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other. "He fairly dotes on writing up imaginary things, and making
them seem real. He says it's his long suit, whatever he means by
that. I only hope he doesn't make it seem too ridiculous, and so
overdo the matter."

Hugh seemed to have pretty fair confidence in Jim's judgment.

"He's a clever chap," he remarked, "and will know just where to
draw the line. I could that already he had drawn upon his imagination
to supply him with something in place of facts. It'll be a thrilling
bit of reading, and ought to give our pet aversion a cold shiver
when he gets its import. Having Marshal Hastings come away up here
after him will upset all Brother Lu's plans for a soft berth during
the remainder of his fast-ebbing life; and he may suddenly determine
that it's better to run away and live to eat another day, than to
try and stick it out here, and be landed in a Texas jail."

"It'll seem an awful long time till tomorrow comes," sighed the
impatient Thad. "We told him we'd be around by nine in the morning,
didn't we? Well, let's call it eight-and-a-half, then. He may
be able to get off earlier than he expects, and that would cut Brother
Lu out of another meal at the expense of Matilda, whose supplies must
be running low by now, I should judge, and her money ditto in the
bargain."

"Have it your own way, Thad, and drop in for me," said Hugh. "In the
midst of all this fuss and feathers over that miserable hobo, we
mustn't forget we promised to be on hand in the afternoon to play
on the team against Mechanicsville; for you know there has been a
switch, and the programme changed. That team is considered a
strong aggregation from the mills over there, and, we may get our
fingers burned unless we are careful. After knocking Belleville
down last Saturday, it would look bad for Scranton to be snowed
under by an outside nine without any reputation, as they have hardly
played together this season so far."

"Oh! I haven't forgotten my promise to Mr. Saunders and you, Hugh,"
protested the reliable backstop of the high-school team "I'm too fond
of baseball to neglect any chance for playing. But we'll try and put
this other affair over in the A.M., and that'll leave us free to
play ball after lunch. I wonder how far away our friend, Brother
Lu, will be this time tomorrow?"

"Perhaps many miles," suggested Hugh, "and then again he may be taking
things as easy as ever over there at Sister Matilda's cottage. It's
going to be a toss-up whether our game works as we hope, or falls
flat to the ground."




CHAPTER X

HOW JIM PETTIGREW FIXED IT


When Saturday morning came, the two chums of Scranton High met as per
arrangement, and as Thad expressed it, made a "bee-line" downtown.
They were fairly wild to get bold of the first copy of the _Weekly
Courier_ that was placed on sale.

As a rule, it was delivered to the several newsstands, and at the
railroad station, around eight o'clock. Then the "printer's devil,"
who was also the carrier, delivering copies to most of the town
folks who subscribed in that fashion, would start out with a first
bundle in his bag, taking his time about leaving the same at different
doors. Perhaps nowadays, however, when there was likely to be a
baseball game in the afternoon to enliven things, the said boy might
quicken his pace a bit, so as to get through, and have a chance to
witness the struggle.

They were just in time to see a package delivered at the main news
store, where sporting goods could also be purchased. Paul Kramer's
was a place most beloved among the boys of Scranton, for the small
store held almost everything that was apt to appeal to the heart of
the average youth. Besides, all baseball, and in due season, football
paraphernalia, as well as hockey sticks, and shin guards, the old
storekeeper always carried a well-chosen stock of juvenile fiction
in cloth; and those fellows who were fond of spending their spare
hours in reading the works of old favorites like Optic and Alger,
as well as numerous more recent additions to the ranks of authors,
were to be found poring over the contents of numerous book shelves
and racks, deciding which volume they would squander their latest
quarter for.

Then at Kramer's "Emporium" there was always a huge stock of the
latest music in cheap form; and the girls had also contracted a
habit of dropping in to look this over, with an eye to adding to
their lists. So that from early morning until nine in the evening,
on ordinary occasions, if a boy could not be found anywhere else
it was "dollars to doughnuts," as Thad always said, that he was
rummaging at Paul Kramer's, and lost to all the world for the time
being.

Eagerly, then, did Thad throw down a nickel, and snatch up the first
copy of that week's issue sold that morning. It was virtually "fresh
from the press"; indeed, the odor of printers' ink could easily be
detected in the sheet.

There was no difficulty about finding the article they were most deeply
interested in. It occupied a leading place on the front page. Jim
Pettigrew had certainly seen to it that the head was next door to
what is known as a "scare" head; for the type was black and bold
enough to attract attention the first thing any one unfolded their
copy of the _Courier_.

What Mr. Adoiphus Hanks would say was a question, when later on he
came to look over the latest issue of the family paper, and discovered
such liberties on the part of the "cub" reporter, raised for one
day to the responsible position of editor. But then Jim was
smooth-tongued enough to settle all that with his boss, for Jim
could talk almost anyone into believing that black was white.
Possibly he would think it the best policy to confide the whole
story to Mr. Hanks, and explain just how it had been done in the
public policy. Adoiphus was not such a bad sort of fellow, and
really believed that he took a leading part in the upbuilding of the
morals of Scranton; so he might forgive Jim's breaking away from the
long-established policy of the family paper, which allowed of but
little sensationalism.

Well, it was a great story! Jim had allowed his imagination full swing,
that was certain. He spoke of actually running across the stern
official from Texas, and making his acquaintance under rather
dramatic conditions connected with a broken-down car on the road.
Then he launched forth into a vivid description of how the minion
of justice confided to him the reason for his being there so far
distant from the field of his customary useful and perilous operations.
Sly little hints were conveyed in his mention of the rascal whom
he had vowed to find, and take back with him to Texas, there to pay
the penalty for breaking the laws. Why, surely the guilty conscience
of Brother Lu must discover a description of himself in every word
that the imaginary marshal uttered.

The two boys finished at about the same time. Their eyes met in a
stare, and Thad gave utterance to a whistle.

"Whew! Jim is sure a dandy when it comes to write-ups, isn't he,
though, Hugh?" he breathed softly, for the proprietor of the "Emporium"
happened to be bustling about the place, and was evidently a bit
curious to know just what there could be in that week's edition of
the _Courier_ to so plainly interest Hugh and his chum.

"He certainly is," admitted Hugh. "Why, you can almost see that
Marshal Hastings walking before you, and looking as if he had his
eagle eye fixed on you for keeps. Jim's described him so smartly
that it would apply to almost any Western sheriff or marshal we've
ever seen in the movies."

"But just think how the cold creeps will chase up and down the spinal
column of that miserable sneak of a hobo when he glimpses this article,"
chuckled Thad. "I can imagine him starting, and his eyes nearly
popping out of his head as he gets busy devouring the whole thing. And,
then, Hugh, what d'ye reckon his next move will be?" Hugh shrugged
his shoulders as he slowly replied:

"Honestly now, Thad, I give it up. If he's really guilty, as we
believe, why, of course, he'll not wait on the order of his going,
but skip out like a prairie fire, and we'll be shut of him. But
there's always the doubt. In fact, we never can be sure we've struck
the right nail on the head until we see Lu hitting the high places,
and never even looking back."

"I must read that wonderful article again," quoth the admiring Thad.
"It's simply great the way Jim's written it up, and I'm sure that chap
is bound to occupy an exalted place in newspaperdom down in New York
one of these days when luck comes to him, and he emigrates that way."

They scanned it line by line until they could almost repeat the
whole story by heart, it made such a great impression on them. Thad
seemed more than amused over the idea that the good folks from
Scranton would swallow it whole, and believe there was really a
Texan marshal in their midst, looking right and left for a desperate
character who had dropped down in that quiet and respectable
neighborhood, thinking he would be safe from molestation there.

"Why, Hugh," he went on to say, exuberantly, "all today I warrant
you hundreds of people here, women as well as boys and men, will
be scanning every party who happens to be wearing a felt bat anything
like the one Marshal Hastings is said to possess; and wondering if
the stranger from Mechanicsville, or Allandale, or any other old
place can be the wonderful Texan official, who according to Jim's
graphic account has notches cut on the stocks of both his big
revolvers to indicate just how many bad men he has been compelled
to lay low during the course of his long and thrilling public career.
Oh! I feel just as if I wanted to drop down and laugh till my sides
ached, it's such a rich joke. That Jim will kill me yet with his
wonderful write-ups."

Hugh was apparently also highly amused, but he did not lose sight of
the main facts in the case, as his next remark proved.

"Remember we settled it that we'd be around to look Jim up about
half-past eight, instead of nine o'clock this morning. Thad, it's
getting near that time now, so perhaps we'd better be moving. Jim
might feel like starting a bit early, so as to give him more time
later on for his regular duties. You see, being left in sole charge
of the office while Mr. Hanks is away makes him responsible for even
the job printing."

Thad was only too glad for an excuse for an earlier start.

"If we have to do any loafing," he went on to say, philosophically,
"we can put in the time at the _Courier_ office, just as well as
anywhere else. I always did want to mosey around that place, and
while Mr. Hanks is away, perhaps I'll have a chance to handle a few
type, and watch the regular comp work like lightning. The smell of
printers' ink seems to draw me, Hugh, to tell you the honest truth."

Although Thad possibly did not know it at the time, that fascination
has been responsible for many a noted editor's career, as the lure
of printers' ink, when it gets a firm hold on any one, can seldom
be shaken off in after years. Once a newspaper man and it becomes
a lifetime pursuit. But then, of course, Thad might be only imagining
such things, and the dim future hold out other possibilities for a
career that would be far removed from an editor's chair.

They found Jim on deck, and buried up to his ears in work. He seemed
to enjoy it to the limit, too, for it made him appear so responsible
and tickled his vanity. He grinned at seeing his two young friends.

"I suppose now you've read my latest effusion, boys?" Jim remarked,
with an assumption of extreme modesty, which, however, hardly suited
his usual bold demeanor.

Jim had all a reporter's "nerve," and could coolly face a raging
subscriber who had dropped in to ask to have his subscription closed
because of a certain offensive article in the last issue - yes, and
likely as not Jim could soothe the ruffled feathers of the enraged
man, show him how he had really been paid a compliment, and finally
bow him out of the office with another year's subscription left in
the shape of a dollar and a half in good money.

"We've fairly _devoured_ it, Jim," frankly admitted Thad. "Why, I
can repeat it off-hand right now, I've read it so often. And Jim,
I want to say that it's as clever a piece of work as I ever got
hold of. That terrible Texan stands out as clear as print. Everybody
in Scranton will be rubbering all today, thinking they can see
Marshal Hastings in each stranger in town. I congratulate you,
Jim; you're a peach at your trade, believe me."

Of course that sort of "gush" just tickled Jim immensely. He tried
not to show it, but his eyes were twinkling with gratified vanity.
It was fine to hear other people complimenting him so warmly, even
though they were but boys from Scranton High. Praise is acceptable
even from the lowly; and Jim made queer motions with his lips as
though he might be rolling the sweet morsel over his tongue.

"Glad you like it, fellows," he said, in as unconcerned a voice as
he could muster to the fore. "Course there was some hurry, because
I'm rushed for time, and I could have done a heap better if I really
tried to lay myself out. But I guess that ought to fill the bill,
and give Brother Lu a little scare, eh, Thad, old scout?"

"I'm expecting he'll shake himself out of his shoes, or rather
Brother-in-law Andrew's footwear," exclaimed the eager Thad. "But
say, Jim, how about your going out with us, and watching him skip!"

Jim looked serious.

"H'm! got an awful bunch of work to do, fellows, this morning, as
well as hold the editorial desk down for Mr. Hanks; but perhaps the
sooner we get that little job over with the better. Yes, I'll call
Philip, our boy here, who's rubbing the ink off his face and hands,
and we'll all start out to finish Brother Lu's career in Scranton."




CHAPTER XI

SOMETHING GOES WRONG


It was in this confident mood that they made their start. Philip had
the copy of the _Courier_, which Jim had deftly folded so that the
headlines of his startling article would be seen immediately any one
picked the paper up. He was also instructed to simply say that the
management of the weekly, wishing to give more citizens of Scranton
an opportunity to get acquainted with the feast of good things
served up every Saturday, was sending out a supply of sample copies,
and that a subscription would be much appreciated. As Philip was a
shrewd little fellow he "caught on" to the idea, and would without
fail carry it through all right.

It was not intended that any occupant of the Hosmer home should suspect
the presence of the three who meant to see what happened. Thad
knew just how they could advance fairly close without being seen,
since he had been "playing spy" before on his own account, and was,
therefore, acquainted with every bush capable of affording shelter.

Accordingly, when they found themselves drawing near their intended
destination, Thad was given charge of the expedition, and he seemed
pleased to serve in the exalted capacity of pilot or guide. He led
the way, and the other two followed as close to his heels as possible.
In this manner they finally found themselves as close to the cottage
as circumstances and a scarcity of sheltering bushes would allow.

"Here's where I hide," whispered Thad, coming to a sudden pause,
and remaining in a crouching position. "We can see everything that
goes on outside the house and, if the door should be left open on
such a fine warm morning, perhaps hear something that might be said
inside."

Both Hugh and Jim seemed quite satisfied with the prospect, if their
nods could be taken for assurance.

"If everything is ready, and the trap set," remarked Jim, softly, "I'll
give Philip the signal we agreed on."

"Go ahead, then," said Thad, eagerly, his eyes fairly dancing with
expectancy; for somehow his heart seemed more than ever set on relieving
poor Matilda Hosmer from the fresh load she had taken so generously on
her already tired shoulders.

Accordingly Jim, without raising his head above the level of the bush
that concealed his body, waved his handkerchief three times. He knew
that Philip would be waiting and watching for such a sign, because
before they left the boy Thad had taken pains to point out to him
where they expected to hide.

Sure enough, hardly had Jim made the third and concluding wave than
the carrier was seen to come in sight, bearing quite a load of
papers; which in reality be expected to deliver on his first round
to regular customers; for none of them saving that particular one
were to be given away free as sample copies; and that had, as Thad
expressed it, "a string tied to it."

Whistling in the most unconcerned manner possible Philip walked
straight up to the cottage door and knocked. The boy was playing his
part to perfection, all of them saw, and Jim in particular seemed much
impressed.

It was Matilda herself who answered the summons. They could see that
Philip was getting off the lines which he had committed to memory.
Matilda asked him several questions, but she held on to the paper
all the same, and seemed quite pleased at being picked out as a
possible new subscriber; although times were just then too hard to
admit of her indulging in such a luxury.

But perhaps she thought it would be such a pleasure for "poor Brother
Lu" to forget all his troubles in looking over the town paper. Thad
felt sure this must be in the mind of Matilda, for she was one of
those persons whose first thought is always of some one beside
themselves.

Philip having exhausted his schedule hastened to betake himself off
before he said too much; because he was a wise boy for his years, Jim
allowed. And Matilda went back into the house, glancing at the paper
as she vanished from view.

"Now let's hope that hammock there will tempt Brother Lu to saunter
forth and take things easy while he looks over the paper," said
Jim, with just a touch of eagerness discernible in his well-controlled
voice; for he prided himself on always "keeping cool" under the most
trying conditions.

They did not have long to wait. Why, it seemed to Thad that the
wonderful Jim must have some peculiar power, as of suggestion, with
which he could influence other minds; for as they peeped through
openings in the bushes, lo! and behold, out of the cottage door
came the object of Thad's especial aversion. Yes, it was the hobo
whom they had first met when he was cooking his meal in regular
tramp fashion by using discarded tomato cans for receptacles to
hold coffee and stew. But Brother Lu was a transformed tramp.
He wore the Sunday clothes of Brother-in-law Andrew, and his face
was actually as smooth as a razor could make it. In fact, he looked
just too sleek and well-fed for anything; and Thad, as usual, gritted
his teeth with savage emphasis to think how the fellow was imposing
on the good nature of that simple and big-hearted couple.

Then, too, he had the paper in his hand, which evidently Matilda had
given over to him immediately she entered. He made straight for that
hammock, as though he had actually heard Jim suggest such a charming
possibility.

"Now we're in great luck," Thad breathed, gripping Hugh by the knee,
as they crouched in company behind their screen of bushes. "We can
watch, and see just what effect that bombshell has on the skunk!"

"Keep quiet, Thad," warned Hugh; "or he might hear you."

The reformed tramp seemed to be very particular about his comfort
nowadays. Time was when he could throw himself down carelessly
on the hardest kind of ground and rest easy; but since he had taken
to living under a roof things were different. They saw him fix
the pillow in the hammock very carefully before he allowed himself
to recline there. Then he raised the paper, and seemed to take
a careless glance at it.

Hardly had he done this than the watchers saw him start upright again.
He was undoubtedly devouring the thrilling news item on the front
page with "avidity" - -at least, that was what Jim Pettigrew would
have called it, had he been at his favorite job of "writing up"
the doings of Scranton society for the past week.

"Now he has got a body blow!" hissed the delighted Thad, unable to
keep still any great length of time when his pulses were throbbing
like mad, and his eyes round with eagerness.

Brother Lu read the article through. Then he lowered the paper
and seemed to be meditating, to judge from his attitude. Hugh thought
he could detect something akin to a wide grin on the other's face,
but then he may have been mistaken. Thad, on his part, was positive
that he knew what must be passing through the mind of the man after
reading that suggestive news concerning the Texan marshal who never
yet allowed an intended victim to elude his clutches, and who meant
to get the guilty party so badly wanted "down below."

"Say, he's figuring on whether he'd best streak it as he is, or go
in and gather a few things together that he may need," continued the
irrepressible Thad.

Even as he spoke they saw the other scramble hastily out of the
comfortable hammock, and start post-haste for the open door of the
cottage. Thad was as certain of what was about to happen as that
he knew his own name. Hugh suspended judgment, believing that it
would be unwise to jump too hastily to a decision. Besides, there
were a few little suspicious things connected with the actions of
Brother Lu that he did not wholly like.

A minute passed, two of them, which doubtless seemed like so many
hours to the confident Thad. Then they again saw the late hobo
coming out. Thad stared harder than ever, and his heart felt like
lead.

What did it mean? he asked himself. Brother Lu did not have his hat
on, nor was he carrying any sort of hastily thrown together bundle.
In fact, he showed not the first sign of the dreadful alarm Thad
had anticipated.

He still carried the weekly paper in his hand as though he meant to
look over that wonderful article of Jim's again. And what he had
really darted into the house after was evident; for in the other
hand he carried Mr. Hosmer's only good pipe, as well as his tobacco
bag, now getting woefully depleted of its prized contents.

Then, as if totally unaware of the fact that three pairs of eyes
were glued upon his every slightest move, Brother Lu calmly filled
the pipe, struck a match on the sole of Brother-in-law Andrew's
shoe, applied the flame to the contents of the pipe bowl, and puffed
out a cloud of blue smoke with all the assurance in the world.
Thad nearly took a fit trying to hold in; the fact was Hugh felt
constrained to lay a warning hand on his chum's arm to keep him from
bursting out in such a manner as to betray them to the smug hobo.

Brother Lu read the article again from beginning to end. Then he
smote his knee with his open palm several times, and they could
actually hear him chuckle, as if he might be highly amused. All
this rather puzzled Jim, who had fully anticipated seeing the intruder
making a bee-line for the railroad. Perhaps he even began to wonder
whether, after all, he might not have "laid it on a little thicker"
when writing up that story about the grim Texan marshal.

Presently Matilda was heard calling to Brother Lu, who, leaving his
hammock, sauntered into the house with all the airs of one who had
arranged to take life easy from that time on.

"Hey! let's beat it," mumbled the keenly disappointed Jim Pettigrew.
"I've got heaps to do at the office; and I seem to tumble to the fact
that, after all, our big game didn't pan out just as was expected."

Thad did not have a single word to say just then. He was, in fact,
too dazed to collect his thoughts. But Hugh's active mind was grappling
with the matter, and he apparently seemed able to figure things out.

They retreated in a strategic fashion, so that possibly no one was
the wiser for their having been behind the bushes, unless Brother Lu
chanced to take a notion to peep from behind some fluttering white
dimity curtain.

"Well, what does it all mean, do you know, Hugh?" finally burst out
Thad, after they had gone far enough away to make it safe to talk
in ordinary tones.

"I think I have guessed why he seemed so tickled after reading the
article which we figured would give him such a bad scare," said
Hugh, with a grim smile. "The fact of the matter is he hoodwinked
me when he told such whopping yarns about the terrible sheriff of
the oil regions. There may be such a chap, all right, but his name
isn't Hastings by a long shot. He just invented that name, you see;


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Online LibraryDonald FergusonThe Chums of Scranton High out for the Pennant → online text (page 5 of 10)