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scant ration to come down at a time, your 'lazy boy's self-feeder,'
I've heard you call it. And as for those fine Belgian hares that would
take first prize at any rabbit show, they live on the fat of the land.
Right now you're cultivating a bed of lettuce for them, as well as a
lot of cabbages, and such truck. Oh! no fear of any dumb beast, or
bird going hungry when it has Hugh Morgan for an owner."

"Thank you for the neat compliment, Thad," said Hugh, the glow in his
eyes telling how much he appreciated such honest praise. "I may have
my faults, like every boy has, but being cruel to or neglectful of
little creatures that are in my keeping isn't one of them. I'd hate to
think I could let a poor rabbit go hungry. I'd get out of bed in the
middle of the night, cold as it might be, and go out to my hutch, if I
got an idea in my head that I'd left a window open that might allow a
draught to blow in on the poor things."

"Well, I don't take to pets the same as you do, Hugh, but all the same
I can understand how you feel about them. It's the right way, to, and
no boy with any heart in him could be mean to helpless little animals.
I warrant you I know one fellow in Scranton who wouldn't get out of his
warm bed for any pet that ever lived."

"I suppose you're meaning Nick Lang," remarked Hugh. "Well, I don't
know. To tell you the truth, that boy is a mystery to me. Sometimes I
think that, bad as he seems to be, Nick isn't quite all yellow; that
there's a little streak of white in his make-up."

"Why, you surprise me, Hugh, when I hear you say that, and after all
you've seen of his mean ways, too. Think how he started to beat poor
Owen up that night; yes, and for years back he's been a big bully,
trying to have things his own way, and ruling by might of his fists.
Why, nearly everybody in Scranton believes him to be utterly
irreclaimable. What makes you say such a queer thing?"

"I may be mistaken after all," said Hugh, slowly, "but here's a
singular thing I saw only yesterday. I haven't mentioned it to a
living soul, but it set me to thinking, and wondering whether, after
all, if a big hulking fellow like Nick were given a fair chance to make
good, he mightn't change and astonish the neighborhood.

"I was going along a side street when I got a thrill. There was a
buggy with a frisky horse attached standing in front of a house. The
man had gone inside and very imprudently left his child, a little
fellow of some five years of age, to sit there in the vehicle, not even
bothering to hitch the beast.

"Well, the boy, like most kids would do, had started playing with the
whip; and I saw him give the horse quite a blow. No doubt he was
imitating his father in doing that. The spirited beast started
rearing, and then acted as if about to make a dash down the street. It
would have been putting the child's life in danger, you can easily see.

"I started to run, but never could have made it. Then I saw some one
jump for the horse's head, and have a little tussle with the animal.
It was Nick Lang. He hadn't stopped to think of any danger to himself.
I drew up and watched him. He conquered the beast, fastened him to a
hitching post, and then started to scold the white-faced little boy for
having touched the whip. The bully was showing in his nature, after
all, that splendid exhibition of nerve and quick wit.

"Nick noticed me then, for the first time, and acted confused, as if
caught doing something he would not like folks to know. He shook his
finger in the boy's face again threateningly, gave me a sneering look,
and then stalked along down the street whistling like anything. And,
Thad, the boy who could do a thing like that off-hand can't be quite
_all_ bad, though people oughtn't to be blamed for thinking he is.
So-long, Thad!"




CHAPTER X

A VISITOR FROM BELLEVILLE HIGH

On the following afternoon, which chanced to be Tuesday, more boys than
before appeared at the recreation grounds for practice. Mr. Leonard
had sent out an urgent call for every one of the numerous candidates to
be on hand, since they expected to organize two nines. They would have
a fierce game, in order that he might have an opportunity to watch the
actions of every aspirant, and get pointers as to his capacity for
filling a gap.

The boys appeared in all sorts of suits, some even hunting up football
togs because they had no others handy, and felt that they must make
some sort of a show at appearing in uniform.

But the suits would be ready on time, for a local tailor had agreed to
make as many as were needed of various sizes, and to have them done
with a rush. Already Mr. Leonard, being furnished with ample funds,
had ordered bats and balls, bases, and all manner of necessary adjuncts
that go with a well-organized baseball team. Meanwhile, they must make
a virtue of necessity, and do the best they could with the stock in
hand.

After some knocking of balls, and catching of flies, the boys were
tooled off in two fairly matched nines, and a game was started. They
had just got well along in this, when Thad, who was sitting on a bench
alongside Hugh, it being their turn at bat, suddenly remarked:

"Hello! we're going to be spied on, it seems, Hugh; for notice that
chap coming along on his motorcycle, will you? Don't you know who he
is, just because he's wearing a pair of big goggles, and has his cap
pulled down over his forehead? Why, that's a Belleville boy named
Oliver Kramer. They call him O. K. for short; and I kind of guess it
stands for his character pretty well, because he's straight. I'm a
little surprised to see _him_ nosing around here today, trying to find
out what sort of crowd Scranton High can put in the field."

"Oh! there's nothing queer about that, Thad," Hugh remonstrated,
quickly. "You can easily see it stands to reason those fellows over in
Belleville are anxious to get a line on what we expect to do, so as to
know just how much push they ought to put in their own work. He isn't
trying to spy things out, or he wouldn't come up so boldly. See,
there, he's starting to speak to Mr. Leonard now, and the old Princeton
athlete is shaking hands with him. Like as not O. K. has a dad who
used to be a college-mate of Mr. Leonard."

Hugh himself, followed by Thad, walked that way. Hugh had been told by
Mr. Leonard that he was to be the field captain of the Scranton High
team. In fact, that seemed to be taken for granted by all the boys,
who were very well satisfied to have such a general favorite and
all-round good athlete for a leader. Consequently, Mr. Leonard had
caught Hugh's eye, and made a beckoning motion with his hand, evidently
wishing him to meet the Belleville boy.

But the two had run across one another on several previous occasions,
it happened. Hugh shook hands with O. K. cordially, as did also Thad.
The latter was already ashamed of having entertained such thoughts in
connection with this friendly visit of the owner of the motorcycle,
whom he had always known to be a fine chap.

"Our fellows are practicing this afternoon, just as your crowd is,
Captain Morgan," O. K. was saying. "I would have been with them, only
yesterday I happened to hurt a finger a bit, for you see I'm the
catcher of our nine, and it was thought best for me to lay off a few
days so as to let it mend."

"And you dropped over to see if we were making any headway, I suppose?"
remarked Hugh, while Mr. Leonard went off to resume his duties, anxious
to see every play that came along; for he would not have much time to
decide on the line-up of the team, which must afterwards get all the
practice possible, in order to do Scranton High justice.

O. K. laughed good-naturedly.

"I hope, now, you won't suspect me of being a spy, and trying to pick
up pointers which might serve us later on in a hotly contested game,"
he went on to say. "Fact is, I'm so much of a baseball crank that I
live and move and have my being in the great game. I came over hoping
to find you'd made a bully good start, because we Belleville boys want
your strongest team to face us a week from next Saturday. We expect to
win the game, that goes without saying, but none of us will be
satisfied to have a regular walkover of it."

"Make your mind easy on that score, O. K.," snapped Thad, aggressively.
"We expect to have a lot of hard-hitting and splendid fielding boys on
the diamond, who will be out for blood. If you get the better of
Scranton High, you'll deserve all the praise you receive; and we'll be
the first to give you a cheer."

"Well, I'm beginning to believe a little that way myself," admitted O.
K. in his frank way, as Nick Lang knocked out a screamer that went far
over the head of the center fielder. "That chap is a born batter. I
reckon, now, he must be your best card in the pack."

"Oh! we've got a few others who can meet the ball," advised Thad,
proudly. "Watch that throwin', will you? Mighty few fellows could
send the ball all the way from deep center to the home plate, as
straight as a die. That kid's name is Sandy Dowd. You may not be so
glad to see him work later on, O. K. Just warn your sluggers they
needn't expect any home-runs if they put the ball out in center."

They stood there and watched for some little time. Occasionally the
boy from Belleville would make some remark. His eyes sought the agile
figure of the athletic instructor from time to time.

"One thing you Scranton fellows are lucky in, which is, having such a
splendid coach as Mr. Leonard. Why, he used to go to Princeton with my
dad, as I only learned a day or so ago. He's coming over to take
dinner with us next Sunday. Let me tell you, he's some peach of a
physical director. Dad says he was one of the most popular fellows in
college, and that as a half-back on the gridiron, he made a reputation
second to none."

Hugh and Thad looked especially pleased to hear this outside praise of
the man for whom they themselves had come to entertain the utmost
respect and admiration.

"Yes," said Hugh, warmly, "we expect that if Scranton has any show in
the games that are to be played in the Three-town League this season,
most of the credit will lie at the door of Mr. Leonard. He seems to be
a wonder at getting a boy to bring out every atom of energy and vim
that lies in him. Only Nick Lang acts surly under him. That's the big
fellow who made that three-bagger a while ago. He's the bully of the
town."

"Used to be, you mean, Hugh, up to the time - " began Thad, when the
other shook his head at him discouragingly.

"None of that now, if you please, Thad. We want to forget bygones, and
only remember that we're in the baseball world these days. There, Eli
hit the ball a good hard smack, but it went straight at the short-stop,
who handled it neatly for an out. Our turn out in the field now, Thad.
Glad to have seen you, O. K. Carry a message back home to Belleville
for me, will you? Tell your fellows Scranton High has found herself at
last, in the world of sports, and is primed to give both Belleville and
Allandale a hard tussle for the prize."

"I'll tell them that with pleasure, Captain Morgan," replied the other,
"and add a few remarks of my own about what I have seen of your
hustling crowd over here. May the best nine win, and the contests
leave no after bitter sting. If we can't get the prize, we'd be glad
to see you fellows beat Allandale, because they'd be unbearable if they
won two years running."

O. K. soon afterwards mounted his motorcycle and went spinning along
the road like a streak, leaving a cloud of dust behind him, also an
odor of gasoline. The practice game continued with varying fortunes.
In fact, it mattered very little which side won, as various pitchers
were being tried out under the eagle eye of Mr. Lawrence; his principal
object being to form an opinion as to the respective merits of the many
players.

When another afternoon they met again, doubtless Mr. Lawrence would
have decided to eliminate several of the players as utterly beyond hope
of ever making the regular nine. So by degrees he would decide who was
best fitted for each and every position, with a number of able
substitutes, who could be called on should there be any change
necessary during a game, from injury, or because a certain player
failed to do what was expected of him.

After the game had come to an end, and the crowd commenced to separate,
as usual, Hugh and Thad started to walk home together. They overtook
Owen Dugdale and hastened to join him. Both boys doubtless had a
little thrill just then, remembering how often the other had been in
their thoughts lately.

Owen seemed to be in great spirits.

"I never knew that I had it in me to become so fond of baseball as I
seem to be doing right now," he told them. "Of course I played a
little at several kinds of games like cricket, and since coming here to
Scranton I've been knocking flies for some of the boys, and playing in
scrub games. But now I enjoy it ever so much, though, of course, I
don't dream that I'll have the good luck to be selected for the team,
when there are so many who know more about the game than I do."

"You can safely leave all that to Mr. Leonard, Owen," said Hugh. "I've
been keeping tabs on your play at short, and honestly, I want to say,
you're doing mighty well. I heard Mr. Leonard say so, too. While you
may not be picked for that position, there's a likelihood that you will
be held as a substitute. Only practice your batting all you can, Owen;
that's your weakest point. I'll show you a wrinkle about bunting that
may help you a lot."

"Thank you, Hugh, ever so much!" exclaimed the other, his fine eyes
glowing with gratitude. "You've always been mighty kind to me, for a
fact. Was that boy on the motorcycle one of the Belleville fellows? I
thought I heard Otto Brand say so."

"Yes," replied Hugh, "his name is Oliver Kramer, thought they call him
just O. K., as we dubbed our comrade K. K. for short. He hurt his
hand, and is laid off for a spell, because he is the catcher of the
Belleville High team, you see. O. K. is a fine chap. He ran over here
to see what we were doing, and to warn us we'd have to get a hustle on
if we hoped to have even a look-in, because Allandale is working like
anything, while Belleville means to do her best this year."

"Belleville had better get a move on," suggested Thad, caustically,
"unless she wants to share the fate of poor old Lawrence. Both teams
beat Lawrence so badly last season that her club disbanded, for the
fellows started to squabbling among themselves, which of course ruins
any organization going."

So, chatting as they walked along, the three boys finally parted at a
corner where their several ways led in different directions. Hugh
glanced back over his shoulder once in the direction of the receding
figure of Owen Dugdale. What was in his mind just then it might be
hard to say; but at least the expression on his face would indicate
that his former confidence in the Dugdale boy had not yet been
extinguished.




CHAPTER XI

HUGH'S PETS IN DANGER

"Rotten luck, Hugh, to have that practice game called off this
afternoon just because it rained a little. The ground wasn't drenched
very much, and we could have done some work, anyhow. But it's too late
now."

Thad was on the way home from school on Wednesday afternoon when he
said this. He had hastened and overtaken the other a block or so away
from the campus. Already the rain had stopped. Mr. Leonard, however,
had sent word around that there would be no baseball practice that day;
but for every one to be on hand Thursday P. M., as no excuses would be
taken for absence, when every day counted so much now.

"Hold on, please, Hugh and Thad!" called some one from the rear; and
looking back they discovered a lame boy called Limpy Wallace, who
always carried a crutch and had to twist his body in a curious fashion
when he wished to make speed.

Limpy could get over ground wonderfully well, considering the
difficulties under which he labored. More than once he had been held
up by Doctor Carmack to the other boys at Scranton High as a rebuke for
their laziness. If a fellow who had so much to contend with could
always appear so satisfied, and manage to get along as well as he did,
they ought to be ashamed to dawdle, and waste time when they had all
their faculties intact.

Limpy Wallace was a constant and consistent admirer of Hugh Morgan. In
fact, he might be said to fairly worship the other boy, who had always
treated him most kindly, and seemed to sympathize with his having been
cheated by a cruel Fate out of the ordinary pleasures connected with
the average boy's life. Limpy Wallace would have gone far out of his
way to do Hugh a favor. He now came bounding along, with his crutch
making rapid jumps, and apparently every muscle in his poor distorted
body in action.

But his thin face was lighted up with eagerness. Evidently, it was no
ordinary motive that had caused the lame boy to exert himself so
earnestly in order to overtake the two chums.

"I've got something to tell you, Hugh," he panted, for he was almost
out of breath, owing to his exertions; an ordinary boy might have run
over that same stretch without showing it much, but it must have been a
strenuous undertaking for the cripple.

"Glad to hear it," laughed Hugh. "I'm waiting to have some one tell me
that our team is going to wipe up the ground with both Allandale and
Belleville when we come to grips. Is your news of that sort, Limpy?"

Of course he was only joking when he said this. Every one called the
other Limpy, nor did he seem to mind it a particle; indeed, only from
the teachers at school and his folks at home was it likely that he ever
heard his name of Osmond spoken.

"Shucks! it hasn't a thing to do with baseball, or any other outdoor
sport, Hugh," the cripple hastened to say. "Because I heard your name
mentioned plainly I felt that you ought to know what little I managed
to pick up."

"All right, then, Limpy, start ahead, and spin the yarn," said Hugh.
"Has some one been remarking what a poor excuse of an athlete Hugh
Morgan is; and that he ought never to have been given his job as field
captain of the Scranton High baseball team? It's no more than I
expected, Limpy, and my feelings can't be hurt a bit; so don't try to
spare me."

"Listen, then, please, and you, too, Thad, seeing that you're his
chum," began the other, eagerly. "It was just an accident, you
understand, because I never yet was intentionally guilty of trying to
overhear what other fellows were saying. I had been tired out at
recess, and was lying down on that bench, you remember, that stands in
the corner of the grounds. It happens to have a back to it, and I
guess no one could notice me there. The other fellows were walking
around in bunches, and talking to beat the band. All at once I heard
your name spoken, and in an angry voice; so I just raised my head a
little to take a peep. Who should I see standing near by but that big
bully, Nick Lang, and his faithful shadow, Leon Disney."

Thad dug his elbow into Hugh's short ribs as if to emphasize the remark
just made by Limpy Wallace. When two such arch schemers as Nick and
Leon got off by themselves, and were seen to have their heads together,
the chances were there must be some mischief afloat.

"Well, after that I just lay still and listened, because I felt sure
they must be getting up some sort of a game to play even with you,
Hugh, because you gave Nick such a beautiful trouncing the other night,
so I was told. It was hard luck that I could only catch a word now and
then, for some of the boys were calling out to each other; and that
silly clown, Claude Hastings, had begun to sing one of his comic songs,
while he capered around like a baboon. But I did hear Nick say the
words: 'Get even,' 'show him who's who in this burgh,' and 'Belgian
hares.' Do they put you wise to anything, Hugh?"

"I should say they did, Limpy!" ejaculated the impetuous Thad, even
before Hugh could speak the first word in reply. "Why, who's got prize
Belgian hares in Scranton but Hugh Morgan? Now, that cunning old
schemer, Nick Lang, knows how much Hugh thinks of his pets, and the
chances are ten to one he's hatched up a scheme to steal or kill every
lasting one of the rabbits. It would be just like him. Hugh, of
course you'll be forewarned, and take the necessary precautions to nip
his little plot in the bud."

Hugh himself looked serious. A slight frown could be seen on his
usually calm and reposeful face.

"I could stand almost any attempted injury to myself a lot better than
having my poor dumb pets made the object of revenge," he went on to
say, soberly. "Limpy, this is certainly news you've brought me. I'm a
thousand times obliged to you for taking the trouble."

"Oh! not at all, Hugh. Why, there's nothing I wouldn't do to help pay
back all your kindness to me in the past. Some people think a lame boy
has no feelings, but you've never considered it so; you've always acted
as if you felt mighty sorry for a boy so badly afflicted. And I can
never forget how you shamed Pete Garinger into begging my pardon for
something mean he threw at me. All I hope is that you catch those curs
in the act, and give them what they deserve, if they really try to hurt
your poor little pets."

"Make your mind easy on that score, Limpy," asserted Thad, with his
accustomed show of confidence, "we'll fix a trap to get the sneaks,
should they call in the dead of night. They'll think they've run up
against a threshing machine, all right, when Hugh and myself start in
to maul them."

"Suppose you come over later in the afternoon, Thad," suggested Hugh,
as they arrived at their customary parting spot. "Meanwhile, I'll take
a look at my rabbit hutch, and try to figure just how we can turn the
tables on Nick and Leon, if they should pay me a visit tonight."

"Make it as severe as you can, Hugh," begged Thad; "nothing could be
too hard for a pair of miserable schemers who, to get even with a
fellow they dare not face openly any longer, would creep into his
rabbit house like thieves in the night, and either steal his property,
or injure it so that there'd be no chance to exhibit the hares in a
show."

"See you later on, and we can tell better then," was all Hugh said, for
if he had any idea simmering in his brain just then, he did not care to
mention it until he had found a chance to "look around," as he termed
it.

"I'll be across inside of half an hour, you can bet on that!" called
out Thad, as he hurried away.

He was as good as his word. Indeed, Hugh had hardly started to make
his investigation of the premises before he heard his chum come through
the gate, slamming it after him.

There was an outbuilding back of the barn, which had been intended for
a storage house of some sort, but not used by the present occupants of
the premises. This Hugh had commandeered, and fitted to his purpose.
The upper part he had made into a pretty fine loft for his fancy homing
pigeons. When the first of his pedigreed youngsters arrived at the
flying stage, he meant to have considerable fun taking them ten or
twenty miles away, and then letting them loose, in the expectation of
finding them at home when he got back. After that, it would be longer
flights until he could learn whether he had any record breakers in his
flock.

In the lower part of the building, Hugh had his long-eared Belgian
hares. There was now quite a family of them, what with the old ones,
and seven strapping youngsters. Hugh took great pleasure in watching
his pets, and figuring out how he could improve on their quarters, so
as to make them more comfortable in every way.

"Well, have you struck any promising scheme yet, Hugh?" demanded Thad,
as he breezed into the hutch, seeming to guess that he would find his
chum there, and not in the house.

"I've just been fixing things in my mind," returned Hugh, quietly, "and
trying to determine how any intruder would expect to get in here. Why,
up to now such a thing as having my hares stolen never once occurred to
me. Really I'm surprised to find what confidence I've been placing in
all Scranton; when there have been bad eggs among the boys from away
back. Do you know I've never had a fastening on this window here, not
even a stick to hold the lower sash down. It's about time I woke up
and insured the safety of the poor things."

"But you do lock the door every night," interjected Thad; "because


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