him when
passing.  Hugh himself never once doubted the guilt of Tip Slavin;
though he fancied the authorities might have a hard time catching
him, unless the stubborn Leon at the last, finding himself on the way
to the Reform School, confessed, and implicated his companion.

He and Thad were talking about that very same thing on Thursday
afternoon while on the way home from the park a little earlier than
usual.

"Where do you think that sly Tip could have hidden the stuff, Hugh?"
Thad asked, continuing their conversation.

"Oh! there would be plenty of places, and no one likely to ever run
across it, on one condition," replied the other.

"What might that be?" demanded Thad.

"If only Tip could himself keep away from his cache," he was told.
"That may be his undoing, after all.  You know, when an ordinary
thief has done something big, and is being looked for, the smart
police always ask whether he has a wife or a sweetheart; because they
know that sooner or later he is bound to communicate with such a
person, and so a clue may be found to his hiding-place.  Well, Tip's
heart will be located where his treasure is.  He'll soon get a
_yearning_ to indulge in some of the candy and cigarettes he's got
hidden away."

"Then if Chief Wambold knew his duty," snapped Thad vigorously, "he'd
keep tabs of Tip day and night, and shadow him wherever he went."

"That would be his best move," agreed Hugh.

"You ought to post the Chief on that same sort of clever job, Hugh."

"Well, I did think of that," admitted the other boy, "but somehow I
hated to have a hand in railroading Tip to the Reformatory.  It's
true he ought to be there, for he's a terror to the whole community;
but he's got a mother, Thad, and I'd hate to see her swollen eyes,
and remember that I'd had a hand in parting her from her boy.  It
isn't as if I were paid for doing such things, as Chief Wambold is;
this is hardly any business of mine, you know, and I've concluded to
keep my hands off."

"Well, now, somehow I don't just look at it the way you do, Hugh.
Perhaps I'm not quite so tender-hearted as you are.  It may be the
best thing that ever happened to Tip if he is sent to the Reform
School before he plunges any deeper into the mire of crime.  Plenty
of boys have become fine men after being sent there, to be taught
what it should have been the duty of their careless or incompetent
parents to put into their heads."

"Do you mean that you might take a notion to drop a hint to the
Chief, Thad?"

"I'll think it over, and decide later," the other told him.  "Perhaps
I'll ask advice of Dominie Pettigrew, who's a good friend of mine,
and would tell me what my duty was, not only to Tip, but to the
community at large, which he had so flagrantly abused time and again."

"Suit yourself about that, Thad.  Perhaps, after all, you may be
right, and that it would be a good thing all around if Tip could be
sent away with Leon.  But it's likely Leon will weaken when his trial
comes off, and betray his pal; though he may give Tip a hint
beforehand so he can clear out in time."

"And about Nick Lang?" continued Thad.

"I haven't changed my mind about him, as yet," Hugh replied sturdily
enough.  "So far Nick seems to be minding his own business, and
having as little to do with other boys as possible.  I heard Dr.
Carmack say he was astonished at the difference in Nick's work in
classes.  He seemed particularly pleased, too, because, with all the
other teachers, he's had a hard time with Nick in the past."

"But in all the days we've practiced our hockey work Nick hasn't once
joined the scrub team we've fought against.  That's why we've been
able to lick them so easily, I guess, Hugh.  That fellow certainly is
a wizard on runners, and would make a good addition to our Seven, if
by some chance he could be squeezed in.  But one of the Regulars
would have to be dropped, and I think there would be some bad blood
shown if anyone had to give way to a fellow who's had such a bad
reputation in the past.  Even now lots of people think he's only
shamming reform for some deep purpose."

"Lots of people are due for a surprise, then, let me tell you," said
Hugh.  "But, of course, just as you say, I wouldn't dare take any
fellow out as long as he was working his best, and substituting Nick.
It would raise a howl, to be sure.  But, Thad, if the time should
ever come when we're up against a hard proposition, with defeat
staring us in the face, and one of our team was injured, I'd grab at
Nick like a drowning man does at a plank floating near."

"One lucky thing happened for us, Hugh, anyhow."

"You're referring to the toss of the coin that gave us the choice of
grounds for the game, and will force Keyport to journey over here on
Saturday, eh, Thad?"

"Yes, that's what I had in mind.  Captain Mossman seemed to be a
pretty fine sort of chap, too, I thought, when he dropped in on us
yesterday afternoon to look the place over; because it seems he's
never played before in Scranton."

"Well, Scranton was hardly on the map until this year," Hugh laughed.
"However, some of our neighboring towns have already learned that
Scranton is alive and wide-awake."

"Just what they have, Hugh, and there are other surprises coming for
them, too.  I noticed that you cut out all play while the Keyport
chap was with us.  Didn't want him to get a line on our methods, I
suppose?"

"It might give them a little advantage, you see, and weaken our play.
Some of the Scranton boys have gone over to Keyport to see what's
doing there.  They bring back great reports of the confidence shown
in the team; but Coach Leonard has positively forbidden any member of
our Seven to make the trip.  He says it smacks too much of spying to
please him."

"Oh! that's drawing the line pretty tight, Hugh.  Lots of players in
the baseball world try their level best to get a line on a pitcher
who is going to oppose them, and consider it legitimate enough."

"Well, they are professionals, to begin with," said the other; "and
business is business with them.  But, right or wrong, there's going
to be no spying on our part, so long as Mr. Leonard has charge of the
athletic end of the game at Scranton.  You can depend on that every
time."

"There's Owen now; he wasn't at practice this afternoon, I wonder
why?" exclaimed Thad, as they sighted another boy coming toward them.
"He looks as if he might be bursting with some sort of news, Hugh.
Now I wonder what he's run up against."

Owen quickly arrived.  His face did have an eager look, and his eyes
were fairly dancing with some sort of emotion.

"Hugh, I've got something to tell you!" he burst out with, at which
Thad shot a knowing glance toward his chum, which said as plain as
could be: "There, what did I say to you?"

"All right, Owen, relieve yourself of the load right away, before you
burst," Hugh went on to advise, in his pleasant fashion.

"It's about a certain chap who's under suspicion right now of having
been implicated in that breaking into the Kramer store and robbing
it."

"Tip Slavin, you mean, Owen?" asked Hugh, looking interested at once.

"Yes, no other, Hugh.  Well, I've discovered beyond a shadow of a
doubt that he is the guilty partner of Leon Disney, just as everybody
suspected!"



CHAPTER IX

AN ADVENTURE ON THE ROAD

Thad gave utterance to an ejaculation, and then followed it up by
saying:

"Well, now, I like that!  After all, Hugh, I may not have to bother
giving the Chief that tip you mentioned, if Owen here has discovered
something big.  Tell us about it, Owen, please; since you've got us
excited by your news."

"I couldn't get over to practice this afternoon, Hugh, as of course
you noticed," the other commenced to say.  "But it wasn't any fault
of mine, I give you my word.  I had to do several things around the
house for mother.  One of the pipes had frozen and had to be thawed
out.  Then there were other jobs that kept me busy for an hour.
Finally, when I began to hope I might get down a short time before
you closed shop, she remembered an errand that would take me out on
the road leading to Hobson's Mill-Pond.  I had to go to Farmer
Brown's for some butter and eggs."

All this was said with such a lugubrious expression that Hugh had to
laugh.

"It's plain to be seen you started on that walk feeling anything but
pleased, Owen," he went on to remark.  "Of course you'd much rather
have been skating with the balance of the crowd over at our new rink.
Well, what happened?"

"Just this, Hugh.  I was well out of town, and walking briskly along,
thinking of the game we expect to win on Saturday, when someone
suddenly turned a bend ahead.  I saw that it was a boy who was
smoking a cigarette like everything,--yes, Tip Slavin, if you please.
He discovered me at about the same second, and, say, you ought to
have seen how he flipped that coffin-nail thing from his lips, and
came on as bold as anything."

Thad chuckled.

"Huh! guess you got him dead to rights that time, Owen.  Did you
accuse him of being a thief?" he asked hurriedly.

"Well, hardly, because, you see, I wasn't begging for a fight; and
there's no doubt in the world that's what would have followed.  But I
made out as if I hadn't noticed anything out of the way, and just
nodded careless like to Tip as we passed by."

"I admire your way of grasping the situation," said Hugh
impressively, "because already I can guess you had some sort of
scheme in your mind to make use of your discovery."

"Just what I did," chortled Owen.  "I walked on, and turned the bend
he had come around.  Then I crept back, and peeked, taking care he
didn't glimpse me.  When I saw him stop as if deciding on something I
was disappointed, because I expected he meant to come back after it;
but then he seemed to think it not worth while, and later on passed
out of sight in the distance."

"And then you hunted for the cigarette he had thrown away, I
suppose?" ventured Thad.

"Oh!  I'd noted the exact spot where he was at the time, and also on
which side of the road he'd tossed the stub; so I didn't have much
trouble about picking it up; after which I continued on my way.
Hugh, here it is."

"With that Owen took something from his pocket, carefully wrapped in
the folds of his handkerchief.  It turned out to be a half-smoked
cigarette.  Hugh fastened his eyes instantly on some small printing
in blue ink, giving the name of the manufacturers down in Virginia.

"It's the same make as those found under the Disney barn-floor," he
said impressively; "and that alone would be proof that Tip has a
cache somewhere back along the road to the mill-pond, perhaps in a
hollow tree in the woods.  A clever police officer could easily find
it by following back Tip's trail, and learning just where he came out
of the woods.  I myself happen to know his left shoe has a triangular
patch across the toe,--that would serve to identify the tracks
anywhere."

"Listen to that, will you, Owen?" gasped the wondering Thad.  "If my
chum here doesn't take up the line of an investigator of crime for a
livelihood believe me there'll be a great loss to the world.  I
wonder now, Hugh, if you've got tabs on all the fellows, so that you
could tell who made any footprint in the mud?"

Hugh only laughed as he went on to say:

"It was just a mere accident that I knew that about Tip's mended
sole, and it might never happen again.  But when Owen here told us
about a hidden cache I only gave you my opinion as to what would be
the easiest way to discover its location.  But what will you do about
it, Owen,--let the Chief know of your discovery, or keep mum?"

"Why, I look at it this way," said the other, with a line of
perplexity marked upon his usually smooth forehead; "if it was only a
_suspicion_ I might keep quiet, not wanting to injure Tip, though
I've got little cause to love the brute.  But since I actually _know_
something that would prove a valuable clue to the officers, I'm
afraid it would be what I've heard a lawyer call 'compounding a
felony' if I refused to inform on Tip.  How about that, Hugh?  I want
to do the right thing, even if I hate to be an informer."

"It's up to you, Owen, and your duty is plain enough," said Hugh.

"Then I ought to see the Chief, you mean?" asked the other.

"I'd advise you to do so, for your future peace of mind, if nothing
else," Hugh told the hesitating boy, who thereupon drew a long
breath, and remarked:

"I'm more than half sorry now I went back to look for this cigarette;
because only for my picking up such positive evidence I needn't get
into this nasty game.  But I'm in now, and I'll have to shoulder my
share of the responsibility, I guess.  So, while the thing is still
fresh in my mind, I'll trot around to Headquarters to wake up our
sleeping Chief.  Things have come to a pretty pass here in Scranton
when boys have to lend a helping hand to the police force so as to
nab a petty thief."

With that Owen left them.  When he had a duty to perform, however
unpleasant it might be, Owen was accustomed to grappling with it, and
not compromising.

Thad looked after the other and remarked:

"How queer things do come about, Hugh.  Just to think of Owen
discovering Tip sauntering along the road and smoking one of those
stolen cigarettes.  Pretty cute of him, too, sneaking back and
hunting for the evidence.  I suppose it'll wind up in Tip being
locked up with Leon, and eventually going to the Reform School."

"Few people will be sorry," observed Hugh, although he felt a twinge
when his mind reverted to the mothers of the two boys.

"I wonder what Nick thinks of it all," mused Thad.  "He must realize
that he had a narrow squeak of it; because, only for that sudden
change of heart on his part, brought around by what you did about
those nickeled skates, he might have been in the cooler right now,
along with crafty Leon."

As they had arrived at the point where their paths diverged, the two
chums separated.  Hugh had returned home somewhat earlier than
customary, as he had something to do for his mother, just as Owen had
admitted was the cause of his absence from the ice that same
afternoon.

Usually boys like to linger on the ice until long after the shades of
night have settled down and time for supper is perilously near.  With
a jolly bonfire blazing on the bank, and the skaters going and coming
all the while, the prospect is so alluring that it is indeed
difficult for any lad to break away.  And the father who has not
forgotten his own shortcomings of long ago is apt to wisely overlook
some such transgression of parental authority, when the ice beckons,
and, in spite of good intentions, all outdoors seems to grip a fellow
in fetters of steel.

Some little time later Hugh might have been seen in a neighbor's
family sleigh heading out of town.  There was plenty of snow for this
sort of thing, though the ice had been kept well cleared through the
use of brooms handled by many willing hands.  The skating had not
been injured in the least, for they flooded the pond each night
afresh, giving it a glittering new surface by morning.

Hugh had to go a couple of miles out.  He, too, was bound for a farm,
to fetch back a sack of potatoes that his mother had purchased, and
which should have been delivered before then, only that the one horse
on the place had taken a notion to fall sick, and that rendered the
farmer helpless.

It was already well on toward sunset when Hugh started out.  He
expected to be overtaken by twilight before getting back home; but
that was a small matter, since he knew the road very well, and with
the snow on the ground it would not be really dark at any time.

It was certainly bitter cold.  Hugh wore warm gloves especially
suited for driving, or any purpose when the zero mark was approached
by the mercury in the tube of the thermometer.  He also kept his ears
well muffled up by means of a toque of dark blue worsted, which he
wore under his ordinary cap.

As he had on a heavy wool-lined pea-jacket that buttoned close up
under his chin the boy found nothing to complain about in that cold
atmosphere, for his blood coursed through his veins with all the
richness of healthy youth.

"But all the same," he was telling himself, as he passed an humble
cottage where, through a dingy window, a lone lamp could be seen; and
some children gathered about the kitchen stove, "I'm thinking this
bracing weather that we boys have wanted to see so much, is pretty
hard on poor folks.  The world is unevenly divided, as mother often
says; some have too much for their own good; and others far too
little for comfort."

He presently arrived at his destination.  The neighbor's horse, while
not at all fleet, was a steady goer, and Hugh had not allowed him to
"loaf on the job" so long as he could touch the whip to the animal's
broad back.

The sack of potatoes was soon tucked away in the back part of the big
sleigh.  He also bundled some extra coverings about it, which he had
brought along with him, to prevent any chance of the precious tubers
freezing.  A basket, with some other things, was also stowed away in
the back of the vehicle; after which the boy said good-night to the
farmer, and started on his return trip.

Hugh was about half-way home when something occurred to excite him
not a little, though at the time he did not even suspect what an
intimate relation it might have in connection with certain facts that
he and his chum had only recently been discussing at length.

His horse suddenly gave a series of snorts, and at the same time
shied to one side as if startled.  Hugh gripped the lines tighter,
and strained his eyes to see what was wrong, while, perhaps, his
heart did start to beating faster than ordinary, although he could
not be said to be alarmed in the least, only excited.

A wavering figure started out toward him.  Then Hugh discovered,
greatly to his surprise, that it was a woman, and that she held by
the hand a child of about five, a boy at that.

She tried to speak to him, but seemed overcome with weakness, as
though she might have been trudging along until exhausted by want of
food and the severe cold.  Hugh guessed that possibly the couple must
have come out of a side road he had passed a few hundred feet back,
for they were certainly not there when he went by on the way to the
farmer's place.

He saw her stretch out her hand toward him, caught the feeble words,
"Help--my poor little boy!" and then, to Hugh's utter dismay, she
sank to the ground in a heap!



CHAPTER X

THE MYSTERY DEEPENS

Fortunately, Hugh was a lad equal to any occasion.  Of course, he had
never had an experience like this before; but somehow he seemed to
understand that the first, indeed, only thing to be done, was to get
the woman and child in the sleigh some way or other, and then make
for home at breakneck speed.

So out he jumped, and, after considerable difficulty, managed to lift
the now unconscious woman into the sleigh.  He had never realized
until then how like lead an inert person might seem, although not
heavy in reality, when possessed of life and animation.

He tore the coverings off the sack of potatoes, and tucked them
eagerly about his charges; for he had also placed the little fellow,
now sobbing bitterly, under the possible impression that "mommy" was
dead, in the sleigh.  As for the potatoes they could "go hang," as he
told himself under his breath; though, perhaps, they might not freeze
in the brief time he meant to be on the road now.

In again Hugh jumped.  Old Bill felt the whip come down this time in
deadly earnest, and actually jumped in his amazement.  Hugh kept him
going at a mad pace.  He was thrilled with the importance of getting
home as speedily as possible.  The woman had looked so deathly white
that the boy was alarmed.  And how he pitied the little chap who
cuddled against his side, still surging over now and then with his
grief, while Hugh drove along.

They struck town, and people turned to stare upon seeing Hugh
whipping his horse so unmercifully.  They could not understand it,
and rubbed their eyes.  Surely that was Hugh Morgan in the sleigh,
but why should _he_ be pounding his horse, and half standing erect?
If it had been a fire chief going to a blaze he could hardly have
excited more comment.

A boy who was walking briskly along the street with a package under
his arm came to a full stop, and stared as though he thought he had
taken leave of his seven senses.  It was Thad Stevens, and no wonder
he was amazed, having recognised his chum in the frantic driver.

Thad gave vent to a whistle to relieve his pent-up feelings.  Then he
started on a gallop after Hugh.  He could not rest easy until he had
learned just what might have happened to cause his usually collected
chum to act in this strange fashion.

When he arrived at the Morgan home it was to find Hugh had landed the
child on the little porch in front of the door.  This latter was
open, and his mother, together with the hired girl, stood there,
trying to comprehend what Hugh was saying.

Thad came panting up, and was immediately seized upon by Hugh.

"Great luck!  Just in time to give me a helping hand, Thad!" cried
the other.

"What with--the Murphies?" asked the astonished Thad; for he had
known Hugh expected to go out to the farm after a sack of potatoes.

"Not this time," snapped the other; "it's a poor woman who fainted
from cold and exhaustion while she was trying to ask me the way
somewhere.  That child is hers.  Come, give me a hand, Thad, and
we'll carry her into the house.  Mother says she must be put to bed
right away, and won't hear of my taking her over to the hospital."

That aroused Thad, and between them the two stout lads had little
difficulty in carrying the still unconscious young woman into the
warm house.  Up the stairs Mrs. Morgan and the girl led them, and
into the neat spare-room, reserved for favored company.

Once she had been laid on the bed, after the blankets and coverings
had been turned down, and the little boy was being soothed by Hugh's
mother, she told the boys they could now go downstairs again, and she
would report later as to what next should be done.

"First carry in the potatoes, Hugh, for they are too expensive this
season to let the frost get them," she went on to say, patting the
little fellow, whose tears had by now ceased to run down his chubby
cheeks; "then call up Doctor Cadmus, and tell him to come around
immediately.  I'm sorry your father is away from home just now, but I
can depend on my son."

The boys went out again and lugged the heavy sack of potatoes around
to the cellar door, by means of which they were taken in where they
would be safe from the bitter air of the winter.  Then Thad was sent
around to the neighbor's with the horse and sleigh, while Hugh meant
to get the good physician on the wire, and hasten his coming on an
urgent call.

"If Mr. Jones notices that old Bill is wheezing a bit, as if he'd had
a warm run of it, please explain how it happened, Thad.  I wouldn't
like him, after all his kindness, to think I'd whip up his horse for
nothing, or just in a spirit of sport."

As it was an hour when Doctor Cadmus was through with his day's
calls, Hugh had the good luck to hear the physician's voice on the
wire.

"Mother wants you to come right over, Doctor!" Hugh told him.

"Who's sick?" demanded the other, being very fond of all the Morgan
family; "not your good mother, I hope, Hugh?"

"No, neither of us, Doctor," the boy continued.  "I ran upon a young
woman and a small child when on the road after potatoes in Mr. Jones'
sleigh.  She fainted dead away before she could tell me who she was,
or where she was going.  I managed to get them both aboard, and
fetched them here.  Mother has put her to bed; but she is afraid a
fever is coming on, and it worries her.  You'll be here right away,
Doctor, won't you, please?"

"As fast as I can get there, my son!" came the prompt reply.

If there was a touch of pride in the voice one could not wonder at
it; for like a good many other people of Scranton Doctor Cadmus had
conceived a great liking for Hugh; and thought there had never been
another boy fashioned after his model, which, of course, was all
nonsense, as Hugh often protested indignantly when he heard any such
talk.

Only a short time elapsed before the doctor and Thad reached the
front door at the same minute.

"Wait for me in the library, Thad, if you don't mind being late for
your supper.  Doctor, I'll show you the way upstairs," and with this
remark Hugh preceded the stout little physician up to the second
floor.

As for Thad, he never once dreamed of "breaking away" at that most
interesting stage.  Suppers occurred three hundred and sixty-five
times a year, with an extra one thrown in for good measure when
leap-year came around; but exciting events like the one happening to
Hugh were of rare occurrence.  Catch him thinking of eating when
there was a chance right at his door to have a hand in a thrilling
drama that beat the "movies" all hollow!

So Thad sat down.

Hugh soon joined him.  He was immediately pounced upon by his curious
chum, and plied with all manner of questions.  By degrees Thad
"pumped him dry," and there was nothing more to tell.

"We'll have to wait until she comes back to her senses," Hugh finally
remarked sagely, "before we'll be able to learn anything definite
about them, mother and the doctor both say."

"And she's actually out of her head, is she, right now?" Thad
demanded.

"Yes, and keeps on saying the same thing over and over, just as if it
might have been in her mind so much lately.  She keeps on pleading
with someone she calls grandfather, and begging him not to put them
out of his heart and home, for little Joey's sake--it's always little
Joey she's worrying about and not herself.  The doctor says she was
utterly exhausted by want of sustaining food, added to anxiety and
the exposure she had suffered."

"But where could she have come from, Hugh?  She has never been in
Scranton, you said that, and I never saw her before either.  You told
me the little boy can only say his name is Joey Walters; and honest
to goodness, Hugh, there isn't a single family of that name in or
around this town that I ever heard of."

"They've been trying to get some clues out of the little chap,"
continued Hugh, "but without much success.  All he's said so far is
that they've come ever so far, and that he liked riding on the cars
first-rate, only mommy cried so much and wouldn't eat every time he
did.  From the way he talked they suspect that the young woman may
have come from the West somewhere."

"She _is_ young then, Hugh?"

"Yes, not over twenty-five or so, the doctor says, but frail-looking.
He thinks there is nothing serious the matter with her, only that
she's been underfed for a long time, and has suffered.  Perhaps she's
denied herself proper food so as to save up enough money to make this
trip."

Thad shook his head as if feeling sad over the happening; for the boy
had a tender heart.

"Well, I certainly hope she'll be better tomorrow, and able to tell
something about herself," he went on to say, as he prepared to leave.
"And, Hugh, it was fine of your mother to refuse to let her be taken
over to the Scranton Hospital, when the doctor proposed such a thing."

"My mother wouldn't hear of it," Hugh told him proudly.  "Why,
already she's in love with that little chap, and he's enough of a
darling to make any woman with a heart want to mother him.  Both of
us seem to think we may have seen him before somewhere; or else he
resembles someone we've known once on a time; but, so far, we can't
imagine who or where it was.  But once she comes to her senses,
whether to-morrow, or some days afterwards, of course the truth will
be known."

"And Hugh," said the other, with one of his smiles, "if you feel that
you can't wait for her to tell, suppose you start out to-morrow
afternoon and try to strike a clue on your own account.  That
wonderful faculty you possess for investigating things ought to put
you on the track."

"Perhaps I may, that is, if I have time to-morrow," chuckled Hugh;
"because, you know, we have our last practice at hockey before
meeting those Keyport experts."

"You said you felt sure she must have come out of that side road near
where you met them," continued the persistent Thad.

"Yes, but only because I hadn't seen them when going out to the
farm," his chum explained.  "They may have come out of that road; and
then again it's barely possible they were trying to make a fire
somewhere among the trees to keep them from freezing."

"By going along that same road, and inquiring at every house you came
to," Thad continued, "like as not you'd get word of them, if so be
they stopped to ask directions, or a warm cup of coffee.  People
around here never refuse anyone who comes to their doors.  Well, see
you in the morning then, Hugh.  Good-night!"



CHAPTER XI

A MOTHER'S SACRIFICE

Friday afternoon had come, and the game at the park was over.
Although the scratch team organized by Mr. Leonard to oppose the
Regulars put up a strong fight, they were virtually "snowed under" by
the splendid playing of Hugh and his six comrades.

The experienced coach seemed very well satisfied.  He openly
complimented the lads after the contest had been carried to its
finish.

"You are doing splendid work, fellows," he told them, with a look of
pride on his face; "and the way you played this afternoon was worthy
of any Montreal Seven that ever toured the East to show how they do
things up there in Canada at their favorite winter sport.  And the
boys who fought tooth and nail to hold you back, I congratulate them
also; for they did excellent work.  It was no disgrace to be beaten
in that game; few hockey teams could have held their own against such
fine play.  Keep it up to-morrow, and there need be no doubt as to
who the winners will be."

It can be easily understood that Hugh and Thad were feeling in a
particularly good humor then, as they started to walk to town after
the game, having an errand there before going home.

"I haven't had a fair chance to say a word with you to-day, Hugh,"
the latter broke out with, once they were alone; "and I'm awfully
anxious to hear how that poor young woman at your house is coming
along.  Has she spoken yet, and told who she is, and where she came
from?"

Hugh shook his head in the negative.

"Never a word as yet, Thad.  Fact is, Doctor Cadmus says she mustn't
be worried by questions for several days, possibly."

"Then she's still wandering in her mind, is she, Hugh?"

"Yes, and saying all sorts of things about her girlhood days, as well
as about her husband, who, mother thinks, must have come to his death
in some accident.  She calls him Joey, too, just like the boy.  It
must be a family name, we imagine.  So mother is content to wait
until she is better, when she will tell all she wants us to know."

"Then you didn't bother taking that wise tip I gave you, Hugh?" and
Thad's voice had a little ring of disappointment about it.

"Oh!  I was up early this morning, and, as the road out there seemed
so hard and firm, the snow being packed down solid, I just jumped on
my wheel, and took a little run up in that direction.  It wasn't so
easy, once I struck in on that side road, but I managed to pedal
along somehow."

"There are a number of houses on that road, I chance to know, Hugh;
the Simms live there, likewise the Thompsons and the Garrabrants."

"I managed to reach those three houses," Hugh continued; "but it
didn't pay me, so far as results went, though I enjoyed the run all
right."

"From that I imagine nobody had seen the woman and child yesterday
afternoon coming along that particular road, eh, Hugh?"

"No one could remember having met or seen such a person," Hugh told
him; "and as strangers are uncommon in these parts they would surely
have noticed her if she passed their doors.  So I came to the
conclusion, as I couldn't even find the marks of her shoes in the
snow along the road, that she must have come over from Belleville
way, and was in the woods at the time I first went by, which would
account for my not meeting her."

"To change the subject, Hugh, I notice that Nick still fights shy of
the rest of the crowd these days.  He was skating on the ice to-day;
but absolutely declined to take part in the game; though Mr. Leonard,
wanting to make the opposition as strong as possible so as to put us
to our best licks, went over and talked with him, trying to coax Nick
to join the line-up.  What makes him act that way, Hugh?  One would
think Nick'd be glad of the chance to play."

"He would, Thad, he certainly would, because he enjoys hockey as much
as you or myself; but I reckon Nick, for the first time in all his
life, finds himself afflicted with shyness.  You see, he knows people
don't, as a rule, believe in this sudden reformation.  They can't
have any faith in a fellow who's fooled them so often before.  And
that makes him want to keep away.  Nick is fighting it out all by
himself.  If we knew all the wonderful things that he's grappling
with these days I imagine we'd sympathize with the poor fellow, Thad."

"Hugh, you may be right.  Already I'm beginning to feel sorry for
saying some of the mean things I did when first we guessed Nick was
trying to turn over a new leaf.  It must be terrible hard for a boy
who's always been bad to change around and face the other way."

"Stop and think, Thad.  Take the case of that Jean Valjean, for
instance.  Now, he underwent a complete change of heart, and from
being a beast, hating humanity, he grew to love other people, and be
ready to sacrifice himself to save another.  You remember how he
voluntarily gave himself up to the law in that courtroom scene, just
to save a miserable wretch who was about to be punished under the
belief that he was the genuine Jean Valjean."

"Yes, but Hugh, he was unknown when he fought his battle, and won
out.  Besides, he had the money he received for the silver the priest
gave him, with which to get a start in the world.  But Nick here is
known, and people point their fingers at him with scorn, and talk
openly about his playing another of his pranks."

"That was just what I had in mind when I spoke, Thad.  Nick has the
harder row of the two to hoe.  And if he wins out he'll deserve a lot
of praise, I tell you.  But see who's coming along here in a rig,
will you?"

"Why, it's good old Deacon Winslow, the blacksmith weather prophet;
and, Hugh, isn't he beckoning to us right now?"

"Just what he is; let's cross over and see what he wants with us,"
Hugh immediately went on to say; for, as has been intimated before in
these pages, he had come to feel a great interest in the brawny
smith, and wanted to cultivate a closer acquaintance with him; there
was something so genial, so wholesome about the owner of the
crossroads smithy.

"Jump in and go along with me, lads," sang out Mr. Winslow, as they
came up.  "I'm bound around to the home of Mrs. Disney on a little
errand; and, since you two are interested, I thought you might like
to help me explain to the poor woman that I want to go on her boy's
bail.  It's a shame he has to stay in the lockup all this time,
waiting for his trial to come off."

The chums exchanged quick looks.

"How about it, do we go along, Hugh?" asked Thad.

For answer the other hopped up alongside the deacon, and, of course,
Thad did likewise.  Since the Disney home was not far away they were
quickly at the door, and knocking for admittance.

Leon's mother answered the summons.  She looked frightened at seeing
the huge bulk of the blacksmith there, and the two boys with him.
But no sooner had he spoken in his kindly fashion than the anxious
expression fled from her pale face.

"Please excuse me for dropping in on you, Mrs. Disney," said the
deacon, after they had been ushered into the humble sitting-room,
where a wood-fire burned on the hearth; "but I just couldn't stand it
any longer.  I want to stand bail for your boy, so you can have him
home again with you till his trial comes off."

Leon's mother looked embarrassed.  She twisted her apron in her
nervous fingers, and seemed very near the point of tears.

"Oh! it's kind of you, Deacon Winslow, indeed it is!" she finally
exclaimed, as she looked up at the smiling, sympathetic big man;
"but, after all I think it is better that Leon remained where he is
though it almost breaks my heart to say it."

Thad looked astonished, but Hugh nodded his head, as though he could
understand what was back of those words so strange for a mother to
speak.  Deacon Winslow was also considerably surprised, it seemed.

"But the bail bond is only for a thousand dollars, madam," he said;
"and I can afford to put that up for his appearance in court later."

"Thank you again and again for your kindness to a poor woman, and a
mother, sir!" she exclaimed with a half-suppressed sob in her voice;
"but there does not seem to be any doubt about my boy's guilt, much
as I hate to acknowledge it.  His association with that Lang boy has
been his ruin.  And he would be likely to run away, to try and escape
his just punishment, so that the bail bond would be forfeited."

"But even so it wouldn't ruin me, Mrs. Disney," continued the deacon;
"and I hate to think of you sitting here, and crying your eyes out
because he is locked up."

She looked straight at him then, as she went on to say bravely:

"But, sir, I am thinking of what will eventually become of my boy.
If he runs away now he will sink lower and lower, until he commits
some terrible crime, it may be.  But Dominie Pettigrew tells me that
if he goes to the Reform School there is a chance that he may come
out later on completely changed in heart, and ready to play his
honest part in the world.  No, I have thought it all over, and prayed
to be led to do what is best for my Leon.  I cannot accept your
offer, though you mean it in all kindness.  For his sake I will wait
until his time has expired, and continue to hope it may be the making
of my poor boy."

Deacon Winslow did not attempt to urge her.  Indeed, he could hardly
say anything, for he was half choking with emotion.  But he squeezed
her hand, and gave her a look that must have carried some comfort to
her poor distracted heart.

Once outside, the boys shook hands with the big man.  Hugh was
feeling more drawn towards him than ever.

"I'm coming out to visit you soon, Deacon," he told the other; "I
want to know you better.  There are a lot of things I mean to ask you
about the habits of those little animals from which you get your
hints about the weather; and you told me to drop in any time I felt
like it, you remember."

"You'll be doubly welcome, both of you, lads!" the big blacksmith
assured Hugh, as he drove away, more or less disappointed because his
little plan to assist a sorrow-stricken mother had fallen through.

"Say, his heart must be as big as a bushel-basket, Hugh," admitted
Thad, as they walked along, heading for the open square in the center
of the town.

Two minutes later and Thad gave vent to an ejaculation.

"It's all up now, Hugh!" he said, in a half-disappointed tone.

"What is?" demanded his comrade wonderingly.

"The Chief has arrested Tip Slavin, I mean.  He must have heard what
Owen Dugdale had to say about meeting Tip Slavin smoking a cigarette
on the road to the mill-pond, and set a trap for him.  He's just
stopped his big car in front of Headquarters, and one of his men is
lifting out a load of stuff, doubtless the plunder Tip cached in the
woods up there.  And the Chief has his hand on Tip's shoulder as they
get out.  I notice that Tip has lost his arrogant look, and seems
badly scared, too!"



CHAPTER XII

TIP SATISFIES HIS CRAVING--AND LOSES

"Let's step over and see how it happened, Hugh!"

As Hugh himself was not averse to picking up some information along
that same line, the two chums entered the station-house just after
the Chief and his man.  The latter officer had placed the large
package done up in a burlap bag on the floor.  He was grinning, as
though considerably pleased with the final results of the raid.
Chief Wambold, too, was indulging in a smile as the boys entered; he
even winked one eye at Thad, as though in a particularly good humor.

But there was one person present who did not seem to be in a happy
frame of mind.  That was Tip.  He looked "in the dumps," as Thad
expressed it; and on seeing the boys enter dropped his chin upon his
breast in shame.  All the bravado was gone from his demeanor now; he
knew that with that evidence against him he was headed for the House
of Refuge on a fast train.

The man took him through a door into another room, the Chief's
private office.  From this Hugh guessed that Tip was about to be
questioned at length, in the hope of his possibly implicating still a
third party in the theft.

"So you found his secret cache, did you, Chief?" remarked Thad
boldly.  "When Owen Dugdale left us he said he was going straight to
you, to tell about meeting Tip on the road smoking a cigarette; and
he showed us that it bore the same trademark as those stolen from
Paul Kramer's place."

Thad went into detail so as to let the tall Chief understand they
already knew all about the discovery, and had been told, in fact,
even before he was.

"Yes, we took a hunt up there in the woods this morning," explained
the other, with a broad smile; "and ran across some tracks that
looked like Tip's.  When we followed the trail it led us direct to a
big tree that was hollow; and inside the cavity lay that bundle,
wrapped in a burlap sack.  It was almost too easy.  An experienced
crook would never have committed such a blunder, and left so plain a
trail.  Why, it looked as if we were being taken by the hand and led
there."

"But I guess you didn't carry away the stuff right then, did you,
Chief?" Thad went on to say, a wise look on his face.

"Hardly, son, hardly," replied the other, with a gesture of his
hands.  "That would have been too silly for anything.  What we did
was to back away, and cover our own footprints as well as we could.
Then we hid to await developments.  I left my man up there while I
came back to town to conduct my business.  Later in the day I once
more joined him.  I expected the boy might be getting hungry for a
smoke about the same time Owen met him on the road.  Well, he came,
and we pounced down on him just when he had opened the pack, and was
lighting a weed with his trembling, tobacco-stained fingers; because,
just like Leon Disney, and that slick Nick Lang, Tip is a confirmed
cigarette fiend, you know."

"Well, for one, Nick has cut the habit out, Chief, I happen to know,
for he told me so," Hugh ventured to say.

The big police officer sneered, as though he refused to believe there
could any good come out of the boy who bore that detested name of
Nick Lang.  During the whole of the time he occupied his present
exalted position, Chief Wambold had been plagued by the pranks of
Nick and his cronies; and, in spite of all his efforts, up to now he
had been unable to fasten anything serious upon them, although he
gave them credit for every piece of maliciousness practiced in
Scranton during that period.

"Well, perhaps some people may believe Nick didn't have a hand in
this outrage," he went on to say, "but I'll never think otherwise
than that it was his genius for organizing raids that was responsible
for the robbery.  At the least, he may have changed his mind, seeing
things getting too warm in police circles here.  But never forget to
keep one eye open when dealing with such a slippery customer, for his
repentance is only skin-deep at the best."

Hugh made no reply.  He knew it would have been utterly useless,
because the Chief was not only a very stubborn man, but inclined to
be a narrow-minded one in the bargain.  So he and Thad walked out.
The last they heard the officer call after them was:

"Make up your minds, boys, Scranton is going to be purged now as
never before.  We've made a good beginning, and it'll be pretty
unhealthy for anybody to start a racket from now on.  Tip and Leon
will be going to the Reform School inside of a few days, after
they've had their trial before the Justice; and the town will be well
rid of a pair of scapegraces.  And thank you for what assistance you
may have given us, boys."

As they walked along Thad vented his feelings in the matter.

"It looks as if that episode might be called closed, eh, Hugh?  The
evidence is so powerfully strong that neither of the boys can put up
anything like a half-way decent defense.  They're going to be sent
away, and we'll not be bothered with the bunch again.  With Nick on
the mourners' bench, the old town is going to be pretty orderly for a
while, until some fresh spirits break loose."

"Let's hope it may be a long time before Nick has a successor," said
Hugh.  "This whole thing is going to be a lesson to such fellows as
were inclined to run around with the street gangs, and play practical
jokes nights."

"I notice one thing," remarked Thad, "which is that some of those
fellows who used to loaf on the street corners in summer are now
coming to the club-house at the baseball park, now it's opened three
nights a week.  The only trouble is they haven't got half enough
magazines and games there to go around, so many visit the big room to
get in out of the cold these nights."

"That is going to be remedied before long," Hugh told him.  "Some of
the men of the town, and Deacon Winslow heads the list, I understand,
have arranged to spend a lot more money on certain improvements; and
among other things there will be a pretty fair gymnasium, as well as
more reading matter of the right sort for boys."

"Now, that's news to me, Hugh!" exclaimed the delighted Thad; "queer
that I hadn't heard a word about it before.  But then you get wind of
everything that's going on.  Folks think they ought to ask your
advice on all sorts of subjects.  That's what it means to be the most
popular boy in a town."

Hugh laughed.

"Thanks for the compliment, Thad," he said; "but just think of the
weight of responsibility I have to stagger under, even as the captain
of the Scranton Seven.  Why, everybody stops me on the street, and
asks the most remarkable questions.  They seem to think I'm gifted
with prophetic vision.  They ask me to tell them just how badly we're
going to whip Keyport to-morrow morning, and lots of other things
that I know no more about than a baby might."

"Well, have you decided to give up trying to learn where the woman
with the little child came from?" asked Thad, again switching the
subject in an abrupt fashion he had.

"Oh!  I don't know whether it will pay me to go out again, and try to
trace her back to Belleville, or some such place," said Hugh.
"Doctor Cadmus assured my mother she would certainly be in her
rational mind inside of two days at the longest.  So I reckon I had
better lie on my oars, and wait.  I've got plenty to bother about, as
it is, with that hot game coming off in the morning."

"Perhaps you're wise about that, Hugh.  I know I'm a lot too
impatient by half, and can't bear to wait for things to come to me.
That's why I always stepped out to meet the ball when at bat; and I
often caught it before the break came to make it a sharp drop."

"Mother says she thinks her full name is Judith Walters, though, as
far as we know now, that doesn't help any.  Still, if she didn't
recover, it might assist in finding her family, so they could take
the boy.  He's a fine little chap, and I've already made great
friends with him."

"You say she keeps on speaking to someone she calls grandfather, who
seems likely to turn them both out of the house?" Thad persisted, as
though he might be trying to figure something out.

"Yes, and so we take it for granted there must be some sort of a
pitiful family tragedy about the whole affair," Hugh told him.
"Mother suspects she may have married some years ago against her
grandfather's will; and, losing her husband suddenly through
accident, she is now on her way back, to plead with a hard-hearted
old man for a place under his roof.  But as you say there's no family
named Walters near here, and we certainly don't know of any girl
leaving her home that way."

"The chances are," Thad said decisively, "that she was meaning to
pass through Scranton, and was heading for some other town, perhaps
Allandale.  You might find out if any such thing happened there some
years ago; or if an old man could be found who would welcome a dear
little boy named Joey."

The subject being exhausted for the time being, the boys talked of
something else until they finally separated, each heading for his own
particular supper table.

Of course, the news of Tip's arrest was soon known all over town.
Most people had anticipated such an event, and professed not to be in
the least surprised to hear about it.  Nevertheless, the clever
device of Chief Wambold, which he took care should be passed from lip
to lip, so as to add to his popularity, was highly commended.

And there never was a time when Scranton passed a more peaceful night
than on that occasion.  Already great good was coming of the breaking
up of the vicious gang that had held sway much too long.  With two of
the members locked up, being just as good as on their way to the
Reform School, and the leader forsaking his former evil practices, it
looked as though the police force of Scranton would soon become fat
and lazy through lack of activity.

Hugh did not go out that evening.  He was tired, and wished to
conserve his energies so as to be in first-class trim for that lively
morning brush with Keyport's Big Seven.

So he spent considerable time playing with little Joey; and, being
still hopeful of learning something that would afford a clue to the
mysterious past of the boy's young mother, Hugh often plied him with
questions.

But his success was hardly flattering to his acumen, for the little
fellow could not tell him anything that would be of material help.
Hugh guessed that they had once been out in some mining country, from
certain things the boy chanced to mention.  He also had reason to
believe the father had come to his death through such a catastrophe
as so often happens in the mines; for the boy spoke of many families
losing those they loved when "poppy" was buried in the cold ground.

It was slow work, and anyone less tenacious than Hugh might have
given up all hope of making a discovery.  He believed, however, that
if no other way arose by means of which they could find out what they
sought, some time or other Joey was apt to let fall a word that might
lead to discoveries.

The doctor came before bedtime, and said his patient was getting
along nicely.

"Given one more day, and possibly by Sunday she may come into her
senses again," he told them before leaving.  "And then she can thank
you, madam, for all your kind heart has done for her.  But that
little boy is a sunbeam for any house.  I have half a mind to steal
him myself."



CHAPTER XIII

THE LIVELY GAME WITH KEYPORT'S SEVEN

Many a fellow in Scranton felt blue early on Saturday morning, when,
jumping from his warm bed, and hastening over to a window, he looked
out to discover a few flakes of snow lazily drifting earthwards.

The gloomy sky seemed to be in fit condition for a heavy snowfall,
that would put the hockey game with Keyport entirely out of the
question.

By the time breakfast was ready, however, these fugitive snowflakes
had ceased falling entirely, and, shortly afterwards, the bright sun
broke out, lifting the load from myriads of enthusiastic young hearts.

After all, it turned out a perfectly glorious winter's day, the air
being keen, but with little wind to mar the work of the contenders on
the icy rink.

Along about nine in the morning people began to gather at the park,
paying for seats in the grandstand.  Everybody was as warmly clad as
possible, since it is no joke to sit for an hour or two, with the
thermometer registering half-way down to zero.

As before, one-half of the enclosed area was shut off from the
general public, in order to afford the | hockey players the benefit
of the new ice.  Of course, it had been flooded on the preceding
night, after the last skater had left, and this caused a splendid
surface to congeal.

Boys and girls came flocking to the place.  Many bore skates, but
there were others who only wished to witness the contest between the
two rival high-school teams, as scheduled for that morning.  There
were hosts of other people present also; and already cars and
conveyances of every description were arriving from Keyport,
Allandale, Belleville, and such places, filled with eager
enthusiasts, who loved a good hockey game above all sports, and would
journey far afield in order to be present when one was to be played.

Shortly afterwards some of the Scranton players appeared on the
enclosed area.  Their coming was greeted with all sorts of cries,
meant, for the most part, as encouragement, and expressing a firm
belief in their ability to win out.

"We're pinning our faith on you boys.  Dugdale, remember!" cried one
fellow.

"Don't let them get too big a start on you, because they're terrible
fighters, once they get a lead!" came from another, who, having lived
in Keyport, was supposed to know the characteristics of the boys on
that team.

"And, Hobson, always remember that it's the longest pole that knocks
the persimmons!" whooped a third fellow student.

Thad and Hugh were sitting on a low bench, adjusting their skates
leisurely, and listening in an amused way to much of this friendly
badinage.

"The boys are certainly wanting to win this game, Hugh," chuckled
Thad.  "Makes me think of some of the warm sessions we had last
summer in baseball contests with Allandale and Belleville.  ["_The
Chums of Scranton High in the Three-Town League_."]

"It seems as if Scranton boys and girls have developed a voracious
appetite for every kind of out-door sport lately," Hugh went on to
say.  "Did you hear what the committee in charge of the grounds here
intends to do next week?"

"Haven't heard a whisper so far, Hugh; so give me the news," pleaded
the other.

"Why, you know the fellows have been building bonfires here at
night-times when skating.  It was all very fine, but there seemed to
be considerable worry about the new high fence taking fire and
burning during the night.  So they've concluded to run wires across
from side to side, and string electric lights for use on dark nights,
but only when the skating is good."

Thad looked pleased.

"Why, that's a boss idea; who suggested it, Hugh?" he demanded.

"Oh! somebody just happened to think of it, and the committee agreed
it was a good scheme," returned Hugh; but something about his manner
told Thad the truth.

"Huh!  I can give a pretty good guess who that smart chap is; but
don't bother trying to deny it, Hugh.  The only bad thing about it in
my mind is that we'll miss those jolly fires.  It's always been so
fine to skate up and stand before one, to get warm, and hear the
flames crackle, while the girl you're skating with sits on a log, or
something like that, to warm her feet."

"Oh! well, when you want the romantic side of night-skating, Thad,
you'll have to go out to Hobson's mill-pond, like you say you used to
do.  There, with plenty of wood handy, you can have the biggest fire
you feel like making.  Here, so close to town, we have to get our
light in a more modern way.  Now, I reckon I'm ready for any sort of
a scrimmage that comes along."

A shout presently announced that the boys from Keyport had arrived in
a big car of the "rubber-neck" variety, with five seats across; and
used for sight-seeing purposes, or any excursion where a dozen or
twenty wished to go in a crowd.

A little later the fellows came on the ice in a body, with their
distinguishing jerseys.  They appeared to be an exceedingly lively
bunch, and were soon spinning about, displaying a nimbleness that
excited apprehensions in many a loyal Scranton heart.

As boys need little introduction, the opposing players quickly
intermingled, and seemed on the best of terms.  Captain Mossman and
Hugh paired off, to talk over matters connected with the game.  They
were soon joined by Mr. Leonard, and several gentlemen, some from
Keyport, others hailing from Allandale and Belleville.

It was soon decided that the officials should be chosen as far as
possible from neutral territory.  There were to be a referee, an
assistant referee, two goal umpires, as many timekeepers, and a pair
of penalty timekeepers.

Fortunately, Allandale and its sister town had quite a quota of
former college players and gentlemen who had been members of famous
hockey clubs in Canada and elsewhere when younger.  They had kept in
touch with the progress of events, so that they were eminently
qualified to act in the various capacities to which they were now
assigned by Mr. Leonard and the coach of the Keyport Seven.

Hugh kept looking around from time to time.  He wished to be posted
as to what other promising players connected with Scranton High were
on the ice, so that in case of necessity he could call on one of them
to take the place of an injured Scranton boy.

And when he finally noted that Nick Lang had arrived, and was on his
skates, somehow Hugh seemed relieved.  Deep down in his heart he
believed that should he have occasion to replace a player, as the
rules allowed, on account of serious injury, which is about the only
excuse for such a thing, Nick would be his first choice.

He wished now he had spoken to Nick about it, so that he could depend
on his remaining throughout the game.  There was not another fellow
who would be of such great benefit to Scranton as the boy now wearing
Hugh's old hockey skates.  But it was too late to think of seeking
him out, for the game was about to be called.

When the rival teams faced each other, and listened to the last
instructions of the head referee, they were found to line up as
follows:


  _Scranton High_     _Position_       _Keyport_
  Stevens .......... Goal ............ Kellogg
  Hobson ........... Point ........... Ackerson
  Danvers .......... Cover Point ..... Bell
  Smith ............ Right End ....... Elly
  Dugdale .......... Center .......... Braxton
  Juggins .......... Left End ........ Mossman
  Morgan ........... Rover ........... Jackson


Hugh faced Mossman when the puck was dropped on the ice, and play
began.  There was a furious scramble, but Hugh came out of it
first-best, for he bore away the little elusive rubber disc, and
managed to carry it some distance down toward Keyport's goal before
losing control.  Then the fun became fast and furious, indeed.  Those
agile skaters whirled back and forth across the smooth ice with every
imaginable turn and twist.

Clever plays were continually occurring on either side, and these
were greeted with outbursts of enthusiastic cheering.

The crowd really seemed very impartial and sportsmanlike, considering
that possibly four-fifths of it represented the local team, and might
be supposed to feel prejudiced in their favor.  They shouted
themselves fairly hoarse over a brilliant dash on the part of Captain
Mossman, whereby he outwitted his opponents, and, despite all Thad's
efforts to block the play, shot the puck home in the cage for the
first well-won goal of the game.

Later on Owen Dugdale repeated the performance in almost as masterly
a manner.  The applause was, if anything, a shade more uproarous.
Now the game went on evenly, with a goal apiece; but Keyport was out
for scoring and would not be denied; so, in a hurry, they pushed the
fighting down on Scranton territory, and put another goal to their
credit, though three times did Thad balk the effort before it was
accomplished.

When the first twenty minutes had expired the score was six to five.
Keyport was ahead, but the margin was so small that no one despaired.

After the intermission they went at it once more, "hammer-and-tongs."
Thus far no one had been injured seriously enough to more than delay
the game a few minutes, and, before the fatal seven had expired, the
fellow who had been hurt was able to take his place in the line; so
no substitutes were called on.  Hugh was glad of this, though he
frequently shot a quick glance around to see if Nick Lang still hung
about; which he certainly did, being deeply interested in the game.

The second half was even more fiercely contested than the previous
one had been.  Scranton rallied behind Hugh, and put up a savage
attack that carried them up a couple of pegs, the score then standing
eight to seven; but after a bit Keyport came back and tied it again.
So it remained until the limit of the game approached perilously
near, and it seemed as though an extension of time would have to be
granted, as the rules allowed.  But at the last minute, Hugh himself
carried out a daring steal of the puck; and, before the opposing
players could block him, shot it into their net for the winning score.

Before the players could get in position again, and the puck be
faced, the whistle of the referee declared the game over, with
Scranton a bare winner.

The Keyport players were plainly greatly chagrined, but they proved
game losers, and had not a fault to find, shaking hands cheerfully
with their late opponents, and expressing a hope that a return match
could be arranged on their rink at some date not far in the future.



CHAPTER XIV

ENCOURAGING NICK

It was well on toward noon when Hugh, tired of skating for one day,
started homeward.  For a wonder he walked by himself, something Hugh
seldom had happen; for if his chum Thad Stevens was not at his side,
some other fellow, possibly several, would be sure to hurry so as to
catch up with him.

But Thad had been compelled to go home an hour before on some
account, his folks having certain plans that forced him to accompany
them immediately after lunch.

Hugh was feeling a bit tired, but in good spirits, nevertheless,
because of the clever victory his team had won, in which he had borne
his part consistently.  It always gives a boy a warm sensation around
the region of his heart to realize that he has not failed those who
put their faith in his ability.  How many can look back with a
feeling of pride to that "great day" when it was their home-run
drive, or whistling three-bagger that pulled the home team out of a
slump, and started a batting-bee that, eventually, won the game?
Those days are marked with a red letter in the pages of memory.

When part way to town, for the athletic grounds lay outside the
limits of Scranton, though not far away, Hugh suddenly discovered a
familiar figure just ahead of him, which, somehow, he had not noticed
up to then.  It was Nick Lang.  He had his skates dangling over his
shoulder by a strap, and Hugh could actually catch his whistle as he
strode along.

Somehow this told him Nick was feeling in higher spirits than had
lately been the case.  Perhaps he was beginning to feel a new
confidence in himself, Hugh suspected.  In the beginning Nick must
have seriously doubted his ability to, as some of the boys would have
called it, "come across, and deliver the goods," when he set out to
reform his ways.

He had now been keeping up the pace for more than a week.  It was
gradually growing easier, too, the further he went along the
unfamiliar road.  People did not sneer quite so much at him as in the
beginning.  Some even ventured to give him a half-friendly nod when
they chanced to meet.

And so for the first time perhaps since that day when he made up his
mind, Nick was unconsciously whistling as he walked along, his
thoughts busy with matters connected with his set purpose.

Obeying an impulse Hugh quickened his pace.

"Oh, Nick!  Hold on a minute, will you?" he called out.

On turning his head quickly and seeing who it was, Nick stopped short
in his tracks.  He was looking a little confused, yet not displeased,
when Hugh reached him.

Hugh thrust out his hand, and, of course, Nick had to accept it,
though he did look a little awkward, because this was a new
experience with him.  Still, he gave Hugh's digits a fierce squeeze
that might be taken as an index to his feelings toward his one-time
hated enemy.

"I've been wanting to have a little chat with you for some time,
Nick," the other hastened to say; "but somehow every chance I got
something would interfere, and the best I could do was to wave my
hand, or give you a nod.  Now this morning, just as I started to
skate through the crowd to say something important to you, the coach
called me back and said they were ready to start play.  Do you know
what it was I meant to ask of you this morning, Nick?"

Nick looked puzzled and curious also.

"I might guess it in a week, Hugh," he said, grinning; "but not right
away.  You see, I ain't used to having _anybody_ ask things of me.
It's generally been a scowl, and a suspicious look, as if they
thought I mean to play a trick on 'em if they so much as turned their
heads on me.  But then that's just what I used to do often enough; so
I oughtn't to complain.  What did you want with me, Hugh?"

"I was going to ask you to stand by during the entire game, because,
in case one of my players was hurt so badly that he'd have to be
dropped out, rather than cut both sides down to six, I meant to put
you in as substitute, no matter what position had to be filled."

Nick caught his breath.  His face flushed, and a glow appeared in his
eyes.  That expression of confidence shown in Hugh's words filled his
aching heart with new encouragement.  Hugh could see the muscles of
his cheeks working, as though he found it difficult to control his
emotions.  Then Nick spoke.

"That was mighty kind in you, Hugh, to think of me," he said, with
just a suspicious quiver to his voice.  "I'd sure liked to have
played in that game; but do you think it'd have been wise to have
picked _me_ for a substitute when there were plenty of other fellows
on the ice competent to take the place?"

"Not one able to fill your shoes, Nick, and they know it," asserted
Hugh stoutly.

"But then if you'd done that there'd sure have been a howl raised
later on by lots of folks who still have it in for me because of the
past," urged Nick, though it could be easily seen that he felt
particularly pleased by what the captain of the Scranton High Seven
had just told him.

"Let them howl," Hugh went on to say.  "There never yet was a fellow
who nobly redeemed his past but what a bunch of wolves set up a howl
on his heels.  Don't you pay any attention to those fellows, Nick.
Stick to your game through thick and thin.  Every day you go on as
you have been doing you win fresh friends.  Even Mr. Leonard, who
used to fairly detest you, is now singing your praises; and Dr.
Carmack told me he was pinning his faith on you.  He's a long-headed
man, Nick, a very far-seeing man, who knows boys and is not easily
deceived.  He believes in you; so do I, and a lot of other fellows.
You're going to make good, and I know it."

"Well, I'm going to keep on fighting, that's all I can say, Hugh,"
replied Nick grimly.  "I'll get there, or bust the biler trying.  But
sometimes I have an awful time with myself, just because I can't
wholly believe folks will respect a chap who's done as many mean
things as I have in the past."

"You must put that out of your mind, Nick," urged the other.  "Why,
don't you think I'd have ten times as much respect for the fellow
who's been down, and climbs up again through his own will-power, than
for the one who's always been shielded from temptation, and never
really proved what he had in him?  Nine-tenths of the fellows who
walk along so straight are kept on that road because they happen to
have wise parents to watch over them; and they were never given an
overpowering appetite to do wrong things."

Nick drew a long breath.  His eyes glistened again, and perhaps with
something besides the animation that Hugh's kind and encouraging
words kindled within his soul.

"You see," he went on to say, presently, when he could control his
voice, "I always did like to run smack up against a hard proposition.
It's in my nature to want a good fight, and I reckon I've got it this
time.  But I'm a whole lot stubborn, too, Hugh, as likely you've
learned; and I don't give up easy.  Since I started to reform I'm
a-going to get there if it takes a leg.  Anyhow, it's a heap sight
pleasanter doing it _outside_ the Reform School than inside, like
some fellows I used to train with are a-going to do, it seems."

All this kind of talk pleased Hugh immensely.  He felt more than ever
satisfied with the magnificent result of that clever little scheme of
his.  Reading Hugo's masterpiece had brought it about, too, and he
would always have occasion to remember this when handling that volume
recording the wonderful achievements of the one-time ignorant convict
and human beast named Jean Valjean.

Nick just then saw several other boys hurrying to overtake Hugh.  He
immediately evinced a desire to start off on a tangent, and head
elsewhere.

"I've got an errand over in town, Hugh, so I'll break away," he said
hurriedly, though Hugh could easily guess the real reason for his
departure.  "But I want to tell you I appreciate your kindness, and
if in the next hockey match there's need of a substitute, and you see
fit to put _me_ in, why, I'll work my fingers to the bone to make
good, sure I will."

And Hugh believed it.



CHAPTER XV

WHERE THE SPARKS FLEW

Along about three o'clock that afternoon Hugh, feeling refreshed,
made up his mind he would go for a walk.  There had been no positive
change in the condition of the mother of little Joey.  She was coming
along nicely, though, Doctor Cadmus assured Mrs. Morgan, and would
very likely awaken in her proper senses on the following morning.  He
was successfully combating the inclination towards fever, he told the
good lady, and this gave Hugh's mother considerable relief.

The boy was a fine little chap.  Hugh had already come to feel a deep
interest in him, and had played for an hour with Joey.

"Why not take him out with you, Hugh, if, as you say, you're going
for a walk?" asked his mother.

"I'd like to," the boy said, "if you thought he could stand going
such a distance as out to the Cross-roads; for I meant to drop in on
Deacon Winslow.  He asked me to come and see him, and perhaps stay to
supper in the bargain, for he wants to have a good chat with me.
And, Mother, I've been meaning to get to know that fine old man
better; there's something about him that draws me.  He's got such
healthy ideas about everything, and is an entertaining talker when it
comes to the habits of animals, and the secrets of all animated
nature."

"Well, I'm sure little Joey would enjoy the walk.  He seems fond of
being outdoors, and has been shut up here since you brought him home.
And if Deacon Winslow urges you both to take supper with him, there's
no reason why you should decline.  He may fetch you home in his
sleigh, if the child seems tired, and sleepy."

Hugh decided he would do as his mother suggested.

"Would you like to take a nice long walk out in the country with me,
Joey?" he asked the little fellow, who had been hovering near by, and
listening to all that was being said.

"I like to walk," the small chap replied quickly; "but not all day,
like mom and me did.  Mebbe she'll be awake when we come back, Hugh?"

Each time he had been allowed in the room to see his mother was when
she happened to be in a deep sleep, and her ravings had ceased; so it
was natural for Joey to conclude she was only making up for lack of
rest.

So, shortly afterwards, the two started forth, the little fellow with
his hand in that of Hugh.  He had come to feel the utmost confidence
in this big boy who, in the time of their distress, had fetched
himself and his poor fainting mother to the nice warm house, where
they seemed to have the nicest things to eat he could ever remember
of seeing.

Hugh kept an eye about him, half hoping he might run across Thad,
although the other had not expected to return before dusk.  No such
luck befell him, and so Hugh concluded he must carry out his original
scheme, and have only the child for company during his stroll.

Of course, they could not walk at a fast pace, and so it took quite a
long time for them to draw near the place where the two roads
crossed.  Here, at a point where there was much traffic in vehicles,
the smithy of the old deacon stood.  Time was when he attended only
to the shoeing of horses, and such other business as a blacksmith
would find in his line.  The coming of the auto had made him change
his work to some extent; so he kept a line of rubber tires and tubes
in his shop, and was capable of doing all ordinary repairing, such as
might be found necessary after a minor accident to a car on the road.

It was pleasant, indeed, when the wintry air was so keen, to step up
to the open doors of the shop, and see that seething fire in the
forge beyond the grim anvil.  Mr. Winslow stood there, with his
leather apron on, and his woollen sleeves rolled up to his elbows,
showing his brawny arms with their muscles of steel.  He was working
the bellows and singing softly to himself, after a habit he had when
alone.

Apparently, he had let his helper off earlier than customary that
afternoon, for the deacon was not a hard employer, and ready to grant
favors when business was not rushing.

Hugh stood there and took in the striking picture, with the glowing
fire in the forge, that fine, big figure of the old blacksmith
standing there.  The rosy light played on his strong features as he
crooned his song, his thoughts possibly away back in the past, as is
the habit of those who near the end of their life span.

Just then little Joey sneezed.  The low song of the deacon came to an
abrupt end, as he turned his head and discovered the two figures in
the open doorway.

He recognized Hugh immediately, and a look of genuine pleasure
flashed across his face.

"Is that you, Hugh?" he called out, stopping work with the bellows;
"and have you come out to take a bite with the old lady and myself?
I'm certainly glad to see you, lad.  And who might this fine little
chap be?"

It was only natural that a man who loved all boys, little and big, as
Deacon Winslow did, should drop down on one knee and take Joey in his
arms.  When he looked into the little fellow's winsome face he seemed
strangely moved.  But then in these later days it was always so with
the old man; never a child did he see but that long-hidden memories
flowed again, and once more he seemed to be looking on his own boy,
gone ages and ages ago.

"He and his mother are stopping at our house," said Hugh, meaning to
tell how he had come to find them in their extremity, later on, when
possibly the child was not present to hear what he said.

"I've just got a small amount of work to finish, and then I'm done
for the week," said the brawny smith, as he arose again, winking very
fast, it seemed to Hugh, for some reason or other.  "Here's a bench
you can both sit on, and watch the sparks fly from the anvil when I
get my hammer busy.  Likely the lad has never seen the same before,
and it is always deeply interesting to children, I've found."

So they made themselves comfortable.  Little Joey was a bit tired
after his long walk, and leaned confidingly up against Hugh, who had
thrown an arm about him.

The smiting of the red bar with the hammer caused a shower of sparks
to fly in every direction.  It was fairly fascinating, and Joey
stared with all his might.  Even Hugh always enjoyed seeing a
blacksmith at work, and hearing the sweet-toned ring of steel smiting
steel.

Now and again as he worked, Deacon Winslow would ask some question.
He was acquainted with the fact that the boys of Scranton High had
expected to play a hockey match that morning with the Keyport team,
and as no one had thus far told him how the game came out, he asked
Hugh about it.

From this subject the talk drifted to others, always being of a
somewhat sporadic nature, caused by the smith's starting work again,
after heating his iron bar sufficiently in the fire.

"I'll have the night free, for a wonder," he told Hugh, with a sigh
of pleasure.  "I try as best I can to avoid working late on Saturday,
because I want to be as fresh as possible Sundays, which are always
full days for me.  So when Nick wanted to come out Saturdays, I
induced him to change it to an earlier night instead.  By the way,
how is the lad coming, on these days with his new resolutions?"

Accordingly, Hugh started in to tell him how Nick was doing finely,
and even repeated a part of the little talk he and the other had had
that morning, while on the way to town from the park.

Mr. Winslow listened intently, as he worked the bellows.

"I'm very much interested in the outcome of your experiment, Hugh,"
he said.  "It was a clever idea on your part; and now that Nick has
made a start I do believe he'll see it through.  I always thought he
had it in him to work out his own salvation, if ever he got a fair
chance.  That opportunity has now dawned, and he's on the right road,
Hugh; he's on the right road."

"I agree with you there, sir," said the boy.  "The very stubborn
spirit that used to get him into so much trouble is now going to be
his redemption, since he's got it harnessed up to the right sort of
vehicle.  The more they try to shove Nick off the track the harder
he'll be apt to stick."

"It was the luckiest thing that ever happened for him," continued the
deacon, "when you hatched up that wonderful plan on the spur of the
moment, and tried it out on him.  But for that, Hugh, he'd now be
locked up with his former mates, and headed for the Reform School at
full speed.  As it is, he is free to walk the streets, and already
beginning to win the confidence of many good people in the town."

Ten minutes afterwards and the brawny smith threw his hammer aside,
and commenced to undo the thongs that fastened his leathern apron
about his loins.

"I've finished my stint, lad," he said; "and now we can go into the
house, where you'll meet my better-half.  I've told her so much about
you, she is eager to make your acquaintance.  As for this fine, manly
little chap here, who seems to spring straight into my heart the more
I look at him, as if he belonged there, she'll be half-tickled to
death at the chance to cuddle him in her motherly arms.  Alas! lad,
it's been many a long, weary year since she had the privilege of
loving a child of her own.  Sometimes when I see her sitting there,
so quiet like, and looking into the wonderfully brilliant sunset
skies, I seem to know what she is thinking about, and I feel for her.
It's harder on a mother, than anyone else, to lose her child as we
did our poor, reckless boy."

Hugh felt a queer sensation in the region of his heart when he heard
the big man speak so mournfully.  He realized then as never before
how the heart of a parent can never fully recover from a cruel shock,
such as the loss of one who as a little child had come, it was hoped,
as a ray of sunlight in the lives of those who loved him.

The home of the smith adjoined his shop.  There was, in fact, a door
that connected them, and through this Deacon Winslow now led his
thrice welcome guests.  Presently they found themselves in what
seemed to be a cozy little sitting-room, where a wood-fire blazed
cheerily on the hearth.

Seated in one of those invalid wheel-chairs, which can be so easily
manipulated by the occupant, after becoming expert at the job, was a
most benign-looking and motherly old lady, with snow-white hair, and
a face that was one of the sweetest and most patient Hugh had ever
gazed upon.

He knew instantly that he was going to like Mrs. Winslow just as much
as he did her big husband.  All the good things he had heard about
her benevolence must then be true, he concluded, as he looked on her
smiling face.

"Mother, here's my friend, Hugh Morgan, come out to take supper with
us, as I told you he'd half-promised to do," said the deacon, in his
breezy fashion.  "And see, he has fetched a little chap along with
him who'll warm your heart as nothing else could do.  This is Joey
Walters, who, with his mother, is stopping at the Morgan home.  Hugh
didn't say whether they were any relatives of his or not; but this is
a mighty winsome morsel, Mother, for you to hug."

He thereupon lifted the child up in his strong hands and placed him
in the lap of the old lady.  Hugh noticed that she started, and
stared hard at the chubby face of little Joey, just as the deacon had
done; and then she turned her wondering eyes toward her husband.
There was a look akin to awe in their depths, something that told how
the sight of the child took her instantly back years and years to
those never-to-be-forgotten days when just such a lovely little
cherub had come to bless their home.

Then the old lady gave a long sigh.

"Oh, Joel!" she said, in a trembling voice, "how the sight of him
startled me.  I can shut my eyes, and think time has taken me back to
our first year of wedded life.  Yes, I am overjoyed at making the
acquaintance of such a robust little fellow.  And, Hugh, forgive me
for not speaking to you before.  I have heard much about you, and am
pleased to know you.  But, above all things, let me thank you for
bringing this child out here to open the hearts of two lonely old
people who live only in the past as their sun goes down toward the
darkness of the night."

"I'll run along now, and take my regular bath after my work," said
Deacon Winslow, trying to speak cheerily, though Hugh knew very well
he had been more or less affected by what his wife had just said.

Left alone with the old lady, while the servant bustled in and out,
laying the cloth, and setting the table, Hugh commenced an
interesting conversation.  She asked him a multitude of questions
covering all sorts of subjects, even to that of athletic sports.

"You see, the Deacon is fond of boys to an extent that it has become
his one hobby," she explained, in order to let Hugh know why she felt
an interest in such matters.  "He spends all his spare time doing
things to make growing lads happier, and more contented in their
homes.  People will never know one-tenth of what he's done to save
boys who were going the pace.  His latest protege in that line you
happen to know, a hulking fellow named Nick Lang, who, I understand,
has been the terror of Scranton for years.  I've met him, and must
say I have my doubts whether he can ever be tamed, and molded into a
respectable member of society; but Joel seems to believe no boy is so
bad but what he has a soft streak in him _somewhere_, if only you can
find it."

"Well, since he hasn't told you about the inspiration that came to
me," Hugh felt constrained to say, though averse to speaking of his
own successes, "I want to say that right now Nick Lang is on the road
to making good."

"Please tell me all about it then, Hugh?" she urged him.

Accordingly, Hugh started to relate the story from the very
beginning; and he had a deeply interested auditor; for Mrs. Winslow
sat there in her wheel-chair, with little Joey cuddled in her arms,
and one of his soft, chubby hands patting her face.



CHAPTER XVI

AT THE DEACON'S FIRESIDE

"Hugh, I do believe you will succeed in your undertaking, and that
Nick Lang is already firmly planted on the right path!" exclaimed the
old lady, with considerable warmth, when the story had been brought
up to date, bringing in an account of Hugh's most recent talk with
the former terror of the town.

"It looks encouraging, anyhow," he merely replied; though, of course;
he felt a flush of boyish pride at the warm look she gave him when
saying what she did.

"My husband has worked with many an erring lad," she continued
reminiscently; "sometimes with fair success, but only too often
without, apparently, winning him away from his bad companions.  But
your idea was most unique.  To think it all came of your reading
Hugo's masterpiece, and taking it to heart.  But here comes Joel; and
we can soon be seated at the supper table."

The more Hugh saw of this remarkably genial old couple the closer did
he seem to be drawn to Deacon Winslow and his crippled wife.  Indeed,
Hugh soon came to the conclusion that they were the warmest-hearted
pair he had ever known in all his life.

Mrs. Winslow was wheeled cheerily to her appointed place at the table
by her husband, who waited on her just as assiduously as though they
were lately married; instead of having "trudged along life's highway
in double harness," as the deacon, humorously put it, for a matter of
sixty years or so.

Of course, as Deacon Winslow was a deeply religious man, Hugh
expected he would ask a blessing before partaking of the bountiful
spread that was placed on the table; nor was he disappointed.  The
deacon's deep-toned voice was wonderfully musical, and to Hugh it
sounded almost as though he were singing whenever he spoke.  He never
grew tired of hearing the old blacksmith talk; though they would not
allow him to be a mere visitor, but, by asking many questions, kept
Hugh in the conversation.

The little fellow had been placed in a high chair.  It looked of very
ancient vintage, Hugh thought, when first sighting it.  Seeing the
look on his face the good lady of the house said in a voice that she
tried to keep from vibrating:

"It was our Joel's chair; somehow we have managed to keep it intact
through all the years.  There was a time when I dreamed of some day
seeing this boy seated at my table in his father's high chair.  But
your small friend, Hugh, fills a long vacant spot.  I could almost
fancy he belonged there, he seems so like----"

Deacon Winslow must have seen that his wife was getting on forbidden
ground, for just at that moment he broke in with a question that
demanded an answer from Hugh; and so the subject was dropped.  But
Hugh understood, and he felt his boyish heart throb with genuine
sympathy for this splendid couple, who had yearned to have a house
full of children, but somehow found their dearest wish set aside by a
mysterious decree of Providence.

They had a merry time at the table.  Little Joey was as bright as
Hugh had ever known him to be, and fairly captivated the aged pair
with his prattle.  The old lady in particular hung upon his every
word, as though in an ecstacy of delight.  She anticipated his
childish wants, and, really, little Joey could never have sat down to
such a bountiful feast as on that memorable occasion.

Then the meal being ended they repaired again to the cheery fire.
The deacon put on fresh wood, and the crackle of the blaze was very
delightful on that cold night.  Hugh had already spoken of the long
walk ahead of him, and how, perhaps, he had better postpone his visit
for another occasion, so as to get the child back home before it grew
too late.

"Don't think of it, son," said Deacon Winslow instantly, and in a
tone that would not be denied.  "When the time comes I'll hitch my
horse to the big sleigh; we'll wrap the child up as snug as a bug in
a rug; and be over to your house in a jiffy.  What if he does get a
bit drowsy; let him take a nap.  I'm sure he'll be safe in the loving
arms of grandma."

At his mention of that last word the old lady hugged the child, and
bent her wrinkled kindly face close to his cheeks; but Hugh believed
it was to hide the rush of sacred emotions that swept over her.

Then they talked.

By degrees Hugh got his host started on the subject that was nearest
his heart, and which had to do with the wonderful habits of all the
small, wild animals of which the deacon had made a life-long study.

"It's a wonderfully fascinating subject, Hugh," the old blacksmith
philanthropist went on to say, as he started in.  "I took it up just
as a fancy, but as the years went by it became a habit that grew on
me more and more.  Yes, I have had an amazing lot of pleasure out of
my observations.  As the good wife here will tell you, I've spent
hours on hours at night, hidden in the woods, with a light fixed on
some nest of a muskrat or gopher or fox, just to learn what the
cunning little varmint did betimes; when of rights I should have been
in my bed getting rested for another hard day's labor at my forge."

"His holidays have always been taken up in the same way," interrupted
Mrs. Winslow, smiling lovingly at her husband, whose heart she
evidently could read as though it were a printed book.  "At first I
begrudged him the time, but later on I knew it was taking his
thoughts away from subjects that we were trying to keep out of our
minds, and I never tried to hold him back."

"It was my study of the habits of these small animals and birds that
gave me what little faculty I may possess for prophesying the weather
ahead," continued the old man.  "They seldom, if ever, go wrong.  If
I've hit it wrong now and then, the fault was mine, not theirs.  I
had failed to properly interpret their actions, that was all."

So he went on to tell Hugh many deeply interesting experiments he had
undertaken along those lines.  He also had a fund of wonderful
anecdotes, many of them quite humorous, connected with his little
friends of fur and feather.

The more Hugh heard him tell the greater grew his interest.  He
resolved that at some time in the not distant future, when an
opportunity came along, he, too, would begin to pay more attention to
the multitude of interesting things that could be discovered in
almost any woods, if only the observer kept his eyes about him, and
did nothing to alarm the timid inmates of various burrows and hollow
trees.

So an hour passed, all too quickly.

Once Hugh took out his little nickel watch, as if under the
impression that it must be getting near time for him to think of
saying good-night; though he hated to leave such a jolly fireside,
and the fine couple.

"Please don't think of going home yet, Hugh," said the old man,
looking distressed at once.  "The night is young, and I don't know
when I've enjoyed anyone's company as I have yours.  My dreams in the
long ago were for just such a son as you.  I envy your parents, my
lad.  Providence, however, saw fit to turn my activities in another
direction; and I have done the best I could to be of some little help
to other people's sons.  I only bitterly regret that I am able to do
so little."

"But I'm afraid the child may become too much bother for your good
wife, sir," Hugh was saying, although already deciding he would
remain longer.

The deacon laughed softly.  He put out his big hand, and gently
touched Hugh on the sleeve.

"Look yonder, lad!" he went on to say; "does that strike you as if a
heavenly little sunbeam like the boy could ever be too much trouble
for her?  See how her dear face is lighted up as she bends over him.
He's gone fast asleep in her arms, as contented as though with his
own mother.  Ah! lad, it was a kindly act, your fetching that tiny
bit of humanity out to visit us.  You have made her almost happy
again for once."

Hugh, looking, saw that the old lady was paying no further attention
to them, or listening to what they were saying.  She touched the
sweet face of the child, and pressed her withered lips against his
soft skin.  If a tear fell on the little fellow's head, was it to be
wondered at?  He saw her open his clothes at the neck, as though the
heat of that blazing fire might be a little too much, in her matronly
estimation.

The deacon, too, was looking as though his heart might be in his
eyes.  Such a spectacle as that must have been of rare occurrence at
his fireside, deeply as he regretted it.

Then he started talking again, for he had been in the midst of an
unusually interesting description at the time he drew the boy's
attention to the beautiful picture at the opposite side of the
fireplace.  And Hugh, becoming wrapped up in the amusing episode for
the moment forgot all about little Joey and the loving soul who had
him held in her arms.

What the blacksmith was telling related to a thrilling happening he
had experienced on one occasion, when lying out in the woods watching
for a certain timid little rodent to commence moving around.  At the
time the deacon had one of those new-fangled hand electric torches
with him, which he meant to use when the proper moment arrived.

Hearing voices drawing near he thought it best to warn the darkies
who were advancing in time, for, otherwise, they threatened to walk
directly over him in the pitch darkness.  When, however, he flashed
his light suddenly toward them, he must have given them the fright of
their lives, for they uttered howls, and fled precipitately, despite
his reassuring calls.

"I afterwards learned," said the deacon, smiling broadly at the
amusing recollection, "that the three men were those colored players
who constitute the band you young people always have at your barn
dances, Daddy Whitehead, the leader, and his able assistants, Mose
Coffin and Abe Skinner.  They really believed they had met something
supernatural in the woods, when taking a shortcut home, after
attending a dance somewhere out in the country.  And, really, I never
had the heart to undeceive the poor ignorant chaps.  But I warrant
you they kept to the highway after that terrible experience with
ghosts."

Hugh laughed at the mental picture of those three aged musicians, one
with his fiddle, another carrying a 'cello, and the third an oboe,
"streaking" it through the dark woods madly, possessed of a deadly
fear lest their time had come, and that they were pursued by
something from the spirit world.

He was just about to make some remark when the words froze on his
lips.  Mrs. Winslow had given vent to a cry.  It thrilled Hugh
strangely, as though he feared some agonizing pain had suddenly
gripped the old lady.

Both he and the deacon were instantly on their feet.  As they glued
their eyes on the figure across on the other side of the broad hearth
they saw that she was sitting there with a marvelous look on her
wrinkled face--a look that seemed to tell of sheer amazement,
exceeding great joy, incredulity, and many other like emotions that
Hugh could not stop to analyze.



CHAPTER XVII

A WONDERFUL DISCOVERY

"Joel, come to me quickly!" they heard her gasp, as though she were
almost suffocating; and both of them hastened to her side.

"What has happened, wife?" cried the alarmed deacon.

"Oh! tell me, am I awake, or dreaming, husband?" she went on to say
thickly.  "See what the child is wearing about his dear chubby neck!
Surely we ought to know that tiny gold locket.  It carries me far
back through the long, weary, waiting years to the day I clasped it
about his neck--my baby Joel!"

The deacon snatched the object from her quivering hand.  He stared
hard at it, as though he, too, might suspect he were asleep, and that
it was all but a vision of a disordered mind.

Hugh was trembling, he hardly knew why.  Something seemed to rush
over him, something that thrilled him to the core.  He had felt a
touch of the same sensation when the good old lady let him look at
the pictures in her family album, and pointed to one of her baby boy;
although at the time he could not fully grasp the idea that appealed
so dimly to his investigating mind.

Then Deacon Winslow found his voice, though it was thick and husky
when he went on to say hastily:

"Yes, it does look mighty like the one you had for the boy; and we
never found it again, you remember, after he--left home; so we
thought he had taken it along with everything else he owned.  But
wait, wife, don't jump at conclusions.  It is next to impossible that
this should be the tiny chain with the plain gold pendant that you
bought for our little Joel.  Surely there must have been many others
like it made."

Apparently, he was sorely afraid lest the bitter disappointment would
follow.  The blasting of those new, wild hopes of hers might have a
bad effect on the old lady.  That was why the deacon tried to keep
her from being too sanguine, even though he himself was possibly
hugging suddenly awakened rapturous dreams to his heart.

"There may have been others, Joel!" she cried exultantly; "but look
on the back of the medallion.  I feared it might be lost some day,
Joel, so I scratched his initials there.  My glasses are too moist
for me to see well; look and tell me if you can make out anything,
husband!"

Even Hugh held his breath while the deacon turned the tiny medallion
over in his hands.  Then he snatched up a reading glass of
considerable power from the table, and held it close to the object in
his quivering clutch.

They heard him give a cry, and it did not hint at disappointment.

"Oh! Joel, are the three letters there?" she begged piteously, as she
hugged the still calmly sleeping child closer and closer to her heart.

"Something I can see, wife, although it is very faint," he told her.
"But then think of the many years that have elapsed.  The scratches
must have been very lightly done at best.  Hugh, your eyes are
younger than mine; and, besides, I'm afraid there are tears dimming
my sight.  Look, and tell us what you see!"

It was a picture, with those two old people so eagerly hanging on the
decision of the clear-eyed youth.  Hugh used the glass, for he wanted
to make certain.  It would be doubly cruel if by any mistake on his
part those anxious hearts were deceived.

"I can plainly make out the first initial, which is J beyond
question," he almost immediately said.

At hearing that the deacon cast a swift look toward his wife, which
she returned in kind.  Neither of them could find utterance for a
single word, however, such was the mental strain under which they
labored.

"The last letter looks like a W," continued Hugh.  "Yes, now that
I've rubbed it with my finger I am positive of that.  As for the
middle one, I think it must be either an O or a C, though it's rather
hard to say."

Deacon Winslow gave a deep sigh.

"And our boy's middle name was Carstairs, named after his mother's
family!" he hastened to say.

Then they exchanged more wondering looks.  It was very like a
miracle, the bringing of the little child into the home of that
couple whose fireside had so long awaited the coming of such a
sunbeam.

Deacon Winslow turned almost fiercely on Hugh, and gripped his sleeve.

"You must tell us more about the boy," he said.  "Who is he, and
where did he come from?  Those are vital things for us to learn.  We
could never know peace again if this mystery were not made clear.  So
tell us, Hugh, tell us as quickly as you can, so that we may learn
the best, or the worst."

He saw that they were strangely shaken, and Hugh wisely believed it
best to reassure them in the very beginning.

"First of all, sir," he started to say, "I begin to believe it may be
what you would wish most of all.  This boy who so much resembles your
own child of the past is likely to turn out his son or perhaps
grandson, for his mother's name is Walters, we've learned.  You ask
me where I found him, and I meant to tell you later on, never
dreaming that it would interest you more than casually.  I picked him
and his mother up Thursday evening just at dusk, when I was coming
home from a farm in a sleigh, where I had been to get a sack of
potatoes.  The young woman was trying to ask me something when she
swooned away."

"Go on, lad, go on!" pleaded the deacon hoarsely, as Hugh paused for
breath.

"Of course, the only thing I could do was to get them into the sleigh
and whip up the horse," Hugh continued.  "Once I reached home my
mother would not hear of the poor thing being taken to the hospital.
She had her put to bed and the doctor called in.  Since that time she
has been threatened with fever; in fact, is partly out of her head,
though Doctor Cadmus says he believes she will be sensible by
to-morrow morning.  She was simply half-starved, and dreadfully
worried about something."

"But could you not hear a few random words she uttered that would
give you some idea as to her identity, and where she came from?"
asked the deacon.

"Besides her name, which seemed to be Walters, she has said nothing
that gives us a clue, save that we imagine they must have lived
somewhere in the West."

"In the West--and our Joel started for that section of the country!"
gasped the old lady, still patting the curly head on her lap lovingly.

"And then the lad's name is very similar," broke in the deacon.  "Are
you sure, Hugh, if isn't Joel?  Might not the child have simply given
the baby pronunciation of Joey?"

"I think that would be very likely, sir," admitted the boy readily.

Again the agitated couple exchanged looks.  Hugh would certainly
never forget the joyous expression that sat upon both faces.  It was
as though Heaven had opened to them, and given them back the child of
their younger years.

The deacon dropped down on his knees.  One arm went around his aged
wife and the little fellow she cuddled in her lap.  In sonorous tones
he lifted up his voice and gave thanks from the depths of his heart
for the great mercy shown to them that night.

Hugh was deeply affected.  He believed some invisible hand must have
guided him when he took that sudden notion to have the child go
walking with him, his mother having suggested that it might do the
little chap good to get an airing after being shut up in the house
all day long.

His mind raced back, and once more he marshalled all the facts, as
far as he knew them, before him.  Yes, there did not seem to be any
reason to believe such a thing as a sad mistake could be made.  That
boy certainly had the Winslow blood in him; why, he greatly resembled
the Joel of more than fifty years back, as shown in that old-time
daguerreotype.

Then Deacon Winslow once more rose to his feet.  His face was fairly
radiant, as was that of his wife.

"I believe I can understand how this comes about," he was saying,
just as if he might have had a revelation as he prayed there.  "It is
no accident, but the hand of a special Providence.  Our petitions
have been heard, and this is the answer; so the last few years of our
lives may be made happy by the sight of our own flesh and blood.  My
poor service has come up as a memorial before Heaven.  And let us
hope that tomorrow, when that poor girl comes into her senses again,
she will be able to tell us all of the wonderful story."

"There is one thing I should have mentioned, sir, which slipped my
mind," Hugh went on to say just then.  "Always in her delirium she
seems to be pleading with someone not to deny her a place under his
family roof with her little Joey.  And it is to an imaginary
_grandfather_ she is appealing, so pathetically that I have seen my
mother crying time and again, for very sympathy."

"A grandfather, and cruel at that!" said the old man, shaking his
head, while the tears rolled unheeded down his furrowed cheeks.  "At
least, that does not apply to me.  She will learn presently that we
stand ready to take her into our hearts and home as our own.  Oh! it
seems too good to be true, this blessing that has come to us
to-night.  And, Hugh Morgan, you must always be associated in our
minds with this realization of our utmost hopes, which of late years
we have not even dared whisper to each other."

He wrung the boy's hand until Hugh almost writhed under the pressure;
while the happy "grandma" continued to devour the plump, rosy-cheeked
face of her charge with her eyes, as though she could not tear her
gaze away.

Long they continued to sit there and talk, always upon that one
subject, because everything else must be subordinated to the
wonderful revelation that had come to them, to prove that truth is
often stranger than fiction.

Three times did Hugh suggest that he had better be heading towards
home: but they pleaded with him to stay "just a little longer"; for
their starved hearts found it hard to let the newly found treasure
out of sight, even for a short time.

"But I must really be going," Hugh finally told them.  "It is now
after ten, and mother will be worrying about the child, not knowing,
of course, that he has found a new protector, two of them, in fact.
You can both come over after breakfast in the morning, and visit the
boy.  If his mother has regained her senses, and the doctor permits
it, you will be able to settle the matter once and for all by seeing
her."

So with that they had to rest content.  The child was bundled up
warmly, and tenderly placed in the sleigh by his huge grandfather,
after the old lady had kissed his forehead and cheeks a dozen times.

Then they were off, and shortly afterwards arrived at the Morgan
home.  Deacon Winslow insisted on carrying the tiny chap indoors;
after which he hastened back, to sit up most of the night with his
wife, talking of the wonderful thing that had come to bless them in
their old age.

And Hugh, on his part, had a deeply interested auditor in his mother,
as he spun the yarn that equaled anything he had ever read in the
Arabian Nights.



CHAPTER XVIII

IN A SAFE HARBOR AT LAST

Hugh had finished breakfast on Sunday morning, and was out looking
after a few pets he had in the way of Belgian hares and homing
pigeons, when he heard his mother calling him.

"Coming, Mother!" he answered hack, thinking on the spur of the
moment he was needed to look after the furnace or steam boiler, from
which the hired girl did not always succeed in getting the best
results on particularly frosty mornings.

She waited for him just inside the door.  Hugh saw immediately that
his first surmise was wrong, for there was a look on her face to tell
him it was no trivial matter she had to communicate.

"What is it, Mother?" he asked quickly.

"She is asking for you, Hugh," he was told.

Then he suddenly remembered about the young mother who had lain there
since Thursday evening, and out of her mind with fever.

"Oh! then the good old Doc was right!" Hugh exclaimed; "he said, you
know, that he felt sure she'd be in her right senses by Sunday
morning.  You've been talking with her, have you, Mother?"

"Yes, and relieving her immediate curiosity and alarm," he was told.
"Naturally, she was full of wonder when she awoke to find herself in
a strange room, with no little Joey near by.  She thought it was the
hospital, and that the cold had claimed him for a victim.  But I soon
calmed her fears, and she knows now all about how she came here; and
also that her boy is still sleeping happily close by; for he is
taking a long nap this morning, after his dissipation of last night."

"But, you didn't say anything about the deacon and his dear old wife,
did you?" continued Hugh.

"Not a word, my son.  I wished you to be the one to convey the glad
news to that poor young mother.  She wanted to ask me further
questions, but I avoided committing myself.  She did come from the
Far West, it appears.  Her money ran out just too soon and they had
to leave the train at a station this side of Waldron Falls.  She was
go determined to reach Scranton before night that she actually
started out afoot, it seems, despite the cold and the snow-covered
roads.  Several kind-hearted men gave them lifts on the way; but it
was a long journey, and she became exhausted before reaching her
destination.  But come with me, Hugh; she wishes to thank you face to
face."

Hugh did not like that part of it.  As a rule, he ran away from such
scenes; but in this case he knew that would never do, since he wished
to learn further concerning Joey and his mother; and, besides, had
some pleasant information to tell her that must cheer her heart
amazingly, and also hasten her recovery.

So he followed his mother into the spare room where the young woman
lay.  She had been propped up with extra pillows by Mrs. Morgan while
they talked, though kept well covered up.  Indeed, the loving hands
of the older lady had succeeded in placing a warm, knitted sack upon
her arms and shoulders, Hugh saw.

She looked eagerly at the boy.  Her face was not so feverish as
before; indeed, he could see without being a physician that the
patient was much better.

"And this is Hugh?" she said, in a voice that trembled.  "Yes, I seem
to remember your face, and how you listened to me trying to tell you
how much I wanted to get to Scranton before I fell sick, for I could
feel it coming on.  And your mother tells me you carried us both home
in your sleigh.  It was a generous heart that could take an utter
stranger in, as you have done, and care for her as if she were your
own flesh and blood.  Please let me thank you, Hugh, from the bottom
of my heart."

Hugh took the hand she extended; but he was careful not to give it
one of his customary vigorous squeezes; she looked so wan and frail
that he knew he must hold himself in check.

"Oh! it was a mighty little thing for anyone to do, Mrs. Walters," he
said, in some confusion, but speaking the name with a purpose in view.

"How did you know that was my name, Hugh?" she asked immediately.

"You mentioned it, my dear, in your delirium," explained Mrs. Morgan;
"and then, besides, Joey told us that much."

"And did I tell you anything more in my ravings?" she asked, looking
worried.

"Only something about a certain grandfather whom you seemed to think
might not receive you as you ardently hoped when you started forth on
this long journey," the older lady told her.  "But then you did not
know what was in store for you.  Sometimes great blessings, as well
as dire calamities, spring upon us without the least warning.  Hugh,
I shall leave the telling to you from this point on."

The young mother looked from one face to the other.

"Oh! what is it?" she almost gasped.  "You are keeping something from
me I ought to know.  Please tell me, Hugh, I beg of you.  If it is
good news I shall be so very grateful, for little Joey's sake mostly.
Everything I do, everything I think of, is in connection with my
darling child."

"Then I hope you will forgive me if I'm rushing things too fast!"
exclaimed the eager boy, unable to restrain his news longer; "but
little Joey spent two hours last evening asleep in the loving arms of
his great grandmother; while Deacon Winslow again and again embraced
both, and gave thanks for the great blessing that had come to his
fireside!"

How her eyes sparkled when she heard what he said.  If Doctor Cadmus
had been in the room just then he might have cautioned them against
too much excitement, lest the fever return; but surely such glorious
news could not do harm, with her heart singing songs of thanksgiving.

"Oh! tell me all about this wonderful thing!" she cried; "how could
you guess my secret, if I did not betray it in my delirium?  Now that
you have said this much I must know all about it.  Please go on,
Hugh!"

He needed no such urging when the words were ready to fall in a
stream from his lips.  So Hugh commenced, and rapidly sketched the
strange happenings of the preceding evening--how he had taken the
little fellow with him for a walk, and stopped at the smithy to see
the sparks flying upwards in showers; of the invitation to take
supper, and spend an hour in chatting with the deacon and his good
wife.  Then, quick on the heels of this he told how Mrs. Winslow,
while holding Joey in her arms so lovingly as he slept in his
innocence, had suddenly made that amazing discovery in connection
with the baby chain, and smooth medallion, shaped like a locket.

She lay there with her eyes closed, eagerly drinking in every word
the boy uttered.  The unrestrained tears crept unheeded down her
cheeks; but Mrs. Morgan did not worry, because only too well did she
know these were tears of overpowering joy; and not of grief.

Finally the story was all told, and she opened her eyes, swimming as
they were, to look fondly at each of them in turn.

"What happiness has come into my life!" she said, with a great sigh;
and, evidently, the load of years had rolled from her heart.  "And
how grateful I must always be to the kind friends who have brought it
to me and mine.  I can never do enough to show you how I appreciate
it all."

Then Hugh thought himself privileged to ask a few questions in turn,
wishing to thoroughly satisfy himself with regard to several points
that were as yet unexplained.

She told them how her husband had lost his life; and that, when she
and the boy faced poverty, the resolution had come to her to go East
and try to find the relatives whom she had only lately learned were
located somewhere near Scranton.  She had come across an old and
time-stained diary kept by her mother's father, who, of course, was
the runaway son of Deacon Winslow; and thus she learned how he had
left his home in the heat of anger, and never once communicated with
his parents up to the time of his death, which occurred a short three
years after his marriage.

It was all very simple, and supplied the missing links in the chain.

After she had told them these things once more she asked Hugh about
the aged couple.  That was a subject the boy could talk about most
enthusiastically for a whole hour, he was that full of it.  And the
happy look on her face told how like balm to her heart his words came.

"And they are coming to see you early this morning," he finally
assured her.  "I wouldn't be surprised if either of them has had a
single wink of sleep last night for counting the minutes creep by,
they are that anxious to claim you and Joey."

Just then the doorbell rang.  Hugh laughed, as though he had been
expecting such a happening; in fact, he had heard the sound of sleigh
runners without creaking on the hard-frozen snow, and suspected what
it signified.

"There they are this minute!" he exclaimed; "shall I run down and let
them in, Mother?  And ought they come right upstairs?"

"Have them take off their wraps first, and warm their hands at the
radiator," she wisely told him, thinking of the invalid who would
soon be in their embrace.

It was a very brief time before he ushered them into the room.  First
the old lady was assisted across the floor, for she could hardly
walk, even when so determined to come over, and greet her
granddaughter.  And when her arms were twined around the weak little
figure on the bed, and she pressed her to her matronly bosom, Joey's
mother broke down in hysterical sobs, and, in turn, twined her arms
about the neck of her newly found relative.

The old deacon looked radiant.  He kissed her on the forehead, and
tried to say something appropriate, but was compelled to turn his
head aside and blow his nose vigorously, for his emotions overpowered
him.

Presently, however, they were able to talk rationally, and then it
was all settled how Joey and his mother were to live with the old
couple, and be their very own always.  Everything was explained, and
Hugh finally found himself able to "break away," being consumed by a
desire to run across lots to Thad's house, and tell him the wonderful
story.

There is no need of accompanying Hugh on his errand, and seeing how
Thad took the amazing news.  Of course, he was simply thunder-struck,
and delighted also beyond measure.  He must have made Hugh tell the
full particulars as many as several times, for they were all of an
hour together.  But then, Thad's folks had been called in, and told
how after all these years a descendant of Deacon Winslow had come
back to the old roof-tree, to make the happiness of the aged couple
complete.

Of course, the story was soon known all over Scranton, and everybody
rejoiced with the beloved old blacksmith who had so long been the
best friend of the boys of the neighborhood.  But Hugh, who was
really the hero of the occasion, was congratulated by everybody for
being the means of re-uniting these lonely souls, and incidentally
providing Little Joey with a good home.



CHAPTER XIX

MEETING BELLEVILLE'S STRONG TEAM

Another week rolled around, and once again school had closed for the
Saturday and Sunday period of rest from studies.

It seemed as though luck favored the young people of Scranton this
season, so far as fair weather went.  There had been no snowfall of
consequence during the entire week; and now Saturday opened with fair
skies, as if inviting them to go forth and enjoy themselves to their
full bent.

The great hockey game with Belleville High was to take place in the
neighboring town, as Captain Kramer (known far and wide simply as "O.
K.," because those were his initials) had drawn the long straw in
settling this matter with Hugh, and was, therefore, given the choice
of territory, according to custom.

Really no one in Scranton was sorry.  They had held the last match
there on the new rink, and could not expect to have a monopoly of
these happenings all through the season.  Besides, they had a
splendid lake over at Belleville, which would be considerable of an
attraction to the young people of Scranton, whom fortune had not
treated so kindly, since they had formerly been compelled to trudge
several miles to Hobson's mill-pond when they wished to skate, swim,
or fish; though now, of course, they had the newly flooded area in
the baseball park for diversion.

A great many went over to Belleville in every manner of vehicle.
Sleighs were in great demand, but, besides these, cars could be seen
by dozens on the highroad leading to the rival town, situated some
ten miles away.

It must needs be something over which they had no control that could
keep any Scranton High boy or girl away from Belleville that Saturday
morning.  The very atmosphere seemed to be charged with electricity,
and was calling them to hasten away, to join the throngs already
pouring forth, bent on giving encouragement to those gallant young
athletes representing their school, who had as yet not tasted of
defeat on the ice that season.

The lake just outside of Belleville was quite extensive, and could
not be insulted with the name of "pond," for it ran at least a mile
in length, and half that in width.

While the ice was no longer as smooth as had earlier been, the case,
still it seemed in fair condition.  Besides, the Belleville boys had
managed to flood that section to be given over as a rink; and
ordinary skaters were warned to keep off, so that it might not be all
"cut up" with sharp runners before the match was started.

The Belleville team looked dangerous.  They were, of course, pretty
much the same fellows whom Scranton High had met the preceding summer
on the baseball diamond; some of them had also taken part in the
athletic tournament late in the Fall, accounts of which events will
be found duly chronicled in earlier volumes of this series.

When all the preliminaries had been settled good-naturedly, the rival
teams lined up to hear the last instructions of the referee.  This
party was the same gentleman who had officiated with such
satisfaction in the game with Keyport on the preceding Saturday.

Here is the list of players, and the positions they occupied,
Scranton having kept the identical Seven with which the last game had
been so cleverly won, though many people were of the opinion they had
a much more difficult proposition before them in the Belleville boys:


  _Scranton High_   _Position_         _Belleville_
  Stevens ......... Goal ............  Leonard
  Hobson .......... Point ...........  Wright
  Danvers ......... Cover Point ...... "O. K." Kramer
  Smith ........... Right End ........ Gould
  Dugdale ......... Center ........... Waterman
  Morgan .......... Rover ............ Conway
  Juggins ......... Left End ......... Haggerty

The game had hardly begun before Hugh realized that those Belleville
fellows had determined to down the visitors, if it took every ounce
of strenuous ability they possessed.  Previous defeats at the hands
of Scranton High rankled in their hearts, and they were grimly
resolved, "to do or die," as one of them told Thad Stevens while
chatting before the game was called.

They made a whirlwind beginning, and had scored two goals before the
visitors began to "find" themselves.  This would never do, Hugh
determined.  He gave his players a signal that called for a spurt,
and himself led the way by capturing the puck, and shooting it into
the cage of their opponents amidst loud footings of great joy from
the loyal and now anxious Scranton rooters.

Juggins distinguished himself also immediately afterwards by a
lightning play that amazed the Belleville spectators.  He dodged all
interference and when finally too hard pressed, managed to send the
rubber disc across to Dugdale, who continued the good work by
shooting it into the charge of Hobson; and, almost before Leonard
could try to stop its flight, it had gone with a crash into the cage
for the second goal on Scranton's side.

Things began to look brighter.  If Belleville could play brilliant
hockey through the coaching of an efficient instructor, the visiting
team knew a few things also, which were calculated to surprise their
rivals.

Of course, most, if not all of the Belleville Seven had attended the
game on the preceding Saturday, their own match for that day, which
they had easily won, coming off in the afternoon.  Consequently, they
had studied the methods of the Scranton boys, and believed they would
be able to profit by their knowledge later on.

But Hugh had been wise to this fact, and posted Mr. Leonard, the
coach; who, meanwhile, taught them a few new little wrinkles that
were calculated to disturb the calculations of Belleville when the
time came for the meeting.  As in football, ice hockey presents a
fruitful field for diplomacy and clever tactics; and the wisest
general usually manages to carry his team to victory over those who
may be much more nimble skaters and even smarter with their sticks,
but not so able in the line of strategy.

Belleville also took a "hunch," as some of the boys called it, and
again forged to the front.  Indeed, they scored three times against
one more goal for the visitors; and when the first half of the match
had been finished the game stood at five to three against Scranton.

Hugh was in a dilemma.  He knew that to win out he must have an
infusion of new blood, for those husky players of the local school
were too rapid for the Scranton boys.  But, according to the rules of
the game, substitutes can only be allowed in case of serious injury.
So, unless one of his player chanced to be hurt in such a way as to
necessitate his withdrawal from the game there could be no changes
made in the line-up.

This is so hedged about with safeguards against fraud that even if a
player is hurt he must be examined by someone competent to say
whether he may be able to commence work again inside of seven
minutes; and if so, the game must proceed.  Should he be excused from
further participation in the contest his captain may have the
privilege of putting in another man; or, if he chooses to play with
only six on the ice, the other side must also eliminate a player, so
as to make the line-up equal.

Perhaps some of Hugh's comrades must have guessed what was gripping
their leader around that time.  Nothing else could have induced
Smith, for instance, to say, as he did to Hugh, while they were
resting in preparation for the last half of the game to start in:

"I'm awfully ashamed of that rotten run I made, Hugh, when you handed
me the rubber so handsomely.  If I'd known my business as I should
I'd have landed it in the wire cage as snug as anything.  But I
fumbled, and that Conway got it away from me, the robber.  I'm no
good, Hugh; and I'd give a heap if only you could kick me out of the
game, and get a better substitute."

"It can't be done, Just," Hugh told him; "a player has to be pretty
badly hurt to be dropped, you know, and a substitute taken on.  Cheer
up, and get a fresh start.  Two goals shouldn't be a hard job for us
to tackle, once we get going at our old pace.  There are a few tricks
left in the bag still, before we reach the bottom."

"But, see here, I'm pretty lame at that, after the stumble and fall I
had, Hugh," said "Just" Smith eagerly; "perhaps the referee would let
me throw up my job if he saw how badly my shin has been scraped."

"Oh! you're in pretty good shape still, 'Just,' and you know it,"
remarked Hugh, smiling at the evident determination of his friend to
sacrifice himself for the general good.  "When we start play again
we'll try the last dodge Mr. Leonard taught us, and see if it'll work
for a goal.  It's clean sport, and nothing tricky, you know."

So "Just" Smith shrugged his shoulders, and did not seem at all
happy, though he let the matter drop.  Hugh wondered, though, what
that grim look on his face meant, and, later on, had a hazy idea that
he had found out.

The game started again.  Encouraged by their success, Belleville
again took matters in their own hands and forced the fighting.  There
were several weak places in the Scranton High line-up.  Many who
diagnosed the play were of the opinion that the game was already as
good as lost.

Then came a most violent scrimmage, into which "Just" Smith plunged
with the utmost recklessness, as though determined to wipe out all
his former mistakes in some brilliant playing.  Suddenly the
referee's whistle called the game.  Something had happened to bring
about a stoppage of play.  A fellow was down on the ice, with half a
dozen others bending over him.

It was "Just" Smith, and he was apparently badly injured in the
bargain.  A doctor was speedily called, who pronounced it a fracture
of the leg, and decided that the player would have to be taken home
immediately for a physician's attention.

As "Just" Smith passed his captain, being carried by two husky
players to a waiting car that would convey him home, he actually had
the nerve to grin in Hugh's face.  A suspicion came into the latter's
mind to the effect that the player had purposely taken terrible risks
in the hope that he might be disabled, so that a substitute could be
put in his place; though, of course, Hugh tried to banish this
thought as soon as it gripped him.

"Get your substitute, Hugh, or else we'll have to drop a man!" called
the Belleville captain; and Hugh glanced apprehensively around; then
broke through the dense crowd, and seized upon a skater who had been
hovering near.

It was Nick Lang!

"We need another player, Nick!" Hugh exclaimed eagerly; "and I want
you to help get the team out of this nasty hole, for the sake of good
old Scranton High.  So don't say you won't, but come along, and do
your level best to bring us out ahead!"



CHAPTER XX

NICK MAKES GOOD----CONCLUSION

The look upon the face of Nick Lang when Hugh spoke in this way told
the leader of the Scranton Hockey Seven he would fight with might and
main to turn the tables on the winning Belleville team.

Nick's hour had struck!

The long-awaited opportunity to prove the genuine nature of the
change that had taken place within his heart had arrived.  He was
going into play as one of the Regulars; he had been especially picked
for that important service among twenty likely lads who only too
gladly would have accepted a chance to distinguish themselves in such
an emergency.

Accordingly Nick had a large letter S fastened to his jersey, to mark
the side on which he fought, so that the referee might easily know
where he belonged.  One word from the coach as he strode forward Nick
would never forget as long as he lived; it was a word of confidence;
and, remembering how Mr. Leonard had at one time detested and
distrusted this boy, it meant everything to Nick.

The game started again after the lapse of seven minutes.

Belleville considered that they had "the edge" on the visitors, and
immediately went at it as though bent on adding considerably to the
number of goals marked to their credit.  But almost immediately it
was discovered that the infusion of new blood had somehow altered the
complexion of things greatly.

Thanks principally to the marvelous agility and strategy of Nick, a
goal was shot inside of two minutes.  It was immediately followed by
another, this time Nick winning the score without the least help from
anyone.

Wild applause rang out from parts of the crowd, where, of course,
Scranton rooters mostly congregated.  How sweet those cheers must
have sounded in the ears of Nick Lange, who for years had only earned
the hoots and jeers of his fellows in Scranton, on account of their
distrust, and his own evil ways.

Why, the Belleville folks sat up and rubbed their eyes.  They had
never dreamed that any fellow not a professional player could prove
himself such a marvelous wizard on steel runners.  Nick fairly
dazzled them with his speed, his eccentric twistings when hotly
pursued, and the clever way in which he kept that rubber disc just in
front of his hockey stick, always carrying it along toward the point
where he meant to strike for goal.

And when he did make that stroke vain were the frantic efforts of the
usually dependable Leonard to block its amazing passage; for almost
before he swung he heard the plug of the puck landing in the wire
cage which he was especially set to guard, and knew that another
tally had been added to Scranton's growing score.

The conditions had changed, and the shoe was now on the other foot.

Thanks to the fine playing of Nick Lang Scranton was now ahead, and
it seemed extremely doubtful whether Belleville would have another
chance to make a single tally.  The boys were plainly disconcerted by
the excellent work of the substitute, and seemed to have lost much of
that aggressive spirit so absolutely necessary in ice hockey in order
to win games.  They played almost sullenly, as if realizing that it
was all over but the shouting.

Vain were the efforts of Captain Kramer to put new life in his
followers.  He himself fought more desperately than ever, and once
even succeeded in taking the puck away from the triumphant Nick, the
only one who attained that glory; only to lose it immediately
afterwards to Owen Dugdale, who transferred it to Stevens by way of
Hobson; and then it plunged into the cage, despite Leonard's mad
attempt to stay its swift flight.

"Who's this you Scranton boys have thrown into the game?" demanded
one chagrined Belleville gentleman, as he saw what a radical change
Nick's coming had made in the affair on the ice rink.  "He plays
suspiciously like a certain Canadian I saw last winter, who set
everybody in New York City wild with his work.  Is Jean La Rue
visiting anybody in Scranton; and have you rung him in on us to-day,
to send our poor chaps down to defeat?"

"Don't you believe it, Mister," chortled a boy standing near by,
whose jersey was decorated with the letters "S. H. S.," standing, of
course, for Scranton High School.  "That fellow is only our Nick
Lang, who was born and brought up in our home town.  The place was
never proud of that face until this great day, because Nick, you see,
has been the worst boy ever known in Scranton.  Why, his escapades
would take a week to tell you.  He used to be the terror of
everybody, the bully all boys feared and shunned.  But it seems like
Nick has turned over a new leaf.  Folks didn't all believe in his
change of heart; but after to-day, say, Nick could own the whole town
if he was so minded.  I'd give a heap if I was standing in his shoes
this same day.  He'll be a hero, as sure as he used to be the town
scapegrace!"

It was just that way up to the time the referee signaled that the
last half of the game had been played to a finish.  Nick seemed
capable of doing almost as he pleased.  Whenever he got possession of
the puck it was, as one enthusiastic Scranton boy whooped, a "regular
procession."  The Belleville lads just couldn't touch him.  His
actions bewildered them, so that they were continually becoming mixed
up with their own side when they thought to corner Nick and the puck.

The score?

Well, it seemed too bad that after such a brilliant beginning
Belleville should fall so low, and see the terrible figures, thirteen
to seven, marked up against them.

In the annals of sport, as chronicled at Scranton High, that contest
would always be known as the "Battle of Winchester," just because, as
in the Civil War, when the Union army was in retreat and demoralized,
the coming of a single man, General Phil Sheridan, caused them to
turn about, and presently win a conclusive and overwhelming victory.
And Nick Lang had been the Phil Sheridan for Scranton on that
glorious day!

Nick tried to make a "grand sneak" as soon as the game finished, but
the crowd would have none of that, hemming him in so that he could
not run; and then for the first time in all his life the one-time
bully of Scranton tasted of the joys of popularity.

Fellows wrung his hand who had always treated him with disdain.  He
was slapped on the back and praised to the skies.  Why, even Sue
Barnes, Ivy Middleton, Peggy Noland, and a lot of other school-girls
seemed proud to shake hands with Nick, who was as red in the face as
a turkey gobbler, and rendered quite breathless trying to answer the
myriad of sincere congratulations that were showered on him.

But by the happy light in his eyes Hugh knew the die was cast, once
and for all.  Having tasted of the sweets of popularity and honest
praise, nothing on earth could now tempt Nick to fall back again to
his former ignoble ways.  His foot was firmly planted on the second
round of the ladder, and he had his aspiring eye on the better things
nearer the top.

The deacon had come over to see the game.  He and Hugh went home
together, and the talk was mostly concerning the wonderful
reformation of Nick Lang.

"I'm hoping to have Nick come to me when he leaves school," the good
old man was saying.  "He has the making of a clever blacksmith in
him, and I'd dearly like to turn over my shop to him some day not far
in the future; because it's almost time the old man retired, now that
he has a sunbeam coming to his house, which is going to take up much
of his attention."

So it seemed that Nick's future was assured, if so be he cared to
take up that honorable trade, by means of which the deacon had
accumulated his little fortune.

As for the two former pals of Nick, Tip Slavin and Leon Disney, in
due time they were convicted of the robbery of Paul Kramer's store,
and sent away to the excellent State institution, to remain there
until they had reached the age of twenty-one.

There was at least a fair hope that long before that time arrived one
or both of the boys would have learned a trade and decided to live a
respectable life in the future; for many lads who were deemed
uncontrollable at home, under the lax training they received there,
have been fashioned into splendid men because of the strict
discipline at the Reform School.

There is little more to add to make our story complete.

Joey and his mother were soon installed under the hospitable roof of
the deacon, where they found themselves the objects of love and
devotion.  The miseries of the past would soon be forgotten in the
great happiness that had come to them.  And certain it is that no one
would be a more welcome guest there than Hugh Morgan, because it was
partly through his efforts that this joyous event had been made
possible.

Since Scranton High had taken such a leading part in the outdoor
sports so beloved by all wide-awake boys, it could be set down as
certain that the fellows in Allandale and Belleville would not be
content to let them rest upon their well-earned laurels, but would
strive with might and main to excel them on the diamond, the
cinder-path, the football gridiron, or some other field of athletic
endeavor.

That many fiercely contested games would result was a foregone
conclusion; and it is to be hoped that we shall have the privilege of
meeting the readers of this volume in the pages of subsequent books,
where some of those exciting happenings may be set down in an
interesting manner.



THE END





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