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seeing his sister, you know. And besides, perhaps they'll turn him
away from the door. He's a queer sort of a chap, and I just can't
quite make out whether he's a scamp or a big joke. Let's keep
quiet, and see which way the cat jumps."

Thad heaved a sigh, but did not say anything to the tramp that he may
have had in his mind, and which possibly Wandering Lu might have
resented. The man had continued his meal and was in something of a
reflective frame of mind apparently. Hugh supposed he was wondering
what he was going to do after coming so far in hopes of finding a
snug nest for the remainder of his idle days, and meeting with a
possible disappointment.

"Say, young fellers, I'm going to ask a favor of you," he suddenly
remarked, as he brushed the back of his hand across his mouth,
signifying that he had finished his meal, and did this in lieu of
using a napkin.

"What is it you want?" asked Thad, a bit ungraciously, it must be
confessed.

"Of course, you know just where Matilda lives in Scranton," observed
the man, insidiously; "and mebbe now you wouldn't mind if I walked
along with so you point out her home to me when we get near it?"

"Ought we do it, Hugh?" flashed Thad, turning toward his chum.

"What's the harm?" asked the other, instantly. "He can soon find it
by asking at some house, whether we help him or not. Why, yes, we'll
accommodate you, Lu; but I wouldn't be too hopeful if I were you,
about their asking you to stay over, because the times are out of
joint nowadays, food getting higher every day, and money hard to pick
up, since Uncle Sam's just jumped into the big war game."

"But my sister Matilda she always did have a tender heart, and wouldn't
see a poor stray cat go hungry if so be she had a bite of food,"
the tramp went on to say in the most unblushing way possible. "Unless
she's changed a heap she'll let me stay a while with her anyhow.
Mebbe I'll pick up some if I get good care, and can go on the road
again if the worst comes. But I'm much obliged to you for saying as
how you'd show me her humble home. It'll be mighty fine for a poor
old rolling stone like me to get under the roof of a blood relative,
which ain't been my luck for over twenty years."

He hastened to gather his scanty belongings together. When the pack
was complete be slung it across his back, and gave Hugh a nod.
Somehow even this tramp seemed to understand that Hugh Morgan was
the leader among his mates; perhaps it was his expression of firmness
that told the story, for there was certainly nothing of the "boss"
air about the boy to indicate as much.

"I'm all ready, if you are, younkers," the tramp said.

"Then we'll be off," remarked Hugh, Putting his words into action.

Thad began to wonder what any of their acquaintances would say should
they happen to see them in company with Wandering Lu. The tramp
looked so utterly disreputable that Thad disliked being discovered
with him; and yet Hugh, who looked deeper than his companion, was
surprised to notice that this dirt had the appearance of being rather
new and fresh. The fact caused him to take further notice of the man,
about whom he felt there rested quite a little air of mystery.

As they walked along the road headed for town, Thad's curiosity got
the better of his dislike and suspicion.

"In all this twenty years of knocking about, ail over the world, as
you claim, I suppose now there have been times when you've struck
pay dirt - what I mean is that I sort of think you haven't always been
what you are now, just a tramp? How about that, Wandering Lu?"

"What, me?" chuckled the other. "Say, I've dug gold in Alaska,
hunted pearls down near Ceylon, been at work in the diamond fields
out in South Africa, and in lots of other places in the world took
my turn at playing for high stakes with old Dame Fortune. Why,
younkers, I've had fortunes several times, and let the same slip
out of my hands. Some time, mebbe, if so be, I conclude to stay
around this section of country, which pleases me a heap as far as
I've seen the same, why I'd like to spin you a yarn or two that'd
make your eyes look as big as them there individual butter plates
they use in restaurants. I've run up against heaps and heaps of
queer adventures. In fact, it's a wonder I didn't die long ago
with my boots on. That's what peeves me, to think a feller who's
been so close to death by violence so many times should after all
be snuffed out with the pesky con."

Then he had another spell of violent coughing that quite aroused the
sympathy of Thad afresh, while Hugh observed and took note.
According to his mind, these fits of near strangulation were almost
too methodical to be genuine; still, he did not wish to condemn
any one without positive proof, though laboring under the impression
that the said Lu could not be as far gone as he tried to make them
believe.

Presently they arrived in the environs of Scranton. The boys went
out of their way to accommodate their disreputable looking companion,
for they would have struck across by another street if going home
direct.

"Mrs. Hosmer lives in that small cottage ahead of us," Hugh was saying,
pointing as he spoke.

The tramp stared, and nodded his head.

"Looks right neat, accordin' to my notion," he said. "Matilda was
always a great hand for keeping things clean. Now, I rather reckon
I'll like this place a heap."

Thad burned with fresh indignation to hear him so coolly signify his
intention of burdening the already hard pressed sister with his keep.

"Oh! is that so?" he snorted, "then I kind of think you'll have to get
a move on you, Wandering Lu, and remove a few pounds of superfluous
earth from your face and hands."

The man did not show any sign of being offended at this attack; simply
looked at his hands, and grinned as he remarked:

"Reckon that I will, younker; but then soap is cheap, and I wouldn't
want to soil Matilda's clean sheets and towels. Yes, if I'm going
to become domesticated and give up all this roving business I suppose
I'll just have to clean up a bit. Wonder now if Andrew he would
have an extra suit of clothes he could turn over to me. I'd sure
hate to make my poor sister blush to introduce her brother looking
as tough as I do just now."

"There's Mrs. Hosmer coming along the street," said Hugh at that
juncture. "She's got a bundle with her, so I expect she's been
getting more sewing to do from your mother or mine, Thad. And that's
Mr. Hosmer just opened the door to let her in. He's been watching
for her, no doubt, because they say he's always been a mighty good
husband, and it nearly kills him to see her working so hard while
he keeps on being too weak to be at his trade. We'll meet her at
the door."

They walked along, and stopped just as the good woman came up. Mrs.
Hosmer had snow-white hair, and a most amiable countenance. Every
one who knew her understood that the poor woman possessed a big
heart, and would share her last crust with a hungry man or child.
Thad, gritting his teeth at what he anticipated he would see, watched
the meeting. Hugh answered her pleasant greeting by saying:

"We chanced to come across a man who was inquiring for you, Mrs.
Hosmer, and as he asked us to show him where you lived we have fetched
him along. He can speak for himself now."

The woman turned to look at the tramp. Up to then she had hardly
noticed him, but now something seemed to stir within her bosom.
They saw her start, and bending, look more closely, at the same
time turning paler than usual.

"Oh! who can it be?" she said, weakly. "I seem to see something
familiar about the figure, and the face, but it's impossible, for
my brother Lu has long been dead."

"That's where you're mistaken, Matilda, because I'm that same Luther
Corbley, and still alive and in the flesh, though pretty far gone,
I'm afraid," and he acted as if about to start into one of his
hysterical coughing spells, then thought better of it, because
Matilda was rushing toward him, dropping her bundle as she came.

Paying no attention to his soiled and ragged clothes, the good woman
threw her arms about the neck of her long-lost brother, and actually
kissed him again and again on his rough cheek. Hugh, watching closely,
could see the man assume a pleased look, and once he thought he caught
Wandering Lu actually winking his left eye in his direction, as though
to say: "You see, she never will let me die on the road!"




CHAPTER IV

THE BARNACLE THAT CAME TO STAY


The man in the doorway, Andrew Hosmer, had watched this remarkable
scene with a variety of emotions. He realized that something in the
nature of a calamity had come upon them, for if his poor, hard-working
wife had found it difficult, even with the generous help of good
friends in Scranton, to provide food for the two of them, however
could she manage to add still another to the household, and feed a
third mouth?

Still, this man was undoubtedly Luther Corbley, the brother of whom
she had so often talked, and who was believed to be long since dead,
because he led such an adventurous life. And surely they could not be
so inhuman as to deny him at least temporary shelter, and a share of
their slender meals.

So, greatly to the disgust of Thad in particular, Mr. Hosmer now came
forward to offer his hand to the tramp, who took it eagerly. The
look on Brother Lu's face impressed Hugh as one of strange import.
He could not make it out at all, and even found himself vaguely
wondering whether this man might not after all be some sort of artful
impostor, who, having learned about the lost brother, chose to play
the part simply to be well taken care of for a time.

But then surely Matilda would soon be able to tell, when she got to
talking of their childhood days. A thousand things were apt to come
up, and even a cunning schemer could not help betraying his vast
ignorance along such lines.

About this time Brother Lu seemed to have one of his periodical
outbursts of violent coughing. Indeed, he rather outdid himself
on this occasion, as though determined to make a good showing before
his newly-found relatives, and thus enlist their full-fledged sympathy
in the start.

Matilda seemed fairly shocked as he strained, and writhed, and almost
burst a blood vessel with his efforts. Thad stood and watched, his
lip curling as though he could no longer be deceived. To him the
whole thing was now very much in the nature of a fraud, a delusion,
and a snare. He did not doubt the identity of Brother Lu, but as
to the genuine nature of his malady, that was another question entirely,
and Thad could not be impressed again. He fully believed the man
was faking sickness just to gain the sympathy of these simple people,
and work out the game he had in view, which Thad was convinced was
to make a snug nest for himself during the rest of the summer, perhaps
for all time.

"Let's be going along, Hugh," he said, as he wheeled on his chum, the
light of honest indignation glowing in his eyes; "this thing is making
me feel sick, and I can't stand much more of it!"

Hugh himself was agreeable. He intended, however, to see considerably
more of Brother Lu in the immediate future, and expected to be able
to gauge the fellow for what he really was. If he felt positive that
there was a chance of his being an impostor, Hugh would consider it
his duty to warn Mr. Hosmer, so that with the help of his wife they
might catch the fellow in some sort of trap and expose him. Even
though he did turn out to be the genuine article, Hugh felt that it
would be a shame to have him hanging on the poor couple, and causing
Matilda to work harder than ever to provide food, while possibly this
able bodied tramp led a lazy sort of an existence.

Accordingly the two boys strolled on, not having far to go in order
to reach Hugh's home, where he could deliver the "sweet butter" he
had gone out to the farm after. Just as Hugh anticipated, Thad
"boiled over" as soon as they were out of earshot of the Hosmer
cottage. Turning to look back he had seen the wretched hobo being
tenderly escorted into the little dwelling, hardly more than a dove-cote
in point of size, Matilda on one side, and her husband on the other;
and the sight caused Thad to grit his teeth savagely.

"I tell you it's a burning shame for that husky fraud to impose
himself on that poor old couple the way he has done," grumbled Thad.
"He's no more sick than I am. Didn't you see how he devoured all
that food at a sitting? No man wasting away with consumption could
stuff like that. And see how fat he is in the bargain; why, he'd
make two of old Mr. Hosmer. Yet they are ready to take him in, feed
him three meals a day, give him the best bed in the house, most likely,
and for an indefinite time. Uh! thunder! it makes me furious just to
think of it."

Hugh was amused at seeing Thad act in this way, because it was so
unlike his usual cool demeanor. Undoubtedly he was, as he had said,
indignant from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet.

"We'll both of us keep an eye on Brother Lu," remarked Hugh, "and try
to learn his little game. You know he asked us to come over and see
him, when he would keep his promise to tell us some thrilling yarns
about his adventures in many lands."

"Oh! I've no doubt the fellow has a slick tongue in his mouth, and
can spin stories that haven't a particle of foundation except in his
brain. He's no ignoramus, that's sure, and if he hasn't traveled in
all those countries he's read about the same, and can talk everlastingly
about things he imagines he's seen."

"But all the while we'll be watching to trip him up, don't you see?"
the other continued. "I'll set Matilda to fixing a trap or two that
will settle the question about his being the man he says he is."

"Oh! I'm not thinking so much about that!" burst out Thad, "even
if he is Luther Corbley, her own brother, that isn't the main trouble.
It's about his fastening himself like a barnacle or a leech on them
that I hate to consider. It makes me think of bow the Old Man of
the Sea, after being helped by Sindbad the Sailor, refused to get
off his benefactor's shoulders when asked. That's what this chap
means to do, get so comfortably settled that nothing can dislodge him."

"We'll see about that," snapped Hugh, his eyes sparkling now. "Some
of the good people of the town who are interested in the welfare of
Mr. Hosmer and his wife will object, and so Brother Lu may have to
trudge along again."

"I'm afraid you'll run up against a snag when you try that sort of
thing, Hugh. That snag will be the affection of Matilda. She's
_awfully_ tender-hearted, you can see, and would rather go hungry
herself than that any one related to her should suffer, even a little.
Just think of that beast being installed in their home. Every time
he thinks it necessary to stir up a little extra sympathy he'll start
that old gag of coughing to work again. Oh! I feel as if I could
willingly help duck him in Hobson's Mill-pond, or give him a ride
out of town on a rail some fine night."

Hugh had to laugh at hearing this honest outburst.

"No use talking, you don't seem to have much feeling for the woes of
a poor old homeless tramp, Thad," he told his chum.

"Well, I haven't, if you want me to give you the honest truth," said
Thad, bluntly; "in my humble opinion any husky man who is willing
to loaf around and let a delicate woman like Matilda Hosmer labor
for his support doesn't deserve a grain of pity. Remember, Hugh,
I'm not referring to her husband, who is a good fellow, and doing
all he can to get his strength back again, so he can go to his trade,
and allow her to take things easier. I'm going to tell my folks all
about it. The women of this town ought to do something to influence
Mrs. Hosmer, if she persists in letting that hulk of a lazybones stay
with her, and be fed at her expense."

"That might be a bright idea, in good time," assented Hugh. "Surely
our mothers would know how to manage, and could get Matilda to give
the man his walking papers; though on second thought I really believe
she would refuse, even if they declared they would have to decline to
assist her further unless she chased Brother Lu away from her cottage
home. He knows her character, too, because you remember how he told
us Matilda always was a tender-hearted thing, and would not stand by
and see a wretched dog suffer if she could prevent it by any personal
sacrifice."

Thad did not reply immediately, but made a number of highly significant
gestures, of a nature to cause Hugh to fancy the other were punching
some fellow's head in a satisfactory fashion. And somehow actions
spoke louder than words in that case.

"Don't let this queer business weigh too heavily on your mind, Thad,"
warned the other, as they prepared to separate. "We've got a game
ahead of us, remember, and it's mighty important that the catcher
behind the bat should keep his wits about him."

"I guess I know all that, Hugh," chuckled Thad. "Once I get to
playing ball, and there's going to be nothing interfere with my
work as a backstop. I'm feeling in tip-top condition right now, and
everything working right expect to be a factor in bringing Belleville
down into the dust day after tomorrow."

"Once we get that game pulled off," observed Hugh, "and we won't
have another championship one for two weeks, because Allendale and
Belleville meet the next Saturday, though we expect to play another
team from Jenkintown, just to keep our hands in, you know. Our
next job will be to hustle with that strong Allendale combination,
that broke up everything last season, and went through with only
one defeat."

"But next week, with nothing on our hands, Hugh, we can turn our
attention to this miserable business again, can't we?"

"Why, I know of no reason to prevent it," observed the other. "Let's
hope that by then Brother Lu will have decided town life is too dull
for him, and be once more holding down the railroad ties in his
journeying through the country. I've read that it's mighty hard for
a genuine tramp to settle down to any civilized sort of existence.
You see, they're of a sort of migrating gypsy breed, and get as
uneasy as a fish out of water when stalled for any length of time."

"'Course that would settle it all beautifully," agreed Thad, with
a relieved look on his honest face; "but according to my mind it
would be too good to come true. That sly chap means to play the
game to the limit. As long as he isn't half starved he'll hang
on there, and work upon the sympathy of those poor people. The
only sure way to get him dislodged would be to cut his rations short;
though to do that you'd have to hurt Matilda and her sick husband.
But give me a little time, and I'll fix him, that's right, I will!"

If Brother Lu could only have seen and heard all this he might have
been made a bit uneasy, under the conviction that his soft berth
in his sister's home was not going to prove such an easy snap as
the conditions seemed to imply. Hugh found himself wondering just
how the fellow would take it. Brother Lu was becoming something
of a mystery to Hugh, and he was already making up his mind that
it would afford him great pleasure to study the rogue still further,
and see what that sly gleam or twinkle in his blue eyes really stood
for.

"Come over tonight, Thad, and we'll talk matters over again - -baseball
matters, I mean, of course," Hugh called out as his chum started away.

"Just as you say, Hugh, though I was expecting that you'd favor me
with a call. There are a few little things that had ought to be
straightened out before we hit that slugging nine over in Belleville.
I hope Alan Tyree keeps up his good work in the box. Lately he's
seemed to be doing finely, and Mr. Saunders declares he could mow
down a lot of heavy hitters in the college league. Well, we'll
know more about a heap of things when Saturday night comes around.
See you later, then, Hugh!"




CHAPTER V

SCRANTON TACKLES BELLEVUE HIGH


There was quite a big crowd at Belleville when the time came for the
game to start on Saturday afternoon. Scranton had sent a hustling
delegation of many hundreds of enthusiastic people, most of whom were
young folks, deeply interested in the fortunes of their school team,
led by Hugh Morgan.

The scene was a pretty one, for, it being a warm day, the girls were
out in force, dressed in all the colors of the rainbow, and waving
their school pennants with a patriotic fervor that did them full credit.

Then there were the groups of students belonging to each of the rival
high schools, with some fellow to lead them in cheering; they
promised to make it a day long to be remembered with their collective
noise and hearty concerted shouting.

Already the two teams were in evidence, Scranton being at practice,
with the use of the field for fifteen minutes. Some were knocking
out flies and fierce ground balls to the fielders; while the catcher
varied the monotony of things by sending down speedy balls to second
to catch an imaginary runner from first, after which Julius Hobson or
Owen Dugdale would start the ball around the circuit like lightning
before it reached the hand of the batter again.

All this preliminary work was being watched with more or less interest
by the vast crowd of spectators. There were many who pretended to be
able to gauge the capacity and fielding power of a club in this stage,
but experienced onlookers knew the fallacy of such a premature
decision. Often the very fellows who displayed carelessness in
practice would stiffen up like magic when the game was actually
started, and never make a sloppy play from that time on, their throwing
being like clock-work and their stopping of hard hit bounders simply
gilt-edged.

The umpire was on the ground, and would soon be donning his mask for
work behind the bat. He was a former Yale graduate, and as he lived
in Jenkintown, would not be inclined to favor any one of the three
clubs representing the High School League. Besides, Mr. Hitchens
was a man held high in esteem by everyone who knew him, and his
decisions were not likely to be questioned, since everyone felt certain
he would be strictly impartial, and say what he believed to be so.

When the time limit had expired the players came in, and the two
field captains were seen in consultation, as though there might be
something in the way of ground rules to be settled before play was
called. The crowd was so large that in several places it had worked
over into the field, and a rope had to be stretched to keep the
spectators from bothering the players.

It was understood that a hit in a certain quarter amidst the spectators
would be counted a two-bagger. To secure a home run on the Belleville
grounds the batter must send his ball in a direct line for center, and
far above the fielder's head. The ground has a slight slope there,
and once a good start was made it was likely to elude the running
fielder long enough to allow a fast sprinter to circle the bases.

Hugh had never played on the Belleville grounds before, but he always
made it a practice to closely examine every field before starting
a game, and discovering its weak spots. Now he realized that Belleville
must be well aware of that small slope, and the possibilities it
had for a home run. Doubtless the Belleville boys had all been
trained to aim their guns in that direction, with the hope of
accumulating a number of four-base hits during the progress of a game.
The visitors, not being wise to the fact, would waste much of their
surplus energy in sending out hits to the side of the field where,
no matter how vigorous the wallops might be, still they would only
count for two bases.

So Hugh gave each and every one of the boys the secret, and the
"heavies" were implored to do their utmost to send their hits straight
ahead, and high over the head of fielder Major, who did duty in the
middle garden. They assured him they would not be found wanting
when the time came, though, of course, much must depend on how they
were able to gauge the slants and drops of the artful Kinsey, pitcher
for Belleville.

When the two high-school nines took the field they were found to
consist of the following players in their batting order:
Scranton High Player
Position
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Just" Smith Left Field
Joe Danvers First Base
Horatio Juggins Right Field
Owen Dugdale Short Stop
Hugh Morgan Third Base (Field capt.)


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Online LibraryDonald FergusonThe Chums of Scranton High out for the Pennant → online text (page 2 of 10)