Donald Ferguson.

The Chums of Scranton High Hugh Morgan's Uphill Fight online

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the physical instructor believed he had built up the strongest team
Scranton could put in the field that season.

Much must depend on the pitching staff. It remained to be seen how the
twirlers would "pan out" under fire. At present Mr. Leonard was
working strenuously, trying to put more "ginger" into their work; and
also teaching them some of the wrinkles of the game, as known to
semi-professionals like himself.

Greatly to the surprise as well as delight of Owen Dugdale, he had been
notified that he was to cover short. Indeed, others were not as much
astonished as Owen himself, because they had been admiring the splendid
way in which he fielded his difficult position there, accepting chances
that many fellows would have allowed to let get by them for fear of
making an error, and with wonderful success.

Once Owen got his hands on the ball, and he could shoot it across to
first like a rifle bullet. His accuracy and speed were simply grand;
everybody cheered when he sent the ball "screaming" across to the man
guarding the initial sack; or on occasion hurled it to Hugh on third
for a double.

Then again, Owen was improving in his batting. Hugh had gone to great
pains to give him many pointers, and the fruit of this was seen by the
clever way in which Owen could lay down a pretty bunt, the ball rolling
along just inside the line in a tantalizing fashion, and headed for
first or third, as the occasion might require. The player who can be
depended on to bunt successfully two times out of three attempts is
always a valuable accessory to a club; since he is thus able to push a
runner along; and perhaps get his own base in the bargain, when the
others are busily engaged in trying to catch the fellow on the bases.

Short-stop must always be an agile chap, who is especially quick both
at decisions and throwing. Even though he snatch up the ball, and thus
make a fine stop, if his judgment is poor or his throwing arm lame, he
can often bungle his work, and prove of little help to his team.

There would still be another full week before the first game with
Belleville. If fair weather favored them the Scranton boys hoped to
put in daily practice, and speed up in their team work, as well as
signals. The pitchers, too, needed considerable more practice before
they could be said to be at their best; in fact, they would all be
better off for two more weeks of hard work, which, however, could not
be obtained.

Two teams were made up for this afternoon, one of them the regulars,
and the other a "scrub," though with some fair players aboard, mostly
substitutes. Mr. Leonard himself meant to play at various positions
for the latter team. He chanced to be one of those remarkable
all-round handy men, capable of filling a job as catcher, first
baseman, second, short-stop or fielder. He even astonished the boys
during the afternoon play by taking his place as a slab-artist in the
pitcher's box; and some of his shoots and drops puzzled the hard
hitters on the regular team, so that they whiffed at thin air, and thus
passed out on strikes.

The pitchers had been evenly divided, and all showed considerable
ability after their caliber. Some seemed to have considerable "stuff"
with them, and mystified the batters with their delivery. Others were
hit freely, and runs were either earned or else made with the
assistance of errors more or less glaring.

The weak places in the team's play were being noted by Mr. Leonard, who
would take measures to stop the leaks after a fashion of his own;
through advice and practical instructions, if he could; and should
these means fail, then by a radical change in the line-up.

As Hugh had been made field captain, he would have charge of the
playing to a considerable extent. On this account, he took an
especially keen interest in all that went on. When Nick Lang, who
played centre field, made a difficult catch of a great fly from Mr.
Leonard's bat, no one applauded more than did Hugh; while Thad behind
the bat stood and scowled, for somehow he disliked the idea of the town
bully having any part in the team's work.

When he took occasion to speak of this during their turn at bat, as he
and Hugh sat by themselves on the lower bleacher seats, watching the
game, the other took him to task for his way of thinking.

"You've got to get over that personal way of thinking, Thad, when you
belong to a ball club like Scranton High," he said, earnestly. "Now we
all know what Nick is, and few fellows like to play in a game where he
has any part; but remember that he is one of the high-school students,
and on that account has just as much right to aspire to a place on the
representative team as you or I."

"But he always makes trouble wherever he goes," expostulated Thad,
still unconvinced, it seemed; "and mark my words, he'll do something to
try and break up this team, if things don't go just to suit his ideas."

"Please don't forget Mr. Leonard when you say that, Thad. Depend on
it, he's going to keep his eye on Nick right along. If the fellow
shows any insubordination, he'll get his walking papers like a flash,
and perhaps be booted off the grounds in the bargain, if he gets too
fresh."

"Well, perhaps you're right, Hugh," grumbled Thad. "Mr. Leonard must
know a heap more than a boy like me, who sees everything on the
surface. And I admit that was a cracking good catch Nick made, after
such a hard run. He can field, all right, and he is a gap-stopper in
center field, for a fact."

"There, look at him send out a screamer right now, that ought to be
good for a double!" exclaimed Hugh. "You see, we need Nick on the
team. He is one of our mainstays at bat and in the field. If only Mr.
Leonard can control him, he's apt to be of great assistance to us in
winning games. The boy who would take his place isn't really in the
same class with Nick as a player. So let's try to forget all about our
natural aversion while we're playing ball. If we act that way, the
other fellows are apt to follow suit. And, Thad, conquering your
feelings may be the means of bringing a glorious victory to Scranton
High. Wouldn't you think yourself well repaid for just repressing your
antipathy toward Nick Lang?"

"Of course you're right, Hugh, as you nearly always are. I'm so
quick-tempered I make all sorts of silly blunders. But look there, I
can see a cloud of dust up the road yonder. Now I wouldn't be at all
surprised if we had another friendly visit from that Belleville fellow,
O. K. He's taking quite an interest in Scranton, it seems, and has run
over again this Saturday to find out how we're improving. We must
jolly him along, Hugh, and never let him see we're feeling a bit of
anxiety over our pitchers."

Sure enough, the rider of the motorcycle proved to be Oliver Kramer,
the same boy who had been over before to take a look at the Scranton
players. He came alongside the two chums sitting on the bleachers, and
deposited his machine so that it would be safely out of the way.

"Hello! fellows!" he remarked, cheerily, as he held out his hand to
Hugh. "Here I am again, right side up with care, as the clown in the
circus always says. Glad to meet you again, Captain Morgan, and you
also, Thad Stevens. Mr. Leonard was over to dinner at our house
Sunday, and he invited me to drop in any old time, and see how your
crowd was making out. I hope now you don't object to my being here,
Hugh?"

"Not in the least, O. K.," Hugh told him, smilingly. "We're pushing
along pretty fairly, and ironing out some of the wrinkles as we go.
Lots still to be done before we're ready to try conclusions with your
team at Belleville; but with such a capable coach as Mr. Leonard, we
believe we'll get there in time."

They watched the play go on. There were some really clever stunts done
that called for loud cheers on the part of the small crowd present. O.
K. added his strident voice to the shouts.

"Great work that, old top!" he shouted at Sandy Dowd, who had made a
magnificent steal to second, after getting first on a single, his slide
amidst a cloud of dust being the grand climax of the feat; for though
the catcher sent the ball down in a direct line to the baseman, still
the red-headed Sandy had his hand on the bag at the time he was
touched, and there was no disputing the "safe on second" of the umpire.

For three innings did O. K. sit there and enjoy the game. He was a
baseball enthusiast of the first water, and never could get quite
enough of his favorite sport. Of course he preferred taking part in a
game, but the next best thing was to watch others play, and comment on
their mistakes; just as most people can play the critic while watching
a game of billiards and always feel they could have improved on the
shot that missed connections.

"Well, what do you think now, O. K.?" asked Hugh later on, when the
Belleville boy made preparations as though about to start homeward.
"Do you notice any improvement in our work? Have we gone up or down,
in your judgment?"

"Yes, be honest, now, O. K., and say," asked Thad. "We can take
criticism without flinching. You know what your team can do; have we
any show against Belleville, or that strong aggregation at Allandale?"

"Honestly, between man and man, fellows," said the other, earnestly, "I
can see the greatest sort of improvement in your play. When you get
your team work down a bit better and closer to scientific principles,
you're going to make both the other clubs in the Three-Town League
hustle some to hold their own. I'm glad to see it, too, because it
means we'll have to do our level best if we hope to win. And that
insures some mighty lively ball games during the short season while
we're playing against each other."

Hugh felt satisfied, for he believed O. K. to be quite honest in what
he said.




CHAPTER XV

PRETTY POLLY UNDER SUSPICION

"Hello! Thad, that you?"

"Nobody else, Hugh. I rather thought I'd hear your voice when I
stepped over to the 'phone. What's doing this fine Sunday afternoon?"

"Are you in for a little walk with me, Thad?"

"Just what would please me a heap, Hugh. Anything particular moving?"

"There you go suspecting that I've got something on tap just because I
call up and invite you to cover a few miles, when the weather is so
fine. But for once you've hit the nail on the head, my boy."

"That settles it, then. I'll rush right over, and join you, Hugh."

"Be careful and don't break your neck in your hurry, Thad. My news can
keep; and what would poor Scranton High do for a catcher in the game
next Saturday if you fractured your collar-bone?"

Whether Thad took the advice to heart or not, he certainly made his
appearance at the home of his best chum in an incredibly brief space of
time, flushed in the bargain, and with an eager light lurking in his
eyes.

"Nothing doing until we get safely out of town," said Hugh, firmly; "so
you'll have to put the brake on your impatience."

"Huh!" grumbled Thad, "that sounds as if what you had to tell me was of
vast importance, so that you didn't want to run any risk of others
cribbing the news. Now you have got me guessing to beat the band,
Hugh. I wonder if those Belleville fellows have been up to any dodge
to learn our signals, and how our pitchers are practicing certain pet
balls?"

"Oh! I'll relieve your mind that far by telling you it has nothing
whatever to do with the game next Saturday; for that matter it's not
about baseball at all. You're doing those fine chaps at Belleville a
gross injustice to even hint at their thinking of spying on us."

Thad grinned as though he had won a point.

"Well, I take it all back, then, Hugh," he hastened to say, contritely.
"And now that point's settled, there's only one more thing it could be
about."

"Notice that shrub bursting into bloom, will you?" remarked Hugh. "No
one ever saw a prettier sight than that is right now."

"Have you learned anything more about - - "

"We'll take a turn here, and walk along the canal toward the big
mill-pond," interrupted Hugh. "That's always a favorite walk of mine;
and, to tell the truth, I haven't been out to the mill-pond for a long
time. The fishing there hasn't been very good this season, some of the
boys told me. Besides, I've been kept so busy with my studies,
baseball matters, and several other things I'm interested in, that I
haven't had much time for fishing this spring. Nobody loves it more
than I do, either, as you happen to know."

Thad heaved a sigh, and shook his head.

"No use trying to coax you, Hugh, when you've made up your mind not to
let out even a little peep. A fellow might wheedle until he fell over,
and you'd still be as hard as adamant. Yet it's right. Makes me think
of the old saying that a single man can lead a mule to water, but a
dozen can't make him drink - not comparing you to a mule, of course."

They chatted as they walked, until presently the town had been left
behind them.

"Now I'll open up and tell you what's been worrying me," announced
Hugh, suddenly. "The fact of the matter is, I was called over to
Madame Pangborn's this morning after getting home from church. She
told me a third spoon has disappeared!"

"Great guns! is that so, Hugh? And, say, was Owen there on the day it
went glimmering?" demanded Thad, frowning.

"I'm sorry to have to say yes to that," returned Hugh, slowly. "It was
yesterday it happened. She persisted in leaving the spoons just where
I saw them. I advised her to do that, for if they were hidden away we
might never discover the thief. As on the other occasions, Owen came
in with a bundle for the Red Cross, sent by the same lady who had
intrusted him with a package twice before."

"All I can say is, it's getting a heap serious for our new friend,
Owen. Hugh, do you think the poor chap might be what they call a
kleptomaniac; that is a person who has an irresistible inclination to
take things that don't belong to him, or her, and generally has no use
for them after stealing the same? It's really a disease, I've read.
Some very rich people are affected by it, particularly queer old
ladies."

"You're jumping ahead too fast, Thad," remonstrated Hugh, chidingly.
"I haven't admitted yet that I suspect Owen more than I did before. In
fact, these occurrences, such as his being in the house each time a
spoon vanishes, may turn out to simply be coincidences."

"That sounds just like you, Hugh. You're the best kind of a friend
anybody ever could have. Perhaps now you've got a clue of some sort
that you wouldn't mind telling me about?"

"I've been wondering whether the culprit is a human being after all,"
remarked Hugh, to the utter astonishment of his comrade, who burst out
with:

"Whew! you're aiming high, I must say, old chap. If not a human being,
what sort of a creature could the clever thief be? I've heard of
monkeys stealing things and hiding the same away in a spirit of
covetousness; but then the old lady doesn't happen to have a simian for
a household pet, that I know of."

"No, but she has got a poll-parrot, as I told you, Thad!" observed
Hugh, calmly.

"Oh! do you suspect that a silly bird could go and carry off not only
one spoon but three of them?" gasped the other boy. "What would a
parrot want of such objects, and where would she hide them?"

"Remember, this is only guess work on my part, because, so far, I
haven't any positive evidence that it's so. But I remembered once
reading an article about some birds having a weakness that way.
Generally it was a raven that did it, and hidden away in a dark corner
they would find trinkets and spoons and all sorts of things that were
of no possible use to any bird. In every instance they seemed to be
bright and tempting, as if the bird had no eye for dingy things. Well,
these spoons have recently been scoured and cleaned so that they shine
splendidly!"

"Oh! now that you mention it, Hugh," broke out Thad, "I remember that
several years ago, before I knew you, with another boy I climbed a tall
tree to peek in at the nest of a pair of crows. Well, sir, besides the
young ones, what did we find but three strange things. One was a key,
pretty rusty at that; another seemed to be a piece of metal that might
have fallen off a motor car on the road; it was made of brass, and
still shone fairly well. The third I've forgotten about, though I've
still got them all at home somewhere. At the time, Dick Saunders and I
laughed, and said the old mother crow had fetched her babies some
playthings to keep them amused while she and her mate were off hunting
grubs and corn and such crow food."

"Well, all of which goes to prove that my little theory mightn't be so
far fetched as you seemed to think in the beginning," said Hugh. "I
mean to look around closely the next time I drop in to see the Madame.
Perhaps if I picked up a tiny green feather that must have come from
Pretty Poll, and on the table close to the case that holds the spoons,
it might clinch matters."

"Whew! I only hope you do!" declared Thad. "I'd hate to learn that
Owen had any hand in taking those spoons. The sooner we find out the
truth, the better for all concerned. It'll not only relieve our minds,
as well as that of the old lady; but either prove or disprove the
suspicions we're right now entertaining toward that poor boy."

He looked very determined when saying this, just as though he had made
up his own mind to hasten the dénouement; but of that he did not say
anything to Hugh.

"My plan at present is to find a chance to hide in the room, and have
the old lady let her parrot free to fly around," continued Hugh,
reflectively. "You see, as a rule, the bird is held by a fine chain,
and made to stay by her perch; but the lady as much as admitted, when
scolding her pet, that every now and then Polly managed to get loose by
pecking at the ring about her leg; and had a great time flying
squawking in and out of the rooms before anybody could catch her again."

Thad clapped his hand in glee. He had changed his mind considerably
after hearing all these things in the line of a convincing argument, as
mentioned by Hugh.

"Why, if it should turn out that way, Hugh, it'd make a story well
worth writing up for the magazines, or a big New York daily paper. I
hope now you'll get busy on this scheme right away, so we'll know the
truth. Parrots are mighty cunning birds, for a fact. I knew one once
that used to mock everybody going by. What fun we boys used to have
trying to teach him to say things that mebbe his mistress wouldn't
exactly approve of, though, honestly, Hugh, they weren't very tough,
just boys' slang, you know. I'm glad now you asked me to take this
walk with you. For all we can tell, it may have some influence in
solving this puzzle that's got both of us guessing."

When Thad said this, he of course could have no idea how near he was
hewing to the truth. That walk was fated to have a very considerable
influence on the course of events, and also upon the solving of the
riddle; but we must not anticipate.

The two lads continued to saunter along. They chatted on other
subjects besides the mystery of the old lady's lost souvenir spoons.
The matter of outdoor sports was much in their minds those days, when
sleepy old Scranton was waking from her Rip Van Winkle nap of twenty
years, and girding herself to accomplish a few things on the diamond
and the gridiron.

So they drew gradually nearer to the famous Hobson mill-pond, where for
generations the boys of Scranton had been accustomed to swim and fish
in the good old summer time, and skate in the winter, the canal leading
close to its location.

The old mill was no longer in use, but with its moss-covered wheel made
a very picturesque sight that artists often painted with delight. The
pond itself was of fair size, and surrounded with trees and bushes. In
fact, it was quite a lake. On one side there stood a large ice-house,
and when the surface of the pond was covered with a foot of clear firm
ice, many of the residents of the town had their supply cut and stored
in places built partly underground, in order that they might have all
the ice they wanted through the dog days.

Hugh and Thad had almost arrived at the mill-pond when they suddenly
heard loud voices. There was screaming in shrill tones that would
indicate the presence of children near by.

"What does all that row mean, Hugh?" snapped Thad, looking suddenly
interested.

"They're playing around the pond, those kids, and like as not one of
them may have fallen in! Let's get a move on us and see!"

Hugh seemed to be of the same opinion, for he started on a rapid
gallop. Louder rang out the shrill cries. There could be no doubt now
as to some one being frightened; and considering the loneliness of the
mill-pond region, it was easy to guess Thad had hit the truth when he
surmised that a child must be in danger of drowning.




CHAPTER XVI

THE RESCUE AT HOBSON'S MILL-POND

The two boys covered the short distance in an incredibly brief space of
time. As they rounded the bend just beside the mill-pond and saw the
whole scene spread out before them, their eyes were immediately
fastened on a stirring picture close by.

Two little colored girls were running up and down the shore doing most
of the screaming, and acting as though half frightened to death. The
reason for their alarm was not hard to see, for at some little distance
out from the bank a small boy, as black as the ace of spades, was
having a terrible time trying to keep his footing on a plank that had
been a part of a rude raft, doubtless fashioned by his own hands.

He had wished to "show-off" before his little playmates, and after
rudely fastening several boards taken from the tumble-down old mill
into a crude attempt at a raft, had boldly launched the same. With a
pole he had stepped aboard, and then proceeded to "cut capers."
Encouraged by the admiration of the other children, he must have become
more and more reckless, so that he soon reached a point far enough
distant from land to prevent him from touching bottom with his pole.

This sudden discovery may have alarmed him, and in his endeavor to
paddle, he had caused his raft to part in sections. So there he was
now clinging to one plank, and in immediate danger of falling into the
water, which out there was doubtless many times over his head.

"Keep steady, there, boy!" shouted Thad. "Stick to your plank, and
we'll get you ashore all right! Don't be scared, whatever you do!
Thad, how can we reach him?"

"There's an old boat pulled up on the shore a little ways above here,"
said the other quickly, for he had the faculty of thinking of
everything when an emergency arose, an admirable trait in any boy.

So they started on a run, heading for the spot, and hoping the tragedy
would hold off until they could launch the old craft, which leaked more
or less, but was likely to hold long enough for them to accomplish the
rescue.

Passing the two small girls, Thad shot out words of encouragement to
them.

"Stop that screaming!" he told them, with an air of authority. "You
only rattle the boy, don't you know? We're going after a boat so as to
get out to him. It's close by, and much safer than swimming. Tell him
to keep still, and we'll get him in a jiffy!"

Of course he did not slacken his pace any while jerking out these
words. They at least seemed to have some effect on the two children,
for they stopped shrieking.

Just as the boys reached the boat, however, the cries broke out again
with redoubled energy. Thad glanced back, and immediately exclaimed:

"He's fallen in, Hugh! We've got to hurry, you know!"

"Here's one of the paddles; do you see anything of the other?" demanded
Hugh.

Luckily Thad discovered it immediately. The "paddles" were crude
affairs chopped out of boards by some of the boys who used the boat
while swimming; but all the same they answered a purpose.

With a rush the old boat was pushed down the sloping sandy shore and
into the mill-pond. Hugh and Thad sprang aboard and each snatching up
a paddle, they commenced to urge the unwieldy craft along as best they
might.

As they worked, they could see what was going on ahead of them. The
little chap evidently had considerable pluck about him, for he was
making a really gallant fight for his life, trying to cling to the
board, which was wobbling about in the water at a great rate. Twice
his frantic hold seemed lost, but on each occasion he managed to regain
it. Nature urges every human being or animal to struggle to the utmost


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Online LibraryDonald FergusonThe Chums of Scranton High Hugh Morgan's Uphill Fight → online text (page 7 of 9)