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Donald Ferguson.

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

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when threatened with death by drowning. Some boys have even discovered
that they could swim when they had to, or go down; though it is a risky
experiment which should never be resorted to.

Hugh's heart seemed to be almost in his throat as he watched the
struggles of the poor little chap. Black or white, it made not the
least difference to him just then; that child's life was as precious in
his mother's sight as if he were the pink and white darling of a
wealthy family.

Nearer they came to the scene. Oh! if only he might manage somehow to
retain his grip just twenty seconds longer, they would be on hand, and
ready to drag him over the side of the old boat to safety. Hugh, deep
down in his heart prayed that it might be so. He also figured how he
would plunge overboard at the last second, if necessary, and dive after
the sinking child, for he must be saved.

They both worked as never before in their lives. Possibly that old
boat swept through the water of the mill-pond at a faster rate than it
had ever indulged in, even with twice the number of paddlers aboard. A
precious human life was at stake, and this fact brought out every atom
of energy those two gallant lads could summon to the fore.

Fortune was kind, and the plucky little colored boy continued to show
wonderful tenacity of purpose; for he managed to retain his slipping
grip on the turning plank until Hugh could bend over and take a grip of
his kinky wool. It may not have been the most pleasant way to effect a
rescue, but there was no time for being particular.

While he thus held the child above water, Thad bent down and got hold
of the boy's arms. That settled it, for they speedily hauled him
aboard. The two little girl companions of the rescued child, whose
admiration for his boldness had undoubtedly been the main cause for his
taking such great risks, stopped screaming when they saw that he was
safe in the boat.

The boys now made for the shore, as the boat was taking in water very
fast, and already their feet were soaking wet. Besides, the sooner
they reached land the better, because the boy had fainted from excess
of fright, and also on account of the desperate endeavor he had made to
keep from sinking.

A minute later and Hugh lifted him from the boat.

"We've got to get a fire started right away, Thad!" he exclaimed. "The
air isn't as warm as it might be, and he'll be shivering soon.
Besides, it's a long walk to town. Later on perhaps we may be able to
stop some car or vehicle going in on the road, and take them all home.
Here's my match-safe, so speed up a blaze, please."

It was fortunate that Hugh always made it a practice to have matches
with him. There could be no telling when they might come in very
handy, as on the present occasion; for there was no house near by at
which they could seek assistance.

Thad was always a good hand at making a fire, and he quickly found
plenty of fine tinder which flashed up when a match was applied. Then
more wood was carefully placed on the little blaze, until in a brief
time he had a cheery fire roaring.

Hugh laid the boy down where he could feel the comfortable heat. He
understood that the child could not have swallowed any water to speak
of, because he managed to keep his head above the surface, save in the
very end of his struggle. It was only a swoon or faint, and likely the
child would come out of it quickly. He rubbed the little hands, and
waited to see signs of returning animation.

Two minutes afterwards the boy's eyes opened. He looked puzzled to see
Hugh bending over him, and to hear the crackling of the fire.

"It's all right, my boy," said Hugh, encouragingly; "you fell into the
water after your raft went to pieces, and we pulled you out. Now we
mean to dry your clothes by the aid of this nice fire, and after that
we'll see you get home. Here are your little playmates, you see. You
can thank them for screaming, because only for that we might not have
come up in time."

The boy allowed his hand to run up and down his other wet sleeve.

"Dem's my Sunday-best clo's, too. Mebbe mommy she won't whale me fo'
gettin' dem all soaked like this," he muttered to himself
disconsolately.

"Don't you worry about that," chuckled Thad, who had overheard the
childish complaint. "Your mother, whoever she may be, will be so
thankful that she hasn't lost her boy she'll forgive you anything. And
you're a brave little chap in the bargain, because you did put up a
nervy fight for your life, that's certain."

They succeeded in drying his clothes, and then, as a large car was seen
coming along the road with only a single man in the same, Hugh ran over
to hail the driver and beg him to take them all into town.

Luck favored them again. The man in the big car turned out to be Major
McGrew's chauffeur, whom Hugh knew to speak to, as he was a baseball
enthusiast of the first water. When he heard what had happened, he
told Hugh to fetch the boy along; and also the two other kids; he'd
have them home in a jiffy, for it was less than a mile to town.

The colored people, as so often happens, lived in a certain section of
Scranton, being very clannish in their habits. Hugh did not doubt but
that he could easily learn just where the boy lived. He looked at him
several times trying to remember where he could have seen the little
fellow before, because there seemed to be something familiar about his
face; but somehow he failed to connect him with any family he knew.

When presently they entered the district where the colored folks had
their homes, their coming created quite a flutter. To have a fine big
car fetching a trio of colored children home was an event of importance.

Boys and girls, and a sprinkling of older persons as well, hurried to
ascertain what it could mean. Doubtless they were quick to sense the
fact that something out of the common run must have occurred to cause
such a happening.

Hugh recognized an old man he knew as a preacher, and addressing
himself to this person he hastened to explain.

"These children were up at the old mill-pond, and the boy had made a
raft on which he was having the time of his life, when the thing
separated, and left him clinging to one plank where the water was quite
deep. We chanced to hear the girls' screams and got to the spot in
time to push out in an old boat and get hold of him just as he was
sinking. He's a plucky little chap, I want to tell you. Only for the
way he held on to that plank, he must have drowned before we could
reach him. We dried his clothes at a fire we made, and have brought
him home. I wish you would send for his mother, and tell her not to
punish him. He's been very close to death, and has had a lesson he'll
never forget."

The old man took a look at the boy.

"Why, it's sure enough little Brutus!" he exclaimed, as though just
discovering this fact, for the boy had kept his face partly hidden,
through shame and fear; then turning to some of the wide-eyed
youngsters clustering around, the parson went on to say; "Here, you
Adolphus Smith, run like the wind over to Madame Pangborn's and tell
Sarah her boy needs her, because he's been in the pond; but be sure to
let her know Brutus is all right!"

The boy shot away like a flash, while Hugh turned and looked at Brutus
again; for now he knew that he had seen him over at the Pangborn
mansion.




CHAPTER XVII

LITTLE BRUTUS AND HIS "COLLECTION"

It was not long before they discovered a woman running like mad toward
the spot. Of course this was no other than Sarah, whose heart had been
chilled by the news fetched by Adolphus Smith, the truth being
considerably garbled, it is to be feared.

She arrived panting, and with her eyes full of horror, as though she
fully expected to find her darling Brutus lying there all wet and cold.

Upon discovering the shrinking little form, she seized him in her arms,
and dropping to the ground began rocking back and forth as she hugged
him tight, meanwhile covering his ebony little face with motherly
kisses.

"Hebben be praised, I ain't done lost my Brutus after all. Dat
'Dolphus he skeered me nigh to death wif his stuttering story as how my
chile be'n in de mill-pond. What's all dis row about, anyhow? I hopes
none o' you folks done play a joke on me, dat's right. It'd be de
wustest thing yuh eber done, let me tells yuh."

The parson thereupon proceeded to tell her the real facts. Sarah
hugged the rescued boy some more, and then on hearing how his life had
been saved by the actions of two white boys, she looked up at Hugh and
Thad.

"Why, it am de young Morgan boy, glory, if it ain't!" she ejaculated,
and Hugh was a little afraid the good woman, in her gratitude, might
want to transfer her embraces from Brutus to him, so he held out his
hand, with one of his smiles, saying:

"We were only too glad to be on the spot and give the boy a helping
hand, Sarah. I didn't know at the time he was your child, though that
wouldn't have made any difference. We dried his clothes at a fire we
made, and he's all right."

Sarah, even as she squeezed Hugh's hand, was looking at Brutus out of
the tail of her eye, as though an awful thought had just then burst
upon her.

"An' he hab on his bestest Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes, too. I done
hopes dey ain't shrunk on him, so he cain't git in 'em agin. Dat clerk
he nebber guarantee dat dey wouldn't creep up if de boy he done falls
in de pond. But how did it happen, I'd like to know."

Hugh thereupon took it upon himself to explain just how Brutus in
trying to "show-off" before his little girl companions had ventured out
too far, and managed to cause his raft to go to pieces. Sarah looked
threatening, so Hugh hastened to "pour oil on troubled waters."

"Brutus has suffered enough for punishment, I should think, Sarah," he
told her. "He's had his lesson, and will never try anything like that
again. You should be thankful it's no worse. Besides, let me tell
you, he's a little hero. He fought like everything to save himself,
and never let out so much as a cry. The girls did all the yelling.
You ought to be proud of his grit."

"That's right, you had, Sarah," added Thad, thinking it his duty to
"put in an oar" so as to save Brutus from the "smacking" he seemed to
be dreading.

This sort of talk mollified the mother. She even looked proudly around
at the clustering neighbors, for by now every denizen of Darktown had
apparently been drawn to the spot, all wild to hear what had happened.
Her look was in the shape of a challenge. It seemed to say: "Dere now,
what do yuh good-for-nothin' coons think of my Brutus, after hearin'
dese white boys say as how he's a real hero? Don't any ob yuh ebber
ag'in ask me why I gives him dat name. Guess I knows my history, an'
didn't I see it in him when he was a little baby? Dar ain't another
hero in dis whole place, dat's right!"

She turned to Hugh again. Brutus took advantage of his opportunity to
creep over to another woman, who also petted him, and who the boys
afterwards learned was his aunt, a washerwoman of the town.

"Dat boy he ain't like de rest of de kids, I wants yuh to know, Marse
Morgan," she was saying, eagerly. "All de boys 'round heah dey spends
dere time aplayin' in de street, or agittin' into trouble. My Brutus
he's different. Jest yuh come wif me an' see how he done play all by
hisself. I'd like yuh to know he ain't a wuthless little rascal, dat
chile."

Hugh seemed about to beg Sarah to let them off, but Thad, for some
reason, perhaps just through mere curiosity, hastened to say:

"Come on, let's take a peek, Hugh. I've got an engagement in a short
time, but this'll only take a few minutes. We're some interested in
Brutus, you know. I guess he's bound to make a name for himself some
day."

So they followed Sarah as she led the way to a nearby cottage.

"Dat's whar we libs, me an' Brutus and my sister, Nancy, her as takes
in washin' six days in de week, an' teaches de infant class in Sunday
school on de seventh day. Yuh see we done got a cabin in de rear where
Nancy she washes. So we fits up one end fo' Brutus' playhouse, same as
de white chillun dey hab playhouses in de yard. He sets dar most ob de
day a havin' de time o' his life playin' sojer with de buttons, and
settin' out his Noah's Ark animals. I allers knowed dat boy was
different from de rest o' de kids. Parson Brown, he say he sure enough
hab de makin' o' a good preacher in him, fo' he talks by de hour to his
toys."

So Hugh and Thad had a look-in. They found everything in order,
showing that Nancy was not slovenly about her work. The tubs were hung
on the wall, and a basket of soiled clothes standing ready for the next
day's washing.

Over at the far end of the cabin was the special precinct devoted to
Brutus and his toys. Hugh glanced at the accumulation. He saw that
the boy was one of those who love to accumulate things. He had
numerous little assortments of curious articles, picked up here and
there, all of which had excited his love for collecting.

Thad was heard to chuckle as though he found it quite amusing; but he
turned this off with a cough as Sarah glanced inquiringly toward him.

"Yuh see how dat boy he spend his time," the proud mother went on to
say. "Right here he play and play de whole blessed day long. He ain't
nebber done tired o' talkin' to his toys, and asettin' o' 'em in lines
like dey was in school. I always hab an idea in my head Brutus, he
either make a good parson or else he bound to be a school teacher, I
ain't zactly made up my mind yet which it'll be."

"It's plain to be seen, Sarah," said Hugh, as he turned away, "that
your boy is different. I certainly hope he'll grow up to be a man
you'll be proud of. You won't punish him for what happened today, will
you? We promised him we'd ask you to go easy with him; he was
dreadfully alarmed about his clothes, and seemed to think more about
them than that his life had been in deadly peril."

"Bless yuh, honey, I ain't meanin' to do the leastest thing to dat
sweet chile. Clothes kin be boughten agin, but I never'd be able to
git anudder Brutus. But if he goes out to dat drefful mill-pond agin,
I'm feared I'll have to skin him, and dat's a fact."

So the two chums strolled on, heading for another part of the town.
Both of them had been highly edified by what they saw and heard in the
colored settlement.

"I'd like to ask you one thing, though, Thad; what were you chuckling
at while we were in that cabin that shares the honors of a wash-house
with Brutus and his wonderful collection of toys?"

"Oh! something struck me as funny, that's all, Hugh. The fact is, just
when Sarah was prophesying all those wonderful things that might be in
store for Brutus, from being a great soldier, or an eloquent parson who
could frighten people into repenting of their sins, I took stock of all
that junk the boy's gone and collected, and do you know, I was thinking
that the chances were he'd make a successful hustler in the 'rags, old
iron, old clothes' line, when he grew up."

Hugh also laughed on hearing that.

"Nobody can tell," he went on to say. "The veil of the future hides
such things from our mortal eyes, as Dominie Pettigrew said the other
Sunday. Brutus may turn out to be a wonder; and again there's a chance
of his being only an ordinary day laborer."

"Well, if he keeps on taking risks just to show off before the girls,"
observed Thad, drily, "I rather guess he won't grow up at all, but die
young. But I'll leave you here, Hugh, as I have a date with some one
for half-past four this afternoon."

"Oh! is that so?" chuckled the other; "well, go along, and don't bother
making excuses. I wouldn't have you break an appointment with Ivy for
anything."

"You're away off this time, Hugh, for it happens that it isn't Ivy
Middleton, or any other slip of a girl," Thad hastened to say.

He did not offer to explain, and the other thought he looked somewhat
mysterious; but while his curiosity may have been slightly aroused,
Hugh did not feel justified in making any further inquiries. If Thad
did not wish to tell him, it was all right; even between chums there
may be little secrets.

"I may see you later on, though," Thad added, as he was turning away;
"that is, if I'm successful in my errand."

Which remark further aroused the wonder of his comrade, who could not
imagine what Thad had in mind. Hugh went home, and picking up a book
he was reading, proceeded to renew his interest in the story. Half an
hour slipped away in this fashion. Then he heard a jolly whistle down
on the street, which he knew full well. Sure enough, it was Thad
coming hurriedly toward the Morgan home.

He discovered Hugh at the window and waved his hand. Even at that
distance Hugh saw his face was flushed, just as his manner was buoyant.

"Now I wonder what that boy has been up to," Hugh said to himself, as
he awaited the coming of Thad; but cudgel his brain as he might, Hugh
never once suspected the errand of his chum could have anything to do
with the solving of the puzzle that was assuming all the
characteristics of a heavy burden on his, Hugh's, shoulders.

Thad presently burst in upon him, for he knew the way to Hugh's den,
and thought nothing of going in and out of the Morgan house as though
he belonged there. Hugh motioned to a chair.

"Sit down and cool off," he told Thad. "You look all heated up, as if
you'd been running fast."

"Well, so I have, part of the way," gasped the other; "and it's quite
some distance out to the Rookery, you must remember."

"What's that?" exclaimed Hugh; "do you mean to say your appointment was
with Owen Dugdale after all?"

"Shucks! no, but with his old grandfather," snickered Thad. "Owen's
gone off for the afternoon with Mr. Leonard in the athletic
instructor's flivver, and paying a visit to Barton. I knew about that
when I called Mr. Dugdale up around noon today, for he has a telephone,
it happens, and told him I'd accept his invitation to drop in again to
chat with him, and would be over by about four. Well, in the language
of Alexander, or some other old worthy of ancient times, it was _veni,
vidi, vici_ with me; I came, I saw, I conquered! What do you think of
that, Hugh?"

With the words he suddenly drew something from a pocket and held it in
front of his companion's nose. It was a souvenir spoon, one of unique
pattern, Hugh saw, and he had a thrill as he comprehended just what it
might mean.




CHAPTER XVIII

A STRAIGHT DRIVE FOR THE TRUTH

"So, you stole Owen's spoon, did you?" Hugh said, reprovingly.

Thad made a gesture as though he thought his chum was putting it hard.

"I simply borrowed it, that's all, Hugh," he hastened to explain. "Of
course I haven't any use for souvenir spoons, or any other kind of
spoons, either, for that matter. I was tired of all this beating
around the bush, and made a straight drive to find out the truth.
Either that boy is innocent, or else he's guilty, and now we can learn
which it is."

"What do you plan to do, now you have the spoon?" demanded Hugh.

"Why," explained Thad, "I thought perhaps you'd agree to take me over
to call on Madame Pangborn, even if it is Sunday. The better the day
the better the deed; and our main object would be to solve the horrible
mystery that's been hanging over poor Owen's head all this while, even
if he doesn't know about it. What do you say to that, Hugh?"

The other boy seemed to consider, while Thad watched his face eagerly.
It was just like Thad to go directly at the heart of the matter, for
his was rather an impetuous nature. After all, perhaps it might be the
easiest way in which to settle the question. Hugh at least would be
glad to lay his burden down, for it had been an uphill fight all the
way. Besides, there was so much need of his being able to pay full
attention to baseball matters, with the first game only six days off,
that he would welcome any means for winding up his self-appointed task.

"Well, it might be best to drop in on the old lady and have her
identify that spoon as one of her set," he finally observed. "Once
that fact was established, we would have some solid foundation to build
on. As it is now, we're just groping in the dark."

"Then you agree, do you, Hugh?"

"Call it a bargain, Thad. I'll take you around to call on the old
lady. She's a nice soul, and will be glad to see us. In fact, when we
were talking about a number of things the last time I was in her house,
and I chanced to mention your name, she asked me to fetch you around
sometime. Of course she knows who you are, but I guess you've never
really met her. She's a wonderful old woman, and heart and soul bent
on getting all sorts of comforts for the wounded soldiers of her
beloved la belle France."

Thad looked greatly pleased.

"Then let's be starting out right away," he suggested. "It might be,
Owen would get home before he expected to, and I'd a heap sooner he
wasn't around when we were on our way to the Pangborn house. Somehow,
I'd hate to look the boy in the face after doing what I did; though you
understand it was done in the hope of clearing up this awful puzzle."

"No need of saying that, Thad, because I know what your feelings are.
My plan would have been to pick up the spoon incidentally, and admire
it. Then it would be easy to tell from the manner of Mr. Dugdale
whether he knew where it came from. I don't suppose you thought to do
anything like that, now?"

"Why, no," came the reply; "for you see, I'd laid out my plan of
campaign, and wanted to hew close to the line. The quickest way to
settle the whole matter, according to my calculations, was to just show
the old lady the spoon, and ask her if it was one of the missing ones.
But please get a move on you, Hugh. I'm fairly quivering with
suspense, because I somehow feel that we're on the verge of making a
big discovery."

"Perhaps we are," his chum told him, without any show of elation, "but
if it convicts Owen Dugdale of this thing, I'll be mighty sorry."

He led the way downstairs, and secured his cap from the rack. Then the
two lads hurried out of the front door, heading in the direction of the
big house where the old French lady lived, and which had lately been
turned into a sort of general headquarters for the Red Cross workers.
There some of the ladies of Scranton could be found day after day,
sewing and packing such garments as had been brought in, so that they
might be sent across the sea to the country where the brave poilus were
in the trenches defending their native land against the aggressor, and
slowly but surely pressing the Teutonic hosts back toward the border.

"I'm going to ask you a favor, Hugh," remarked Thad, presently, as they
drew near their intended destination.

"Go ahead and ask it, then," he was told.

"Let me run this little game, won't you, please - that is, I mean, allow
me to introduce the subject of souvenir spoons, and then show the old
lady the one I've got in my pocket right now?"

"That seems only fair," Hugh assured him. "Since you've taken it on
yourself to crib that spoon from Owen's den, it's up to you to do the
honors. I'll only be too glad to have you do most of the talking.
Yes, and about the time you flash that thing in front of her eyes I'll
be shivering for fear we learn the worst."

"Nothing like heroic treatment when you've got a cancer gnawing at your
vitals, as surgeons all say," remarked Thad, rather pompously. "I'm
aiming at the bull's-eye now, you understand. It's going to win or
lose, and no more tom-foolery about it."

When Hugh rang the door-bell, it was Sarah who answered, showing that
she had not lingered very long at home after the boys left, but had
returned to her duties with the madame, who doubtless paid extravagant
wages for her services.

She smiled broadly at sight of them.

"I sure is glad to see yuh agin, bofe ob yous," she said. "I done
tells de missus all 'bout hit, and she says as how it was on'y what
she'd spect of dat young Mistah Morgan."

"Thank you for telling me that, Sarah," Hugh went on to say; "it's
pleasant to know some one thinks well of you. Is Mrs. Pangborn at
leisure? I hope she isn't taking a nap just now?"

"Deedy she ain't dat, suh; she's on'y readin' in de library. An' she
be mighty glad tuh see yous bofe."

So she led the way along the wide hall, to usher the boys into the
commodious library. Bookcases lined the walls, and it seemed to be an
ideal place, where a student might enjoy himself very much indeed.


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Online LibraryDonald FergusonThe Chums of Scranton High Hugh Morgan's Uphill Fight → online text (page 8 of 9)