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The Chums of Scranton High out for the Pennant online

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no other than the reformed hobo.

"I've known that Brother Lu had taken to tramping about the country
latterly," he muttered to himself, as he watched the other going
off, apparently laughing as though greatly amused, "for a number
of people have told me as much. That's all right, but why should he
want to hide from me? I've got a good notion to chase after him,
once he turns that other bend, and see what it all means."

The idea must have appealed more and more strongly to Hugh then, for
two minutes afterwards, when the form of the tramp could no longer
be seen ahead, he went back to his wheel, mounted, and retraced his
course until he arrived at the second abrupt curve.

Again he dismounted and crept forward to see what he might discover.
Strange to say, Hugh, usually steady-going Hugh, now found himself
trembling all over, just as though he anticipated making a startling

Well, he did.

Brother Lu was in plain sight. He was just approaching the stalled
car that stood at the side of the road. Watching, Hugh saw the
chauffeur jump from his seat, and he plainly saluted the other most
respectfully. Hugh paid particular attention to that part of the
affair, because any pedestrian might have stopped to pass a few words
with a car driver, or ask a question; but the pilot would hardly
have made that positive sign unless there was a reason for his action.

Now they seemed to be talking earnestly. Brother Lu made gestures,
and Hugh took notice of the fact that he seemed to be speaking with
authority, because the chauffeur constantly nodded his bead, as if to
say that he understood.

Then the man took something from under the front seat cushion of the
car and handed it to Brother Lu. Hugh could not be positive, but he
rather fancied it was a packet of folded papers.

Plainly, then, there was a conspiracy afloat. Brother Lu was other
than he pretended to be, and he was undoubtedly hatching up some
sort of plot that had connections with the peace of mind of the
two simple Hosmers who had taken him in on the strength of his claim
to blood relationship.

Hugh was quivering more than ever now, and his breath came in gasps
as he continued to keep his eyes glued on the two figures not so far
away. He wished that he were gifted with hearing keen enough to
pick up what they were saying in such low tones, for then he would
know everything; but this was out of the question, and he must await
the subsequent turn of events.

It might have been noticed, however, that the boy's eyes glistened as
with a growing delight, from which it was easy to judge that he did
not see anything so very terrible in these strange actions on the
part of the reformed tramp. Indeed, Hugh acted very much as though
inclined to "shake hands with himself," as Thad was so fond of
saying, when he had cause for self-congratulation.

How long they were carrying on that conversation! Once another car
showed up down the road, and Hugh chuckled to notice how deftly
Brother Lu assumed an humble attitude, just as though he might have
simply halted to ask a question of the lordly chauffeur of the big
and comfortable car.

"He's a dandy, that's all I can say," muttered the amused boy, who
on his part stood there as the other car whirled past, as if he
might be looking for something he had lost; but on the contrary,
the opposite was really the truth, because Hugh had made a great
discovery and a "find" in the bargain.

Now apparently the earnest conversation between chauffeur and Matilda's
roving good-for-nothing brother had come to an end. The man entered
the car again, turned in the road with the cleverness that comes from
long handling of a touring machine, and, with a last respectful salute,
his hand going to his cap military fashion, sped down the road,
heading toward Scranton.

Brother Lu stood there as if lost in meditation. Hugh, still watching
closely, and making up his mind to have it out then and there, because
he could not stand the weighty load of suspense any longer, was sure
the other must be in a merry frame of mind, for he laughed several
times, and even slapped his hand against his thigh in a way he had,
as if to emphasize his thoughts.

"Oh, you sly rascal!" Hugh was saying as he continued to observe all
these significant things. "I'm beginning to size you up for what
you are, all right. But just think how Thad will be stunned when I
tell him all about my adventure! Why, he'll almost believe he's
asleep, and dreaming it. There, I do think he's turning around as
if he meant to come back this way. That suits me O.K., because I
won't have to chase after him."

Hugh thereupon prepared a surprise for the reformed hobo. He secured
his wheel and stood just around the bend, trying to look severe and
knowing, though his heart was beating like a trip-hammer, and he felt
that his eyes must be fairly dancing with all the excitement.

In imagination he could tell just how near the other man was as the
seconds passed. Hugh wondered how Brother Lu would take it upon
learning that his deep-laid schemes had been discovered. Apparently
the boy did not see anything to fear, or else he would have sped away
on his wheel instead of remaining to charge the other with his base

Then the sound of footfalls came to the waiting lad. He caught his
breath, and his eager gaze was glued on the bend around which the man
must speedily appear. As he walked Brother Lu had his head lowered,
and consequently did not at once see that some one waited for him in
the middle of the road. Indeed, he drew very near, and finally Hugh
gave a sudden cough.

At that the other quickly looked up, as though startled. When he
saw who it was he immediately commenced to grin after his usual
custom. Somehow Hugh no longer saw anything to condemn in that
broad smile that covered the face of the ex-hobo; just then, in the
light of the new revelation, it seemed most kindly and benign; for
circumstances alter cases, and a great deal depends upon one's
view-point as to whether an expression can be classed as merry or

Brother Lu did not seem to be bothered a great deal on making the
discovery he did, though he must surely have jumped to the conclusion
that the boy had been spying upon his late movements. He continued
to advance. Hugh could detect the light of humor in those blue orbs
that had always mystified him, even when he believed the other to be
the worst kind of an impostor, or human leech, capable of living
upon the scanty earnings of his sister Matilda.

"Hello, there, Hugh Morgan! so you concluded to turn back, did you?"
the man started to say, as though inviting the other to open his
batteries at once, and accuse him to his face.

"Why, yes," said Hugh, trying to control his trembling voice, "I
saw somebody jump into the bushes as if he didn't want me to glimpse
him, and of course my curiosity was aroused; so I just dismounted
and came back to the other bend. Then, when I recognized you, I
determined to follow a bit. You see, Mr. Corbley, I mean to settle
certain matters that have been worrying both my chum and myself a
heap lately - -settle them once and for all."

"Which I suppose now you've done for a fact, Hugh?" remarked the other,

"I believe I have," the boy said, firmly.

"You've got me sized up, all right, I imagine, lad," continued Brother

"I've come to the conclusion, sir, that you are a fraud of the first
water, if that's what you want to know," Hugh told him, boldly.

Strange to say, the ex-tramp, instead of taking umbrage at such
language, bent over almost double, and laughed so hard Hugh almost
feared he was about to have one of his violent fits of coughing;
but he did not.



"I reckon sure my cake is dough now, since you've tumbled to my game,
Hugh," the late tramp was saying, presently; "and there's nothing
left for me to do but take you into camp, and give you the whole
story from beginning to end."

"I'd be glad to have you do that, Mr. Corbley," Hugh hastened to
tell him.

"Then let's walk back a bit. I believe we can find a nice convenient
log close to the road, where we'll take things easy while I spin my
little yarn. To tell you the truth, Hugh Morgan, I've taken a
great liking to you and that chum, Thad. I've been sizing the pair
of you up ever since I first ran across you; and say, it's given me
a heap of joy to see how solicitous you both were about my hanging
out at Sister Matilda's ranch, and eating her hard-earned bread.
You boys have got the right kind of stuff in you, that's certain.
Why, there were times when I was almost afraid that impulsive chum
of yours would be wanting to jump on me, and try by main force
to chase me off the ground."

"We did make one try that way, as of course you know, sir," ventured

"Meaning that article in the _Weekly Courier_ about the terrible
marshal from Texas, Hastings by name," laughed the other. "I've
had lots of fun over that racket, son, I give you my word I have.
Of course there's a sheriff down there capable of doing all those
stunts your friend on the paper wrote up; but his name chances to
be Rawlings and not Hastings. I must have got things a bit mixed
when I told you about how he took bad men into camp, and all that.
But here's the log, and we can take things easy while I confess how
I'm the most tremendous impostor going."

Hugh seemed eager to hear about it, nor was he apparently at all afraid.
In fact he was looking at the reformed tramp as though he felt a
positive affection for him now, in the light of the new revelation.

"First of all, Chum Hugh," said the man, after they had settled
themselves comfortably, "I want you to know that the stories I told
you about my travels in foreign lands were every one of them Gospel
truth. I have been all around the whole globe, and seen some queer
things in my day. But let that pass, for as we are apt to see
considerable of each other after this, there'll be a plenty of time
for me to continue that narrative of adventure.

"In the course of my travels I've really picked up several fortunes,
and then lost them again almost as quickly. It didn't much matter,
because I was one of those happy-go-lucky chaps who believe the world
owes them a living, and which they can get any time they more than
half try.

"So the years went on, and all at once I awoke to find that I was
getting old and gray. When a man passes sixty, lad, his thoughts
begin to travel far back into the days of his childhood. So more
and more I got to thinking of those who were everything to me. I
knew that all of them had checked in but a sister, and her I hadn't
seen for twenty years and more; though I believed she was still living.

"It was down in Texas a few months ago that I had a little sick
spell, and while I lay there convalescing strange fancies came into
my head. I made up my mind the time had come for me to quit this
foolish roaming all about the world. I couldn't expect to live a
great many years more, and why not settle down to being decent and
respectable, as well as do some good with my money before I cashed in?

"That idea kept gripping me until I finally made up my mind to sell
all my big holdings in the new oil wells. This I did, and banked the
cash in New York - -I won't tell you what it was, lad, but six figures
would be needed to cover it, and maybe seven, if all goes well with
my last sale.

"But somehow an old distrust of human nature began to get a hold on
me. I found myself wondering whether Matilda, if she should still
be living, would welcome her long-missing brother for himself alone,
or because he was close on a millionaire.

"That bothered me a heap, Hugh. Finally a bright idea came to me,
and I determined to fix myself up like the worst old tramp going,
and pretend to be sick, as well as out of funds. The game appealed
to my liking for new adventures, and - -well, you know how it succeeded.
You boys became connected with the affair from the start, and I'm
glad of it, for I like you both.

"All through these weeks I've grimly held out, though ready to call
the game more than a few times when it seemed that poor Matilda was
having a bigger load on her shoulders than she could carry. But I
fixed up several little schemes to ease the strain, when I decided
to hold back the grand disclosure till her birthday. For one thing,
I hid a ten-dollar bill in her Bible, and she never could remember
putting the bill there, although she tried her best. Another time
I wrote a letter in a disguised hand that was signed by a fictitious
name, and which said that in a long-ago deal I had got the better
of her, which my conscience wouldn't allow; so to ease my mind I
was enclosing a twenty-dollar bill to her to cover interest.

"Say, that certainly did make her lie awake and wonder, because, of
course, she couldn't remember anything of the sort; nor could Andrew.
I used to listen to them talking it over again and again, and I am
sure got heaps of enjoyment out of it; but I told them it was
perfectly proper for them to use the money, and they did. I ate
part of it up myself, Hugh.

"Now, I'm getting down to hard facts, boy. I want to let you into
the great secret, and your chum ditto. Could you come over to our
house, say about ten this morning, and fetch that sharp-eyed Thad
along with you? There'll be something about to happen then. We've
already fixed it to go on a little picnic excursion and take our
simple lunch along with us, just to celebrate Matilda's birthday,
you see. And I'll ask you to go along, which you must agree to do,
if you want to have the finest surprise of your life. How about
it, Hugh?"

"There's nothing that I can see to prevent us, Mr. Corbley," the
boy assured him, eagerly, "and to tell the truth wild horses couldn't
hold me back, after what I've already learned. I must see the end
of your queer game, sir. But I'm glad that it isn't likely to interfere
with our working in the baseball match, which starts at three this
afternoon on the home grounds."

"Oh! I assure you we'll be all through long before then, and luncheon
eaten in the bargain; though it isn't going to be the simple bill
of fare that Matilda'll be putting in the basket we're going to
carry with us. Well, Hugh, I'm going to keep you in just a little
fever of suspense until then. When you and Thad show up, try to
act toward me as you've been doing right along. Don't call me Mr.
Corbley, remember, for that might excite suspicions. Even poor
simple but good-hearted Andrew, whose best clothes I'm wearing right
now with brazen assurance, doesn't dream that I've got more than
a few dollars in the wide world. He even begged me not to squander
those, saying that we could have a holiday without extra expense;
but say, I told him to shut up, that if I chose to spend two dollars
on my only sister it was nobody's business. I really think Andrew
has come to like me first-rate, though I'm a little afraid he misses
his garments and has to curtail his customary smokes on my account."

He laughed at the conceit until he shook all over, and Hugh, now
alive to the immensity of the great surprise that awaited the gentle
couple, found himself obliged to join in the merriment.

Shortly afterwards Hugh started off to finish his errand. He rode
with speed now because of his eagerness to get back home and look
up Thad, upon whom he meant to let loose a bombshell that must fairly
stagger him.

It was not yet nine o'clock, and ten was the appointed hour when they
were expected to join the picnic party. Hugh believed he had never
in all his life felt one-half so joyous. If a fortune had come his
way he could not have appreciated it as much as he did the knowledge
that Matilda and Andrew were going to reap the reward of their long
life of tender-heartedness in their relations with their fellows. It
was simply grand, and Hugh felt that his mother must know all about
it as soon as the affair had developed to the grand finale and
Matilda's eyes were opened to the fact that she had all this while
been entertaining an angel unawares.

Thad was at home and up to his eyes in rewinding a fishing-rod that
needed attention. When Hugh burst in upon him with such a glow in
his face and a light in his eyes, Thad knew that something bordering
on the wonderful must have occurred.

Singular to say, his first remark was pretty near a bull's-eye, showing
that he must have been thinking about the ex-hobo as he wound the
waxed red silk around the guides of his fishing-rod.

"What's happened, Hugh? Oh! have you found a way we can get rid of
that sticker of a Brother Lu? Something seems to whisper to me
you've struck a scheme. Pitch right in and tell me all about it, Hugh."

"There has a way come up, sure enough," said Hugh, beaming on his
chum, as well might the bearer of such glorious news. "After today
that tramp will never eat another mouthful of food at the expense of
his poor sister and brother-in-law!"

"Then he's going to skip out, is he?" burst from the delighted Thad.
"Bully for that! However did it happen, Hugh; and what sort of a
hand in it did you have?"

"I don't claim the least credit for it," he was firmly told; "and
for that matter Mr. - -I mean Brother Lu, isn't going to shake the
dust of Scranton off his feet, yet awhile at least. Something else
has happened to bring about the change. Here, I just can't hold
the wonderful news in any longer, Thad. Listen!"

Accordingly Hugh started to pour out the story. He had Thad sitting
there and almost ceasing to breathe, so deeply interested was he in
everything. When Hugh got to where he discovered the ex-tramp talking
with the chauffeur of the big touring car, and seemingly with
authority, Thad jumped up and began to dance around excitedly.

"Oh, joy unconfined! I'm just beginning to glimpse how it's going to
turn out, that's what I am, Hugh!" he exclaimed, trembling all over
with the violence of his emotions. "Wouldn't that be the limit, though,
if this old hobo proved to be the good fairy coming in disguise to
prove the worth of the ones he meant to assist? Go on and tell me
the rest, like a good fellow, Hugh. Is he very rich; where did he
make all his money; was that his fine big car, and his chauffeur;
was he just testing Matilda and Andrew to prove how they were true
gold? It's the greatest thing that ever happened for Matilda, for
Andrew; ditto for you and me, because we've had a hand in it all,
haven't we, Hugh?"

The rest of the amazing story was soon told. Thad shook hands with his
chum again and again. He fairly bubbled over with enthusiasm.

"I'm so glad, so glad, for Matilda's sake!" he kept saying. "I warrant
you now that fine brother of hers has got some wonderfully big thing
up his sleeve; and so we're invited to go along and see the fairy
story through, are we, Hugh? How long do we have to wait before
making a start for the Hosmer cottage? I wonder if Matilda'll care
if we keep company with them on their picnic? First thing she'll
do will be to run back and add some more to the basket, because she
knows how boys can eat like a house afire. I don't see how I can
stand it waiting nearly a whole hour; but then there are a hundred
other questions I'm burning to ask you."

Time passed while they sat there in Thad's room and talked. Hugh was
compelled to relate every little incident over again, and amidst all
sorts of comments on the part of the other. Finally Hugh said it was
now a quarter to ten, and that they might as well be starting out,
which they proceeded to do most eagerly indeed.



"Don't forget for a minute," cautioned Hugh, as they started on their
way toward the humble cottage home of Matilda and her husband, "that
Brother Lu asked us to act quite natural when we came along."

"I'm on," responded Thad, though it was only with the greatest difficulty
that he seemed able to repress the glow in his eyes that told of
secret joy. "He means by that, you are to ask Matilda whether she's
ready for another batch of sewing stuff that both of our mothers
have ready, which I happen to know is the case. And then I suppose
Brother Lu will ask us to join them on their little holiday outing,
since he's made himself master of ceremonies for today. Say, will a
hungry fish snap at an angleworm when it's dangled just in front of
its nose? Well, we'll thank Brother Lu for being so kind, and as we
have nothing else to do we'll accept with celerity, eh, Hugh? Is that
the programme?"

So talking and laughing, they walked on. Soon they arrived at the
cottage, where they found the three inmates just getting ready to
start forth. Matilda had a covered basket already packed. She
welcomed the two lads with a happy smile. Birthdays came and went
in her life just as they did with other people, only as a rule there
was scant reason to celebrate them, save as they marked the fact that
Matilda was "getting old."

But somehow the presence of cheery Brother Lu seemed to have started
something. Possibly, although Matilda could not dream of what was
coming, some intuition caused her to feel that this day was to be
different from any other in her past. A sense of something good
impending may have thrilled her poor pulses, though if asked why she
found any particular reason for smiling, and throwing off her yoke
of worry for a brief spell, she could have given no intelligent answer.

Brother Lu bustled up. He seemed very important, indeed.

"Glad to see you, boys," he said, holding out his hand, which Thad
actually seized eagerly; although just a few hours before he had
been telling himself how delighted he would be to form one of a party
of determined fellows who might visit the Hosmer cottage at midnight,
and warn the ex-hobo to clear out of the neighborhood on penalty of
having something decidedly unpleasant happen to him if he refused.
But then that was before Thad had heard the wonderful story which
Hugh unleashed, and fired at him as he sat there gaping and listening
and slyly pinching his thigh so as to learn whether he were awake,
or asleep and dreaming.

"Looks like you folks might be going on a picnic somewhere?" remarked
Hugh, taking his cue from something Brother Lu had said to him before.

"Just what we expect to do, lads," hastily replied the other, with
a wink, when he believed neither of the Hosmers was looking at him.
"You see, this happens to be Tilly's birthday. She hasn't had
a real one for ever so long, and Andrew and me, why, we've fixed
it that she should take a holiday from her drudgery and we'd all
go off for a little lark. Now, perhaps you two would like to keep
us company. How about that, boys? You've been pretty kind to my
sister, and we all feel that you're our good friends. What do you
say about tagging along? In my walks about this section of country,
I've chanced to make a few acquaintances. One of these is managing
a kind of pretty place about two miles away from here; and he suggested
that I fetch my sister and brother-in-law across country today.
He reckoned that they'd kind of enjoy looking over the nest his
employer has bought and fitted up, though he ain't really taken
possession yet. Tilly, tell Hugh and Thad they'll be welcome to
a snack with us at noon. This is a day we all want to remember,
you know. Let tomorrow and dull care look out for themselves.
That's the tramp's motto."

Matilda readily complied, and she meant it from the bottom of her
heart too, for she was becoming very fond of both boys. Doubtless
when she carried the basket back into the house to add to its contents,
she must have swept the pantry clean. But as Brother Lu said, why
bother about the future when they meant to have a whole day free
from carking care. Tomorrow would be time enough to take up the
heavy burdens of life again.

And so they started forth, chatting, and so far as appearances went,
quite happy. Thad was in a fever of suppressed excitement. He felt
certain that that splendid car would come into the little drama
somehow or other; and for once he guessed aright.

"There's a car on the side of the road that has stopped to let the
driver do a little repairing, I guess," remarked Brother Lu, quite
innocently. "And say, I know that man right well. We've talked
several times when I was roving around seeing what the country
surrounding Scranton looked like. He even calls me Lu and I know him
as Jerry. He's a pretty decent sort of fellow in the bargain. Why,

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Online LibraryDonald FergusonThe Chums of Scranton High out for the Pennant → online text (page 8 of 10)