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Donald Ferguson.

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

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I've seen you do that same thing."

"Oh! just as a matter of form," confessed the other, "for I've never
dreamed it was necessary. Any fellow could have climbed in by that
window of a night, if he'd chosen to."

"Do you suppose, Hugh, that Nick Lang knows about that unguarded
window'?"

"I was figuring that out," mused Hugh, "and, really, I believe he does.
I'll tell you what I base that supposition on. Some time ago, a fellow
came to see me, and tried to buy a pair of my hares; but his figures
and mine didn't agree, and so we failed to make a bargain. But I
showed him my place here, and he examined it all through. I even can
remember that he gave the window a little upward push, speaking at the
time of the necessity for all pets to have plenty of pure air, or their
dens would become foul smelling. That boy was Tip Slavin, and I
understand that he's pretty thick with Nick and Leon. They must have
heard about his visit here, and pumped him dry. So if they do make me
a night visit, depend on it this window will figure big in their
calculations."

Thad chuckled as though pleased.

"That makes it simple, then, Hugh," he went on to say, exultantly, "for
with such a thing settled, it ought to be easy for us to hatch up some
scheme to play hob with their plan of campaign. It'd just about serve
the sneaks right if we set a spring-gun trap that'd give them a dose of
fine bird-shot; but then I don't suppose you'd want to go quite as far
as that. Look here, Hugh, I believe right now, you've already settled
on some sort of surprise for those fellows when they come snooping
around here. If that's a fact, you're going to up and explain its
workings to your best chum, ain't you?"




CHAPTER XII

THE TRAP

Hugh heard his chum through, and then quietly went on to say:

"Yes, I have got a little plan that ought to teach them a lesson, and
cool off their ardor a bit. In the first place, we can easily rig up a
small platform just above this window here. I've got several
stanchions and a board. It wouldn't take us more than half an hour to
complete it, I reckon. But we must make it extra strong, you know."

"But I don't know," pleaded Thad, helplessly. "Why should this lovely
little shelf up there be so strong? Are we going to perch on it, and
drop down on top of the night birds after they let themselves in? Is
that the game, Hugh?"

"Not quite, Thad. It's the tub that must balance up there!"

"Tub! Great Scott! are you figuring on giving Nick and Leon their
usual Saturday night bath?" gasped the other, still groping in the dark.

"Something like that," chuckled Hugh, "only it will be _such_ a
surprise to those chaps, and cold, too, ugh! as cold as ice can make
it."

"Go ahead and explain a lot more," Thad demanded. "I'm beginning to
get just an inkling of the game. Whew! I believe you've been reading
of the pranks the fellows play in the boarding schools, with a tub of
water suspended over a door, so that when an unlucky boy opens it he is
drenched to the skin."

"That's about the idea," Hugh acknowledged. "Nothing particularly
brilliant or original about it, I own up, but the best we can do under
the circumstances."

Then he went on to explain the particulars, showing Thad how the tub
could be balanced nicely, so that when a cord attached to it was
jerked, it would tilt over beautifully, discharging its full contents
without itself falling down.

Thad listened, and grunted. Plainly he was a bit disappointed.

"It sounds pretty good, Hugh," he admitted, finally, "and will of
course give the rascals a great scare; but seems to me as if it's
hardly vigorous enough. According to my mind, we ought to make the
punishment fit the crime. When a couple of low-down scamps try to kill
the dumb pets of a fellow who has never gone out of his way to harm
them, and are caught with the goods on, they ought to be treated to a
dozen good wipes with a cowhide whip, something that'll make 'em yell
bloody murder. But just as you say, we can try this dodge, and
discourage them from any more funny business around your coop."

"Then the sooner we start in and get busy, the better," suggested Hugh,
whose motto had always been that of "strike while the iron is hot."

Thad was ready to do his share in any labor, so that presently the
sound of much sawing and hammering oozed out from the rabbit hutch,
where the chums continued to work for nearly an hour.

At the end of that time they had completed the job so far as the
platform over the window was concerned. Hugh had done more than this,
for by cleverly arranged boards he constructed a regular trap; so that
when the boys managed to climb through the window, they would naturally
crouch down directly in range of the coming water-spout.

"There," said Hugh, finally, "that is all done, and I think fills the
bill. I'll go after the galvanized iron wash-tub now."

"Be sure and fetch the biggest one you can," suggested the greedy Thad,
with a sly grin. "You see, we ought to deal generously with our
guests, even if they're uninvited ones. I believe in going the whole
hog when about it."

"Depend on me to do the right thing by Nick and Leon," Hugh assured
him. "When I have visitors drop in on me in this off-hand way, I
always want to be ready to treat them well. But I'm afraid they'll
think our reception committee rather frigid, eh, Thad?"

He soon came back bearing a massive tub that aroused the admiration of
Thad.

"That certainly is a jim-dandy wash-tub!" he declared. "I'm glad now
we made the shelf big enough. I reckon you had the dimensions of this
thing in your mind when doing your measurements, Hugh."

Next they lifted the tub on to the platform above. It could be readily
balanced on the edge so that a very slight pull from the cord would
tilt it forward, when the propensity for water to seek its own level
would do the rest.

They tested it a number of times, and it worked splendidly. "When
filled with water, it would only add to the gaiety of things," Thad
said, fervently.

"But where will we be all the time, Hugh?" he now asked.

"I've arranged all that," he was assured. "One of the objects of these
upright boards is to act as a cover for us, as well as to form a trap
for our guests. You see, I happen to know that Leon Disney owns a hand
electric torch like the one you showed me the other day that your uncle
in the city sent out, and which I want you to fetch over when you come
after supper. Just as like as not, he'll use it through the window
before they try to enter, so as to make sure the coast is clear.
That's why I've been so careful not to leave anything around that might
excite suspicion."

"Just so," laughed Thad, merrily, for as he was not going to get an icy
ducking, he felt as though he could afford to be happy; "after fellows
have worked so hard to jimmy their way into the premises of another,
it'd be a shame to discourage their efforts in the beginning. We might
paint a sign 'welcome,' and put it over the window, Hugh, just to let
them know everything is lovely, and the goose hangs high."

"I'll step outside, and take a peep in through the window to find out
how things look," suggested Hugh, which he proceeded to do.

"Nothing to excite anybody's suspicion that I can see," he announced.
"The tub is completely out of sight, just as I expected it would be,
and even the cord connecting it with our hiding place couldn't be
noticed unless you knew all about it beforehand. I guess our work is
done, all but filling the reservoir."

Procuring a bucket, they set to work. One carried and the other
poured, standing on the short step-ladder in order to better reach the
elevated tub.

"There, it's as full as I dare make it," Hugh finally announced.

"And for one, I'm not half sorry," Thad added, "because toting water
isn't altogether fun. That bucket is heavy enough to nearly pull your
arms out of their elbow sockets. You said something about _ice_,
didn't you, Hugh?"

"Yes, I had that in mind. After supper, when we come out here to take
up our vigil, I'll get a lot of small chunks from the ice-house and put
it in the water. It'll make it lovely and cold, I warrant you, unless
our guests delay their coming too long."

Nothing more being necessary, the boys adjourned to the house, where in
Hugh's den they talked various matters over with the customary
enthusiasm of live boys. Naturally, these affairs, as a rule,
concerned the athletic happenings just then on the carpet, and
particularly the baseball rivalry about to break out in a series of
hotly contested games between Scranton, Belleville and the formerly
victorious Allandale High team.

Later on, Thad went home to his supper, though Hugh had pressed him to
stay and share his meal, for they were often at each other's table.

"Like to," said Thad, shaking his head, "but it happens I've got a few
things I ought to attend to. Then again there's that hand-torch you
asked me to fetch over with me. Another time will have to do, Hugh."

Hugh laughed scornfully.

"Tell all that to your grandmother, Thad, will you?" he exclaimed.
"Just as if I didn't know that your folks religiously have corned beef
and cabbage every Thursday night, which is a favorite dish with your
dad, likewise with a certain fellow of my acquaintance. Now, _we're_
only going to have chicken pot-pie at our house, and of course that
doesn't appeal to you like your pet fare. Oh I well, I understand how
things go, and I'll let you off this time. I don't believe you've ever
taken a meal at my house on a Thursday since I've known you."

Thad laughed as though not at all abashed.

"I guess you're on to my weak spot, all right, partner," he hastened to
say in the boldest manner possible. "But really and truly, I have got
some things I want to do, though of course they could be postponed if
absolutely necessary. Some time perhaps you'll be having my plebeian
dish over at your house; then try asking me if you dare."

He turned up about seven o'clock, just after darkness had set in, for
the moon was getting very old now, and a late riser. The two boys sat
in Hugh's den for considerably more than an hour, talking and planning.
Both showed vague signs of nervousness, however. Thad in particular
frequently walked over to a window and looked out. Doubtless he was
thinking what a joke on them it would be if the marauders came much
earlier than expected, when all their fine work with that tub of icy
water would go for naught.

"Hadn't we better be making a start, Hugh?" he finally asked. "Don't
forget we have to handle that ice first, and get things ready."

"All right," the other replied. "We'll make for the rabbit hutch, and
here's hoping that we don't have a long watch all for nothing."

The ice was soon procured. Hugh cracked it in rather small pieces. He
did this for two good reasons. First it would chill the water more
speedily when in this condition; then again the chances of knocking one
of the interlopers on the head with a heavy lump of ice falling quite
some distance would be obviated. Hugh did not intend that this prank
should end in a tragedy, if he could help it.

When everything had been arranged to suit Hugh, the boys retired within
the rabbit hutch, and the door was fastened with the padlock, which
Hugh could undo when the time came by leaning far out of the open
window.

They took up their positions in the place already selected, and wrapped
in complete darkness awaited coming events. The time passed very
slowly, but since they had dressed warmly, they did not suffer from the
chilly air, for it was only April, and the warmth of summer still far
distant.

Nine o'clock struck. Bless that town clock, by means of which they
could tell the hour; for Thad was beginning to believe it much later
than it really was. He yawned, and stretched a bit, shifting his
position. Then Hugh touched him on the arm, and his low whisper came
in Thad's very ear.

"Sh! something stirring outside!"

Thad had heard it, too. Either the night wind had arisen; and was
sighing through the branches of the big oak that hung partly over the
rabbit hutch, or else some living object had moved; for what the boys
heard as they crouched there quivering with suspense and anticipated
victory was certainly in the nature of a creeping sound.

Yes, now there came to the ears of Thad what must be low whispers.
Nick and his fellow conspirator had undoubtedly arrived and were
scanning their contemplated field of operations!




CHAPTER XIII

A COLD RECEPTION

Then the boys in hiding saw a strange glow around them. Undoubtedly
Leon was making use of his electric hand-torch, and both of the
intended raiders must be pressing their noses against the glass of the
small window, trying to form some sort of idea as to what awaited them.

Neither Hugh nor Thad more than breathed. The latter clutched the
stout cord in a firm hand, ready to give the quick jerk when he
believed the proper moment had arrived.

Apparently, the fellows outside must have concluded that everything was
just lovely, for they could now be heard softly opening the window, and
pushing the sash carefully back out of the way. While climbing in
through the opening thus made, they did not wish to thrust a foot
against the glass, and cause a smash that might be their undoing; oh!
trust that shrewd general, Nick Lang, for looking out against any such
accidents; he had been in this business a long time now, and understood
all the ins and outs of it.

More low whispering followed. Evidently, Nick was trying to coax Leon
to climb in first, so that he could light the way with his torch; but
that sly fox held back. It was Nick's special game, and consequently
he should be the one to do the honors of the occasion.

After a little grumbling beyond the open window, Thad and Hugh heard
the soft pad of shoes scraping against the boards. Nick had started to
enter. The yawning aperture, and the apparent lack of any signs of
danger lured him on. Ah! if he had only dimly suspected what a
wonderful reception awaited him in that same rabbit hutch, undoubtedly
Nick could not have been tempted to take that important step; indeed,
he would have turned and run for it with all speed.

But "when ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise," the old saying
runs; and Nick was happy in not having a glimmer of the truth.

He should not be long in making his entrance. The window was only five
feet from the ground, and within easy reach. Besides, Nick was an
unusually strong boy, which fact in itself had been one reason for his
having been able to play the part of town bully as long as he did.

The sounds changed their nature. Evidently, Nick had managed to pull
himself over the window-sill. He was now inside the hutch, perhaps
kneeling on the floor, and directly under the tilted tub that stood on
the shelf above!

Hugh gripped his cord still more firmly. It was almost time for
something to happen. Perhaps before another minute had passed the
avalanche would descend, and give two startled fellows the surprise of
their lives.

Now Nick was lending his companion a helping hand. It may not have
been through generosity that Nick acted thus; perhaps he dimly
suspected that the cowardly Leon might wish to draw back, and allow him
to carry out the nefarious business alone and unaided; and Nick was
bent on making his crony share in the act, so that he could not turn on
him and betray him in the future.

Yes, Leon was coming along. He made more noise than the other, for
Nick could be heard growling, and telling him to be careful if he
didn't want to fetch the owner of the rabbit hutch down on them with
blood in his eye, and perhaps a stout baseball bat for a weapon.

Thad softly chuckled on hearing this. No doubt, in his mind he was
saying that something in the way of a reception far less warm was
hovering over the heads of the two "innocents abroad." That made Thad
think of Mark Twain, and he wondered whether the illustrious Tom Sawyer
and his chum, Huckleberry Finn, had ever arranged a more fetching
reception committee than this one of Hugh's.

Leon seemed quite clumsy about climbing up; the fact of the matter was,
he came rather unwillingly, and might have held back only that the
determined Nick had taken a firm grip on his coat collar, and held on
tenaciously, bent on making sure of having company in his dark deed of
slaughter, or robbery, whichever he had in mind.

Thad would have given almost anything for the privilege of taking a sly
peep; but he had been sternly enjoined against doing this same thing by
Hugh. The other, however, found it necessary to put his head beyond
the corner of the upright boards, so as to make sure that both boys
were there, and ready for their bath.

One brief look was enough for Hugh. Leon had depressed his hand-torch
so that its glow only fell on the floor; but enough light was diffused
throughout the place to disclose two kneeling figures directly under
the tub.

Hugh waited no longer, but gave the cord a strong pull.

There was a sudden surge, and down came a terrific Niagara of icy water
that completely deluged Nick and Leon. They let out involuntary yells
that were of a piercing intensity. Nor was this all, for Hugh must
have given the cord an extra hard pull, or else the fastenings of the
tub had not proved stanch enough; for down it came with an infernal
jangling that must have completed the fright of the precious pair of
intruders.

Indeed, it even gave Thad a start, with all that racket, and the cries
of the terrified boys adding to the volume of sound.

"Now give us some light, Thad!" called Hugh, wishing to glimpse the
drenched culprits before they could scramble through the opening again,
and make their escape.

Thad was so excited he could hardly remember what he had done with his
new electric hand-torch. So he ran his fingers around on the floor,
feeling here and there in eagerness, all the while strange sounds
coming to their ears from the other end of the rabbit hutch.

Then he managed by accident, or great good luck, to touch what he was
searching for, and instantly Thad flooded the place with its
illumination, after which both of them stepped forward.

They were just in time to glimpse a pair of legs vanishing through the
opening. Then came a heavy crash accompanied by dismal groans, after
which they heard the sounds of footsteps as the two boys scurried
around the building, wishing to keep from being seen. When Hugh and
Thad looked out of the window there was no one in sight.

They turned and stared at each other. Then Thad doubled up like a
closed hinge, and shook with boisterous laughter.

"Oh! what a circus that was, Hugh!" he cried. "Why, I don't know what
I'd have given just for a chance to watch those two chaps swimming
around. And, say, that big tub falling must have nearly scared Leon to
death. I wonder now, did it happen to hit either of them when it came
tumbling down after emptying out all the iced water? Oh! I'll laugh
myself nearly sick every time I think of this dandy trap of yours."

Of course, the interior of the Belgian hares' quarters was a sight to
behold, after all that downpour; but anticipating this, the careful
Hugh had placed his pets where they could not be injured by the flood.

"See here what they left behind them," remarked Hugh, picking up what
turned out to be a stout gunny-sack. "Well, I'm glad to find this,
because it seems to prove that they meant to steal my hares, and not
kill them."

"Just about as bad in the long run!" declared Thad, scornfully. "Like
as not that Nick would have thrown them into the river, with a stone
tied to the bag, in order to hide all traces. Then, no matter how much
you might suspect them, you couldn't prove a thing. But Hugh, they
made a terrible slip if they figured on that, because, see here what
I've found."

He held something up.

"Leon's hand-torch, for a certainty!" exclaimed Hugh. "In his sudden
fright he lost it, and was in too great a hurry to think of trying to
find his property again."

"You've got him where you want him, all right, Hugh," snapped Thad,
suddenly. "All you have to do is to leave this here and fetch Chief
Wambold around to notice that it lies in your rabbit hutch. Then Leon
will have to explain how he came to leave it here."

"Oh! I sort of feel that those fellows have been punished enough as it
is," the other went on to say, slowly.

"You're too easy on the skunks, Hugh, take my word for it," said Thad,
with a trace of disappointment in his voice. "A fellow like Nick Lang
never can appreciate such a thing as leniency. You've got to give him
what he believes in, and that's brute force. Well, then, if you won't
have Leon arrested, at least you can keep this hand-torch as a trophy
of the momentous occasion. It'll serve to remind you of this pleasant
night's entertainment. While not so fine a torch as mine, still it
seems to be O. K. You'll do that, I hope, Hugh?"

But the other shook his head.

"I don't want the thing, Thad, I assure you I don't," he said. "I'll
send it to Leon with a little satirical note, telling him that while I
thank him very much for leaving me his torch, I have always made it a
rule not to accept presents from those who were not my intimate
friends; and that, therefore, I'm returning it with the hope that in
the future he may put it to better use than in the past."

Thad laughed.

"Oh! well, you must have your way, Hugh, I reckon; and really, that
will set the pair guessing. They'll understand we're on to their
identity, and of course will be more or less anxious to know just what
you mean to do about it."

"One thing I'm sure of," added Hugh, "which is, that Nick Lang can
never be made to change his habits by harsh measures. Some of these
fine days I may find a chance to do him a great favor; and by heaping
coals of fire on his head, force him to see a light."

Thad heard his chum say this with more or less astonishment.
Apparently, while he had the utmost faith in Hugh's ability to do most
things, at the same time he considered that this would be in the form
of a miracle. He smiled, and again shook his head in the negative.

"Well, you don't believe they'll come again tonight at any rate, do
you, Hugh?" he asked, as they prepared to leave the rabbit hutch.

"Not one chance in ten," the other told him. "I mean to fix this
window so it can't be easily opened. Besides, my window is on this
side of the house, and I've got a cord arranged whereby a weight will
fall on the floor of my room if anybody tried to get in here, after
I've fixed the little jigger. I own a shotgun, you know, Thad, and can
fire up in the air out of my window if there's any alarm. Tomorrow
I'll put heavy wire netting over the window, that will insure the
safety of my pet Belgian hares, and my homing pigeons. Now let's be
heading toward the house, and going to bed; for you promised to sleep
with me, you know."




CHAPTER XIV

NICK AS A GAP-STOPPER

On Saturday afternoon the field was the scene of another gathering.
Almost every boy in town had come out to see what success the Scranton
High fellows were making with their new team. Besides, there were many
little knots of high-school girls present, all eager to watch some
fellow in whom they felt especial interest. Then, from time to time,
older folks began to show up, until quite a gathering could be seen in
the grandstand and on some sections of the bleachers.

Perhaps Scranton did not possess as fine buildings as Allandale, for
instance, because the spirit of sport had long been rampant in the
other town, while Scranton seemed to have been half asleep until
latterly; but they were good enough, and commodious in the bargain.
The field itself could hardly have been surpassed. It was unusually
level, and stretched away to such a distance that it must needs be
quite a slugger who could make a home-run hit on those grounds.

Still it had been done. There was at least one member of the team who
had shown an ability to send the ball out over the head of a fielder,
and to such an astonishing distance that by the time it was recovered
and returned to the diamond, he had raced completely around the circuit
for a home run.

Mr. Leonard had by now completed his choice of the team. He had
watched the play of the boys, and decided on just who best seemed
fitted to fill the various positions. Of course, as time passed, this
schedule of players was subject to possible changes, but on the whole


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