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´╗┐Title: The Chums of Scranton High on the Cinder Path
Author: Ferguson, Donald
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 on the Cinder Path" ***

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THE CHUMS OF SCRANTON HIGH

On the Cinder Path



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

     I. THE FIVE NUT FORAGERS
    II. ON THE OLD QUARRY ROAD
   III. TALKING OF GHOSTS
    IV. IN TRAINING FOR THE GREAT TOURNAMENT
     V. TREACHERY IN THE AIR
    VI. THE PROWLER
   VII. CAUGHT IN THE ACT
  VIII. LEON PROMISES TO REFORM
    IX. SCRANTON IN GALA ATTIRE
     X. WHEN MUSCLES COUNTED
    XI. THE CRISIS IN CLAUDE'S LIFE
   XII. STARTLING NEWS FROM THE JUGGINS BOY
  XIII. TO THE RESCUE OF "K. K."
   XIV. THE SEARCHING PARTY
    XV. PROWLING AROUND THE QUARRY
   XVI. A FRIENDLY "GHOST"
  XVII. SCRANTON'S "OPEN HOUSE" DAY
 XVIII. THE GREAT MARATHON RACE
   XIX. ON THE FINAL MILE OF THE COURSE
    XX. THE BOY WHO WON--CONCLUSION



THE CHUMS OF SCRANTON HIGH


CHAPTER I

THE FIVE NUT FORAGERS

The bright October sun was half-way down the western sky one Saturday
afternoon.  Two-thirds of the Fall month had already gone, and the
air was becoming fairly crisp in the early mornings.

All around the forest trees were painted various shades of bright
scarlet, burnt umber brown and vivid gold by the practiced fingers of
that master artist, the Frost-King.  Flocks of robins and blackbirds
were gathering rather late this year, preparatory to taking their
annual pilgrimage to the warm Southland.  They flew overhead at times
in vast numbers, making a tremendous chatter.

A noisy bunch of crows cawed unceasingly amidst the treetops as a
large, lumbering old automobile passed along the country road, the
same filled with lively boys, and also a number of sacks stuffed to
their utmost capacity with what appeared to be black walnuts,
shell-bark hickories, butternuts, and even splendid large chestnuts.
Apparently, the strange and deadly blight that was attacking the
chestnut groves all through the East had not yet appeared in the
highly favored region around the town of Scranton, in which place the
boys in question lived, and attended the famous high school where Dr.
Carmack, also supervisor of the entire county schools, held forth.

The five tired lads who formed this nutting party we have met before
in the pages of previous stories in this series; so that to those who
have been fortunate enough to possess such books they need no lengthy
introduction.

First, there was Hugh Morgan, looking as genial and determined as
ever, and just as frequently consulted by his comrades, because his
opinion always carried considerable weight.  Then came his most
intimate chum, Thad Stevens, who had played the position of backstop
so successfully during the summer just passed, and helped to win the
pennant for Scranton against the other two high schools of the
country, situated in the towns of Allendale and Belleville.

Besides these two, there was included in the party a tall chap who
seemed to be acting as chauffeur, from which it might be judged that
he had supplied the means for taking this nutting trip far afield;
his name was Kenneth Kinkaid, but among his friends he answered to
the shorter appellation of "K. K."  Then came a fourth boy of shorter
build, and more sturdy physique, Julius Hobson by name; and last, but
far from least, Horatio Juggins, a rather comical fellow who often
assumed a dramatic attitude, and quoted excerpts from some school
declamation, his favorite, of course, being "Horatio at the Bridge."

It was "K. K." who got up the annual foraging expedition on this
particular year, and promised that they should go in style in the
antiquated seven-passenger car belonging to his father, who was a
commercial traveler, which car "K. K." often used, when he could
raise the cash to provide sufficient gasolene at twenty-five cents
per gallon.  But on this momentous occasion each fellow had chipped
in his share pro rata; so that the generous provider of the big, open
car was not compelled to beg or borrow in order to properly equip the
expedition.

For ten days and more previously some of the boys had industriously
interviewed the farmers who stood in the market-place during the early
mornings, selling the products of their acres.  Doubtless numerous
good mothers wondered what caused such an early exodus from warm beds
those days, since farmers had a habit of getting rid of their produce
at dawn, and driving off home while most schoolboys were indulging in
their last nap.

But, by various means, they had learned just where the nuts grew most
plentifully that season; and quite a list of available places had
been tabulated: to the Guernsey Woods for blacks; plenty of
shagbarks, and some shellbarks to be gathered over at the old Morton
Place, where no one had lived these seven years now; and they said
the chestnuts away up in that region miles beyond the mill-pond was
bearing a record crop this season, as if to make amends for lean
years a-plenty.

Scranton was one of the few places where the boys still yearned after
a goodly supply of freshly gathered nuts to carry them through a long
and severe winter.  Somehow they vied with one another in the
gathering of the harvest of the woods, and often these outings
yielded considerable sport, besides being profitable to the nutters.
On one momentous occasion the boys had even discovered the hive of a
colony of wild bees, cut the tree down, fought the enraged denizens
by means of smoke and fire, and eventually carried home a wonderful
stock of dearly earned honey that would make the buckwheat cakes
taste all the sweeter that winter because of the multitude of
swellings it cost the proud possessors.

Hugh had been coaxed to join the party; not that he did not fully
enjoy such enterprises, but he had laid out another programme for
that afternoon.  All through the morning these same lads had been
hard at work on the open field where Scranton played her baseball
games, and had such other gatherings as high-school fellows are
addicted.  Here a fine new cinder path had been laid around the
grounds, forming an oval that measured just an eighth of a mile, to a
fraction.

All through the livelong day on Saturdays, and in the afternoons
during weekdays, boys in strange-looking running costumes of various
designs could be seen diligently practicing at all manner of stunts,
from sprinting, leaping hurdles, engaging in the high jump, with the
aid of poles; throwing the hammer; and, in fact, every conceivable
exercise that would be apt to come under the head of a genuine
athletic tournament.

For, to tell the secret without any evasion, that was just what
Scranton designed to have inside of another week--a monster affair
that included entries from all other schools in the county, and which
already promised to be one of the greatest and most successful meets
ever held.

Hugh and his chums were every one of them entered for several events;
indeed, it would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack to
try and find a single Scranton boy above the age of ten, and sound of
wind, who had not taken advantage of the generous invitation to place
his name on the records, and go in for training along a certain line.
Those who could not sprint, leap the bars, throw hammer or discus, or
do any other of the ordinary stunts, might, at least, have some
chance of winning a prize in the climbing of the greased pole, the
catching of the greased pig, the running of the obstacle race, or
testing their ability to hop in the three-legged race, where each
couple of boys would have a right and left leg bound together, and
then attempt to cross a given line ahead of all like competitors.

So even when they started out after lunch the whole five were a bit
tired; and a vast store of nuts, like the one they were fetching
home, cannot be gathered, no matter however plentiful they may be on
ground and trees, without considerable muscular effort on the part of
the ambitious collectors.

Consequently, every fellow was feeling pretty stiff and sore about
the time we overtake them on the way home.  Besides, most of them had
zigzag scratches on face and hands by which to remember the
wonderfully successful expedition for several days.  Then there was
Julius Hobson with a soiled handkerchief bound around his left thumb,
which he solicitously examined every little while.  He had, somehow,
managed to catch a frisky little squirrel, which, wishing to take
home, he had imprisoned in one of his side pockets that had a flap;
but, desirous of fondling the furry little object, he had
incautiously inserted his bare hand once too often; for its long
teeth, so useful for nut-cracking, went almost through his thumb, and
gave his such an electric shock that in the confusion the frightened
animal managed to escape once more to its native wilds.

Hugh, as he went along toward home, was really taking mental notes
concerning the lay of the land, and with an object in view.  He was
entered for the fifteen-mile Marathon race (an unusually long
distance for boys to run, by the way, and hardly advisable under
ordinary conditions), and one of the registering places where every
contestant had to sign his name to a book kept by a judge so as to
prove that he had actually reached that particular and important
corner of the rectangular course, had been the quaint little old road
tavern just half a mile back of them.

"You're wondering just why I'm so curious about the country up here,
I can see, fellows," Hugh was saying about the time we meet them;
"and, as we all belong to the same school, and our dearest wish is to
see Scranton High win the prize that is offered by the committee in
the Marathon, I don't mind letting you in.  I know something about
this country up here, and have traced on a surveyor's chart the
ordinary course a fellow would be apt to take in passing from the
second tally post, that old tavern back of us, along this road to the
canal, and from there across the old logging road to Hobson's Pond,
where there's going to be the last registering place before the dash
for home.  Well, I've figured it out that a fellow would save
considerable ground if he left this same road half a mile below, and
cut across by way of the Juniper Swamp trail, striking in again along
about the Halpin Farm."

His remarks created no end of interest, for there were several others
among the bunch who had also entered for that long-distance race;
and, naturally, they began to figure on how they might take advantage
of Hugh's discovery.  It was all for the honor and credit of good old
Scranton High; so that it really mattered little just which fellow
crossed the line first, so long as he "saved the bacon."

"It sounds pretty fine to me, Hugh," said Julius, "only I don't like
one thing."

"What's that, Julius?" demanded the Juggins boy.

"By following that Juniper Swamp trail and the old road Hugh
mentions, we'd have to pass close to that deserted stone quarry; and
say, the farmers all vow it's sure haunted."



CHAPTER II

ON THE OLD QUARRY ROAD

When Julius made this assertion, the other fellows looked at each
other in what might be said to be a queer way.  In fact, they had all
heard certain absurd stories told in connection with the old quarry
that had not been worked for so many years that the road leading to
it across country had grown up in grass and weeds.  Some adventurous
boys who went out there once declared it was a most gruesome place,
with pools of water covered with green scum lying around, and all
sorts of holes looking like the cave Robinson Crusoe found on his
island home to be seen where granite building rocks had been
excavated from the towering cliffs.

It was K. K. who laughed first, actually laughed scornfully, though
Julius took it all so seriously.  Thad Stevens followed with a
chuckle, after his peculiar fashion.

"You give me a pain, Julius, you certainly do," ventured K. K.

"To think," added Thad, assuming a lofty air of superior knowledge,
"of a fellow attending Scranton High believing the ridiculous yarns
these uneducated tillers of the soil and their hired help pass
around, about there being some sort of a genuine _ghost_ haunting the
old quarry--why, it's positively silly of you, Julius, and I don't
mind telling you so to your face."

"Oh, hold on there, fellows!" expostulated the other boy; "I didn't
say that I really and truly believed any of those awful stories, did
I?  But so many different persons have told me the same thing that,
somehow, I came to think there _might_ be some fire where there was
so much smoke.  Of course, it can't be a ghost, but, nevertheless,
there are queer goings-on about that deserted quarry these
nights--three different people, and one of them a steady-going woman
in the bargain, assured me they had glimpsed moving lights there, a
sort of flare that did all sorts of zigzag stunts, like it was
cutting signals in the air."

"Hugh, do you think that could be what they call wild-fire, or some
folks give it the name of will-o'-the-wisp, others say
jack-o'-lantern?" demanded Horatio Juggins, who had been listening
intently while all this talk was going on.

"I'd hardly like to say," replied Hugh thoughtfully.  "As a general
thing that odd, moving light is seen in low, damp places.  Often it
is noticed in graveyards in the country, and is believed to be
induced by a condition of the atmosphere, causing something like
phosphorescence.  You know what a firefly or lightning bug is like,
don't you, Horatio?  Yes, and a glow-worm also?  Well, they say that
there are black-looking pools of stagnant water lying around the old
quarry; and yes, I think the lights seen might come from just such
conditions."

"That sounds all very well, Hugh," continued Julius, "but what about
the terrifying cry that sometimes wells up from that same place?"

"A cry, Julius, do you say?" exclaimed Horatio, his eyes growing
round now with increasing wonder and thrilling interest, "do you
really and truly mean that, or are you only joshing?"

"Well," the narrator went on to say soberly, "two fellows told me
they'd heard that same shriek.  One was hunting a stray heifer when
he found himself near the quarry, and then got a shock that sent him
on the run all the way home, regardless of trees he banged into, for
it was night-time, with only a quarter-moon up in the western sky.
The other had laughed at all such silly stories, and to prove his
bravery concluded to venture out there one night when the moon was as
round as a cartwheel.  He got close to the deserted workings when he
too had a chill as he heard the most outlandish cry agoing, three
times repeated, and----well, he grinned when he confessed that it
took him just about one-fifth the time to get back home that he'd
spent in the going."

"Whee! perhaps there may be some sort of wild animal in one of the
caves they tell about up there?" ventured Horatio.  "I'm not a
believer in ghosts, and I don't consider myself a coward, either; but
all the same it'd have to be something pretty big to induce me to
walk out there to that same lonely quarry after nightfall.  Now laugh
if you want to, K. K."

"Well," interrupted Hugh, just then, "we're approaching the place
right now where that old quarry road I spoke of starts in.  I'd like
ever so much to take a look at that same quarry, by daylight, mind
you.  Is there any objection, fellows, to our testing out that road
right now?  It used to be a pretty fair proposition I've been told,
so far as a road goes, and I think we could navigate the same in this
car.  K. K.  how do you stand on that proposition, for one?"

"Count me in on anything that promises an adventure, Hugh," came the
prompt reply.  "There is plenty of gas in the tank, and if we do get
a puncture on the sharp stones we've got an extra tube along, with
lots and lots of muscle lying around loose for changing the same.
That's my answer, Hugh."

"Thad, how about you?" continued the shrewd Hugh, well knowing that
by making an individual appeal he would be more apt to receive a
favorable response, because it goes against the average boy's pride
to be accounted a weakling, or one addicted to believing old wives'
fairy stories of goblins, and all such trash.

"Oh, count me in, Hugh," responded the other, with an indifference
that may possibly have been partly assumed; but then Thad Stevens was
always ready to back his enterprising chum, no matter what the other
suggested.

"Horatio, it's up to you now!"  Hugh went on remorselessly, as K. K.
stopped the car at a signal from the other, and faint signs of what
had once been a road were to be distinguished just on the left.

"Majority rules, you know," said the wise Juggins boy, "and already
three have given their assent; so it's no back-out for little
Horatio."

"Course I'll agree, Hugh," quickly added Julius, when he saw that the
other had turned toward him.  "I'm just as curious as the next fellow
to see that old haunted quarry--in the daytime, of course.  Besides,
everybody knows there isn't any such thing as a ghost.  All such
stories, when they're sifted down, turn out to be humbugs.  Sometimes
the moving spectre is a white donkey browsing alongside the road.
Then again I've heard of how it was a swing that had a white pillow
left in it by the children, and the night wind caused it to advance
and retreat in a _terrible_ way.  Hugh, let's investigate this silly
old business while we're on the spot."

And by these wonderfully brave words Julius hoped to dissipate any
notion concerning his alleged timidity that may have lodged in the
brains of his chums.

So K. K. started up again, and by another minute the old car had
passed in among the trees, with the overgrown brush "swiping" against
the sides every foot of the way.  It was necessary that they proceed
slowly and cautiously, because none of them had ever been over that
long disused road before, and all sorts of obstacles might confront
the bold invaders of the wilds.

Hugh was using his eyes to good advantage, and at his advice the
others did the same.  It was a good thing the car was old, and that
it mattered nothing how those stiff branches scraped against the
sides during their forward progress.  K. K. knew how to manage, all
right, and, although the trail was quite rough in places where the
heavy rains had washed the earth away, and left huge stones
projecting, he was able to navigate around these obstacles
successfully.

Twice they came to low places where water ran, and there was some
danger of the heavy car becoming mired.  At such times several of the
boys would jump out, and after investigating the conditions perhaps
throw a mass of stones and pieces of wood in, to make what Hugh
called a sort of a "corduroy road" across the swampy section of
ground.

It was all very interesting in the bargain, and, for the time being,
the boys even forgot the fact that they were exceedingly tired.

Then they seemed to be gradually ascending a grade, where the road
turned out to be somewhat better.

"I imagine we're getting close to the quarry now, fellows," Hugh
informed them; "if what I was told is true.  It will lie over here on
the right; and only for the dense growth of trees with their foliage
still hanging on, we might see the cliff forming the background of
the quarry right now."

Julius and Horatio looked around them with increasing interest, and
perhaps a slight flutter of unusual vigor in the region of their
hearts.  It was about as gloomy a scene as any of them had ever gazed
upon.  Years had elapsed since work in the stone quarry had been
abandoned, and Nature, as usual, had done her best to hide the cruel
gashes made in her breast by man; the trees had grown and spread,
while bushes and weeds extended their sway so as to almost choke
everything around.  The distant cawing of the crows sounded more
gruesome than ever amidst such surroundings; but there was no sign of
bird-life to be seen.  It was as though the little feathered
creatures found this region too lonely even for their nest building.
Not even a red or gray squirrel frisked around a tree, or boldly
defied the intruders of his wilderness haunt.

"There, I just had a glimpse of the place through an opening!"
suddenly announced Hugh; "I calculate that we'll soon come in plain
sight of the whole business, for this road leads straight across the
dumps, I was told, and then on again in the direction of Hobson's
Pond."

The sun was passing behind the first cloud of the whole day just
then.  Somehow the added somber conditions had an effect on all the
boys; for, with the temporary vanishing of the king of day, the
shadows around them appeared to grow bolder, and issue forth from
their secret retreats.

"Ugh! this is certainly a fierce place for a fellow to visit, say
around midnight," K. K. was forced to admit, for he was the essence
of candor at all times.

"Wild horses couldn't drag me up here at such a time as that," said
Horatio, as he looked ahead, and shivered, either with the chill of
the air, or from some other reason, he hardly knew himself.

"Hugh, would you try it if someone dared you to?" demanded Julius
suddenly, taking the bull by the horns, so to speak.

"I don't think I would, on a dare," replied the other calmly, yet
deliberately, as he smiled at the speaker; "but if there was any good
and sufficient reason for my doing the same, I'd agree to come alone,
and spend a whole night in the deserted quarry.  However, I'm not
particularly _hankering_ after the experience, so please don't try to
hatch up any wild scheme looking to that end.  If you want to come,
Julius, you're welcome to the job."

Julius shuddered, and looked a bit pale at the very thought.

"Oh!  I wasn't even dreaming of it, Hugh," he hastened to declare.
"I'd much prefer to being asleep in my own comfy bed at home when
midnight comes around, and the last thing on earth you'd catch me
doing would be out hunting spooks."

It was just as Julius finished saying this that they received a
sudden shock.  A loud and thrilling sound, not unlike a human shriek,
came to their ears, filling each and every boy in the car with a
sense of unmitigated horror.  It was so exceedingly dreadful that K.
K.  involuntarily brought the auto to a full stop, and then turned a
face filled with mingled curiosity and awe upon his comrades.



CHAPTER III

TALKING OF GHOSTS

"That was no crow cawing, boys, believe me!" ejaculated K. K.

"Crow!  Well, I should say not!" added Horatio instantly.  "If you
asked me right to my face I'd mention a donkey braying.  Gee! but it
was fierce!"

"But what would a donkey be doing away up here at the old quarry,
where there hasn't been a stroke of work done these many years; tell
me that?" demanded Julius defiantly.

"I don't believe it was a donkey," said Hugh, shaking his head, as
though he, too, found himself exceedingly puzzled; "but I'm not in a
position to explain the thing.  That was certainly a queer noise, for
a fact."

"Extraordinary!" assented Thad Stevens.

"Well, I should call it perfectly awful!" Horatio clipped in.

"Horrible would be a better word to describe it," eagerly followed
Julius, who, it must be confessed, was trembling all over; of course,
not with fear, or anything like that, but just because of excitement,
he assured himself.

"And," continued the sensible Hugh, "if that's the sort of noises
these farmer folks have been hearing right along, I don't wonder some
of them have been nearly scared out of their wits.  It was bad enough
in broad daylight, with the sun shining; so what must it have seemed
like in the moonlight, or when it was pitch dark?"

"Wow! excuse me from coming up here after dusk," muttered Julius.
"I'm no ghost-hunter, let me tell you.  I know my weak points, and
seeing things in the night-time used to be one of the same.  They had
a great time breaking me of it, too.  Even now I sometimes dream of
queer things when I've got the nightmare, after eating too big a
Thanksgiving dinner; and when I wake up suddenly I'm all in a sweat,
and a poor old moth fluttering at the window will give me a start,
thinking it's the tiger getting in my East Indian bungalow."

"Well, what's the program, Hugh?" asked K. K.  "Shall I start up
again, so we can continue our journey along this tough old road; or
do you want to get out, and take a hunt around the quarry for the
thing that gave those yawps?"

"Get out?" repeated Julius, in a sudden panic; "not for Joseph.
Don't count on _me_ for any such silly business.  I came up here to get
walnuts and such; and I'm meaning to stick close to my engagement.
Side issues can't tempt me to change my mind.  Guess I know when I'm
well off."

"It's been several minutes since we heard that sound," Hugh went on
to remark; "and, so far, it hasn't been repeated."

"Oh! it came three times, you remember, Hugh," suggested K. K.; "and,
like in baseball, I reckon it's three times and out.  Whatever it was
let out those screeches it's certainly quieted down.  How about going
on now, Hugh?"

"If I was alone," mused the other, "I really believe I'd be half
tempted to take a prowl around, and find out if I could what all the
row meant.  I never like to pass anything up, when my curiosity is
excited."

"Oh, come back again some other time, Hugh, when you're not booked
for getting home!" sang out Horatio.  "If you put it to a vote I
don't believe anybody in this bunch would seem wild to back you up
right now.  Fact is, I can hear our supper-bell calling me ever so
loud.  Hey! boys, how about that?"

"Let's get a move on!" Julius hastened to reply, so that there could
be no mistaking his sentiments, at least.

Julius was followed by K. K., although the latter shrugged his
shoulders as he added:

"Perhaps it looks timid in us doing what we mean to, but really this
is none of our business, and we might get in some trouble bothering
around here.  I read about a house that was said to be haunted, which
story a daring reporter said he'd investigate.  He spent a night
there, and actually captured the ghost, who turned out to be just an
ordinary man, living on a place adjoining the haunted estate.  He
owned up to being the pallid specter that had been giving the house
such a bad name; and said he wanted to buy the property in for a
song, as it would find no other purchaser if it had such an evil
reputation.  Now, maybe somebody wants this quarry for thirty cents,
and this is his way of scaring other would-be purchasers away.  We
don't want to butt in on any such game, you see."

Hugh and the others laughed at such a clever explanation.

"Whatever the truth may be," said Hugh, "I hardly believe it'll turn
out anything like that, K. K.  But you might as well start on.  We're
only losing time here, and it seems as though the _thing_ doesn't
mean to give as another sample of that swan song."

"For which, thanks!" sighed Julius.  "I know music when I hear it,
and if that's what they call a song of the dying swan excuse me from
ever listening to another.  I can beat that all hollow through a
megaphone, and then not half try."

So the chauffeur started up, and they were soon moving along the
rough road that had once, no doubt, been kept in repair, when the
heavy wagons carried out the building stone quarried from the
hillside, but which was now in a pretty bad shape.

Two minutes afterwards and the road took them directly alongside the
quarry dump, where the excavated earth had been thrown.  They could
now see the cliff rising up alongside.  It looked strangely bleak,
for, of all things, there can hardly be a more desolate sight than an
abandoned stone-quarry, where the weeds and thistles have grown up,
and puddles of water abound.

Of course, the boys all stared, as they slowly wound along the road
in full view of the entire panorama that was being unrolled before
their eyes.  They noted how in places there seemed to be deep
fissures along the abrupt face of the high cliff.  These looked like
caves, and some of them might be of considerable extent, judging from
their appearance.

"If this great old place chanced to be nearer town," said K. K.,
managing to get a quick glimpse, although, as a rule, he needed all
his attention riveted on the rough road he was trying to follow, "I
reckon some of the fellows would have high times exploring those same
holes in the hill."

"It's just as well then it's as far distant as happens to be the
case," Hugh told him; "because the doctors in Scranton would have
broken arms and legs galore to practice on.  That same old quarry
would make a dangerous playground."

"Oh!"

That was Julius uttering a startled exclamation.  He gripped Horatio
so severely by the arm that he must have pinched the other.  At any
rate, Horatio gave a jump, and turned white; just as though his
nerves had all been stretched to a high tension, so that anything
startled him.

"Hey! what did you do that for?" snapped Horatio, drawing away.
"Think you're a ghost, Julius, and feel like biting, do you?  Well,
try somebody else's arm, if you please."

"But didn't any of the rest of you see it?" gasped the said Julius,
not deigning to quarrel over such a trivial thing as a pinch.

"See what?" asked Steve, still staring hard at the quarry, which they
were by now fairly well past.

"Well, I don't know exactly what it was," frankly admitted the
disturber of the peace.  "But it moved, and beckoned to us to come on
over.  You needn't laugh, Steve Mullane, I tell you I saw it plainly
right over yonder where that big clump of Canada thistles is growing.
Course I'm not pretending to say it was a man, or yet a wolf, but it
was something, and it sure did move!"

Hugh was looking with more or less interest.  He knew how things
appear to an excited imagination, and that those who believe in
uncanny objects seldom have any trouble about conjuring up specters
to satisfy their own minds.

So all of them, save, perhaps, the driver, kept their eyes focussed
on the spot mentioned by Julius until the first clump of trees shut
out their view of the old stone quarry and its gruesome surroundings.

"I looked as hard as I could," said Horatio, "but never a thing did I
see move.  Guess you've got a return of your old malady, Julius, and
you were seeing things by daylight, just as you say you used to in
the dark."

"The only explanation I can give," spoke up Hugh, and, of course,
every one lent a willing ear, because, as a rule, his opinions
carried much weight with his chums; "is that while Julius may have
seen something move, it was only a long, feathery plume of grass,
nodding and bowing in the wind.  I've been fooled by the same sort of
object many a time.  But let it pass, boys.  We've turned our back on
the old quarry now, and are headed for the road again, two miles
above Hobson's mill-pond.  I only hope we find it better going on
this end of the abandoned trail.  This jumping is hard on the springs
of the car, and also on our bones."

"For one," said Julius, "I hope never to set eyes on the place again."

"Oh! that's silly talk, Julius," commented K. K.  "Here's Hugh, who
means to take a run out this way again as soon as he can, so as to
time himself, and learn just what he can save by cutting across
country in the big race.  And I wouldn't be surprised if he put
'Just' Smith up to the dodge, in addition to Horatio here and myself,
all being entered as contestants in the big Marathon race."

"I certainly feel that way, K. K.," admitted Hugh firmly.  "It
strikes me this is going to be worth trying.  If one of our crowd can
save time by taking this route, while the other fellows go all the
way around by road, that same thing may give Scranton High the
clinching of the prize.  It's all fair and square, too, for the
conditions only demand that the runners refuse all sorts of lifts
while on the road, and register at each and every tally place
designated.  If they can cut a corner they are at liberty to do so."

"Oh! well," said Julius; "I'm not entered in the Marathon, luckily
enough, so you see there's no need of my prowling around this spooky
place again.  I haven't lost any quarry, that I know of; and Scranton
is a good enough place for me to do my athletic exercises in.  But,
Hugh, if you should happen to find out about the thing that emitted
all those frightful squawks, I hope you'll promise to let us know the
particulars."

"I can promise that easily enough, Julius," the other told him;
"though, just at present, my only concern is to gain time by this
cut-off, and so win the big event for our school.  Now suppose we
drop this subject, and return to something pleasant."

They continued to bump along the rocky road with its deep ruts.  At
times K. K. had to make little detours in order to navigate around
some obstacle which could not be surmounted; for time had not dealt
lightly with the quarry road, and the rains and wintry frosts had
played havoc with its surface.

But, eventually, they sighted light ahead.  Steve was the first to
glimpse an opening, and announce that the main highway leading down
to Scranton must be close at hand.  His words turned out to be true,
and soon afterwards they issued forth from the covert and found
themselves upon the turnpike, headed for home.

Hugh turned around to mark the spot well in his mind, though he knew
that it was to be the exit, and not the entrance, to the short-cut,
in case he concluded to utilize the quarry road when the great race
was on.



CHAPTER IV

IN TRAINING FOR THE GREAT TOURNAMENT

It was an afternoon on the following week, after school hours, and
the athletic field bordering the outskirts of the town of Scranton
afforded a pretty lively spectacle.  Indeed, it could be readily seen
that the approaching tournament had taken a great hold upon the young
people of the town.

Scores of boys were busily engaged in various exercises, under the
watchful eye of Mr. Leonard, the assistant principal under Dr.
Carmack.  This determined-looking young fellow was a college
graduate, and had taken considerable interest in all manner of
athletics; indeed, it was well known that he had played on one or
more of the college teams during his course, and won quite an
enviable reputation for good work, though hardly reckoned a brilliant
star.

Many who did not expect to participate in any of the numerous events
had gathered to watch what was going on; and, besides, there were
clusters of pretty high-school girls on the side lines, chattering
like magpies, and venting their opinions regarding the chances
certain favorites among their boy friends appeared to have in the way
of winning a prize.

Scores were busily engaged in running around the cinder-path, taking
the high jump, trying the hurdles, so as to perfect themselves
against the coming Saturday when the wonderful event was to come off;
sprinting for the short races of fifty, or a hundred yards; throwing
the discus or the hammer, and numerous other lively doings.

Among these participants there were a number whom the reader of
previous volumes in this series will readily recognize, and possibly
gladly meet again.  There was Alan Tyree, for instance, whose
masterly pitching had done so much to land the pennant of the Three
Town High School League that season for Scranton; Owen Dugdale, the
efficient shortstop of the local nine; "Just" Smith, whose real name
it happened was Justin, but who seldom heard it outside of school and
home.  He was a fleet runner, and had ably filled the position of
left fielder when Scranton carried the school colors to victory over
Allandale in that last heart-breaking game.  Besides these, Joe
Danvers was on deck, doing all sorts of wonderful stunts at throwing
the hammer and taking the long jump, for Joe delighted in a variety
of specialties and did not confine himself to any one particular
thing; also might be seen one Claude Hastings, a chap who was a
regular monkey in his way, and who always kept the crowd laughing by
his antics, such as might be expected of a prize clown at the big
Barnum and Bailey circus.

Yes, and there was Nick Lang, as big as life, running like the wind
around the cinder-path and looking as though he might have a pretty
fair chance to carry off some sort of prize.  Nick had for a long
time been the town bully.  He was not a rich man's son; in fact,
Nick's folks were poor, and some people even thought the big,
overgrown boy should be at work helping to keep the wolf from the
door, instead of still attending high school and making himself a
nuisance to decent folks through his delight in practical jokes and
his bullying propensities.

But even those who detested Nick Lang the most were willing to admit
that he was a pretty fair athlete and could even have excelled along
several lines if only he were able to control that nasty temper of
his and "play fair."

There were two other fellows, who were cronies of Nick's, and who,
apparently, had entered for some of the events, because both Leon
Disney and Tip Slavin were in evidence and hard at work practicing.

Nick secretly hated, even as he also feared, Mr. Leonard, because the
under-teacher had once cowed him and made him "eat humble pie" before
the whole class; but, being a wise as well as pugnacious boy, Nick
managed to keep his feelings under control, and when Mr. Leonard was
around he usually behaved himself.

Later in the afternoon, when most of the boys out for practice had
become more or less tired from their exertions, they gathered here
and there in little bunches to exchange "chaff," and express their
opinions concerning various matters that had a bearing on the coming
tournament.

So Hugh Morgan found himself in a cluster that contained several of
his chums, as well as a sprinkling of other fellows.  A trio of
lively highschool girls hovered near, and occasionally joined in the
conversation.  They were Sue Barnes, whom Hugh usually counted on as
his partner when any dance was given in the country, or at
singing-school during the winter evenings; Ivy Middleton, Thad's
choice for company, because she was both jolly and genial; and pretty
Peggy Noland, whom Owen Dugdale liked, as had also Nick Lang, though
the latter had of late been badly snubbed by the scornful Peggy
because she could not stand for his rowdy ways.

"Mr. Leonard says he's fully satisfied with the way most of the
fellows are showing up," Joe Danvers was saying, about that time.

"Well, we can't afford to loaf, for a fact," remarked Just Smith,
soberly.  "Let me tell you something, fellows.  I was down in Paul
Kramer's sporting emporium just last evening, when who should walk in
but Big Ed. Patterson, the Allandale pitcher, who came so near to
downing us last summer.  He looks as fine as silk, and told me
privately he calculates on carrying off that prize offered for hammer
throwing, because that is his pet hobby, you see.  Yes, and more than
that, he said they were all crazy up at his 'burg' over the big meet,
boys being out practicing every sort of stunt, even to road-running
by moonlight."

"That sounds good to me," Hugh observed, not appearing to show any
sign of alarm over the stirring news.  "It means we'll have a
wonderfully successful affair.  Who carries off the prizes is a
matter for the different schools to take care of, and those of us who
believe in clean, honest sport only hope the best fellows win."

"Huh!" grunted Owen Dugdale, "it goes to show that Allandale is all
worked up over losing the baseball pennant to Scranton, and means to
get even by carrying off the majority of the prizes our committee has
offered for the dozen or more events to be contested for."

"But he also informed me," continued the bearer of news, "that over
in Belleville they were just as much excited as in his town, so that
every fellow who'd entered for any event, even to climbing the
greased pole or the sack race, was diligently practicing his
particular stunt.  Oh! it's just going to be the greatest athletic
tournament ever held in this section of the country, believe me."

Some of the more timid among the boys seemed to think that Scranton
would come out second-best when the great meet was a thing of the
past; but others only found themselves more determined than ever to
win, after learning how their rivals had entered into the affair with
heart and soul.

Hugh's often-expressed motto that the "best man should win" found an
echo in the majority of their hearts, and they vied with each other
in promising to give every ounce of ability to doing Scranton High
credit.

Mr. Leonard came around to have a few words with his boys.  He was a
great favorite with the majority of the scholars under his charge,
and to his clever method of coaching they attributed considerable of
their success on the diamond of recent months.  If only his rules
were strictly adhered to it was possible that Allandale and
Belleville might be due for another rude surprise when they came
over, bent on carrying off the majority of the high honors.

"It is going to be no easy sledding for anybody,--remember that,
fellows," the athletic instructor went on to say, after he had been
told how both adjoining towns entered in the meet were striving with
might and main to excel in every sort of event.  "No matter who wins
he'll only get there by doing his level best.  That's all Scranton
High asks of her representatives.  Let there be no loafing, and if
some of our good friends from A and B succeed in carrying away a few
of the prizes, why, we'll know they earned the right, and are welcome
to their reward.  And now, I'd like to see you runners try one more
ten-minute sprint, every one of you in a bunch, as a sort of wind-up
for the day."

Accordingly they ran off to the starting-point and lined up, each
assuming his particular favorite crouching attitude, which he seemed
to think best fitted for a speedy "get-away" when the signal was
given.

They ran like colts, and some displayed amazing speed, considering
that they had been diligently working out on that same cinder-path
for over two hours, with little intermissions between for resting.

Those who expected to take part in the Marathon did not attempt to
compete with those fleet sprinters, though if they were pressed
doubtless they too could give quite an exhibition of fast running.

But Mr. Leonard had taken great pains to inform them that the
successful long-distance runners always take things moderately easy
in the beginning of a race, preserving as much vigor as possible for
the gruelling finish.  The chief idea was to keep just behind the
pace-maker, and be ready to rush to the front when on the
home-stretch.  The fellow best able to preserve his full powers for
that last half-mile dash would be the one to carry off the honors.

Nick Lang was there with the rest, watching Hugh out of the tail of
his eye, as if he considered that in the other he would find his
chief competitor; possibly he hoped to be able to pick up valuable
points by keeping watch and ward on Hugh.  Hugh had even consulted
Mr. Leonard with regard to making use of his knowledge concerning
that "cut-off."  In fact, he wanted to lay any doubts that may have
arisen in his own mind concerning its being perfectly legitimate that
he should profit by such knowledge.

The athletic instructor assured him he was keeping fully within the
conditions of the race in so doing.

"It is any competitor's privilege to go over the route as often as he
pleases," was the way Mr. Leonard put it; "and so long as he conforms
to the rules, such as keeping on his own feet every yard of the way,
accepting no lift from wagon or car, and registering faithfully at
the several stations provided, he has done all that is expected of
him.  If by crossing a field he thinks he can cut off fifty feet or
more he is at liberty to make the attempt, although it may cost him
dear, through his meeting with some unexpected obstacle in his
progress, which would not have occurred had he stayed by the road.
Some fellows might believe they could do better than trying to cross
by way of that overgrown quarry road.  Yes, you are keeping well
within the letter of the law in choosing your own way of going, Hugh.
Have no fears on that score, my boy."

Mr. Leonard liked Hugh Morgan exceedingly; though that was not to be
wondered at, because Hugh was one of those boys who would never stoop
to do a tricky thing, no matter what allurements it held out; he
always "played square," and even won the high regard of his rivals in
many cases.

When the October sun had reached the horizon the multitude of
contestants and spectators commenced to string back to town, for it
would soon be getting near supper time; and no fellow likes to be
late at the table, especially when he feels as hungry as a bear,
after exercising so violently for hours.

Hugh was starting off alone, when Thad Stevens called out that he'd
like the other to "hold up a minute," until he could overtake him;
because it happened he had something to communicate which he thought
Hugh ought to know.



CHAPTER V

TREACHERY IN THE AIR

"Hugh, it looks to me like there's a hen on," was what Thad Stevens
said, as he joined his chum.

"That's a queer remark for you to make, Thad," the other chuckled;
"after seeing what's been happening here on our athletic field this
afternoon, I'd be likely to say there were a good many score of hens
setting, each hoping to hatch out one of our dandy prizes next
Saturday."

"Oh! you understand that I mean something crooked going on, Hugh,"
Thad hastened to add.

"That sounds serious enough.  What do you know, Thad?  The chances
are ten to one if anything in the way of trickery is contemplated I
can put my hand on the fellow who's guilty of the same."

"Sure thing, Hugh, and his name is Nicholas in the bargain.  They
call him Young Nick, to distinguish him from his father who's dead
and gone; but sometimes people say he's a regular Old Nick when it
comes to playing mean jokes, and getting into trouble of all kinds."

"What's Nick Lang been up to now, Thad?"

"Oh! just spying on you, for one thing!" exclaimed the other angrily.

"He's welcome to chase around after me as often as he pleases," said
Hugh; "much good will it do him, I'm thinking.  But tell me, why
should he go to all that bother, when my going-out and coming-in
don't interfere with his happiness a whit?"

"Hugh, Nick is on to your scheme for making use of that short-cut
across by way of the old deserted quarry!"

"You don't tell me?" Hugh observed.  "Well, I came near speaking to
him about it myself, Thad.  You see, Nick is entered for the
Marathon, just the same as a number of other Scranton High boys are.
If K. K., Just Smith, and several other fellows are to have the
benefit of that cut-off, if they choose to avail themselves of it,
why shouldn't Nick be included, I've been asking myself?  Yes, and
I'd about concluded it was my duty to let him know; but if, as you
say, he's found out for himself I'll be saved all the bother of
telling."

"He followed you across yesterday, Hugh.  By a mere accident I heard
him telling Tip Slavin, and he seemed to think it a good joke,
because you never once suspected he was spying on you from behind
trees and bushes.  Why, he says he followed you clear across to the
road again."

Hugh shrugged his shoulders.

"Then I give Nick full credit for carrying out a clever piece of
business.  I never once remember suspecting that anybody was around.
But, Thad, what's worrying you?  There isn't anything about that
discovery to excite you."

"Hugh, that boy means to do something mean, and it's got a connection
with the short-cut quarry road in the bargain!"

Hugh turned and looked at the speaker a little gravely.

"I suppose now you've got some good reason for making that
accusation, Thad?" he ventured.

"Yes, I have," came the quick reply.  "I heard him say something to
that other sneak which I couldn't just catch, but it started Tip
laughing like everything.  He slapped a hand down on his knee, and
went on to say: 'Fine, Nick, finer than silk!  I bet you he'll be as
mad as hops if he finds himself caught in such a trap, and loses the
race.  You can depend on me every time.  My affair comes off right in
the start, and I can easy get out there on my wheel long before the
first runner heaves in sight.  I'll coach Pete Dudley in his part,
just as you were saying.  It's the greatest trick you ever hatched
up, Nick, the very greatest!'  Now, you can judge for yourself, Hugh,
whether it's safe for you to try to cross by that same quarry road
when the big Marathon race is on."

Hugh seemed lost in thought for a brief interval.  When he spoke
again there was a settled look of grim determination on his face that
Thad could easily understand, knowing the other as well as he did.

"It isn't my way to show the white feather when the first cold wind
starts to blowing, Thad, and no matter what Nick is planning to do
I'm not going to give him the first chance to profit by my discovery
of that short-cut route from road to road."

"That means you decline to be shoved off the path, does it, Hugh?"

"If I start in that race, as I expect to," Hugh told him, "I intend
to make use of that short-cut, no matter if a dozen Tip Slavins, and
Pete Dudleys are lying in wait to trip me up.  But I'm much obliged
to you all the same, Thad, for your warning.  I'll be on my guard
from this time on, and they're not going to trap me with my eyes
blinded, I tell you that."

Thad seemed to be lost in thought himself for a minute or so.
Possibly he was trying to figure out how he could best serve his
comrade in such an emergency.  The gloomy woods surrounding the old
quarry did not possess any attraction in the eyes of Thad Stevens.
Though he had not shown the same degree of alarm as Horatio and
Julius at the time they heard those remarkable sounds, so like human
shrieks, nevertheless, Thad felt no hankering after another similar
experience.

Still he would brave much in order to help the chum whose interests
were so dear to his own heart.  He did not say what was in his mind,
only looked a bit wise, as he once more turned to Hugh, as though his
mind had been finally made up.

"Just as you think best, Hugh," he went on to say quietly.  "It may
be that one or more of the other fellows will be taking advantage of
that same old road, and there's safety in numbers, you know, they say.
Nick is likely to get his fingers burned if he attempts any of his
silly tricks.  What do you suppose now he could plan to have those
chaps do?  They wouldn't want to really hurt you, because that might
get them in bad with Captain Wambold, our police head.  Can you think
of any fool play he'd be apt to conjure up, such as might make Tip
say it was the best and slickest scheme he'd ever heard about?"

"Nick has so many wild ideas that he's likely to attempt nearly
anything," said Hugh.  "If he could find a good place where a runner
would have to keep to the road I even believe he'd try to dig a deep
pit, and cover the same over, just as the wild-animal catchers do in
Africa, when they go out after big game for the menageries and zoos."

"Why, would that work, do you think, Hugh?" cried the startled Thad,
mentally picturing his chum crashing through a false roadbed, and
dropping down into a deep hole from which, alone and unaided, he
could not hope to escape until much time had elapsed, and all hope of
winning the big Marathon was lost.

"It might have done so if I hadn't chanced to possess a wide-awake
chum, who gave me due warning, and caused me to keep a sharp lookout.
As it is, if I glimpse a suspicious spot in my path I'll fight mighty
shy of the same; or by a big leap give it the go-by.  Of course,
there might be other ways in which they could hope to detain me, such
as dropping down on my shoulders from a tree, and with their faces
covered so I couldn't recognize them."

Thad looked grave.

"Yes, they could do that, for a fact," he admitted.  "Seems to me
you'll have to keep one eye aloft all the while, Hugh, while the
other is watching the ground for treachery.  I must say this is a
fine state of affairs.  Not only does Scranton High have to go smack
up against all the best runners of Allandale and Belleville, but be
on the lookout for treachery at home besides.  I'd give something to
be one of a bunch of indignant fellows to take Nick Lang and his two
pals out to the woods some fine night, and give the same a coat of
tar and feathers, or else ride them on a rail.  They're a disgrace to
the community, and Scranton ought to take them in hand right away.
That boy will set the town on fire yet I'm thinking, with his
desperate tricks."

"He will, unless he soon sees a light, and turns over a new leaf,"
admitted Hugh, who, it seems, had an idea of his own in connection
with the said Nick, which, perhaps, he might find an opportunity to
work out one of these days; but which he did not care to confide to
his chum, because he knew Thad would be apt to consider it
impossible, perhaps foolish.

"There they go now, Hugh," suddenly remarked Thad in an undertone.
"You see, he has both Tip and Leon along with him, and they're
grinning as they look over this way.  I warrant you Nick has been
elaborating on that fine scheme of his; and, in anticipation, they
can already see you held up in that lonely place, kicking your toes
at the bottom of a miserable pit, or else tied to a tree."

"Don't scowl so savagely, Thad," warned Hugh.  "There's no need of
letting them understand we're on to their game.  The advantage always
lies in catching the other fellow off his guard.  Let's laugh while
we walk past, as if we'd been figuring out how a certain prize was
already dangling close to our fingertips."

So Thad managed to "take a brace," profiting by the sage advice of
his comrade; and, as they passed Nick and his two cronies, Hugh
remarked as pleasantly as he could:

"I've been watching you run to-day, Nick, and I honestly believe you
are right up with the top-notchers in the game.  There may be some
surprises next Saturday for those who think they've got it all
figured out who's going to win the prizes.  And Nick, as far as I'm
concerned, I'd like to see you take the long-distance prize, honestly
and cleanly, if I can't get it myself.  You're a representative of
Scranton High, Nick, and we're all out to see the old school do
herself proud."

Nick seemed taken aback by these hearty words on the part of the
fellow whom he had so long sought an opportunity to injure.  He shot
a hasty glance, accompanied by the uplifting of his heavy eyebrows,
toward his companions, who, thereupon, catching a sly wink, perhaps,
both chuckled audibly as though amused.

"Oh!  I've already as good as copped that Marathon prize," Nick went
on to say, at the same time thrusting out his chin in his customary
aggressive and boastful fashion.  "I calculate to give the folks some
surprise by the ease with which I'll come in away ahead of the next
competitor.  There'll be a wheen of those who also ran, bringing up
the tail of the procession.  Long-distance is my best suit, and I've
waited a while to show up certain chaps in this town who think they
are just the thing.  Don't worry about me, Morgan; Nick Lang
generally gets there when he throws his hat into the ring."

At that the other two laughed uproariously, as though they thought
the joke too good for anything.  Possibly they took Nick's reference
to "those who also ran" to mean Hugh Morgan particularly; and in
their minds they could see him desperately trying to break his bonds;
or climb up out of the deep pit into which he had gone crashing when
the covered mattress, formed of slender twigs and dead leaves, had
given way under his weight.

Hugh and Thad walked on, the latter fairly boiling with
illy-suppressed anger.

"That fellow always gives me a pain, Hugh," he was saying, as they
increased the distance separating them from the still merry trio in
the rear.  "He is really the meanest boy you could find in all the
towns of this country.  But fellows like him sometimes catch a
Tartar; so, perhaps, it might happen in this case," and Thad, who
evidently had something on his mind, would not commit himself
further, as they walked on in company.



CHAPTER VI

THE PROWLER

There had been considerable of a change in connection with the big
open field where the boys of Scranton were allowed by the town
council and mayor to play baseball, and also football, since summer
waned.  Somehow the success that attended the work of Scranton High
in the battles of the Three Town League, as narrated in an earlier
volume of this series, seemed to have stirred up many of the leading
citizens.  Besides, Mr. Leonard, the efficient under-principal of the
high school, with a genuine love and sympathy for all boys in his
heart, had kept things at boiling pitch.

Consequently there was, first of all, a move made to lease that
splendid field for a long term of years, from the owner, so that the
young people of Scranton might have some central place to gather for
all sorts of outdoor games and sports.

So subscriptions were started looking to collect a fund with which
not only to erect some sort of decent grandstand, but a building that
would contain a number of conveniences such as most athletic grounds
and similar institutions can boast.

This building had now been completed, and the boys were in full
possession.  It contained, among other things, a score and more of
lockers, where the one who paid a small fee could keep his "fighting
togs," as Thad Stevens was wont to term his baseball clothes, or it
might be the scanty raiment he wore when exercising on the athletic
field, running, or boxing, or wrestling.

Each boy who hired such a locker, of course, carried the key to the
same; and when engaged in practice work rested easy in the belief
that his street garments were securely taken care of.

There was also a shower-bath and a pool in the building, as well as
several other conveniences that could be used in the summer time
during the hot weather.  The boys arranged to take turns in shifts
with regard to keeping the building clean, and thus far the scheme
had worked very well; for the town did not care to go to the extra
expense of hiring a custodian.

Besides this, a high fence was ordered to be built around the entire
grounds, for most other towns had their athletic fields enclosed.  It
would keep the rowdy element from disturbing the players when any
game was in progress; and, as a small admission fee might often be
asked, having one or two gates through which admission to the grounds
could be obtained would facilitate matters greatly.

But this was not all.  Scranton had awakened to the fact that Nature
had been rather unkind to her young people, in that there was no
large lake, or even so much as a small river close by her borders.
When the boys and girls of the town felt inclined to skate after a
sharp freeze along about New Year's Day, they had to walk all the way
out to Hobson's mill-pond, situated between half and two-thirds of a
mile away.  This was not so bad for some of the sturdy chaps, but
there were others who disliked taking such long tramps, especially
after violent exercising for hours, it might be, on the ice.

So, after mature deliberation, and receiving valuable suggestions
from Mr. Leonard, as well as others who had seen similar things
successfully carried out in various places, it had been arranged to
flood the field after winter had fully set in.  Then, during the time
of severe weather, the young folks would have a splendid sheet of ice
right at their doors, a comfortable retreat into which they could go
to warm up, or to put on and remove their skates.

Here various games were expected to be indulged in, as the weather
permitted; and already a fine hockey Seven had been organized, under
the leadership of Hugh Morgan, with a promise of many exciting games
against rival teams.

The high board fence was being erected, but would hardly be completed
before Spring; still, it gave an air of business to the grounds, and
the boys had already begun to congratulate themselves over the great
stride forward Scranton had taken in the way of catering to her
rising population.

Of course, there were those in the town--you can always find a few in
every community--who seriously objected to so much "good money being
wasted," as they termed it, on such trivial things, when Scranton
really needed an up-to-date library building in place of the poor
apology for one that had to serve.

These people, doubtless from worthy motives, though they were
short-sighted in their opposition, lost no opportunity for running
down the entire enterprise.  The person who, perhaps, had more
influence than any of the others, and was more vehement in deriding
the "foolish expenditure of funds along such silly lines, instead of
trying to elevate the standard of reading among Scranton's young
people," was the rich widow, Mrs. Jardine.

She had a son named Claude, whose life was rendered miserable by the
lofty ambition of his mother to make him a genius.  She never ceased
talking upon all sorts of elevating subjects; and where other boys
were allowed to lead normal lives, and have lots of innocent if
strenuous fun during vacations, and holidays, poor Claude led a life
of bondage.

He was rather an effeminate-looking boy, tall and slender, with a
face entirely destitute of color such as would indicate abounding
spirits and good health; but it was no wonder, everyone knew how he
was being made such a "sissy" of by his doting "mamma."

Despite all this there seemed to be a spark of ordinary boyish
spirits concealed under Claude's superior airs.  He sometimes stood
and watched the other fellows engaged in playing prisoner's base, or
some such rough-and-tumble game, with envy.  Once upon a time his
mother, chancing to pass along the street in her fine car, was
horrified to discover her darling Claude actually taking part in some
"rowdy game," in which he scrambled with the rest just as vehemently,
and was, moreover, even worse off than the other boys with regard to
soiled garments and disheveled hair.  Evidently the long suppressed
spirit of the lad had broken bounds, and for once he allowed himself
to be natural.

The other fellows never tired of telling how she had called to him
almost frantically, as though she believed he had become inoculated
with some deadly germ, and must be contaminated, bundling the boy
into the car, and actually crying with dismay when she found that he
actually had a scratch upon his nose, which had been bleeding.  But
it was also noticed that Claude grinned at his late fellow wrestlers
as he was borne triumphantly away, as though to emphasize the fact
that he had, at least, enjoyed one real period of excitement in his
life, to remain as a bright spot for many days.

Hugh had often wondered whether there might not be some way through
which this deluded mother might be shown what a terrible error she
was making in bringing up her boy to be so inane and useless.  He
needed physical development more than any other fellow in Scranton
High.  Constant feeding upon lofty ideas, and never given a chance to
develop his muscles, was wrecking his health.  Mr. Leonard had even
gone to Mrs. Jardine and entreated her to let him undertake a
moderate programme of athletic exercises with Claude; but he might as
well have tried to lift the high-school building as to make her
change her set ideas.

Hugh and Thad had been out on a particular night after supper,
visiting another boy who chanced to live on the outskirts of town.
He had received a wonderful collection of curios from an uncle living
out in India, after whom he had been named; and upon being especially
invited over to view these things, which included a wonderful
assortment of rare postage stamps, the two chums had made it a point
to accept, being greatly interested in all boyish "hobbies."

That was how they happened to be passing along the road close to the
athletic grounds about half-past nine o'clock that same night.

There was a fair moon shining, but objects appeared more or less
misty, as often occurs under such conditions.  The boys had about
exhausted their vocabulary of words that express delight, in
examining the many things of interest shown by "Limpy" Wallace, who
was a cripple, and had to use a crutch, he being also a great admirer
of Hugh Morgan, whom he considered in the light of a hero.

Besides this, both boys were unusually tired after the exertions of
the day, and Thad frequently yawned in a most terrific fashion, as he
walked homeward.  Probably these were the main reasons for their
unnatural silence, as they stalked along side by side; since it is
seldom that two lads will refrain from exchanging opinions on some
subject or other, when in company.

Afterwards, in the light of what happened, they were inclined to
believe that it was exceedingly fortunate they had lapsed into this
queer condition of silence, for, otherwise, they would have missed
something that proved unusually interesting, as well as afforded them
more or less excitement.

It was Thad who discovered it first.  Perhaps he chanced to be
looking that way while Hugh was star-gazing.  At any rate he gripped
his chum suddenly by the arm.

"Sh!  Hugh, what's that yonder, a skulking dog, or a fellow half bent
over?" was what Thad whispered in the ear of his chum.

Both of them had come to a full stop, under the impulse of the
moment; and Thad was pointing a little to the right, which was where
the building erected on the athletic grounds stood, dimly seen in the
mysterious moonlight.

So Hugh, staring quickly, made out the object indicated by his
companion.  Really, he could hardly blame Thad for asking such a
question, because at first it was next to impossible to determine
whether it was a four-footed creature, or a human being who, for some
good reason, was trying to make himself appear as small as possible.

But as Hugh continued to look he saw the other raise himself to his
full height, as though to take a cautious survey of his surroundings.
Then he knew that it was no canine prowling around to discover scraps
thrown aside by the carpenters working on the board fence, as they
ate their noon lunch.

"It's a human being all right, Thad," Hugh whispered, in such a low
tone that even the sharpest pair of ears going could never have
caught the sound ten feet away.

"Man, or boy, Hugh?" asked Thad, copying the example set by the
other, and even bending his head so that his lips might come closer
to Hugh's right ear.

"Can't make that out," he was told.

"But what in the wide world is he trying to do?" pursued Thad, his
curiosity now fully aroused, as the unknown again started to move
forward, pursuing the same strange cautious tactics as before.

"That's what we ought to find out," Hugh told him.  "I don't like the
way he's sneaking around here.  It looks as if he might be up to some
game."

"Oh! perhaps it's a tramp," suggested Thad, as the idea dawned upon
his brain.

"He may be meaning to break into the building, to sleep there
to-night.  I wouldn't put it past a hobo to steal anything he could
find left in the lockers.  Hugh, it's up to us to put a kink in his
rope.  Let's chase after him before he disappears."



CHAPTER VII

CAUGHT IN THE ACT

"Hold on, Thad," continued Hugh, as he put a restraining hand on the
shoulder of his more impulsive chum, "we've got to be careful, or
else he'll learn how we're meaning to spy on him.  Bend over, and do
the grand sneak act."

"He's headed straight for the building, Hugh!" breathed the other, as
he complied with the directions given by the one whom he was
accustomed to look upon in the light of a leader.

"That's right, and I guess he's meaning to crawl inside, if only he
can find a window that's been left unfastened.  Steady now, Thad;
he's stopped under one right now!"

They continued to crouch there and watch what went on, their eyes
glued upon the dimly seen figure of the unknown.  Greatly to the
surprise of Thad, the party stepped to one side, and seemed to be
dragging back a heavy plank, not of any vast length, but sufficiently
long to reach the window when placed on a slant.

"Say, did you notice how he seemed to know just where that plank was
lying, Hugh?" asked Thad deliriously.  "Seems like he must have been
spying out the land by daylight beforehand."

"You're right there," whispered Hugh; "and he acts as if he felt
pretty certain that particular window would be unfastened, in the
bargain."

"Hugh, that settles it," added the other sturdily, as though now
fully convinced.

"Yes, settles what, Thad?"

"Why, it's a _boy_, don't you see, and he must have left that
window unlatched on purpose this afternoon when some of the
fellows were shutting up."

"Wait and see," advised Hugh, although almost convinced of the same
thing himself.

The test was not long in coming.  They could see the other "shinning"
up the sloping plank, as any athletic boy would be apt to do, without
any particular trouble.  Now he had reached the window, and Thad held
his breath in suspense.  He sighed as he heard a slight squeaking
sound.  Evidently the sash which was supposed to be fastened every
night through ordinary prudence, had given way to his hand, when he
exerted some pressure.

"He's going in, Hugh!" Thad observed, again laying a quivering hand
on the arm of his comrade, and then following these words with a low
exclamation of startled wonder: "Oh! look there, what's that queer
glow mean?"

Hugh understood readily enough.

"Why, he's got one of those little handy electric torches, you see,
and is using it so as to get his bearings inside the building."

"Guess you're right, Hugh," admitted the other; "and there, he's
crawling over the sill now, as sure as anything.  Oh! the skunk, what
can he be up to?"

"We'll try and find out," said Hugh, with his usual promptness.  "Now
he's gone further from the window let's be moving along.  That plank
ought to make it easy sledding for fellows like us."

Indeed, it would be hard to find a couple of more athletic boys than
Hugh and his chum.  Their intense love for every type of outdoor
sport had kept them in splendid physical condition, so that their
muscles were as firm as those of an athlete in training.  To make
their way up that sloping board and reaching the open window was
likely to prove a mere bit of child's play with such fellows.

Hugh was the first to ascend.  When he had raised himself so that he
could peep over the window ledge and see within the building he
apparently found the coast clear; for Thad, coming along just behind,
received a gentle prod with a toe, twice repeated, which he knew to
be a signal that all was well.

By the time Thad arrived the other was already well within the room,
having slipped across the window-sill without making the slightest
sound.  All was dark around them, but further on they could see that
weird shaft of light moving this way and that, indicating the spot
where the unknown intruder just then happened to be located.

"He's making for the locker room, don't you see, Hugh?" Thad
ventured, with a perceptible quiver to his low voice.

"Sure thing, and he knows where he's going, in the bargain," the
other went on.

"Of course, it's no hobo, then," continued Thad.  "That scamp knows
every foot of ground under this roof.  You can see it by the way he
keeps straight on.  Hugh, do you think it might be Nick Lang?"

After all, it was only natural for Thad to jump to this conclusion,
because of the evil reputation enjoyed by the boy he mentioned.  Nick
Lang had been the bully and the terror of Scranton for years.  There
was seldom a prank played (from stealing fruit from neighboring
farmers, to painting old Dobbin, a stray nag accustomed to feeding on
the open lots, so that the ordinarily white horse resembled the
National flag, and created no end of astonishment as he stalked
around, prancing at a lively rate when the hot sun began to start the
turpentine to burning), but that everybody at once suspected Nick of
being the conspirator.

Possibly he may not have always been the chief offender; but give Dog
Tray a bad name and he gets the blame of everything that happens
calculated to outrage the respectability of the law-abiding community.

"I thought of him at first," replied Hugh, "but it strikes me that
chap isn't of Nick's build.  You see his light leaves his figure
pretty much in the dark; for he's using it principally to show him
the way, so he won't stumble over any chair, and make no end of a
row."

The two had been stealthily creeping forward all this while, and
were, therefore, gradually diminishing the distance separating them
from the bearer of the electric hand-torch.  Thad had evidently been
consulting his memory concerning something, for presently he again
whispered in his chum's ear:

"Then mebbe it might be Leon Disney, Hugh.  Seems to me that sneak
would be just the one to try some mean trick like this.  And,
besides, I happen to know he bought one of those little vest-pocket
lights down at Paul Kramer's store only three nights ago, because I
saw him testing them and heard him say he'd take it."

"Yes, that looks significant, I must say, Thad.  But I'm trying to
make out what he's done with his head.  Don't you notice he's got it
bundled up with a sort of woollen comforter or something like that?"

"Why, so he has," replied the other; "I tell you what, Hugh, he's
hoping to hide his face, so if he's discovered prowling around in
here no one can say positively that they recognized him.  Leon is up
to all those sly tricks.  He gets ideas like that out of the stories
he's so fond of soaking in."

"Keep still now, Thad, and we'll creep closer," warned the other.

They really had their hands full endeavoring to advance upon the
prowler without making any sort of sound that would arouse his
suspicions.  Hugh realized that if anything of this sort occurred the
other would instantly throw the full glow of his little electric
torch in their direction, and, of course, immediately discover their
presence.  If such a thing happened it might interfere with their
suddenly arranged plan of campaign, and prevent the capture they
contemplated, which would be a grievous disappointment to both boys.

The unknown party had come to a standstill.  He stood there in front
of the long row of new lockers in which the boys who meant to take
part in the principal events of the great athletic tournament kept
their possessions, without which they would be more or less
handicapped in their practice work.

Thad had made another important discovery; indeed, it struck him as
so significant that he could not forbear dragging Hugh down so that
he could place his lips against the other's ear and whisper:

"It's _your_ locker he's trying to open, Hugh, don't you see?"

Hugh, of course, had already noted this circumstance, and felt duly
thrilled, for really it struck him as something more than an
accident, and along the lines of a deep design.  Doubtless, his
active brain started to wrestle with the problem as to why any one
should wish to open his locker, since the only things he kept there
consisted of his running jersey and trunks and shoes.

Could it be possible that this was only some small piece of
spite-work engineered by his old and inveterate enemy, Nick Lang, and
ordered carried out by one of the bully's cronies; while Nick himself
made certain to be in good company, so he could easily prove an alibi
if accused of the mean trick.

It seemed almost too contemptible to be true, since Hugh could easily
purchase other garments down at the sporting-goods store in Scranton.
Still, some mean natures are small enough to love to give "stabs"
that might annoy the recipient; and boys sometimes grow so accustomed
to certain articles of wearing apparel that being compelled to "break
in" a new pair of running shoes might lose Hugh the great race!

He gritted his teeth as a wave of indignation swept over him.  Really
it was high time this contemptible spirit of annoying those he chose
to look upon in the light of enemies was crushed in Nick Lang.  He
had carried on with a "high horse" too long already, and, for one,
Hugh felt as though combined action should be taken against him by
the respectable fellows of Scranton High.

But it was far from Hugh's intention to stand there and see his
locker robbed by such an unprincipled fellow as Leon Disney, if,
indeed, the skulker proved to be the party they suspected.  Possibly
Hugh moved too soon, for it would have been much wiser had he waited
until the sneak thief actually had the locker open, and disclosed his
full intention.

Urged on to action by his indignation, Hugh started forward.  Thad,
realizing that it was his chum's intention to do something radical,
skipped off a little to the right.  He fancied that should the
skulker take the alarm and try to flee, making for the open window in
the rear, he was apt to turn aside and try to pass by; so his move
was intended to block this little game.

It turned out to be needless, for so interested was the fellow with
the flash-light in his work of inserting a key in the lock, and
trying to turn it, that he did not appear to notice anything wrong
until Hugh was close at his elbow.  Then, as Thad slipped around to
one side to cover all lines of retreat, Hugh reached out a hand and
caught hold of the fellow by the shoulder.  At the same time he
exclaimed in a severe voice:

"Well, what are you doing here, I want to know, trying to break into
my locker?"

The other gave a tremendous start, and a low, bubbling cry, half of
fright, and also of disgust, came from his lips.  The woollen muffler
fell from about his face, and, although he snapped off the light just
then by a movement of his thumb, the others had glimpsed his features.

Thad had evidently hit the target in the bull's-eye when he mentioned
his suspicions concerning the probable identity of the skulker.  It
was Leon Disney!



CHAPTER VIII

LEON PROMISES TO REFORM

The startled boy struggled to get free, but Hugh had taken a firmer
grip upon his person, and saw to it that he could not squirm loose.

"Quit your kicking!" cried Thad, indignantly, when one of the
fellow's shoes came in rough contact with his own shins; "or we'll
start something along the same lines!  We know you, Leon Disney, so
there's no use trying to hide your face."

Leaning over, Thad groped around until he managed to find the hand
that held the little electric torch.  This latter article he tore
from the grasp of Leon, and immediately pressed the button that
caused the battery to work.  The intense darkness around them was
dissipated to some degree.  Thad threw the glow directly into the
face of the fellow Hugh was holding.

Leon stopped his desperate struggles.  He realized that the game was
up so far as trying to keep his identity a secret; and, being a most
resourceful sort of chap, he now resorted to another little scheme
which he had undoubtedly thought out, to be used in case he was
discovered, and cornered, while on his night mission.

"Oh! is that you, Hugh?" he burst out, in a shaky voice.  "Say, you
gave me an _aw_ful scare!  I thought it must be some old tramp that
grabbed me, sure I did.  It's all right now, Hugh, and I'm not
wanting to clear out, since I know who you are.  That's Thad, too, I
reckon, holding my little flash-light.  How you did startle me,
though.  I never dreamed anybody was around here when I started to
come back after my watch."

"What's that you say?" gasped Thad; "your watch?  Tell that to the
marines, Leon Disney!"

"But it's so, I tell you.  Thad, it sure is," persisted the other
tenaciously, as though he had laid all his plans for just such an
"accident," whereby his attempt to rob Hugh's locker would be held
up.  "I believe I must have forgotten to take it out of my locker
this evening when I was dressing, after hard work on the field,
running, and practising throwing the hammer.  I never noticed it till
long after supper, and I was afraid of what my dad would say when he
asked me for it in the morning, to take back to the store where he
got it, to exchange for another.  So, Hugh, don't you see, the idea
came to me that mebbe I might be able to get in the building out here
if a window happened to be unfastened; which turned out to be the
case, you know."

"Yes, the very _first_ window you tackled in the bargain, Leon; how
fortunate for you!" sneered the unbelieving Thad.  "And say, you
ought to know that this isn't your locker, because the numbers are
painted big enough on the door for anybody with only one eye to see."

Even this did not appear to disconcert the other boy.  He was a
slippery sort of customer, who always seemed able to find some sort
of ready excuse, or a way to "climb down a tree" when caught in the
act.

He turned, and stared at the number 16 plainly on the door.  Then he
grinned at Thad as he hurriedly went on to explain further; for his
inventive faculties seemed without end when they were exercised in
order to get him out of any bad scrape:

"Well, that shows my first guess was the right one after all.  You
see, Hugh, I knew my number was either 16 or 19, and, for the life of
me, I couldn't tell which.  Of course, if the first belongs to you
when my number is 19, I was foolish to change my mind; though, of
course, even if the key opened your locker I'd have known my mistake
right away.  No harm done, I hope, Hugh?"

Thad made a low, growling sound, as though he put not the slightest
faith in the story Leon was telling.  He knew the other to be utterly
unprincipled, and a willing tool in the hands of Nick Lang; indeed,
there were some things about the sneaky Leon that blunt, honest Thad
hated worse than the bullying propensities of the other boy.

"So you really and truly left your watch in your locker, did you?" he
demanded, with a perceptible sneer in his tones.

"I think I did; in fact, I'm certainly hoping so," Leon hastily
replied; "because if it doesn't happen to be there I don't know where
I could have lost it; and I'll get a fine turning over from dad in
the morning when he asks me for the same to take back, and exchange
for one that keeps decent time."

"Oh!" continued the still skeptical Thad, thinking to corner Leon,
"then, perhaps, you'll prove your words by showing us the inside of
your locker right now?  Number 19 it would be, you said; well, here
it is, on a direct line with Hugh's locker.  Get busy with your key,
Leon, and open up!"

Possibly Thad was confident that the other would not venture to do as
he demanded.  He may have expected him to invent some handy excuse
for not complying; but then the other had already laid the foundation
for a reasonable sense of disappointment in case no watch was
forthcoming when the locker was opened; since he said he _hoped_ he
might have forgotten it when dressing, and not lost it on the way
home that evening at dusk.

Leon started to obey with alacrity, as though he had no fears.  His
key immediately opened the door, and this, upon being swung aside,
revealed a bundle of old athletic garments hastily thrown in without
regard to neatness.

These Leon commenced to eagerly take out, one at a time.  He was
careful how he handled them, as though fearful lest he might toss the
silver watch out, to land on the floor with disastrous results.

As he picked up such various articles of wearing apparel as used by
an athlete in training, Leon continued to air his grievances, as
though he meant Hugh to understand how utterly impossible it was for
him to have intended any mean thing by breaking open a locker other
than his own:

"It was silly of me getting those numbers mixed in my head, of
course; but then a figure nine is only a six turned upside down, you
see.  I was so worked up over missing my clock that I just couldn't
think straight at all.  Well, it isn't under that jersey, anyhow; nor
yet covered by those trunks.  I remember now I pushed it away back,
so I couldn't drag it out.  There's an old sweater I use when I'm
overheated, and afraid of taking cold; mebbe now it's under that."

Reaching further in, Leon caught hold of the article in question, and
carefully drew it toward him.   Then he as cautiously lifted the torn
sweater; and, as Thad turned the glow of the flash-light directly
into the box they all saw the watch reposing in the corner, just as
the boy had left it.

Leon made a clutch for his property.  He over-did the matter, Hugh
thought, acting in an exuberant fashion.

"Oh! mebbe I'm not joyful over getting my hands on you again, you
poor old time-keeper!" he exclaimed, as he snatched the silver watch
up and shook it, as though any fault could be attached to the article
in question.  "A fine chase you've given me to-night; and playing the
part of sneak-thief in the bargain; but then, of course, you believe
what I told you, now, Hugh, since you've seen that the watch was in
my locker?"

Hugh did not care to fully commit himself, it seemed, judging from
the way in which he went on to say:

"We've seen you recover your watch all right, Leon; and it was in
your locker just as you said; but whether you forgot it, or left it
there on purpose, is a question I'm not prepared to settle."

Of course there was no further excuse for Hugh keeping that grip on
Leon's shoulder, so he released his hold, and the other gave a sigh
as of relief at this evidence of a change in policy on the part of
his captor.

"Say, I wish you'd do me a great favor, Hugh," Leon went on to say,
as though he believed in the old maxim that it is wise to "strike
while the iron is hot."

"As to what?" demanded the one addressed in this whining way.

"What's the use of saying anything about this business?" Leon went on
eagerly.  "It certainly wouldn't do any good, and I proved to you
that I did enter here just to recover my watch, didn't I?  But mebbe
it might get to my dad's ears, how I'd gone and been so careless
about looking after my property.  You see, he told me that if I lost
this birthday present he'd not get me another watch till I graduated
from high school; and say, I'm beginning to lose all hope of that
ever happening in my case.  But you will keep mum about it, won't
you, Hugh; just to save me from getting up against it rough with my
strict dad?"

It sounded like a reasonable request, Hugh must have thought.
Besides, no matter what the intentions of Leon may have been, there
had really been no harm done, owing to the fact of their being drawn
to the spot by discovering his skulking figure dimly outlined in the
moonlight.

Hugh considered before committing himself to making any reply.  He
did not believe most of what the other so glibly declared, partly
because he knew very well that Mr. Disney was not a strict parent at
all, but a most indifferent one, or he would never have allowed his
young hopeful to go in the company of Nick Lang, and take part in
many of the other's practical jokes.  Some of these had bordered on a
serious nature, like the time the electric current was shut off
abruptly when the graduation exercises were going on at night-time in
the big auditorium in the high-school building; and the ensuing utter
darkness almost created a panic among the audience, composed
principally of women and young people, the wires having been severed,
it was later discovered, at a point where they entered the building.

"I'll say this, Leon," he finally told the waiting boy; "I'll keep
quiet about this little thing for three days, and then feel free to
mention it, if the necessity arises.  I'll make a further bargain
with you to this effect; you fight shy of the company of Nick Lang
after this, and I'll hold my tongue as long as I understand that
you've cut his acquaintance; otherwise, I'll feel free to speak; and
there are lots of people in this town who'll believe you had some
dark motive back of your breaking into this building to-night.  Your
reputation is against you, Leon, you understand.  Another fellow
might enter here, and everybody would believe what he said; but
you've long ago lost the confidence of everybody worth while in
Scranton.  Is it a bargain, then?"

Leon replied with alacrity; but then that was no sign that he meant
to keep his word.  He had been caught in a downright lie on many
another occasion; so Hugh did not place much reliance on his promise
to reform.

"Oh! as to that, Hugh," said the crafty Leon, "I've been figuring on
cutting away from Nick for a long time now, and I guess I'll do it.
He's got me in lots of nasty scrapes, you understand, and then just
laughs at me.  I'd have given him the shake long since, only he
threatened to whip me black and blue if I ever did.  But this would
be a good chance to try it out.  Yes, I'll promise you to try and
break away from Nick; and I hope you'll keep mum about my coming here
to-night.  If you don't mind, Thad, I'd like to have my flashlight
now.  And I ought to be going back home in the bargain, because dad
doesn't like me to be out nights unless he knows where I'm at."

Thad chuckled as though he considered this last remark in the light
of a joke; for Leon roamed the streets until a late hour every night
he chose; but, as there was no need of their staying longer, they
passed out of the window, and headed toward their respective homes.



CHAPTER IX

SCRANTON IN GALA ATTIRE

That was, indeed, a busy Friday with the students of Scranton High.
Lessons had been tabooed entirely, for what was the use of trying to
hold the attention of the scholars upon dry subjects when their
thoughts continually roamed afield, and seemed concerned only with
what great things were scheduled for the next afternoon?  Still, they
gathered at school, which was a sort of general headquarters where
the various committees appointed could consult, and go forth to the
work assigned to their particular charge.

The girls were just as enthusiastic as the boys, and demanded equal
representation upon a number of the said committees, especially the
ones designed for the welcome and entertainment of the vast crowds
expected to be present from neighboring towns and villages.

It was going to be an event long to be remembered in Scranton, and
the town dressed in gala attire in honor of the occasion.  Flags and
banners were being displayed as though a great wave of patriotism had
overwhelmed the place.  If a stranger had suddenly dropped down on
the town just then he must have believed American soldiers were on
the fighting line across in France, and that news had been cabled
over to the effect that they had met the enemy in their first
engagement, and won a decisive victory.

The fairly good town brass band had promised to be on hand, and play
during the best part of the afternoon.  Then there would be a host of
refreshment booths at which Scranton's fairest daughters would
preside, accompanied in each instance by a matron of mature years, to
lend dignity to the occasion.  Here the good folks from Allandale,
Belleville and other places, who honored the town with their presence
would always be warmly welcomed, and given a cup of delicious tea,
coffee or chocolate, as they preferred, accompanied with sandwiches
galore, and even cake.

Meanwhile it was planned that those who meant to take part in any of
the events on the long programme should have a last "workout" that
Friday afternoon.  Saturday morning it was intended they should rest
up, so as to be in the pink of condition when the meet opened at one
o'clock.

That might seem to be an early hour, as some had argued, but the
programme was so extended that there was a possibility of darkness
creeping up on them before the fifteen-mile Marathon, the greatest
event of the day, had been fully completed.

During that energetic morning at school, when boys and girls were
hustling to carry out the part of the work entrusted to them, Hugh
had managed to keep an eye on Leon Disney from time to time.  He felt
pretty certain that the tricky boy had no intention of fulfilling the
promise he had made under duress, and while a threat of exposure hung
over his head, like the famous sword of Damocles, suspended by but a
single hair.

Leon watched Hugh also, and tried to act in a manner calculated not
to arouse suspicion; but Hugh understood from his actions how matters
probably stood.  Leon had, of course, managed to see Nick Lang before
coming to school, and explain to him what a bad fix he had managed to
get himself in when caught in the act of breaking into Hugh Morgan's
locker at the athletic grounds building.

No doubt it had been artfully arranged between the precious pair that
Leon was to seem to keep his distance away from Nick; and if at any
other time the latter joined a group amidst whom Leon chanced to be
standing the other was to immediately move away in an ostentatious
fashion that would cause Hugh to believe he meant to keep his given
word.

But several times Hugh felt certain he detected sly winks exchanged
between Nick and his apparently estranged pal; which could only mean
that Leon was playing a double game.  Still Hugh did not bother
telling anyone about the affair of the preceding night.  No harm had
really been done, fortunately, and Leon might hold his evil
propensities in check for a while if he had reason to fear disclosure.

The committees were wearing their badges proudly, and every member
seemed desirous of doing everything in his or her power to render the
athletic tournament a wonderful success.  Nothing like it had ever
been attempted in the county, and for that reason they were compelled
to look up all manner of accounts in papers and magazines, in order
to do things properly.

Mr. Leonard was a great help, for he, being a Princeton graduate, and
interested in all manner of athletics for years, had kept in touch
with such things.  Then from various other unexpected sources
assistance cropped up.  Why, even old Doctor Cadmus, the leading
physician of Scranton, proved to be a walking encyclopedia of
knowledge concerning the management of such an event; and it turned
out that several times long years before, in another community
entirely, he had had full charge of just such a tournament; also that
he had many articles laid away telling of the modern innovations that
had displaced the older method of doing things.

After lunch the young people began to gather on the field by squads
and battalions, and it was soon quite an animated sight, with the
girls circulating around in gaily dressed bunches, and the various
candidates going through their various stunts under the personal
supervision of Mr. Leonard.

There had been more or less talk concerning the advisability of
allowing school boys to undertake such a long Marathon race.  Fifteen
miles, many thought, was far too strenuous an undertaking for lads as
yet in their teens.  Full-fledged athletes only run twenty miles in
all the famous long-distance races, and even at that numbers of them
do not finish, the task being too much for them.

But Mr. Leonard was of a different opinion, and he had his way.  One
thing, however, he did insist on.  This was that each and every
candidate entering for the Marathon fetch along with him a paper from
his family physician, stating that he had undergone a rigid
examination to ascertain whether he was in the pink of condition, and
without the slightest heart trouble.

Doctor Cadmus gladly examined all the Scranton fellows free of
charge, and it was given out to the neighboring towns, from whence
aspiring runners hailed, that the lack of such a physician's
certificate would debar any candidate from the race.

Hugh, along with several other fellows, intended to take a run of
from seven to ten miles over the course that Friday afternoon.  They
did not wish to follow out the entire course, as that might injure
their prospects for the next day, so Mr. Leonard convinced them.  But
half the distance would be apt to keep their muscles in good trim.

Before making a start, however, Hugh wished to hang around, and watch
what the other fellows were doing.  He was deeply interested in the
hammer throwing, as well as the sprinting, and, after seeing how well
the boys acquitted themselves, felt more than ever assured that
Scranton High would pull down quite a number of the fine prizes
offered to successful competitors.

It was while things were thus booming that a car rolled past on the
main road leading out of town.  Hugh noticed it particularly, for he
chanced to be over at that side of the extensive field.

There was a chauffeur at the wheel, and in the tonneau a lady and a
boy sat, in whom Hugh quickly recognized Claude Jardine and his
mother.  She held her face deliberately away from the bright scene,
as though appalled to know that so many parents in Scranton were so
unwise, almost foolish, as to allow their sons to participate in such
antics; and their daughters to attend the same.

But Hugh chuckled when he saw Claude give a quick look up at his
mother, as if to make certain she was not looking; after which he
leaned forward and stared hard and eagerly at the wonderful picture
that athletic field presented.  Hugh had good eyesight, and he could
detect the longing expression in the effeminate features of the boy
whose mother seemed bent on making him a weakling and a "sissy."

"Poor Claude, I certainly do pity you," Hugh was telling himself as
the big car rolled on amidst a cloud of dust.  "Deep down in your
heart you are yearning to be as other natural boys are, who have red
blood in their veins.  If your dad had lived I warrant there'd be a
different story to tell, because they say he liked all kinds of
healthy sport; but, somehow, Mrs. Jardine has taken a dislike to such
things that seems to keep growing stronger all the time, until it's
become a regular mania with her.  But unless she changes her mind
there'll be a day coming when she'll bitterly regret it all.  I
suppose now, if she had a daughter she'd prevent her from associating
with Sue, and Ivy, and Peggy, as well as all the other high-school
girls whose mothers actually allow them to go to dances with us boys,
and even cheer the Scranton players in a rattling good baseball game."

There was an air of feverish expectation rampant throughout the whole
town, and wherever young people got together the talk was of nothing
else save the great event on the programme for the next day.  Even
many older persons seemed to have become infected with the sporting
virus, because memories of other days were being recalled; and it was
remarkable how many elderly men had once been deeply interested in
just such things, though, of course, along somewhat less modern lines.

Then again there was an undercurrent of talk that carried a thrill
along with it.  Stories that could not be confirmed, but were
believed more or less, began to be circulated to the effect that some
irresponsible parties meant to start something during the tournament
that was calculated to bring disrepute upon the town of Scranton.  It
was even darkly hinted that the partly built, new, wooden fence had
been set on fire as a lark; and squads of curious boys and girls even
circulated along its entire length, bent upon ascertaining if such a
thing could really be true.

When they failed to find any evidence of a fire, they were still
unconvinced; for, of course, it would be policy on the part of the
management to conceal all traces, so as to save the good name of the
town.

These rumors could not be traced to any particular source, but there
are always a certain number of persons who delight to circulate such
stories, and, perhaps, unconsciously, add a little to the same with
each and every additional telling, until a trivial happening becomes
a colossal thing.

That the committee in general charge of the great undertaking
cherished some sort of fear that some daring outrage might be
attempted by boys who were not connected with the high school was
evident from the fact that they had had warning notices printed at
the office of the _Weekly Courier_, notifying all boys who might
contemplate playing any sort of practical joke during the holding of
the carnival that Chief Adolph Wambold, the head of the local police,
would have his entire force on the grounds, and such offenders would
be harshly treated, if detected.

The afternoon was well along when Hugh was approached by "Just"
Smith, one of the candidates who meant to try for the Marathon prize.

"Several of the boys are meaning to start off on that seven-mile
spin, Hugh," the other announced as he came up; "and they want you to
come along.  We can start together, and then separate, as we feel
disposed;" and, as this suited Hugh, he agreed.



CHAPTER X

WHEN MUSCLES COUNTED

There were four of them who made the start, Hugh, "Just" Smith,
Horatio Juggins, and "K. K.," the Kinkaid boy.  Three of the bunch
had been fielders in the baseball nine that carried off the
championship pennant of the three-town high-school league the
preceding summer; and, having been known as great runners, it was
only natural that they had felt impelled to enter for the
long-distance race.

An equal number could be expected from both Allandale and Belleville,
so that with others who would feel disposed to, at least, be in at
the start, though calculating to fall out after a few miles had been
run, possibly a full score would toe the string at the time the great
Marathon was called.

In an event of this nature a big "field" adds to the excitement of
the occasion; and it is often noticed that those who have no
intention of finishing usually look the most confident during the
preparations for making the grand start.  Well, they have no hope of
getting any fun out of the race after losing sight of the crowd, and
so they mean to take what they can beforehand.

Talking is almost tabooed during such a race, since every breath lost
in useless conversation saps so much energy.  Even on a trial run Mr.
Leonard had advised the boys to separate as soon as possible, and
keep some distance apart, mostly to obviate this temptation to
exchange views; so that each candidate could conserve every atom of
his powers.

So it came about that by the time two miles had been run Hugh found
himself absolutely alone.  Hugh had left the main thoroughfare, and
was passing along a byroad that would take him around through the
hilly country, until the Scranton turnpike was again reached.

The other fellows had the option of doing as Hugh did, or they could
continue on further, and, perhaps, get a lift back home on some
farmer's wagon, or possibly a car bound for Scranton.  Hugh had an
idea, however, that one of them was coming along the same road a mile
or more behind, and that it would turn out to be "Just" Smith.  Some
words the other chap had uttered when they were together before
starting forth on the run gave Hugh this impression, though he could
not be positive about it.

At the time, it gave him little concern; but then he could not look
into the immediate future, and see what it held for him.  The coming
of "Just" Smith would yet turn out to be an event of the first
magnitude in Hugh's humble opinion; as the reader will soon learn.

Hugh was jogging along nicely, and had long ago caught his second
wind.  He kept "tabs" upon himself, in order to know just how his
energy held out, and if he was likely to be in condition for the
gruelling finish that might become necessary, over the last half mile
of the long course, should a visiting runner threaten to head the
list with the goal in sight, and the thousands of eager spectators
bursting out with cheers calculated to thrill the heart, and give
fresh impetus to wearied limbs.

On the whole, Hugh felt fairly well satisfied with himself.  He knew
he had gone about as fast as ordinary runners would care to travel,
who wished to conserve their strength toward the close of the race;
and that he was holding back a good reserve stock of energy.  Yes, he
believed he was at his best, and if he failed to land the prize it
was because some fellow was a better runner than he could ever hope
to be.

Just then he heard a sound that gave him a sudden thrill.  It was
like a faint human cry for help, uttered in a weak voice, and seemed
to come from his right.

Hugh stopped short.

His first inclination was to instantly dash from the road and
endeavor to discover what caused that cry.  Then he had a wave of
suspicion dart over him.  Could this be a sly trick on the part of
some enemy, meant to lure him into the brush and rocks, where he
could, perhaps, be overpowered?  But Nick, as well as his two
satellites, Leon Disney and Tip Slavin, had been on the grounds at
the time Hugh started his run, for he had taken particular notice of
this fact; consequently, it was hardly likely that they could be
concerned in any practical joke; and certainly no other fellow would
be guilty of such a thing.

That decided Hugh.  He left the road, and started toward the spot
where he judged that strange sound had welled forth.  The country was
exceedingly rough just there, and he fancied that some sort of deep
gully, possibly a precipice, might lie off on his right, judging from
the aspect of the land.

Not hearing the sound again, Hugh uttered a loud hello.  Then, as he
continued to press hastily forward, he once more caught the
beseeching cry.  It had an agonizing strain to it, and Hugh could
plainly make out the words:

"Help!  Oh! help! help!"

Someone was evidently in trouble, Hugh decided, accelerating his pace
as well as the conditions of the rough surface of the ground
permitted.  He had taken pains to locate the cry this time, and was,
therefore, altering his course just a little.

Again he called, and once more received a reply, more fearful than
before:

"Hurry!  Oh! hurry, before it gives way, and I'm lost!"

It sounded more like the voice of a girl than anything else.  Hugh
was thrilled at the bare thought of one of the opposite sex being
caught in a trap whereby life itself was imperiled.

He had been ascending all this time.  From a single look, which he
cast over his shoulder, he could see the road he had lately come
along, trace its course, in fact, until it was lost at a bend half a
mile away.

He noted that a runner had just turned that same bend, and was
jogging along in a rhythmic, contented fashion, as though satisfied
with the progress he was making; although "Just" Smith would have to
speed up considerable on the morrow if he wished to be anywhere near
the head of the procession when the race neared its close.  Hugh,
somehow, fixed the fact of his comrade's presence on his mind.  He
even mentally figured just how long it was likely to take the other
to reach the spot where he himself had left the road; for, perhaps,
that circumstance might loom up large in his calculations.

Then he arrived at the brink of what seemed to be a precipice.  The
presence of this told Hugh plainly the nature of the task that
awaited him.  Someone had undoubtedly fallen over the brink, and was,
even then, hanging on desperately to some jutting rock or bush that
represented the only hope of safety from a serious fall.  He threw
himself down and thrust his head out over the edge.  What Hugh saw
was enough to give any boy a thrill of horror.  Some ten feet below
the top a human figure sprawled, kicking with his legs in the
endeavor to find a brace for his feet.  He was clinging to a bush
that seemed to be growing from the face of the precipice, and which
Hugh could see was slowly but surely giving way, one root after
another losing its grip in the soil and rocky crevices.

Hugh recognized the imperiled boy instantly, though utterly amazed at
his discovery; he could not understand for the life of him how Claude
Jardine, of all fellows in Scranton, could be placed in such a
dreadful predicament.

But Hugh did not waste a single precious second in trying to solve
that puzzle; it could be all made plain after he had managed to save
the poor chap.

"Stop kicking, and keep perfectly still, Claude!" he instantly called.

"But it's going to give way, and let me drop!" wailed the terrified
boy.

"It'll do that all the sooner if you keep moving as you are," Hugh
told him sharply, with the tone of authority that one accustomed to
command might use.  "I'm coming down after you, so don't be afraid.
Can you hold on just ten seconds more?"

"I'll try to, but, oh! hurry, please!" came the trembling answer.

Already Hugh was passing over the edge.  He took care not to make a
false movement, for the precipice was all of forty feet in depth, and
a fall on the rocks below was bound to be a serious matter.

To lower himself to where the imperiled boy clung he had to take
advantage of numerous projecting points of rock that offered him a
foothold, or a place where he could hang on with his hands.  Hugh was
as nimble as any boy in Scranton, which fact proved of great
advantage to him just then.  Had it been otherwise, he might have
himself fallen, and there would then have been a double tragedy.

Somehow, through Hugh's mind flashed the memory of how Claude's
doting mother had always, on every occasion, condemned all athletic
exercises that were intended to build up the muscles, and give new
power to the body.  It seemed the irony of fate that the life of her
precious boy was now going to hang upon the ability of Hugh Morgan to
sustain himself, and the weight of another, there upon the face of
that rocky precipice!  Perhaps in times to come Mrs. Jardine would
discover how false her ideas were, and experience a radical change of
heart.  The opportunity which Hugh had once sighed for had come to
him in a most wonderful way.

He succeeded in making his way down in safety, though once he
slipped, and had a thrill of alarm pass over him.  Now he found
himself alongside Claude.  The boy's face was the color of ashes;
Hugh had never looked upon a corpse in all his life, but he could not
help comparing Claude's pallid countenance to one.

He was glancing around with the eye of a general who lets nothing, no
matter how trivial, escape him.  Just a foot below Claude's dangling
toes there was a narrow ledge.  If only both of them could find
lodgment upon this; and have some hold above for their hands, they
might maintain their position until Hugh's shouts attracted "Just"
Smith to the spot, and he could do something to aid them.

"Listen, Claude," he said earnestly.  "There's a way to save you, if
only you keep your head about you.  'Just' Smith is coming along the
road, and I'll shout out to guide him here so he can help us."

"But--the bush is going to give way right off!" gasped the terrified
boy.

"Well, below us there's a ledge where we must plant our feet, and
hold on," continued Hugh, convincingly.  "I'm going to drop down to
it now.  Then you must try to lower yourself along the bush, inch by
inch, until you feel the ledge under you.  Don't be afraid, because I
mean to grab hold of you; but when you feel me touching you, above
all things don't let go above, or you'll throw us both down.  Now, be
ready, Claude; and, remember, it's going to be all right.  Keep cool!"

Of course, Hugh only said that last to reassure the poor chap.
Claude was already cold with fear, as cold as an icicle, in fact; and
quaking with fear in the bargain.

It was easy enough for Hugh to drop down another foot or so, until he
felt the solid little ledge under him.  Indeed, had it been
necessary, such an agile fellow very likely might have continued all
the way down to the base of the precipice.

His next move was to find a firm hold for his left hand, to which he
could continue to cling while he sustained much of the weight of the
other boy, after the weakened roots of the bush gave way entirely.

Claude was trying to do what he had been told, though in rather a
bungling fashion.  Inch by inch he allowed the bush to slip through
his hands, looking down as well as he was able at the same time, in
order to ascertain just how near he might be to that same ledge Hugh
had told him of.



CHAPTER XI

THE CRISIS IN CLAUDE'S LIFE

Hugh kept a watchful eye on that bush.  He knew it was going to give
way presently, when, unless Claude had managed to secure a fresh grip
on some object with his poor scratched hands, he was likely to be
dashed downward.

Fortune was, however, kind in that respect, for there chanced to be a
nice projection of rock, somewhat in the shape of a horn, just in the
right place for Claude to seize upon, and which would help sustain
his weight.  Hugh knew very well, though, that most of the burden
would fall upon him; and he, therefore, prepared to accept it.

"Here, reach out with your left hand, Claude, and take hold of this
rock.  Your feet are both safely anchored on the ledge.  Keep up your
grit, and everything will be all right yet.  Do you understand what
I'm telling you, Claude?"

"Yes, I do, Hugh," chattered the other, for his teeth were rattling
together in a way that reminded Hugh of the "Bones" at the end of a
minstrel line; if he had ever seen a Spanish stage performance he
would have said they made a sound like castanets in the hands of the
senorita who gave the national Castilian dance.

Claude really managed to carry out that part of the task with a fair
amount of success.  His other hand still gripped the bush, which
continued to gradually give way under the long and severe strain.

Hugh braced himself.  He had taken as firm a hold as was possible,
and had his other arm thrown around Claude.

"Steady, now, Claude, it's almost gone.  When you feel it give way,
try and make use of your right hand to find some other rocky point
where you can hold on.  I think there's one such on the other side of
you.  Above all, don't struggle, or you may throw me off my balance,
and then it's good-bye to both of us.  Now, be ready!"

Hugh's calculations proved to be correct, for the bush gave way, and
fell with a clatter of small stones and loosened earth, down toward
the bottom of the steep declivity.  Claude uttered a cry of dismay
when he felt his support gone; but luckily he gripped the rocky knob
with his left hand more convulsively than ever, while Hugh sustained
him to the best of his ability.

"That was well done, Claude," Hugh now told him, his main object
being to put a little more confidence in the other boy, and thus
lighten his own load.  "We'll manage to cling here for a bit longer.
When I think 'Just' Smith is getting near by I'll let out a whoop
that is bound to fetch him to our assistance."

One, two, three minutes passed.  It was very trying to Hugh, and
already his muscles began to feel the undue strain keenly.  But he
gritted his teeth, and waited, as it would be only a waste of breath
and energy to shout before the next runner was close enough up to
locate the sound.

Claude was shivering as though he would shake to pieces.  He had
received a dreadful fright, for a fact, and it was having its due
effect upon his never strong frame.  What would his doting mamma
think, and say, Hugh told himself, almost with a chuckle of
amusement, could she see her darling then and there, and realize how
his very life depended upon the strong muscles and will to do things
that Hugh Morgan had developed in himself?

How slowly the seconds passed!  Hugh was trying to count, so as to
judge when the Marathon runner would be likely to have covered that
half-mile, and be at the spot where he, Hugh, had left the road.

When, finally, the time had expired he again spoke to Claude.

"Don't be startled, Claude, because I'm going to shout out.  Hang
tight, now!"

With that he sent out a whoop, and coupled it with the name of "Just"
Smith.  There was no immediate response, but then Hugh had already
discounted this in his mind, remembering how he also had come to a
sudden stop, and listened as though unable to believe his ears.

Again he shouted, and once more uttered the name of the other boy.
This time there came a speedy reply.

"Hello! that you, Hugh?"

"Yes, and I want help right away!" answered the boy who clung there
with a burden on his hands.  "Turn out of the road to the left, and
hurry here.  I'm down a precipice, Just.  Keep coming, and I'll guide
you all right."

So Hugh continued to utter loud shouts every dozen seconds or so.  He
could catch the calls of the advancing runner, and knew from their
increasing loudness that he was gradually getting closer.

Then, looking up, he saw a head projected over the brink above.  He
could easily understand how "Just" Smith's eyes must have almost
started from their sockets when discovering the dreadful position of
the pair below; and especially after he had recognized Claude
Jardine, the last fellow in the wide world whom he would have
expected to see in such a fix.

"H-h-how in the wide world did you get down there, Hugh?" gasped the
boy who leaned over the brink.

"I came down after Claude here, who'd fallen over, and was hanging to
a bush that was giving way," explained Hugh.  "And now it's up to you
to get us both out of this scrape, Just."

"Oh, if only I had a rope!" cried the other, apparently nonplussed.

"Well, wishes won't make one," said the practical Hugh; "and so we'll
have to do without.  But if you look around sharply I think you'll
find a long pole there, for I remember noticing something of the
kind."

The boy above vanished for a brief period, which seemed ages to the
anxious Claude; and even Hugh counted the seconds, for the strain was
something serious.  Then again that friendly head appeared in view.

"You were right, Hugh!" called the Smith boy; "there was such a pole
handy, and I've got the same right here now.  It's plenty long enough
to reach down to you; but I'm wondering however I'll be able to draw
two of you up."

"I don't expect you to, all by yourself, Just," Huge told him.  "Poke
the end of it down here, and keep a good stiff grip on the butt.
Then we'll hold on, and find places to set our feet.  Inch by inch,
and foot by foot, we'll manage to climb up.  You can help a little by
keeping the stick coming, you know."

"I get you, Hugh!" snapped the other eagerly; "and it's sure a right
good scheme.  But be mighty careful you don't slip, either of you.
That fall'd break bones, even if it didn't kill you outright."

"Don't worry about us, Just Smith; pay attention to your part of the
contract, and things are bound to work out first-class.  Lower away,
and don't poke us off our perch, please.  We've only got a risky hold
below here."

So saying, Hugh encouraged the other two to do their part manfully.
Even Claude was shivering less than before, as though a breath of
renewed confidence might have been installed in his heart by this
close contact with such a stalwart chap as Hugh Morgan.  It was going
to be the turning point in Claude's career, of that Hugh felt
positive.  After this thrilling experience he was bound to awaken to
the fact that he was not like other boys of his age; and demand of
his mother that she permit him to participate in the life-giving
outdoor sports that are a part and parcel of boy nature.

They began to climb.  It was slow work, but Hugh would not be
hurried.  Better that they waste time in gaining each foot than by an
unwise step ruin all.  What matter if that arm of his was almost numb
with pain, and he had to press his teeth firmly together in order to
continue to hold up Claude?  If only the other had been a normal boy
he could have helped himself wonderfully; but, as it was, he seemed
as weak and helpless as a kitten that had never opened its eyes as
yet.

Well, half of the distance separating them from the top had been
safely navigated, and so far no accident had occurred.  Hugh kept
encouraging his charge from time to time; and then speaking words
also to the laboring, anxious boy above, directing him just how to
proceed.

Finally they reached the top.  Hugh still ordered "Just" Smith to
hold the pole as he had been doing.  Then he managed to push Claude
up so that he could crawl over the edge, which the other did in a
speedy manner, bordering on the ludicrous.

Then, to the surprise, as well as delight of Hugh, what did Claude do
but turn and stretch out a helping hand, as though his first thought
was to assist his rescuer to top the rise; indeed, Hugh's one arm was
so utterly gone that he could hardly count on it for a single thing.
Hugh would not be apt to forget this action on the part of the
"sissy"; it proved what he had all along more than half suspected,
that Claude really did have the making of a genuine boy in him, given
half a chance for it to show itself, and the seed to germinate.  And
Hugh determined that he would make it his particular business to see
that there came a change in Claude's dreary life.  His mother could
hardly refuse anything asked by the one to whom she owed the life of
her son.

Soon the trio lay upon the ground, breathing hard, and trying to talk
at the same time.  Both Hugh and "Just" Smith were consumed with
curiosity to know how Claude happened to get into such a strange
predicament, and he hastened to explain.

After all, there was nothing so very singular about it.  His mother
had stopped in to see an old nurse, who had been in the family many
years but was at the time lying sick at her sister's place.
Something influenced Claude to get out of the big car to take a
little stroll.  Perhaps the sight of all those happy lads running and
jumping and throwing weights had made him feel more than ever his own
narrow, confined life, kept out of the society of all the other boys
after school hours, and made to play the part of a "mollycoddle," as
Roosevelt called all such fellows who have never learned how to take
care of themselves when a bully threatens.

Unused to the woods and hills, of course the first thing Claude did
was to lose all sense of direction.  He became alarmed, and that made
matters worse than ever.  So he had roamed about for almost a full
hour, dreadfully tiring his poor feet and limbs, since he had never
before in all his life walked so far and done such vigorous climbing.

Then he had come to that precipice, and, thinking he might glimpse
the cottage where the old nurse lived, somewhere down in the valley,
he had incautiously crept too close to the brink, when his weight
caused a portion of the soil to give way.  Finding himself falling,
Claude had clutched desperately around him, and, as it happened, his
fingers gripped a friendly bush, to which he continued to cling even
as he struggled to better his condition and shouted as best he was
able.

Hugh finished the story, to the edification of "Just" Smith, who
admitted that if it had not been for the courage and muscular ability
of Hugh the other boy must long ago have fallen to the bottom of the
awful precipice.  And Claude, shivering as he afterwards looked up at
the forty feet and more of rocky wall, vowed he would never rest
satisfied until he too had learned how to develop his muscles so that
if ever again caught in a similar scrape he might have a fighting
chance for his life.

The two boys eventually found the cottage, although Mrs. Jardine and
the car had gone down the road hoping to overtake Claude, though they
were expected back again later; so, leaving Claude there, Hugh and
"Just" Smith continued their seven-mile run.



CHAPTER XII

STARTLING NEWS FROM THE JUGGINS BOY

"Burr-r-r-r!"

That was the telephone bell ringing.

"Hugh, will you answer it, since the chances are the call is from
some one of your numerous boy chums?" the voice of Mrs. Morgan came
from the dining-room, where she was looking after the silver and
china, after washing up the supper dishes, for they temporarily
chanced to be without a hired-girl.

Hugh guessed as much himself.  He had already been called to the
phone several times since arriving home after his seven-mile spin.
Once it had been Claude's mother, begging him to be sure and call at
her house early in the morning, because she wanted to have a good,
long, earnest talk with him about Claude's future; and also to let
him know how brimful of gratitude a mother's heart could be toward
the brave boy who, at the risk of his own life, had saved her only
child for her.

Hugh had promised he would see her, although he expected to be very
busy on the morning of the athletic tournament and then expressed the
hope that Claude and herself would honor the tournament with their
presence.  This she hastily assured him she meant to do, because it
was now borne in on her heart that she had been making a terrible
mistake in reference to the way she was bringing up her darling
Claude.

Needless to say, Hugh had chuckled joyously after that little talk.
He guessed he would have little trouble now in removing the scales
Mrs. Jardine had allowed to cover her eyes with regard to the
benefits to be derived by any boy, no matter how weak he might be,
through a judicious system of athletic exercises, the same to be
lengthened as he gradually grew more capable of standing fatigue.

"Hello!" Hugh called.

A voice he immediately recognized as that of Horatio Juggins greeted
him.  "That you, Hugh?"

"Just who it is; what's the matter, Horatio?  Feeling the effects of
your little jog this afternoon?  I hope not, for your sake,
to-morrow."

"Oh! come off, Hugh," the other quickly replied.  "I'd be a fine
candidate for a fifteen-mile Marathon race, wouldn't I, if seven
miles knocked me out?  I'm as fit right now as a fiddle.  But Hugh,
can you come right over here now?  Something dreadful has happened."

Hugh had a chilly feeling pass over him.  It seemed as though some
sort of bad news was coming.  Had the great meet been called off, for
some unknown reason or other?  Somehow that struck him first as a
dire possibility, since it would grievously disappoint thousands of
eager boys and girls, not to mention many older folks with young
hearts.

Now Hugh had intended to take that evening quietly, resting after his
strenuous afternoon, and absolutely refuse to allow Thad, or any
other fellow, to coax him outside the door.  But already this resolve
began to weaken.  That dim mention of some possible tragedy happening
started him going.

"Of course I can come over, Horatio," he told the boy at the other
end of the wire; "and I'll do so right away on condition that it's no
joke.  Tell me what's up first."

"Oh!  I meant to do that, Hugh," his friend hastened to say, and Hugh
could detect a tremor to the boyish voice that told of excitement.
"You see, it's K. K."

"What's happened to him?" demanded Hugh, his mind instantly
suggesting all manner of terrible possibilities, from a sudden attack
of sickness to an accident whereby his life might be in danger; for
with boys these things sometimes happen as unexpectedly as a flash of
lightning from a clear sky.

"Why, he never came back again from that run this afternoon, Hugh!"
Horatio was saying, in an awed tone now.

"What's that you're telling me?" exclaimed the astonished Hugh.  "I
thought I saw K. K. with some of the other fellows when I was
starting home just before dusk came on, though, of course, I may have
been mistaken about it."

"You were, Hugh, you certainly were," Horatio assured him in a
softened tone.  "His own mother ought to know, hadn't she?  Well,
she's over here at our house right now, crying her eyes out, and
imagining all sorts of terrible things.  You remember the Kinkaids
live close by us; and she knew her boy was going to take the run this
afternoon along with me, so she thought I could tell her if anything
had happened to detain him.  Why, she says K. K. never missed his
supper before in all his life.  It'd have to be something _fierce_ to
keep him away from his best meal of the whole day."

Hugh was thinking swiftly.  He realized that this was no little
matter to be dismissed as unimportant.  Something certainly must have
happened to detain K. K. for all this time.  Several hours had
elapsed since the other fellows reached the terminus of the long run
at the athletic grounds.  Why then had not K. K. shown up?

"Keep the rest till I get there, Horatio!" he told the other.

"Then you're sure coming, are you, Hugh?"

"Right away," Hugh added.

"Well, I'm glad, because you'll know what to do about it.  And
there's something else!"

"Yes?"

"I've got something to tell you that, say, I didn't have the heart to
explain to K. K.'s mother, because she's bad enough frightened as it
is; but it's looking particularly ugly to me, now that he hasn't come
back.  Oh! perhaps there is more'n a grain of truth in all those
terrible stories those hayseeds tell about that place!"

Hugh put up the receiver with a bang, made a dash for his cap,
slipped on his sweater, for he knew the night air was cold, and then
shot out of doors.  Somehow those last few words of Horatio,
breathing of mystery as they did, had excited his curiosity until it
now reached fever-pitch.

As he knew of several short-cuts across lots it took him but a few
minutes to arrive at the Juggins home.  Horatio was waiting at the
door, and must have heard him running up the steps, for he instantly
opened it to admit him.

"Gee, but I'm glad you've come, Hugh!" was his greeting.  "She's in
there with mother, and taking on awful about it.  It's a dreadful
thing to see a woman cry, Hugh.  And I'm afraid there may be a good
reason for expecting the worst."

"Tell me what you've got up your sleeve, Horatio," snapped Hugh, "and
quit giving all these dark hints.  You know something connected with
K. K. that perhaps no one else does."

"Guess I do, Hugh; for he confided in me, and told me not to say
anything to the rest.  Oh, how foolish it was for K. K. to think he
could do that big job two days in succession; but he said he was
feeling equal to nearly anything; and just had to make the try, since
the notion had gripped him.  But come on over to my den, Hugh, and
I'll tell you all about it.  Then you must decide what's best to be
done; and say, I hope you can soothe Mrs. Kinkaid a bit in the
bargain."

Ten seconds later and the two boys found themselves ensconced in the
room Horatio called his "den," although it was also his sleeping
apartment.  But he had fixed it as near like a boy's ideal of a
lounging-place could be, the walls carrying the customary college
pennants and a great variety of other things besides that gave them a
rather crowded appearance.  Evidently Horatio believed it added to
the charm, for he never entered that "sanctum" without an involuntary
smile of appreciation.

Horatio closed the door softly after him.  Hugh had also noticed how
he did this just as carefully when admitting him to the front hall;
and as though he expected that this must have aroused a certain
amount of curiosity, Horatio hastened to explain.

"You see, the poor woman is so excited, and in such a nervous
condition, that she jumps up at the sound of a door closing, and
starts to rush out into the hall, believing that Justin has got back
home and hurried over to acquaint her with the joyous fact.  Each
time her disappointment leaves her worse than before.  She will be
needing Doctor Cadmus if this keeps on, as sure as anything."

"Well, what is it you want to tell me, Horatio?" demanded Hugh, not
even taking the trouble to drop down into the chair the owner of the
"den" shoved toward him; for it seemed as though he must soon be on
the jump--there was evidently something hanging over their heads,
which would be needing prompt attention.

"Why, it's just this, Hugh," began the other.  "K. K. took a foolish
notion he'd like to say he'd gone over the full course just for
practice.  And, Hugh. he told me he meant to make use of the
short-cut that crosses the old haunted quarry!"

Hugh started, and looked serious.

"Then, if anything has happened to K. K., it must have been while he
was crossing that mile tract between the two main roads," he went on
to say, without hesitation.  Horatio nodded his head eagerly.

"I jumped to that same conclusion, Hugh, only I didn't dare mention
it to Mrs. Kinkaid.  I thought you ought to know first of all, and
decide on the program.  It's terrible just to think of it; and K. K.
actually pretended to make light, too, of all those stories the
farmers have been telling about that awful place."

"Hold your horses, Horatio!" Hugh exclaimed.  "When I said that I
wasn't thinking of ghosts, or anything else unnatural.  I meant that
in all probability poor K. K. met with some ordinary accident while
on that stretch, and has been unable to continue his run.  He may
have tripped on a vine he failed to see, and either broken his leg,
or else sprained his ankle so badly that he can't even limp along.
I've known such a thing to happen--in fact, once I got myself in the
same pickle, and had to _crawl_ two miles to a house, every foot of
the way on hands and knees, because the pain was frightful whenever I
tried to stand up.  Well, the chances are K. K. has had such a thing
befall him."

Horatio heaved a tremendous sigh, as though quite a weighty load had
been taken off his chest.

"You make me feel a heap better, Hugh, when you're so positive," he
hastened to admit.  "I was afraid it might be something even worse
than a sprain; but never mind what I thought.  The question now is,
what ought we do about it?"

"There's only one thing that can be done," Hugh told him in his
customary straight-from-the-shoulder fashion, "which is for some of
his chums to organize a searching party, get the old Kinkaid car out,
and go up there to look over that abandoned road from one end to the
other.  We'll find K. K., or know the reason why."

"That sounds good to me, Hugh!" declared Horatio, always ready to
follow where a bold leader showed the way; "and perhaps we may have
an opportunity to discover whether there _is_ any truth about those
queer happenings the farmers keep telling of whenever the old quarry
is mentioned in their presence."

"We'll not bother our minds about fairy stories," Hugh assured him.
"What we're meaning to do is to look for a practical explanation of
K. K.'s holding out.  And, mark my words, the chances are ten to one
we'll find the poor chap groaning alongside that road somewhere.  But
let's get busy now, Horatio!"



CHAPTER XIII

TO THE RESCUE OF K. K.

Hugh would really have been better satisfied if he could have hurried
away without seeing K. K.'s mother.  He feared that she might delay
progress more or less, and at such a time every minute counted.

But at the same time he realized that the poor lady was in a dreadful
state of mind.  It was necessary then that he try and soothe her
anxiety, for, as Horatio knew very well, Hugh Morgan had a way of
making other people feel the utmost confidence in him.

"Well, let's see K. K.'s mother, Horatio; but we mustn't waste much
time.  We'll have to get her permission to run the car.  I only hope
there's a decent supply of gas aboard, or in the garage."

Accordingly, Horatio led him into another room, where they found Mrs.
Kinkaid in a dreadfully nervous condition.  She jumped to her feet on
discovering that Horatio had another boy with him, and then upon
seeing that it was not the one her heart was yearning after she
uttered a pitiful wail, and fell back into her chair again.

Hugh wasted no time, but commenced telling her something of what he
had heard from Horatio, connected with K. K.'s foolish determination
to take in the entire course as though in the race.

"Of a certainty he's fallen and sprained an ankle somewhere along
that cross-country road, Mrs. Kinkaid," he ended with.  "We mean to
gather a few of the fellows, and if you'll give us permission to use
your big car we intend to run up there and look that road over from
end to end.  There is no doubt but what we'll find K. K. and fetch
him back with us.  So please try and feel that things will turn out
all right.  Make up your mind we won't come back without him, that's
all there is to it."

Somehow the very confidence shown in Hugh's words seemed to pass
along to the almost distracted lady.  Her eyes lighted up with
renewed courage, and she even smiled, though wanly, it must be
confessed.  But then Hugh was pretty much of a magician in regard to
arousing a feeling of hope in the most depressed mind.

"You are a thousand times welcome to the car," she hurriedly assured
him; "and anything else you might want.  It is dreadfully unfortunate
Mr. Kinkaid is away on one of his usual business trips to the west,
or he would insist on going with you.  But I feel certain, Hugh, you
will manage things splendidly, and a mother's prayers will go after
you, that you may not only find my boy, but that he may not have been
seriously injured."

"Then we'll not linger any longer, ma'am," said Hugh, eager to be on
the move.

Horatio wrapped himself up warmly, and the two of them shot out of
the door.

"Now, what first, Hugh?"

Hugh seemed to have mapped out a plan of campaign in his mind, for he
answered without hesitation.

"We must pick up several of the fellows--Thad for one, then Owen
Dugdale would be another good hand at hunting for a lost party; and,
well, Julius Hobson for the third.  That will make five in
all,--enough to search the quarry road from end to end.  Besides, we
ought to carry several lanterns, because, while there is a moon, I
reckon we'll find it far from light along that overgrown trail."

"You just think of everything, Hugh," remarked Horatio, wonderingly.

"Let's get the car, first of all," Hugh continued shrewdly, "because
it can save us many steps in picking up the other fellows."

By this time they were at the Kinkaid home.  Horatio was well
acquainted with the premises, as he had played with K. K. since they
were small boys together.  Hugh had been told where the key of the
garage was hidden, and quickly discovered it hanging on a concealed
nail.

"Wait till I throw the switch, and light up," said Horatio, for they
had electricity at the Kinkaid place, and, of course, a bulb lighted
in the garage was considered much safer than a lantern.

As soon as the illumination came both boys set about examining the
big touring car that occupied the garage.

"Bully!" ejaculated Horatio, after making the rounds with suspended
breath; "all the tires are as hard as anything.  How about the supply
of gas, Hugh?" for his companion had occupied himself with making an
examination of the tank.

"Plenty to carry us up and back twice over!" cried the delighted
Hugh.  "This is what I call great luck.  I was afraid there would be
a tire that needed changing; or else no gasolene at all.  K. K.
didn't realize how kind he was to himself when he fitted up the old
car so handsomely, for some purpose."

"Oh!" chuckled Horatio, "mebbe I know why.  You see, there's going to
be another barn dance next Tuesday night up at Bailey's, and I think
K. K. asked a girl to go with him and Peggy Noland and Owen Dugdale.
Yes, he even told me there was still room for two more, if I could
coax somebody to keep me company."

Hugh busied himself in starting the car going.  He knew considerable
about mechanics, as most boys of the present generation do, since
automobiles have become so very common.  Running it out of the garage
Hugh bade Horatio "hop aboard," which that worthy did without a
second invitation.

"Better get Thad first of all, I reckon," suggested Hugh, as though
he might even have figured out how best to save themselves from any
unnecessary delay; "then we can clip around to Julius Hobson's place,
and pick up Owen last on our way out of town."

The program suited Horatio first class.  Indeed, he had such perfect
confidence in Hugh that anything the other said carried conviction
along with it.  It is a fine thing for any boy to have aroused such a
spirit of trust in the minds of his comrades that they look up to him
as a sort of natural leader, and obey his slightest wish without
hesitation.  But Hugh bore his honors with humility, and never
attempted to display the attributes of a czar.

Great was the astonishment of Thad Stevens when he found two excited
fellows demanding that he bundle up and go with them for a night ride
up to the abandoned quarry that had gained such a bad reputation
among the country folks residing roundabout.

The story was partly told in rapid-fire style, enough of it, at
least, to cause Thad to bounce into his heavy coat, and provide
himself with a lantern.  He expected to become better informed from
time to time as they pushed along the road.

Next came Julius Hobson.  They found him at home also, and, of
course, he was duly worked up on hearing how poor K. K. had never
returned home from his run over the long course of fifteen miles.
When he heard that they needed lanterns Julius produced a new
electric flashlight which he had received for a birthday present, and
Hugh said it would do very well as an additional means of
illumination.

Last of all they stopped at the home of Owen Dugdale, the dark-faced
lad who lived with his grandfather in a big house, and about whom
there had at one time been quite a little halo of mystery hanging.
["The Chums of Scranton High on Deck."]

Again was the main fact mentioned concerning the necessity for a
searching party starting forth to find poor K. K.  Owen did not have
to be urged to join the bunch; indeed, he showed himself eager to
accompany them.

"I can fetch a lantern, if you want me to, Hugh," he observed; "and
say, do you know I'm of a mind to carry my new shotgun that I had
given to me just last month, when Grandfather concluded I was old
enough to want to go hunting.  If we have to chase all around through
that place there's so many queer stories told about we might as well
be fixed so as to protect ourselves."

"Huh!" snorted Horatio Juggins, skeptically, "I've always heard that
ghosts don't mind ordinary birdshot any more'n an alligator would.
But then fetch it along, Owen; it'll no doubt make us feel a little
better when we find ourselves up in that terribly lonely tract of
country.  And who knows but what there might be a stray wildcat
abroad in those woods.  Such things have been heard of, and I even
saw the skin of a whopper shown in the market."

So Owen carried out his design, and when he got aboard the big car he
took with him not only a lantern, well filled with oil, but also his
brand new twelve-gauge shotgun.

At last they were off.  Every fellow felt a peculiar sense of
exhilaration that possibly even bordered on anticipation, take
possession of him; for the future was there before them all unknown.
Who could say what strange adventures might befall them before this
undertaking was finished?

Of course they had the headlights turned on at full force, and Hugh
at the wheel found no difficulty in keeping the middle of the road.
He did not mean to pursue a reckless pace, because, if they met with
an accident it would spoil all their plans.  Better to go at an
ordinary rate of speed, and make haste slowly, so to speak.

Meanwhile there was a clatter of tongues aboard the big car.  Julius,
Thad and Owen had dozens of pertinent questions ready to fire at
Horatio, who was kept busy making illuminating replies.  Thus the
trio learned how K. K. had unwisely determined to cover the entire
course and only whispered his intention to his chum, Horatio, at the
same time binding him to silence, for fear lest Mr. Leonard put a
damper on his plans by vetoing the scheme in the start.

Then suggestions began to flow like water after a storm.  All sorts
of possibilities covering such a strange disappearance were advanced.
Owen believed that Horatio was not far amiss when he declared there
might be something in that ghost business, after all; and that poor
K. K. had found it out to his cost; though, beyond this broad
statement, Owen declined to commit himself, because he, of course,
could not imagine what a genuine ghost would look like, in the
daytime at that; or what such an apparition would be likely to do to
a boy who had had the ill-luck to fall into its clutches.

A dozen additional ideas were advanced, some of them bordering on the
absurd and others really plausible.  The unlimited resources of a
boy's fertile mind in conjuring up remarkable explanations in a
mysterious case like the one now engaging their attention had not yet
been reached at the time Hugh suddenly announced they were close to
the place where the abandoned quarry road started in from the
thoroughfare they were then following.

"We just passed the twin oaks I remember stood alongside the road on
the left," he explained, at the same time slowing up considerably;
"and they are close to the turning-in place.  I noticed them in
particular, you see, because I didn't want to lose even three seconds
when on the run, in searching for some sign of the spot; though, of
course, I could have looked for the marks of our tires left there at
the time we came back from our nutting excursion, and went through to
the other road.  Yes, here we are right now, and I'm going to turn
in, boys."

He negotiated the turn without accident, though the branches of the
trees did scrape against the sides of the car in a way that made some
of the occupants shudder; for already they were beginning to feel a
trace of the uneasiness that their gruesome surroundings were apt to
arouse within their boyish hearts.



CHAPTER XIV

THE SEARCHING PARTY

"Hugh, it looks like we mightn't need those lanterns after all,"
remarked Horatio, after they had gotten well started along the dimly
seen quarry road.

Indeed, the brilliant headlights of the big car illuminated a radius
of considerable size ahead of them and around.  Every tiny twig was
thrown out into bold relief, as though a powerful sun had found a way
of forcing ingress through the canopy of leafless branches overhead.

"Not just at present, perhaps," replied the driver at the wheel; "but
they may come in handy yet.  We'll wait and see."

Owen sat beside Hugh, the other three occupying the tonneau of the
car.  There was abundance of room for all, and some to spare.  Owen
held his new shotgun in his hands and he kept a close watch upon the
road ahead, just as though that idea connected with a ferocious
wildcat might have taken hold on his mind, and he believed there was
a possibility of such a thing coming to pass.

Hugh drove with exceedingly great care, and made no attempt at speed.
Indeed, such a thing was utterly out of the question, with that rough
road to follow and the necessity of keeping a constant vigilant
outlook, lest they collide with some tree.  When the quarry was in
full operation automobiles were an unknown luxury; and certainly no
provision had ever been made for such a contraption passing along
that crooked trail, with its numerous sharp curves intended to avoid
natural obstacles.  Three separate times already had Hugh brought the
car to a full stop, and even caused the engine to cease its
throbbing.  This was done in order that all of them might strain
their hearing, in hopes of catching some faint sound to tell that the
missing boy whom they sought was close at hand.

But only disappointment succeeded each attempt to pick up
information.  They caught the dismal hooting of an owl in some dead
tree not far away, but certainly such a doleful sound did not raise
their spirits materially.  Several times while they were moving along
Owen had seen a movement amidst the brush that gave him a little
thrill; but the glimpses he obtained of the disappearing animal
convinced him in one instance that it was a red fox that scurried off
in alarm; while on the second occasion he rather imagined it was only
a ring-tailed raccoon scuttling away and badly frightened by the
intense white glow that had suddenly penetrated his dark quarters.

If there was a wildcat within twenty miles the spot they certainly
never knew of it, because no such beast of prey disclosed its
presence to them while they continued on their way.

But then there were plenty of thrills for the boys.  Not only did the
weird hooting of that horned owl come to make their flesh creep, but
now and again they detected strange sounds that may have been caused
by limbs of the trees rubbing together in the night breeze, but which
had a wonderful resemblance to human groans.

They had been pursuing their way along for some little time without
much attempt at conversation; but it is pretty hard for a parcel of
boys to remain long silent, no matter what the provocation.  And
Horatio, for one, felt urged to free his mind of certain fancies that
had taken lodging there.

"I say, fellows, doesn't this beat everything you ever saw all
hollow?" he went on to say, for there was really no need of their
keeping quiet, since they had not started out to steal a march upon
any enemy,--only to find poor lost K. K.  "Just listen to that awful
groaning sound, will you?  If I didn't know it was caused by the
limbs of trees sawing across each other in the wind I'd think
somebody was almost dying."

"At another time I guess we wouldn't bother our heads about such a
silly thing," observed Julius Hobson; "but, of course, our minds are
full up with what may have happened to our comrade, and all that
noise makes us shiver a heap; it's so suggestive, so to speak."

"Oh! what did you think you saw then, Owen?" gasped Horatio, as,
chancing to fix his gaze on the other, he noticed him suddenly
elevate his gun, as though tempted to shoot the same.

Owen chuckled.

"It was only a frisky rabbit, after all," he announced calmly enough.
"I was just covering him to find out how easy I could nail the
rascal, if only I was out hunting game instead of a lost boy.  And
we'd have had rabbit stew at the Dugdale home to-morrow, let me tell
you, Horatio, if I'd cared to let fly, for I had him covered
handsomely."

"Well, please don't do it in a hurry again, Owen," asked Horatio,
settling back once more, and hoping his throbbing heart might not
beat so loudly that any of his comrades could hear it pounding
against his ribs.  "Remember this is no ordinary patch of woods we're
in right now.  All sorts of stories have been told concerning the
country up here; and in passing through after nightfall we're doing
what a big bribe couldn't tempt any farmer's help to try.  But, Hugh,
don't you think we must be getting pretty near that place by this
time?"

"Just about two-thirds of the way, Horatio," he was informed.  "That
leaning tree we passed is exactly three hundred and thirty-seven
paces from the place we left the road."

"Well, what do you think of that for looking ahead, fellows!"
ejaculated Horatio.  "Hugh here took all the trouble to count the
steps while passing through, the day he came up to examine the
ground.  That's what I call preparedness, and I guess it counts in a
race, just as much as in getting ready for war."

Hugh laughed as though momentarily amused.

"Well, they're both in the same category, Horatio, if you look at
things from the right point of view; rival armies and rival athletes
contending for the prize which in both cases would mean victory.
Looking ahead is a useful hobby, and it's served me handsomely on
many an occasion.  I consider no time wasted that is employed to
insure success; even if you never need the information you've picked
up it adds to your stock of knowledge; and no fellow can have too big
a fund of that."

"Then we ought soon to be getting there, at this rate," continued
Horatio.  "Let's hope nothing happens to our old car.  We'd have a
jolly walk back to town if we broke down here and couldn't fix
things.  I'd prefer making a fire and spending the night in the woods
to taking such a tramp, which would debar us from all hope of making
that big run to-morrow."

"With K. K. out of the game the chances for Scranton High begin to
flicker some," admitted Julius.  "He was showing unusual stamina
right now, and secretly I was backing K. K. to bring home the bacon
for our school.  Of course, with Hugh and Horatio and 'Just' Smith
still in the ring it isn't hopeless by any means; but they do say
those Allandale chaps have unearthed several wonders at long-distance
running, and they are dying to knock Scranton down this time."

Again Hugh stopped the car and bade the others listen.

"It isn't that I thought I heard anything suspicious, fellows," he
went on to explain, when they manifested a certain amount of
excitement; "but, on general principles, I think we ought to stop
oftener, and find out if there's anything doing."

After testing their combined hearing to the limit, and without any
success, Hugh again started up.  It was Thad who spoke next, and
apparently he had been considering something that he would like to
have made clear.

"What if we pass all the way through to the other road, without
learning a single thing, Hugh?" he went on to say; "do you mean to
give it up, and head for home then and there?"

"Well, I should hope not, Thad!" burst out Horatio; "we're none of us
built that way.  Because a fellow gets a single knock-down in a fight
ought he to throw up the sponge right away, and own himself beaten?
Why, we started out to find K. K., and sleep isn't going to visit my
eyes this night until we succeed.  That's the way I look at it, and I
reckon the rest of you are in the same boat."

"If such a thing should happen, Thad," said Hugh, sturdily, "we'll
simply turn around and come back again; only, under the new
conditions, some of you will have to turn out with the lanterns, and
search alongside the road as we go slowly along."

Horatio gave a gasp that was plainly audible.

"Do you really mean, Hugh," he went on to ask, in a voice that
trembled more or less despite Horatio's effort to control the same,
"that you half expect to find K. K. lying alongside the road, either
dead, or else insensible from the pain of his broken leg?"

"Well, I wasn't just thinking things would be as bad as all that,"
Hugh hastened to say.  "What I had in mind was the chance of coming
on his footprints, and then trying to follow the same.  We could
easily tell them, for K. K. had on his running shoes, you remember.
By tracking him, step by step, don't you see, we could tell just
where he met with his trouble, even find out, perhaps, the nature of
his accident, and continue to follow him up."

"That would suit me first rate," said Julius, promptly; "and my fine
electric hand-torch might come into play with a vengeance.  There's
nothing better going for following a trail in the dark, because the
light is focussed, you see, on a small compass.  Why, you can pick up
night-walkers like everything when the fishing season's on, by using
a flashlight.  I could even find a needle in a haystack, I believe,
with one of these jim-dandy contraptions."

"All right, Julius, we'll appoint you head tracker, then," chuckled
Horatio.  "But, after all, perhaps we'll run across our comrade yet,
before we get out of this tangle.  We're about to come to the most
critical point of the entire trip, remember, for the old quarry is
just ahead of us."

Horatio chanced to be on the side of the car toward the quarry.  He
was not spending nearly so much time now looking ahead, leaving that
task to his chums; even while talking he kept his eyes fixed upon the
dark expanse that represented the surrounding woods, anticipating
catching a glimpse of something, he hardly knew what, at any moment
now.  Doubtless all those silly yarns retailed by the ignorant
gossiping farm-hands in the market-place in Scranton, while they
tried to outdo one another in matching fairy stories, must have been
circulating through Horatio's brain just then.  The heavy atmosphere
of the deserted stone quarry, and its lonely surroundings, added to
the mysterious disappearance of K. K., combined to make him
peculiarly susceptible to such influences as see ghosts in every
white object that moves in the darkness.

This being the case with the Juggins boy it was not to be wondered at
that there could be traced a vein of actual gratification in his
voice when he suddenly electrified his companions by exclaiming:

"Hugh! fellows, I tell you I saw it right then, just as that Swanson
farmhand vowed to me he did once on a time this last summer--it was a
light, waved up and down, back and forth, and just like they teach
you when you join the Signal Corps, and learn how to wigwag with a
flag or a lantern.  It came from right over yonder, where we all know
the old quarry lies!  And I'm not fooling, either; cross my heart if
I am!"



CHAPTER XV

PROWLING AROUND THE QUARRY

Everybody was staring hard by the time Horatio finished.  Hugh, of
course, had immediately stopped the car on the road, so that they
were now stationary.

It chanced that the spot was one of few where a glimpse of the quarry
could be picked up, as the boys had discovered at the time they
passed along this way, when we overtook them on their nutting trip.

Seconds crept past.

Each boy could measure time by the beating of his wildly accelerated
heart, and as these were throbbing at the rate of something like a
hundred pulsations per minute it can be easily understood that
"things were going some," to quote Horatio, when afterwards telling
the story.

Then all of them saw what the first discoverer had attempted to
describe.  They stared as though fascinated.  Truly Horatio had said
well when he spoke of the odd movements of the mysterious light; for
it moved swiftly up and down, then sideways, and in eccentric
circles, after which it vanished as suddenly as it had come into
being.

Some of the boys sighed, as though being wakened from a dream.
Horatio, of course, was full of deepest gratification, since he had
detected a skeptical air in the actions of Thad and Owen, which
seemed to place him in the light of one who "saw things where none
existed."

"There, didn't I tell you?" he exclaimed, triumphantly.  "And, say,
wasn't that--eh, party, whoever he might be, making some sort of
telegraphic signals with his old lantern or torch?"

"Hugh, what do you think?" demanded Thad.  "You're up in all that
kind of wigwag signal work, and perhaps now you could tell what it
means."

"I lost some of it, I'm sorry to say, fellows," observed Hugh,
gravely; "but all the same I caught enough to tell me that waving of
a light was meant as a signal message, though who sent it, and to
whom, is all a mystery."

"But could you make out enough of the message, Hugh, to give you any
idea what it stood for?" persisted Thad.

"Yes, I believe I did," the other admitted, solemnly, so that each of
his chums bent closer to catch the next words that fell from his
lips.  "I'm certain it spelled out the word 'help,' for one; and I
thought another was 'quick'!"

"Oh! what do you think of that?" gasped Horatio.

"The mystery deepens," added Owen, dramatically, just as he had
probably been accustomed to reading in some story of excitement.

"Of course," continued Hugh, immediately, "we've got to take a look
around that same old quarry, and see what's going on.  Somebody's
holding the fort there, even if it is said to be deserted.  Who and
what he can be, of course, remains to be seen; but I'm not taking a
bit of stock in those old wives' yarns about a ghost, remember,
Horatio."

"Then we'll have to leave the car on the road, won't we, Hugh, when
we tackle this big job?" questioned Owen.

"Of course; and since I marked the best spot where anyone could make
their way along to the face of the quarry, we must start up again,
and keep moving till we strike that place."

"But, Hugh, do you think the--er--party making those signals with a
light could have noticed our illumination, and that message was meant
for us?" Horatio went on to ask, solicitously.

"I'm not prepared to say," he was told, "though I don't see how
anybody with eyes could miss discovering us coming along.  And,
besides, the old car makes plenty of noise in the bargain, to attract
attention.  So it looks as if he did know, and was trying to talk to
us."

All this only added to the thrill that was forever passing through
each and every member of the night expedition.  It would be
manifestly impossible to describe their mixed feelings as they
advanced slowly along the rough road so long abandoned to nature.  A
dozen times Horatio believed he heard cries; why, it seemed as though
the air must be filled with uncanny sounds, for his lively
imagination was working at race-horse speed just then.

The car stopped short.

"Wow! what's happened now, Hugh?" whispered Horatio.

"We've arrived at the getting-out place, that's all," came the steady
reply, as the chauffeur caused the engine to cease working and then
proceeded to leave his seat, after his companion had jumped out.

The lanterns were now lighted and the electric torch made ready for
use.  If hands trembled considerably during this operation, causing
several matches to be used before the desired results were obtained,
could anyone blame Owen and the other possessor of a lantern?  It was
a most remarkable thing that no one evinced the slightest disposition
to stay by the car, and guard it against thieves.  It was a case of
"follow the leader," and where Hugh went they were all bound to go
also.  To be honest, the chances were that Horatio, for one, could
not have been coaxed to separate himself from the company of his four
chums; because there was a great deal of truth in that old maxim, "in
union there is strength."

Hugh now led the way.  He had been given one of the lanterns with
which to light a passage across the heaps of broken stones, earth,
and rubbish, cast there at the time in the remote past when the
quarry was in full blast, with workmen delving into the hillside,
blasting away sections through the use of dynamite or powder, and
sending out many wagon-loads of building-stone each of the six
working days of the week.

They did not string out in single file, but kept bunched together.
Indeed, this came through no accident, but there was a method in
their madness; because, you see, no fellow would want to be the
hindmost in the file.

Hugh showed a wonderful amount of knowledge of the place, considering
that he had never before in his life placed a foot upon the ground
and had to depend entirely on his former observations.  But he kept
on as straight as could be expected, and presently Owen managed to
muster up courage enough to say in a low and most carefully guarded
tone:

"Hugh, did you take note of the _exact_ spot where the light showed
up?  I'm asking because you seem to be heading direct for somewhere."

"I believe I know where it was," Hugh told him simply.  "You see, I
noted several things about the face of the quarry that day we stopped
to look it over; and when I saw that dancing trail of fire I figured
out that it must be at just such a place, which spot I'm heading for
right now.  And just as you spoke I had ample proof that I was right
in my guess."

"Why, what happened, Hugh?" demanded Horatio eagerly.

"I caught a faint glimpse of light up there," Hugh told him.  "I
wonder none of the rest of you happened to notice the same.  It made
me think that some person might be in one of those holes we saw in
the face of the wall--caves, the natives call them, Horatio says.  As
this was somewhat deep only a tiny bit of illumination escaped, and
you could just detect that when at a certain angle.  Stop short, now,
and see for yourselves, for there it is again!"

Thrilled to the bone they stood and gaped.  Hugh was pointing with
his disengaged hand, half holding the lantern back of him so that its
glow might not further interfere with their view.

"You're right, Hugh; that's surely what it is," agreed Thad, almost
immediately; and each of the other three went on record with a
corresponding affirmative.

"Then the next thing for us to do is to find some way of climbing up
to that same fissure," the leader explained, showing that he meant to
lose no time in trying to open negotiations with the unknown denizens
of the quarry, whose actions were becoming more and more mysterious
as time passed.

"Which means that we're going to beard the tiger in his den," quoth
Owen, gripping his gun more firmly as he edged a little closer to
Hugh; for since he was the only member of the expedition who could be
said to possess a weapon it was proper that he should be found in the
van at such a crisis.

They walked on, not hastily, and showing no outward sign of the
tumult that must have raged in each boyish heart.  Now it was no
longer possible for them to discern that faint glow; but such a
little thing did not daunt them.  Hugh had marked well the exact
location of their objective point, and Hugh seldom made mistakes,
those other confident fellows were telling themselves as they
cheerfully trudged along.

The foot of the cliff was at hand.  Rains and winds and snow
avalanches had, during the years that had passed since the hands of
men worked those diggings, served to cut loose great quantities of
debris from the face of the height, so that here and there at the
foot irregular pyramids of earth and rocks could be seen.  Hugh now
seemed to have turned his attention from above and was bending half
over, as though examining the ground.  Owen knew what this meant.
The other anticipated finding a track leading directly to the route
by means of which that cavern halfway up the cliff might be easiest
attained.

And, as often happens, such reasoning proved to be the wisest thing
the searchers could have undertaken, for hardly had half a minute
elapsed than Hugh was heard to give vent to a low ejaculation of
gratification.

No one spoke, but they understood that he had found the trail he was
looking for.  Indeed, he at once started to move along, still bending
over, and holding his lighted lantern low, so that its none too good
illumination would best serve him.

Now they reached a sort of strange little gully, where the silt had
washed down more heavily during the period of erosion than at any
other place.  Looking up, the boys could see that it afforded a steep
but accessible avenue by means of which an agile person could ascend
the otherwise impregnable height towering above their heads.

Hugh halted not, but started up.  Owen came close behind him, holding
that formidable shotgun so that he could thrust it ahead of his
leader should an occasion arise necessitating action.  But Hugh had
already warned him not to be rash, and under no condition to dream of
firing until he himself had given the order.

It was a queer little procession that crept up that steep trail in
the gully formed by Nature during the heavy storms of summer and
winter.  The twin lanterns glimmered and flickered as the night wind
puffed the tiny blazes; and ahead of all lay the white glow of the
electric hand-torch, showing them how they were now almost at the end
of their trail.

Yes, the fissure extended straight into the face of the cliff.  Hugh
was taking them directly to the place where undoubtedly the
mysterious unknown had stood on a sort of rocky platform, and
indulged in all those queer telegraphic code motions with a light of
some sort.



CHAPTER XVI

A FRIENDLY GHOST

Hugh led the way straight into the fissure.  As they proceeded they
could see the light ahead growing stronger.  Low sounds, as of
voices, also led them onward; and then, upon turning a bend, they
came upon a sight that had them all staring with wonder.

It was indeed a cave, and of considerable dimensions.  A wild beast
would have delighted in such a den in which to hide from the rigors
of winter, but to boys accustomed to the luxuries of home life it
would doubtless have few attractions, especially after the novelty of
camping-out had worn off in a week's time.

It was a fire that burned which gave the light.  A pile of dry wood,
mostly broken branches of dead trees, showed that the occupant of the
cave had laid in a supply against a rainy day.

There, sitting with his back against the wall, was their missing
comrade K. K.  His face looked unusually white, and bore an
expression of acute pain, which, however, he manfully tried from time
to time to dismiss by a ghastly grin, altogether assumed, since he
certainly was in no mood for laughing.

They could see that his left leg was bandaged in some manner, as
though he might have broken the bones, and someone had tried to bind
up the limb.  Even with that superficial glance Hugh marked the fact
that this had been done in a fashion indicating considerable previous
experience along such lines.

And then they turned their attention upon the other party, the
mysterious one who doubtless had found poor K. K. helpless on the
ground and borne him to this cavern in the quarry.  He was indeed a
wild-looking party, with long, unkempt hair and a sunburnt face in
which his glowing eyes were deep-seated.  There was that about him to
convince Hugh instantly he must be deranged, although just then the
man bent over poor K. K. solicitously, and seemed to be tenderly
doing something calculated to ease his pain.

Hugh coughed, meaning to draw attention to the fact of their arrival.
The man immediately stood up and bent a searching look upon the five
lads.  Perhaps he had been hearing K. K. tell how some of his chums
would certainly be coming to search for him, and, therefore, even
though he might wish to remain in his hidden retreat undisturbed, he
manifested no hostility toward them, simply folded his arms and,
stepping back, watched their approach.

Hugh made gestures to indicate that they were peacefully disposed.
In doing so he purposely used the signal code and spelled out the one
word, "friend."  He saw the wildman's thin face take on a sudden
gleam of awakened interest, and he nodded his head in the
affirmative, as if to reassure Hugh that they were not unwelcome.
From this the boy knew the stranger must at some time have been in
the army, and that even while his brain was resting under a cloud he
could still send and receive messages such as had been at one time
his daily avocation.

They reached the side of their unfortunate companion.  He held out a
hand to welcome Hugh.

"Oh! I'm mighty glad you've come, fellows, I can tell you," he told
them, with a tremor in his voice.  "I've had a rotten time of it all
around, and suffered terribly.  You see, I made a fool of myself, and
tripped over a vine, so that I was thrown into a gully, with my left
leg under me.  Snapped both bones, he says, just above the ankle, and
a fine time I've got ahead of me this winter, with no skating,
hockey, or anything worth living for.  But then it might have been
worse, because my neck is worth more to me than my ankle.  But now I
do hope you can get me home.  I never wanted to see home and mother
one-half as much as now."

"Yes, we've come in the big car, K. K.," Hugh assured him.  "And
we'll fetch you home right away.  You ought to be looked after by
Doctor Wambold; broken bones are not things to be trifled with, and
while this party seems to have done the best he could it can only be
a makeshift."

"Don't you believe it, Hugh," said the injured boy warmly; "why, he's
a regular jim-dandy about such jobs.  I bet you he used to be an army
surgeon in his younger days, from hints he's let drop.  And then he
knows the Signal Corps work right off the handle to boot, even
if--well, I won't say what I meant to.  He's been so kind and
considerate to me; my own father couldn't have been more tender.
I've guessed the secret of the old haunted quarry, Hugh!" which last
he almost whispered in the other's ear.

"Yes, I can say the same," muttered Hugh, "because, as soon as I saw
that he was using the regular army code of signals, I remembered
about hearing how a certain family over near Hackensack had an uncle
who used to be in the Signal Corps and was also later on an army
surgeon, but who had suffered a sunstroke, and, well, was said to be
a bit queer."

"Yes," whispered K. K., "this is the same party.  His name, I
remember, was Dr. Coursens, and there was some talk last summer about
his having got loose from the house and being drowned, they believed,
in the river, though his body was never found.  Just to think of it,
he's been hiding here ever since, picking up his living almost like a
wild animal.  Why, right now his clothes are nearly falling off his
back, and if he tries to hang out here much longer he'll be frozen to
death.  But, Hugh, we must let his folks know where he is so they can
come after him.  I believe, his mind is beginning to get a little
clear again, for at times he talks quite reasonably."

This was all mighty interesting to Hugh, and he determined that he
would let no grass grow under his feet until he had seen to it that
the man with the deranged mind was once more restored to his family.
But the first thing to be done was to get poor K. K. safely back home.

So he turned to the man and spoke to him, telling him that they
wished to get their comrade to the car, and at the same time thanking
him warmly for all he had done.  Not a single word in reply did Hugh
receive.  The man listened and nodded his head, as though he could
dimly understand what the boy was saying.  Evidently he was in
something of a dazed condition, if, as K. K. affirmed, his senses
were beginning to assume a normal condition after years of darkness.

It was a terrible job getting K. K. down from that elevated place.
The man showed them how best to manage.  He seemed really solicitous,
and it could be seen that he had taken quite a liking to K. K. during
their brief intercourse, since the latter had been found groaning on
the ground.

Eventually the level below the cliff was attained.  Poor K. K. had
groaned many times, hard though he fought to repress the sounds, for
it was unavoidable that he should receive many jostlings while being
transferred to the lower level.

Then they made their way across the open space, and finally arrived
at the waiting car, in which the injured youth was deposited and made
as comfortable as the conditions allowed.  The deranged man watched
all this with a wistful gleam in his eye.  He had fled from his kind
while still gripped in the darkness of madness, but with the first
glimmer of reason being seated once more on its throne he commenced
to yearn after human fellowship again.

Since the boys had all taken such a deep-seated interest in the
matter it may be proper before the "ghost" of the haunted quarry is
dropped altogether from the story to state that the very next morning
Hugh went over to Hackensack and electrified the Coursen family with
certain remarkable news he brought.  It ended in their all starting
forth and arriving at the quarry.  They found the demented man
awaiting their coming as though he had guessed what Hugh had in his
mind.  More than that he greeted them soberly, and called each member
of the family by name, something he had not been able to do since
that dark cloud descended upon his mind years back.

There seemed reason to believe that in due time Doctor Coursen might
regain his full senses again and spend a few years more with his
delighted relatives before the end came.

Hugh, of course, learned all about him and how he had served years in
the army, first as a sergeant in the Signal Corps, and later on
becoming a surgeon of considerable reputation before the accident in
the tropics deprived him of his reason.  Perhaps it had been the
utterly helpless condition of poor K. K., when he came accidentally
upon the injured boy, that had strongly appealed to the surgical
spirit that still lay dormant in the brain and fingers of the insane
man and which had been the main cause of the light of reason
returning--surgery had been his passion, and the familiar work took
him back to other days, apparently.

And that very night, when Doctor Cadmus, hastily summoned to the home
of Mrs. Kinkaid, examined the work of the deranged dweller of the
quarry cave, he had pronounced it simply marvelous the clever way in
which the other had set those bones and put a splint on the leg, with
such clumsy means for working at hand.  He declared he meant to
interest himself deeply in the case and see if such a skillful
surgeon might not be restored to the world so much in need of his
kind, with the terrible war raging on the other side of the Atlantic.

To conclude with this subject, at last accounts Dr. Coursen had so
far recovered as to send in his application for a berth in some
hospital over in France, where his wonderful knowledge of surgery
might prove useful to the countless wounded men at the front.  And
doubtless ere this reaches the eye of the reader he may be across the
Atlantic, serving humanity in the great cause.

Long would those five lads remember that strange expedition up to the
haunted quarry, and what a remarkable discovery they made after
arriving on the ground.  It may be that Horatio, yes, and Julius
also, would be less apt to clothe anything along a mysterious nature
with ghostly attributes, after learning how common-sense and
investigation will, in nearly all cases, turn suspicion into
ridicule.  But while the country folks, of course, also learned how
the phantom of the quarry had turned out to be just a crazy man who
had escaped from his confinement at home and gone back to primeval
ways of living, few of them would ever muster up the courage to visit
the deserted quarry after nightfall.  It had too many thrilling
associations to please them; and besides, what was the use of going
out of their way just to feel the "goose-flesh" creep over their
bodies when an owl hooted, or some little forest animal gave a grunt?

K. K., being young and healthy, and attended carefully by good old
Doctor Cadmus, was not confined to the house for many weeks.  The
bones did not require resetting, and rapidly knitted, so that after a
while he could walk to and from school with the aid of a crutch; and
later this, in turn, gave way to a cane.  When February came he even
threw this aid aside, and by March was seen taking his part in school
rushes, as though he had never been injured at all.  But his skates
were never once used all winter, nor could he indulge in any
sledding, both of which were favorite pleasures with K. K.

On the whole, however, he felt that he had much to be thankful for;
and tried not to be too greatly disappointed.  But his chums would
miss him when the Marathon race was on; because he had been accounted
one of the best long-distance runners without exception that Scranton
High could boast.



CHAPTER XVII

SCRANTON'S "OPEN-HOUSE" DAY

Saturday opened with a promise of fair weather, and thousands of
anxious hearts beat high with satisfaction when this important fact
became manifest.

Before the morning was half over many strangers were noticed in town,
having taken the day off in order to attend the wonderful meet, of
which so much had been said.  Every boy in Scranton was wild-eyed,
and on the run most of the time, trying to be here, there, and in
half a dozen places at once, if such a thing were possible.

Indeed, there was so much going on it reminded some people of the
famous circus that visited the town two years back, with three
separate rings, and something taking place in each at the same time;
so that the spectators hardly knew how to take it all in and keep
from being cross-eyed.

Out at the athletic grounds there were crowds gathered.  Men were
working at the fence, while another gang, under the orders of Mr.
Leonard, carefully put in place such paraphernalia as would be needed
in carrying out the programme.  Even the big pole had been well
greased for the climbing match; while the hurdles for the obstacle
race were ready to be placed in position at the proper time; and a
thousand and one other matters engaged the attention of the physical
director, who was probably the most industrious man in seven counties
that Saturday A.M.

Nor was that all.  Some of the would-be contestants, not wholly
satisfied with their record for proficiency, and wishing to key
themselves up to top-notch speed against the now near hour of trial,
were on the ground, and in their working togs.  Here a bunch galloped
swiftly around the cinder path, with one of their number holding the
watch on them to ascertain what time they made.  Further along
several other fellows were jumping with might and main, and showing
either jubilation or deep chagrin as they found themselves able to do
a shade better than ever before, or else going backward in their
scoring.

Indeed, that was going to be a red-letter day in the lives of all
Scranton's young people.  They begrudged the passing minutes, because
their period of enjoyment would be shortened just so much with the
loss of every sixty seconds.

When Hugh came on the grounds, after his trip to Hackensack, and
seeing the hermit of the quarry once more safely lodged in the bosom
of his delighted family, he had only one regret.  This was the fact
that poor K. K., whose heart had been so set on carrying the colors
of Scranton High to victory in the Marathon race, should be debarred
from participating in the same by a cruel fate.

As for himself Hugh was not quite so certain as before that he could
accomplish such a thing as getting over those fifteen miles ahead of
all competitors.  What he had gone through with on the preceding day,
coupled with his night journey, and only partial rest, after getting
in bed at a late hour, had sapped some of his energy.

But Hugh's grit and determination were just as strong as ever, and he
meant to do his level best.  If he fell down, why, there were "Just"
Smith, and Horatio Juggins, as well as two other Scranton fellows,
any one of whom might be the winner.  So long as the prize fell to a
Scranton High boy, it mattered little who carried off the honors,
Hugh felt.

Noon came at last.

Everything was now ready for the opening of the athletic tournament.
Chief Wambold kept watch and ward over the grounds, assisted by his
entire force of uniformed men.  He evidently did not intend that any
boy, with a mind that turned to practical joking, should have a
chance to exercise his evil propensities unchecked.  Should such a
thing be attempted the joker would find himself up against a snag
immediately; and, as those posters announced, he was going to be
harshly dealt with up to the "extreme penalty of the law."

There were hundreds of people on the grounds at noon, which was a
pretty good marker for the immense crowds that would soon be heading
that way from every point of the compass.  Most of these "early
birds" were, of course, out-of-town folks, farmers' families that had
come in, to market, perhaps, and they stayed over to see the great
show, because everybody living for many miles around Scranton had
heard about the meet, and and what a wonderful sight it would be,
well worth going miles to gaze upon.  These thrifty and sensible
folks had, in many cases, brought their lunch along with them.
Perhaps they disliked the idea of eating in small restaurants, such
as Scranton, like most towns, boasted; but, no doubt, the main thing
was economy in these times of scanty cash and inflated war prices.

It was well worth watching when they started to open their packages,
and spread out the contents on the ground or, as might be, on the
benches where they had taken up their positions the better to see
what went on.  And really it would have made any boy's mouth water to
note the immense quantities of home-made pies, doughnuts, fried
chicken, and all such good things as were displayed in those farmer's
wives lunch packets.  At least there must be no sign of hard times
when the family went on a picnic, or any other sort of pleasure jaunt.

By then the crowds began to assemble in earnest.  Town people,
fearing a crush, hastened to leave home with the lunch dishes
unwashed, and look for places to sit during the long afternoon.
Along the roads every type of car, wagon, carriage, and other styles
of equipages began to be seen, all heading toward the center of
interest, which was the town of Scranton.

Hundreds came from Allandale; indeed, it might be safe to even say
thousands, for in every direction could be seen the colors of
Allandale High, just as though each enthusiastic boy and girl had
rounded up all their relatives and friends, and induced them to make
it a point to travel to the neighboring borough, there to shout and
shriek, and in other ways lend encouragement to each Allandale
aspirant for athletic honors wherever they showed up.

Belleville, too, must look very much like the "Deserted Village" on
this particular afternoon; and, if the amount of business done
depended on the few who had remained at home, her merchants would
have to stay up until midnight in order to equal their customary
Saturday sales.

At half-past twelve the throng had become so dense that Chief Wambold
and his men were compelled to enlist the services of a number of
willing volunteers who, temporarily decorated with a silver shield,
were vested with the authority of regular officers, in order to keep
avenues open, and prevent the throng from breaking through the ropes
upon the limited field where the athletes expected to compete.

So far as attendance was concerned there was no longer the least
doubt but that the meet would prove an abounding success; the rest
remained to be proven.  But the gathering athletes who began to
appear in little knots, coming from the dressing rooms of the
building, seemed full of confidence, and answered the loud salutes of
a myriad of friends in the crowd with reassuring nods, and gestures
calculated to buoy up their hopes.

The programme would be varied.  First would come several short
sprints between the best runners of hundred-yard distances in the
county.  These were sure to key up the spectators by their thrilling
intensity, as is always the case.  Following fast upon these there
would be hammer-throwing, and the toss of the discus.  Then the
programme called for other athletic exhibitions along a line that
would lend variety, and enhance the interest, as the different
schools struggled for supremacy in the arena provided, spurred on to
do their utmost by ringing cheers, and the dearly beloved class songs.

Everybody worth mentioning in Scranton would be there, from Dr.
Carmack, the supervising head of the county schools, as well as
principal of Scranton High, down the line to the Directors of the
Games, the town council, the mayors of the three boroughs, and a
whole host of notables besides.

And how the fond eyes of father and mother would follow the movements
of John, or Edward, or Philip, as though he might be the only young
athlete worth watching in all that animated scene.  If he won, they
had always known he did not have an equal in his specialty; and
should he be so unlucky as to come in at the heels of the pack, why,
it was easy to be seen that he had not been given a square deal by
some of the rival runners, who persisted in getting in his way, and
were probably leagued together to prevent him from carrying off the
prize.  But no matter, he would always be a hero in the eyes of those
who loved him, though he might not decorate the family mantel at home
with the prizes he aspired to win.

Hugh had kept fairly quiet after returning from Hackensack, and
seeing the hermit once more safe in the charge of his folks.  He knew
that he must conserve his strength for the great undertaking that
confronted him that afternoon.  Those who had entered for the
long-distance race would not be allowed, of course, to participate in
any other event; that had been laid down as law by Mr. Leonard when
they entered their names on the list of candidates.   They must
simply stand around and watch what was going on until the time came
for staging the Marathon; when they could take their place in the
long string that would await the pistol shot intended to start them
on the telling grind.

Horatio and "Just" Smith were on deck, looking fit and eager.  Then,
too, there was Nick Lang, with a grin on his heavy face every time he
glanced toward the other three fellows.  It was getting on, and some
of the earlier events had already been carried through, amidst great
roars of applause as the different prizes went, this one to an
Allandale fellow, another to a boy wearing the Belleville High
colors; and three in succession to local lads.

"I don't exactly like the way that Nick Lang keeps on laughing to
himself every time he looks over in this direction," Horatio was
saying to the other two.

"I've noticed the same thing," spoke up "Just" Smith; "and it makes
me wonder if the tricky fellow hasn't got some slick game up his
sleeve, as usual, looking to giving the rest of us trouble.  You
notice, don't you, boys, that, look as you will, you can't see
anything of either that Tip Slavin, or Leon Disney.  Now, when
fellows who are as fond of outdoor sports as those two have always
been, keep shy when such a great event as this meet is being pulled
off, there must be a pretty good reason."

"They may be somewhere in the crowd," Hugh went on to say, "because
it'd be impossible for any single fellow to identify all that are in
that solid heaving yelling mass of people.  Nick believes he has a
fair chance of leading the pack, and that makes him feel happy.  I
heard him say only yesterday that the one fellow he was afraid of in
our whole bunch was K. K.; and now that accident has eliminated him,
why, naturally, Nick feels more confidence.  In imagination he's
already receiving the grand Marathon prize, and hearing the crowds
yelling themselves hoarse."

"Well," snorted Horatio, gritting his teeth in a way he had when
aroused, "if that's what pleases Nick he's got another guess coming;
for three of us are also in the game; and he's got to do some mighty
tall sprinting in that last half-mile if he expects to win out.  Then
there are a lot of other fellows in the run who may give him a pain.
But, according to the programme, our race comes next after this pole
vaulting contest; so, boys, we'd better be moving around, and getting
our place in line, according to our several numbers."



CHAPTER XVIII

THE GREAT MARATHON RACE

It was plainly noticeable how that vast crowd began to stir, and show
signs of increased interest when the numerous trim runners entered
for the big Marathon started to gather for the preliminary stage of
the race.

Each of the many contestants had a large number fastened upon both
the front and back of his thin upper garment.  By these they might be
recognized even at a distance; and many persons carried field or
opera glasses of various types just on purpose to make out who each
runner was when he came in sight around the bend half a mile away, to
open on that last stretch that was likely to see the cruelest work of
all, if the competition chanced to be keen.

The boys, as a rule, looked very much like lithe grayhounds, for your
natural runner is light of body, and can course along like the wind.
Still, this applies more to short-distance sprinters than those whose
specialty is endurance in a fifteen- or twenty-mile race.

Several of the fellows were quite muscular in build, and gave
evidence of a grim determination such as the bulldog possesses.
These chaps might be easily distanced in the start, but they would
keep doggedly on, under the spur of the knowledge contained in that
old adage that "the race is not always to the swift."

Hugh Morgan was, perhaps, the best built of them all, neither too
heavy, nor yet betraying a weakness that would crop out after the
first five miles had been covered, as might be the case with the more
slender fellows.

They stood in line, listening to the last words of caution delivered
by Mr. Hitchens, a former Yale man who had umpired the baseball games
the preceding summer in such an impartial manner that everyone had
the utmost reliance on his fairness.

He explained to them the simple conditions of the race,--how there
must be no fouling of any kind; just how often and where the
contestants must register their names in books kept by judges on the
course; how each was supposed to give his word of honor not to accept
any sort of lift for even a dozen feet; and that the great crowd
assembled would be waiting to acclaim the first-comer as the victor
in the greatest long-distance race ever attempted by high-school
boys, at least in that particular county.

They were allowed a certain latitude as to their methods of running.
If any of them could cut across lots, and still cover the entire
course, as well as register faithfully wherever required, that was to
be their option.

Having finished his little fatherly talk, the referee stepped to one
side, and gave the word for the runners to make ready.

Every eye was glued on this or that contestant, according to the
humor of the spectator.  Each Allandale visitor saw only Allandale in
that long line, swaying back and forth a trifle, like a reed shaken
in the wind.  They could not believe it possible that any other
fellow had the slightest chance of coming in ahead of those
fleet-footed boys upon whose ability they pinned their full trust.

So it was with the Belleville rooters; while, of course, the natives
were certain the prize was already as good as won by Hugh Morgan; or,
it might happen to be, Horatio Juggins, "Just" Smith, or possibly
Nick Lang, the last-named looking ever so confident, as he leaned
over nearly double in his favorite crouch, his fingertips in contact
with the ground, and his knees bent.

Then came the sharp report of the pistol.

"They're off!" involuntarily exclaimed a thousand persons in unison,
as the line of nimble runners was seen to leap into action, and shoot
away with amazing speed.

There were a few little lively brushes in the start, before the
runners settled down to real business.  Some were immediately left
behind, but this fact seemed to give them little concern, for they
kept jogging away as though quite happy.

Doubtless, a number had entered with no idea of covering more than a
few miles of the long course.  They just enjoyed the excitement, and
the honor of being able to say they had once run in a fifteen-mile
schoolboy Marathon race.

After a bit these novices would drop out, perhaps even hasten back
with various clever excuses for giving up; and having gained the
cheers of their particular coterie of friends they could don a few
more clothes to keep off the chill, and settle back to watch the rest
of the entertainment.  Their opinion would naturally be much sought
after, as to the chances of this or that genuine contestant; which
was one of the things they desired.

As it takes considerable time for even fleet-footed runners to go
over a fifteen-mile course, the sensible committee, who knew just
about how long the crowd would have to wait, had provided plenty of
amusement meanwhile.

Interspersed with a number of minor events, such as further sprinting
matches for younger entries, and some more pole vaulting, as well as
Indian club exhibitions of skill, would come the humorous features of
the meet.

These are always popular with the country people; indeed, nearly
everybody seems to welcome them as a diversion calculated to raise
hearty laughter.

There was also keen competition even in the potato race; and the
crowd yelled itself hoarse to see the antics of those who met with
all manner of mishaps when engaged in the hurdle, and the obstacle
affairs.

The boys who had engaged to try for these prizes seemed to "get their
dander up," as some fellow expressed it, and the way they struggled
and vied with one another was "equal to a circus with a brass band."

Although mention may not have been made of the fact up to now, the
Scranton band was giving of its very best from time to time, and the
air throbbed with martial music suitable to a country just then at
war with a foreign nation.  It was a fair sort of band in the
bargain, and well worth listening to; so that the music really added
greatly to the enjoyment of the occasion.

When the three-legged race was pulled off the spectators howled their
sympathy with this or that pair of contestants as they hopped along,
now rolling on the ground while bound together, and, at times, even
trying to creep in desperation, when it seemed as though a difference
of opinions in the two minds trying to control what was just the same
as one pair of legs, caused confusion, and a lack of progression.

Later on came the climbing of the greased pole.  This is always
comical enough, and aroused much enthusiasm.  Nobody seems to be a
favorite, and each successful attempt to mount is greeted with
shrieks of laughter.  So long as a valiant fellow is seen to be
steadily making his way upwards, inch by inch, he may be applauded;
but let him display the slightest hint of having "shot his bolt," and
begin to slip back again, howls of derision will greet his ears, so
that in confusion he finally gives it up, and retires in haste.

All sorts of small means are resorted to in order to allow the
contestant to get a surer grip on the slippery pole; for, up to a
certain point, these are allowable.  One rubs sand in his hands, and
for a brief time this seems to enable him to do splendid work; but
then it soon wears away, and then his troubles begin; until, unable
to make further progress, he is seen to glance over his shoulder to
note how far from the ground he has risen.  This is a sure sign of
weakening, and, of course, the watchful crowd again roars at him to
keep right on, that he's doing nobly, and all that; but John knows
better, and so down he comes with a rush, and passes out, shaking his
head in disgust and bitter disappointment; for possibly he had been
within five feet of the top when his energies failed him.

So the time went on, merrily enough.

Many persons were declaring they had not enjoyed such an afternoon
for years, and felt weak from so much laughter.

Watches were being consulted more and more frequently now.

"It's getting time we saw something of those chaps," could be heard
here and there, showing that numbers had figured things out, or else
received a tip from an authority in the game as to just how long it
was likely to take a fleet runner to cover fifteen miles of good road.

Anxious eyes were being strained unduly, watching the bend half a
mile beyond.  It could be seen from almost any part of the field,
fortunately, though once the big board fence was in position, the
view would be partly cut off.

It had been arranged, as is always done, that when a runner was
sighted nearing the bend a gun would be fired by the sentry on duty
there, to attract the attention of the crowd, so that they might have
the first glimpse of the leading contestants, as they rounded that
abrupt curve where the view was shut off.

There was now nothing going on in the arena, the entire programme
having been carried out.  Still, few, if any, left their seats,
although they had been there for several hours, it might be.  The
deepest interest centered upon the completion of the Marathon race.
In comparison to this exhibition of school-boy endurance and pluck
the other affairs seemed to sink into insignificance; although at the
time they occurred doubtless those who had friends entered were
wildly excited.  But then the race that has already been finished is
never as intensely interesting as the one in process of being run;
just as the fish landed never seems quite so wonderful as the fellow
who is still swimming the waters, and eyeing the baited hook as
though tempted to take a hazard.

Seconds seemed fraught with undue importance, and many impatient
fellows, upon consulting their watches, were seen to hold the same up
to their ear, as though to make sure the time-piece had not stopped,
so leaden-footed did the minutes seem to move along.

Some of the girls had commenced to sing their class songs, but in a
mild sort of way; for they did not wish to lose the sound that would
denote that a runner was in sight at the second bend, and could be
expected shortly to come into view at the head of the last half-mile
strip of road leading to the goal.

Once an engine on the railroad not far away gave a sharp whistle that
thrilled everybody, and numberless eyes were glued on the point up
the road where the first runner must appear.  Then a general laugh
ran around because of the false alarm.

But everything must have an end, and that keen anxiety finally met
with its reward.  Plainly came the heavy boom of the waiting gun.
Everyone craned his or her neck to see.  Hearts beat quicker with
eager anticipation.  Which one of the thirty contestants would be the
first to appear?  There might be several in a bunch, primed for the
final sprint for goal.  The very thought thrilled hearts, and added
color to cheeks, as well as made eyes sparkle with anticipation.
Allandale was not cheering now; Belleville rooters were strangely
quiet; for, so far, the outcome of the great race was still wrapped
in mystery; but the solution would soon come, they knew.

Another heavy boom told that a second runner was just around the
bend, and when a third discharge quickly followed the crowd knew
there was going to be an exciting finish to the Marathon.

Then a plainly audible sigh broke forth as the first runner was seen
rounding the bend, and starting on the home stretch, but wabbling
badly as he ran, being almost completely exhausted.



CHAPTER XIX

ON THE FINAL MILE OF THE COURSE

Meanwhile, in order to understand certain important events that came
about, it is necessary that we follow the runners, and devote this
chapter to what occurred up to the time that first fellow came
lunging around the final bend, having covered the whole course up to
the final lap.

For a mile or so along the road there were bunches of schoolboys and
girls waiting to give some of the contestants a cheering word as they
flashed past.  The enthusiasts, however, would not linger long, for
they likely enough wished to see the comical part of the programme
carried out.  Besides, once the runners had straggled past their
posts the only interest remaining for them in the race was its
conclusion.  So they would want to get back to the grounds, and
secure positions along the line to the first bend, where they could
greet each contestant as he appeared, and cheer him on; for he would
probably need encouragement, being near the point of exhaustion.

Hugh had figured things out exactly, and knew what he could do.  He
was not alarmed because several of the visiting runners led the way,
and even "Just" Smith had quite a little lead over him.

Pegging along, Hugh covered mile after mile with a steadiness that he
had reduced to machine-like motion.  He had timed himself, and the
whole course was mentally charted for his guidance.  If he reached
the cut-off road at a certain time he would know things were moving
just as swiftly as necessary.  Those boys who strained themselves in
that first seven miles would be apt to rue their rashness when they
began to feel their legs quiver with weakness under them, and still
miles remained to be covered ere the goal came in sight.  And,
besides, they were sure to be in no condition for a hot final sprint,
in case of keen competition.

So Hugh, having registered as required at two booths on the way, and
thus learned the order in which the trio ahead of him seemed to be
running, finally arrived at the sunken quarry road.  He recognized
the landmarks before he reached the spot; and losing not a second of
time darted among the trees.

"Just" Smith was still leading him, for here and there he could
distinguish the other's footprints, where the ground chanced to be a
little moist.  Hugh also had reason to believe that Nick Lang was
coming strong not a great distance behind him.  He wondered whether
Nick meant to take advantage of the old quarry road as well as he and
"Just" Smith, and Horatio in the bargain.  For that matter Hugh did
not care an iota; if Nick considered it would be to his advantage he
was at liberty to benefit by this scheme of Hugh's.  It was all for
the glory of Scranton High; and far better that Nick won the prize,
than that it should be taken by an Allandale, or a Belleville
contestant--that is, if he won it honestly.

Apparently, on the face of the returns, when half of the fifteen-mile
course had been run, the victory was likely to be carried off by
Whipple, the fleet-winged Allandale chap who had played right field
during the baseball matches; "Just" Smith; himself; or possibly Nick
Lang.  There was always a dim and remote possibility, however, of a
dark horse forging to the front on the home stretch.  This might be
Horatio Juggins, or McKee, or perhaps that Belleville runner, Conway,
who had looked so confident when Hugh surveyed the line of eager
faces at the start.

Hugh remembered every foot of the way along that quarry road.  He had
a faculty for impressing features of the surrounding landscape on his
mind, so that he could recall it at pleasure, just as though he held
a photograph in his hand.

Now he was drawing near the quarry itself, the loneliest and most
gruesome stretch of the entire cut-off; with "Just" Smith still in
the lead.  Hugh felt proud of his chum, and often chuckled as he
contemplated the other's supreme delight in case a fickle fortune
allowed him to come in ahead; for honors of this sort were a rare
thing in the past of the Smith boy; and certainly he had never before
been so close to reaping such a colossal prize as the winning of the
Marathon would be reckoned.

Now Hugh glimpsed the quarry on one side of him.  How his thoughts
flew backward to marshal the strange events so recently happening
there, in which he and some of his comrades had had the good fortune
to participate.

Just then he heard a plain groan.  It gave him a little thrill, but
not because he fancied there was anything supernatural connected with
the sound.  Looking in the direction from whence the groan came he
discovered a boy sitting on the ground, and rubbing his lower
extremities vigorously.

It was "Just" Smith!  Evidently something not down on the programme
had happened to the boy who led the race across the quarry road.
Hugh suspected treachery immediately.  He turned aside, and sprang
towards his chum.

"Hey! what ails you, 'Just' Smith?" he called out, wasting some of
his precious breath in the bargain.  "This isn't the way to win a
Marathon, don't you know?  What if you have barked your shin?--forget
all about it, and get moving again!"

The Smith boy looked very sad, as he shook his face dolefully.

"Huh! wish I could, Hugh," he hastened to mumble, still rubbing his
shin, and making faces as though it hurt him considerably.  "I've
tried to run, but shucks; what's the use when you can hardly limp at
the best?  I'm through, Hugh, sorry to say.  You keep on, and bag the
prize; next to winning it myself I'd love to know _you_ took it away
from that Whipple chap."

"But--how did the accident happen, 'Just' Smith?" continued Hugh.

"Accident nothing!" snapped the other, between his set teeth.  "It
was all a set-up game to knock one of us out of the race, I tell you.
If you'd been leading at the time, why, that shower of rocks must
have met you."

"Rocks, did you say?" exclaimed Hugh, looking dark.

Just then the sound of footsteps was heard.  A runner went past them
on the full tear.  It was Nick Lang, and when he turned his face
toward the two on their knees the wicked look on his grinning face
told more eloquently than words how his brain had been the one to
hatch up this miserable trick whereby he hoped to gain an advantage
over one of his schoolmates who might happen to be leading him in the
race.  He vanished down the road, still running strong.  "Just" Smith
almost howled, he was so furious.

"That's the chap who engineered this rotten game, I tell you, Hugh!"
he snapped.  "And chances are ten to one it was Leon Disney and that
Tip Slavin who threw all those stones, and then ran away laughing, so
I couldn't glimpse 'em.  Say, I was struck in half a dozen places.
I've got a lump on my head nearly as big as a hen's egg; and my elbow
hurts like everything.  I was so flustered that I must have got
twisted in a vine, or else struck a root, for I fell, and barked my
shin something fierce.  I wanted to chase after the cowards, but knew
it was silly to think of such a thing.  Then I tried to keep on, but
it wasn't any use, and I gave it up as a bad job.  But Hugh, I hope
you don't mean to let that skunk profit by his trickery.  Please
start off, and beat him out, if it takes a leg."

"But I hate to leave you here, 'Just' Smith, much as I'd like to
chase after Nick, because now he deserves to be beaten."

"Oh!  don't bother about me, Hugh.  I'll try and get to the main
road, even if I have to _crawl_.  Later on you can come back for me
in some sort of rig.  Whew! but I'm as mad as a hatter because I've
lost my fine chance, when I was going so strong, with plenty of
reserve force held back."

Hugh realized that duty called upon him to do as his chum demanded.
It would be a shame if Nick Lang actually profited through such a
rank act of treachery toward his fellows of Scranton High.  An
individual should be ready to sacrifice his school or its interests
to his own personal ambition, and certainly never should it be
allowed that he gain his ends through such a dastardly trick as the
waylaying of another on the road, and his being assaulted, as "Just"
Smith had been.

"All right, I'll do it, then!" Hugh exclaimed, with a look of sudden
determination.  "Expect me back later on, old fellow!  Bye-bye!
Don't try to do too much, and hurt yourself worse!"

With these words he sprang away.  "Just" Smith gave him a parting
cheer, that must have come a bit hard, owing to the pain he suffered,
and also the bitter disappointment that wrung his boyish and
ambitious heart.

Hugh had but one thought now, which was to speed along at such a clip
as to allow him to finally overtake and pass the treacherous Nick,
and leave him in the lurch.  The spur of punishing the other for such
dastardly conduct was apt to prove an incentive calculated to add
considerably to Hugh's running.

Nick had the advantage, since he must be well on the way to the main
thoroughfare by now; and once that was gained there was a clear field
ahead of him.  But one more registering station remained, and that
was at a certain turn on the way home.  Then would come the final
three miles, with the pace increasing constantly, as those in the
lead vied with each other to get ahead, or to retain that proud
position.

Hugh quickly regained the mastery over his aroused feelings.  He must
stay cool and collected so as to do exactly the right thing at the
right time.  A little slip in the way of judgment was likely to lose
him the race, for he now learned as he gained the main road, that
there were not only one but two competitors ahead of him.

Yes, the fleet-footed Whipple had somehow managed to spin along over
the ground, and was now not far behind Nick Lang.  Possibly the
fellow from Allandale had also secretly examined the course and
discovered a cut-off on his own account, through means of which he
anticipated gaining a great advantage over all the other runners in
the Marathon.

Hugh now set out to make steady gains.  He must be within a certain
distance of those two fellows by the time the last stretch was
reached, or else all his hope of overtaking and passing them would be
lost.

He found that his powers of endurance and speed had not been
misjudged, for they responded nobly when called upon for a further
spurt.  Now, he was greatly lessening the distance separating him
from Whipple; who, in turn, seemed able to hold his own with Nick.

The latter began to show the first signs of distress when they were
at the beginning of the last two miles.  He looked over his shoulder,
and no runner ever is guilty of such an unwise proceeding unless his
heart has commenced to be filled with grave doubts as to his being a
winner.

Again did Hugh notice Nick doing this, and he took fresh courage from
the circumstance.  Yes, and looking more closely he also saw that
Nick was not running true to form any longer; he had begun to wobble
more or less, as though unable to continue on in a straight line.
That was another bad sign, since it causes the runner to cover
unnecessary ground; and also indicates a weakening heart.

Hugh let out another burst of speed.  He was closing the gap rapidly;
and, apparently, Whipple also seemed to be gaining on the almost
played-out Nick.

They were now within less than a mile of the finish; the last turn
would soon be reached, with the gun booming out the fact of their
arrival.  Hugh girded his loins for a Garrison finish, and gloried in
the conviction that he was in trim to do himself credit.



CHAPTER XX

THE BOY WHO WON--CONCLUSION

"It's Nick Lang, as sure as anything!" shouted a boy who happened to
possess an excellent pair of field-glasses.

"Nick Lang in the lead!" howled another; "well, what do you think of
that?  Where, oh, where, oh, where is Hugh Morgan about this time;
and 'Just' Smith in the bargain?"

"But Nick is a Scranton High boy after all, and that's a heap better
than to see an Allandale fellow come in ahead!" cried another near by.

"Look! a second runner has turned the bend; and see how he is coming
up on poor wobbly old Nick hand-over-fist!"

"Hello! what's this mean?" whooped a visitor exultantly.  "Surely I
know the second fellow's build.  It's certainly our great Whipple!
He's going to cop the prize, boys!  Give Whipple an Allandale yell
right now to encourage him!"

Even as a score of boyish throats roared in response to this entreaty
a third runner was discovered rounding the bend.  He appeared to be
tearing along at race-horse speed, as though having a reserve stock
of power upon which to call in this closing half-mile of the long
race.

"Hugh Morgan!"

The words seemed to run like wildfire through the vast crowd.
Everybody repeated them, some with a growing delight, others with a
sense of impending disaster to the wild hopes they had been so
ardently cherishing; all according to the viewpoint they held.
Scranton's register was rising, while Allandale visitors began to
feel something was on the verge of happening to crush the budding
paean of victory that was ready to bubble from their lips.

Nick evidently knew that he had shot his bolt.  He, doubtless, tried
frantically to encourage his legs to move faster, but they refused to
hearken to the call.  Whipple was now rapidly closing the short gap
existing between them.  At the same time it could be seen that the
Allandale runner veered a trifle, as though to give Nick a fairly
wide berth when passing.

Plenty of fellows noticed this fact, nor did they wonder at it.  The
tricky character of Nick Lang was pretty well known, and they
believed he would not hesitate about throwing himself sideways, so as
to collide with Whipple when the other was in the act of passing him;
although such a vindictive act could, of course, not better the
position of the local runner a particle.

When Whipple actually took the lead a great roar arose from thousands
of throats.  Doubtless many wild-eyed Allandale enthusiasts already
counted the victory as won.  They could be seen commencing to throw
their hats and caps into the air, boy-fashion.  Others, wiser,
gripped their hands, and held their breath while waiting to see the
actual finish of the great race.

Of a truth Whipple was doing splendidly, there was no gainsaying
that; but coming on back of him was one who appeared to be making
much better time.  Hugh was gaining fast, they could see.  The only
question that remained to be settled was whether Whipple had it in
him to increase his pace sufficiently to cross the tape first; or, on
the other hand, if Hugh Morgan was able to speed up still more, and
close the gap.

How the shouts rang out.  Everybody seemed to be cheering madly at
the same time.  Men stood up, and waved their arms; girls embraced
each other, though not an eye was turned away from that wonderful
finish of the great Marathon race.

Now, Hugh had apparently released his final effort.  He was gaining
faster and faster.  Whipple seemed to know that he was in deadly
peril.  He, too, looked back over his shoulder in alarm, possibly
meaning in desperation to almost burst a blood vessel if he found
that his rival was about to overtake him.

That proved his eventual undoing, though the result was no longer in
doubt.  He lost his balance, and, being so exhausted that he could
not stand longer, pitched headlong to the ground, just as the fleet
Hugh jumped into the lead, raced twenty steps further, broke the
extended tape, and thus won the race.

How the heavens seemed to fairly quiver with the roars that broke
out!  It had been a most thrilling finish for the greatest race ever
run in all the country.  Time might come and time might go, but never
would those who had been so fortunate as to witness the conclusion of
the Marathon forget the thrilling spectacle.

Hugh bore his honors meekly.

He utterly declined to let some of the Scranton fellows pick him up
and bear him around on their shoulders, as they threatened to do.
After the prizes had been duly awarded the assemblage broke up, and
the roads leading out of Scranton were soon blocked with hundreds of
vehicles of every description carrying home the visitors.

Even Allandale and Belleville had no reason to be disappointed over
the general results, for their young athletes had fared very well,
all things considered.  Of course, most of them would rather have
seen the Marathon won by a representative from their school than to
"scoop in" all the other prizes grouped together; but since it had to
go to Scranton, they voiced the opinion of most people when they
declared they were glad Hugh Morgan had won it, and not Nick Lang.

Even though overwhelmed with congratulations on every hand, Hugh did
not forget his promise to "Just" Smith.  As soon as he could get into
his street clothes he hunted a fellow who chanced to have his
father's flivver handy, and easily won his consent to take him along
the road in the direction of Belleville, in order to find poor "Just"
Smith, and get him home again.

This they did without any mishap, and it may be easily understood
that the disappointed boy hailed their coming with great joy.  He
knew all about that gruelling finish of the big race in the bargain,
some of those Allandale chaps passing by in vehicles having readily
informed him as to the winner, and what a tremendously thrilling
sight the finish had been.

Of course, since "Just" Smith had not once glimpsed the figures of
his assailants, and as conviction can hardly rest upon a burst of
vindictive boyish laughter, there was no public denunciation of Nick
Lang and his cronies.  Everybody could give a good guess, however, as
to who was guilty; and after that Nick was destined to feel himself
more ostracized by his schoolmates than ever before.

The great athletic tournament had proven to be a complete success,
being marred by no serious accidents, for which many a devoted mother
in Scranton gave thanks that same night, even though her boy may not
have won undying fame through gaining a prize.  Hugh himself was more
than satisfied, though he would have been almost as well pleased had
it been poor "K. K.," "Just" Smith, or Horatio Juggins who had won
the big race, so long as the honor of Scranton High was upheld.

That was to be the finish of the fall sports, but with winter so near
at hand, and that vast field being put in order for flooding, it
might readily be guessed the boys and girls of Scranton were in line
for considerable more fun while Jack Frost held sway over his frozen
dominions.  That this supposition proved to be a correct one may be
judged from the title of the fourth and following volume in this
series, which can be had wherever boys' books are sold, and bearing
the suggestive title of "The Chums of Scranton High at Ice Hockey;
or, A Wizard on Steel Runners."  Get it, if you have enjoyed reading
about Hugh Morgan and his loyal comrades in this and previous books;
you will find it just as deeply interesting as anything that has gone
before, since the boys of Scranton enter upon a fresh line of healthy
competition, this time upon the ice.



THE END





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