Donald Ferguson.

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

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Just then, however, there were several sewing machines shoved aside,
and much evidence to the effect that on weekdays this same library
might be a beehive of industry, with women chattering as they sewed.

The old lady looked surprised at seeing them, but the welcoming smile
and the extended hand were evidence that she was not displeased.

"I've taken the liberty of fetching my chum, Thad Stevens, around to
see you, Mrs. Pangborn," Hugh was saying as he sat down. "You've heard
me talk of him more than a few times; and even expressed the wish that
I might introduce him to you. He's interested in nearly everything
that concerns me, and we seem to work together like a well-ordered
team, even if we do have an occasional little spat, which is to be
expected."

Madame Pangborn loved boys, as has been said before. She understood
them wonderfully well, too, considering that she had never had one of
her own. So she laughed at what Hugh said.

"I'm doubly glad you have dropped in to see me today, Hugh," she told
him, "for more reasons than one. In the first place, I want to hear at
first hand just what did happen out there at that terrible mill-pond;
and how you managed to save that little boy of my Sarah from drowning.
He sometimes comes here with her to spend a part of a day, and I like
to talk with him, he seems so original, so bright, and so curious about
everything I possess, too."

"Oh! it didn't amount to very much, so far as we were concerned, I
mean," Hugh expostulated; "but since Sarah has told you about it, I
suppose I might as well spin the whole story. We consider that we were
lucky to be around, that's all, for I guess little Brutus would have
been with the angels before now if we hadn't happened along, and heard
all that shrieking from the colored children."

Then he went on to tell about it, even to what had happened after
Brutus arrived home in the big car, the object of attention in
Darktown, with Sarah running like mad to find out what the garbled
account brought by Adolphus Smith might really mean.

The old lady was highly interested in the story, which really Hugh
managed to tell quite cleverly, even injecting some humor in his
narrative.

"So that is how Sarah comes to be calling her Brutus a hero, is it?"
Mrs. Pangborn went on to say, with a smile. "I had never heard her say
such a word before, and considered it rather queer in a mother whose
child had been close to drowning. According to my mind, you and your
chum are really the ones most deserving of that title; but I'll spare
your blushes, young men. Now tell me what you are doing in the line of
outdoor sports; because I hear there are great goings on around this
section of country; and I suppose I must give up next Saturday
afternoon to journeying over to Belleville, in order to encourage our
valiant Scranton High boys."

Both of them started telling of the things that were being done in a
baseball way; and as they were enthusiasts, they found it easy to
enlarge upon such a favorite theme. Thad, however, had begun to show
signs of nervousness, and Hugh suddenly remembering that they had come
there with a particular motive in view, drew out of the conversation,
leaving it to his chum to carry it on with the old lady.

Thad only waited for a favorable opening, when he was ready to "sail
in." This came when the Madame chanced to mention her travels in many
lands, and the fond memories she had of all her visits.

"But when I shall eventually return to my beloved France," she remarked
sadly, "I anticipate many a heartache to see the terrible condition of
the fair country that has been turned into a howling wilderness by the
vandal German armies. Ah! I almost dread the day, much as I yearn to
tread my native soil again."

"My chum was telling me that you had quite a collection of queer
souvenir spoons," Thad remarked just then, thinking he had found just
such an opening as he wished.

Madame Pangborn shot Hugh a suggestive look, as if wondering how far he
had confided in his chum.

"Yes, it is true, I have taken considerable pleasure collecting spoons
in some of the many cities I visited, all of them wonderfully unique,"
she went on to say, with a sigh; "but perhaps, after all, it is a
useless and pernicious habit, since it may tempt some weak one, and
cause trouble."

Then Thad brought out what he had in his pocket. Hugh held his breath.

"Please take a look at this spoon, will you, Mrs. Pangborn," said Thad,
"and tell me if you have ever seen one like it before!"

She gave the speaker a quick, suspicious look, and eagerly took the
little object. For a minute or so she turned it over and over, while
the two boys were quivering with suspense. Then she spoke.

"Ah! quite a charming specimen of Old English silver workmanship, and I
must say it is exceedingly handsome; but it represents a city in which
I never happened to set foot," with which she handed the spoon back to
Thad, who almost dropped it to the floor, such was his sudden sensation
of intense relief.




CHAPTER XIX

HUGH REACHES HIS GOAL

Thad Stevens looked as though any one could knock him down with a
feather. The astonishing fact that the old lady who made a fad of
collecting souvenir spoons, had failed to recognize the one which he
had purloined from Owen's den "struck him all in a heap," as he
afterwards expressed it. Why, that would seem to indicate Owen must be
entirely innocent, so far as proof went.

Hugh, on his part, was quicker to recover. Although he felt a spasm of
sincere satisfaction pass through him at the result of his chum's test,
at the same time he realized that there was no necessity for making
"mountains out of molehills."

Madame Pangborn had instantly surmised that there was more connected
with that odd little silver spoon than she had as yet grasped. Indeed,
having good eyesight, she could hardly have failed to notice the
strange actions of Thad.

"Tell me what it all means, please, Thad," she besought him; "for I am
certain you must have some deeper motive in fetching that souvenir
spoon to show me than appears on the surface. Don't you think I am
entitled to your full confidence?"

"Indeed you are," said Hugh, quickly, "and you shall hear the whole
story. Both of us are right now tingling with satisfaction and delight
because our worst fears have proved ungrounded."

Then he went on to explain just how Thad had by accident become a
temporary guest under the roof of the Rookery, after having helped old
Mr. Dugdale to the house when he was seized with a sudden attack of
sciatica in one of his lower limbs. It did not take Hugh, with an
occasional sentence of explanation from his eager chum, who wanted to
be set right in the eyes of the good madame, long to tell how Thad
chanced to discover the spoon among many other things in Owen's "den,"
and what a host of fears its presence there had aroused in their
breasts.

Then he reached the point in his narrative where Thad conceived the
bold idea of appropriating the spoon during Owen's absence, and letting
the old lady see the same, knowing full well that if she recognized it
as one of her missing souvenir mementoes, the case would look
exceedingly dark for Owen.

Madame Pangborn's face took on a radiant look after she had learned all.

"I have never been able to believe that boy could be guilty of such an
atrocious deed," she hastened to say, emphatically. "I flatter myself
that I can read boys as well as any one, and in his eyes there lies
only truth, and an ardent desire to accomplish great things that have
long been burning in his soul. But, nevertheless, the circumstantial
evidence was so strong that it has caused me some sleepless nights.
Now I know Owen is innocent, I shall be satisfied. I would sooner lose
all my spoons ten times over than find that he had yielded to a sudden
and irresistible temptation."

"But," said Thad, in sore perplexity, "the three spoons are gone,
there's no doubt about that; and if Owen didn't take them who did?"

"Please let the matter drop," expostulated the old lady, hastily. "I
am satisfied to know the boy is innocent. I shall immediately put the
rest of my spoons away, so that they may not tempt any one again."

"But it wouldn't be right to give the hunt up so easily as that, you
know, lady," complained Thad. "We've started in to find the thief, and
our motto is never to turn back once we've put our hands to the plough.
Hugh, don't you say the same?"

"I certainly do," affirmed the other boy. "And while about it, perhaps
I ought to tell Mrs. Pangborn how I at one time even began to imagine
the thief was a thing of green and yellow feathers, and a hooked bill,
otherwise known as Pretty Polly."

At that, the old lady seemed highly interested.

"Oh! such a thought never occurred to me, Hugh!" she hastily exclaimed.
"Could it be possible, do you think?" and she glanced apprehensively
toward the corner of the library, where the handsome and intelligent
parrot sat on her perch, chained by the leg, and with her
yellow-crowned head turned on one side as though she might be listening
to all that was being said.

"It is a bare possibility," Hugh went on to say. "A whole lot would
depend on whether Polly chanced to get free during those particular
days when the spoons disappeared. As to whether a bird like that would
carry away such things, and hide them, there's lots of accounts of such
things happening. I'll tell you of a few instances I've read about,
and every one was vouched for as absolutely true in the bargain."

So for some little time he amused and interested the old lady with
accounts of strange things various species of pet birds, from rooks and
ravens, all the way to talking parrots, had been guilty, in the way of
stealing bright articles of jewelry, and trinkets that seemed to have
caught their fancy, hiding them away in some cranny or nook, where the
whole collection was afterwards found.

"I may have read something along those lines myself at some time or
other, Hugh," she told him, as he concluded, "but it slipped my mind.
Whether Polly is guilty of petty larceny or not, after this, I shall be
more careful than ever about keeping her fast to her perch by that long
chain. There is no telling what a wise old bird of her nature might
not attempt, given freedom. I sometimes think she has a little devil
in her, when she says something wonderful, and looks so droll. But you
have given me a very happy half hour, for which I thank you both."

Thad kept glancing toward Hugh as though he was puzzled as to what
further action his chum meant to take in the case. For accustomed to
reading the expression on Hugh's face, he seemed to realize that the
other had some "card up his sleeve" which he meant to play.

"Hadn't we better be going, Hugh?" he now asked.

"Right away," came the reply, "for it's getting near six o'clock, and
Mrs. Pangborn will be having her tea soon."

"I do have it a little earlier on Sunday, because I allow Sarah to go
home," admitted the old lady. "She is a great hand to attend church,
you know, and I believe sings in the choir like a lark. I often hear
her practicing down in the kitchen while cooking dinner. But I'd be
delighted if you boys could stay and take a bite with me."

"Thank you, ma'am," said Hugh, "another time we'd be only too glad to
accept your invitation; but I must be home tonight. What time do you
suppose Sarah would be at her house? I want to see her about her
little shaver Brutus, and find out if his ducking did him any harm, and
thought I'd walk around later in the evening."

"You are apt to find Sarah at home up to a quarter of eight. After
that she will be in her place in the colored church," he was told.

Then the boys took their leave. On the way home, Thad expressed some
curiosity concerning the visit Hugh proposed making to Sarah's home.

"Do you really think that boy might come down with pneumonia, or
something like that on account of being in the water, Hugh?" he asked,
at which the other smiled mysteriously and replied:

"Oh! the water is still pretty chilly, you know, Thad; and the child
was so terribly frightened that he might feel the result of his
immersion, even if we did make a fire, and dry his clothes well.
Besides, I've dropped my pocket knife, and I've a little idea it was
while we looked through that playhouse of Brutus'. But suppose you
stop asking questions, and agree to accompany me when I make my little
call on Sarah this evening?"

"Oh! all right, Hugh, I'll go with you," complained Thad, "but I know
as well as anything you've got some queer notion back of it all, which
you don't mean to share with me. But remember that Madame Pangborn
told you she would trust Sarah with her purse or her life, she has such
confidence in the woman."

"I haven't forgotten," said Hugh, quietly. "I know what I'm doing.
You show up around seven or a quarter after, and we'll take a little
walk. Perhaps we might pick up a few facts worth while before we come
back; stranger things have happened than that, Thad."

"You are the limit," laughed the other, as he swung aside and headed
for his own house, doubtless to ponder over the mysterious words of
Hugh many times while eating his supper on that Sunday evening.

It was just dark as he started across lots toward Hugh's home; for
there was a short-cut which they frequently made use of - trust boys for
cutting off corners whenever it is possible, even if they have to vault
fences in order to reduce distances.

All the way out to the colored settlement, Hugh kept up an unusually
lively flow of talk. He knew Thad was fairly itching to ask questions,
and apparently Hugh did not mean to let him have a chance.

So they finally entered among the humble cottages and cabins where
Scranton's colored population lived. Children were running about the
streets shouting in play, even as the first peal of the cracked bell in
the little church near by began to sound.

Sarah was at home. She seemed surprised to see the two white boys.

"How's little Brutus, Sarah?" asked Hugh.

"Oh! he's all hunky-dory, suh, 'deed an' he is," she replied with a
smile. "I done jest gib him his supper, and chucked de chile in his
bed. An' I ain't put a hand on him neither. Jes' as yuh sez he done
hab a lesson; but I tells him if he ebber goes to dat ere mill-pond
agin I lays fo' him, and makes him smart like fun."

"I'm sorry to trouble you, Sarah, but I've dropped my knife somewhere,
and remembered having taken it out of my pocket when you were showing
us Brutus' playhouse. Would you mind getting a lamp, and going back
there just to take a look around. I value that knife a lot, and would
hate to lose it. We won't keep you from church more than a few minutes
at most."

"Sure I will, suh. I'd do a thousand times as much fo' de white boys
as sabed my baby fo' me dis berry day."

She quickly secured a lamp, and led the way back in the yard. Thad was
beginning to show signs of nervousness. He realized that Hugh must be
playing some sort of a game, and yet strange to say he was unable to
fathom it.

Arriving at the old cabin used partly as a wash-house, and with the
rear devoted to Brutus' "playthings," they entered. Sarah held the
lamp while Hugh started to scan the floor earnestly, moving around as
he looked.

All at once he stooped and picked something up.

"Well, I was right in believing I dropped my knife in here, for you
see, I've found it again. Why, what's this?"

He bent over again, and from a receptacle in a queer old fragment of a
desk that had a number of pigeon-holes in it, Hugh plucked something
and held it before the eyes of the others. Then he made another
movement, and _three_ shining objects lay there in his hand.

Thad gasped and stared. He was looking on the missing souvenir spoons!
As for the amazed Sarah, it was a blessing that she did not let the
lamp fall from her nerveless hand as she burst forth with:

"Fo' de lands sake, if dem ain't some oh de old missis' spoons; dat
good-fo'-nothin' brack imp must a' snuck one ebbery time I takes him to
visit de lady. Oh! he kotch it fo' dis, you better belieb me!"




CHAPTER XX

LOOKING FORWARD - CONCLUSION

There could be no doubt about the genuine nature of the horror and
indignation, as well as shame, that struggled for the mastery in the
mind of the astonished colored woman. To learn that her little boy had
abused her confidence whenever she took him visiting her good mistress
was a shocking revelation. She also looked furiously angry, and it was
evident that the said Brutus would receive due punishment on account of
his propensity for purloining things that belonged to others, just to
add to his "collection." The thing that struck Hugh as bordering on
the comical was that even a small colored boy might have the same mania
for gathering "trophies" of his visits that possessed Madame Pangborn.
He felt that the good lady would herself be amused at the coincidence,
and be ready to forgive little Brutus.

He proceeded to show Sarah that it would be entirely unnecessary to let
any one know what had happened. There would be no exposure, and she
need not be "disgraced" in the eyes of her neighbors. Hugh would
simply return the spoons to their owner, who certainly would never hold
it against Sarah. But after that, should Brutus be invited to the old
lady's house, his actions would be carefully watched lest his
acquisitive propensities again get the better of his honesty.

Thad was highly delighted with the result of their "raid" on Brutus'
playhouse. On the way to Madame Pangborn's, he boldly accused his chum
of having set up a little game.

"Now I wouldn't be at all surprised, Hugh," he went on to say, "if you
dropped your knife in that cabin on purpose when we were looking around
this afternoon; own up and tell me if that isn't true."

"Yes, I did," admitted the other, laughingly. "Now that the thing has
turned out even better than I dared hope, I'm willing to confess that a
sudden suspicion gripped me about that time. When I saw what an
astonishing assortment of old junk that boy had collected, I knew he
had a mania for picking up things. And the idea struck me that since
he sometimes was allowed to stay for an afternoon with his mother at
Madame Pangborn's house, what if the temptation came to him to take one
of those pretty spoons to add to his assortment? Why, the more I
thought of the idea the stronger it hit me. On the impulse of the
moment I dropped my knife, so as to have a good excuse for getting out
there again, and prowling around a bit. I didn't want to mention a
thing even to you until I had proved whether there was any truth in my
new suspicion. And it turned out splendidly."

"Oh! I'm so glad, for Owen's sake particularly!" declared Thad. "Now
I must manage to get this spoon back in his den without his ever
suspecting I took it; but that ought to be easy. I hope he never knows
he was under suspicion, because he's very proud, and it would hurt him
terribly."

"What makes me think a near-miracle has been performed," added Hugh,
soberly, "is the way all this came about. Only for our taking that
walk we wouldn't have been near Hobson's mill-pond at just the minute
little Brutus was struggling in the water, and so been able to pull him
out. That in turn took us to his home; and his mother had to dip in by
wanting us to see how her precious pickaninny played with his toys back
in the old cabin. It's wonderful, that's all I can say."

"But, Hugh, you deserve all the credit," affirmed Thad. "In the first
place, you took this heavy task on your shoulders, and started to find
out who was guilty of robbing your good old friend, Madame Pangborn.
It's been an uphill fight from the start, but here we've reached the
finish in a blaze of glory. But won't the old lady be astonished when
we show her the spoons, and tell her just how they were found."

She certainly was, and made them go into the most particular details
concerning the matter. Just as wise Hugh had believed would be the
case, she did not blame Sarah in the least; nor did she declare the
little chap would surely grow up to be a disgrace to his mother. Her
kindly heart knew the failings of small boys better than to condemn a
child for a weakness. She did say she would have a good talk with
Sarah, and advise her as to how she should try to train Brutus so that
this very trait might serve to his credit instead of being always a
weakness.

"And as for Owen," she concluded, "I am more than ever satisfied that
his is a sterling character. I want to see more of that boy; and I'm
determined to make the acquaintance of his grandfather. I feel
absolutely certain that the old gentleman has been misunderstood by
thoughtless people in Scranton; and from little hints Owen has dropped,
I fully believe it will turn out that Mr. Dugdale is a man of some
consequence, perhaps even renown, in his own country; though just why
he left it, and has been living in retirement here these two years, is
a matter that concerns only himself. But you boys have acquitted
yourselves handsomely in this affair, and brought me much happiness.
Come and see me often; you will always find my latch-string out to Hugh
Morgan and Thad Stevens."

So they went home with hearts that beat high in the exuberance of their
joy. The puzzling enigma had been fully solved, and just as they would
have wished it to come out. Now Hugh could put all other matters aside
and devote his spare time to his work as field captain of the newly
organized Scranton High Baseball Team.

Only a few days remained before their first grand game would be played
with the Belleville nine, and well they knew that they must acquit
themselves handsomely on the diamond if they hoped to bring a victory
home with them, and to cause Scranton, so long drowsing in a Rip Van
Winkle sleep, to awaken and whoop for joy.

Other problems would possibly present themselves to Hugh Morgan for
solution from time to time, as he pursued his onward way; but it can be
set down as certain that a lad of his sagacity and determination was
bound to attain his goal, once he started out.

And with that ambitious programme of outdoor sports ahead of them, it
can be safely assumed there would be glorious doings in and around the
town of Scranton, starting on the following Saturday, when, packing
their kits, and donning their new uniforms, the high-school team set
out to invade the lair of the tiger in neighboring Belleville. Just
what they accomplished in the good old summer time will be found
narrated between the covers of the next volume in this series of books,
now on sale under the suggestive title of "The Chums of Scranton High
in the Three-Town League; or, Out for a Baseball Pennant."



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