Allen Chapman.

Tom Fairfield in Camp: or, The Secret of the Old Mill

What he would do when he got to the old mill, he never stopped to consider.

I cant make any plans until I reach there, he decided. Ill just have to size things up, and act on the spur of the moment. Jinks! If I only had one of the fellows with me it would be easy, but playing a lone hand isnt what its cracked up to be. However, Ill do my best.

Now lets see. Ill need a little grub, for I may not be able to get back to-day. And a blanket if I have to stay out in the open all night. Ill take a little light axe along, and some matches. I guess thatll be all. And the plan of course, he concluded, with a grim smile. If they come for it again theyll find it gone.

Everything being in readiness for what he hoped would be his last visit to the mill to rescue his comrades, Tom got his lonely breakfast. It was not such a gloomy meal as the others had been, for he was very hopeful, and even whistled as he went about the camp, making things as secure as possible until he should return.

And if I do get the boys, then for a grand final try for that treasure! he exclaimed, as he pushed off in the clumsy skiff.

It was a perfect day, and as Tom thought of the fine weather his friends were missing he felt a wave of anger against Professor Skeel, the hermit and the two lads of Elmwood Hall.

If those bullies come back to school in the fall! exclaimed Tom, with a grim smile, Ill make the place too hot to hold them, thats what Ill do!

Rowing with long, even strokes Tom propelled the skiff across the lake. Instinctively he swept his eyes along the shores for a possible sight of his motorboat.

But it isnt likely that theyd allow her to get away from them, he argued. Though Ill get her sooner or later.

He turned the point that hid a view of the river entering Lake Woonset, and, as he did so he uttered a cry.

By Jove! Is it possible! he shouted, standing up in the skiff. It is, as Im alive! he added. Oh, of all the good luck!

For, just ahead of him, idly floating on the calm surface of the lake, was his missing motorboat!


Tom rubbed his eyes. He wanted to be sure he was not dreaming, or seeing a vision of his lost motorboat. And yet, as his sight cleared, he knew he could not be mistaken.

Its her! he cried. Its the dear old Tag all right! Jinks! but Im in luck! Now, if none of those fellows are in her, Ill soon be aboard. And if shes in running order

He paused in apprehension. What if the hermits crowd had damaged the machinery so that the craft would not run? Tom felt himself grow cold with fear at this possibility.

Ill soon see, he murmured, and he settled down into a long, even stroke that quickly brought him close to the floating craft.

Now he proceeded more cautiously, for he realized that there might be a plot an ambuscade to trap him, and make him a prisoner as were his companions.

Ahoy the Tag! he shouted, but there was no answer.

The boat continued to drift with the current of the river which made itself felt thus far out in the lake.

Guess theres no one home, murmured Tom. So much the better. Ill soon be aboard.

A few more strokes put him alongside, and a quick look into the interior of the craft showed him that the machinery, at least, was intact.

Though whether shell run or not is another question, he said aloud. Come, Tag, he went on, half whimsically, be nice now, and start for me.

He looked into the gasolene tank, and saw that he had enough for a run of several miles, enough to get to the old mill, and back across the lake to camp again.

That is, if I get the boys, he mused; I shant leave without them this time, and he shut his teeth grimly. Testing the batteries, he found that the vibration from the coil was strong, and he took out a spark plug to note the current. It jumped blue and spitefully from point to point, when he laid the plug on a cylinder head, and turned the flywheel to make the contact.

So far so good, murmured Tom. Now to see if shell start. Probably because everything is all right she wont, but she ought to. Oh, if only motorboats would do as they ought to!

The first turn of the flywheel resulted in a sort of surprised cough. The next gave forth a sneeze, as if the engine had just awakened.

Then came a vigorous chug! at the third turn.

Come, were getting on! exclaimed Tom with a laugh his first good one since the disappearance of his chums and the boat. As soon as she finds out Im in her, instead of the old hermit and his crowd, I think shell behave herself.

Toms prophecy proved correct, for with the next turn of the flywheel the boat started off as if she had never had an intention of doing anything else.

Hurray! cried Tom. Now for the mill and the boys. But I guess Id better throttle down, for shes making too much noise. No use giving my game away in advance.

He cut down the gas at the carburetor, and proceeded at half speed, meanwhile wondering what he would do when he got to the mill, and puzzling his brains as to how his enemies had allowed the boat to get out of their possession.

Ill have a peep at the bow line, he murmured, and when he looked at the end of it he uttered an exclamation. It was frayed and worn. That accounts for it, he went on. They tied the boat where the line could cut and chafe against a rock, and she worked herself loose. Good old Tag! I guess she knew I wanted her.

Tom actually patted the engine of his craft, as though it was a thing alive. He headed in toward the river, towing the skiff behind him. He intended to return the small craft to the place whence he and his chums had taken it, after the affair was all over.

Though we may need it in the meanwhile, he said. And there is no use letting it fall into our enemies hands right away. They might use it against us.

Reaching the mouth of the river, Tom slowed down his power still more, so as to make less noise, for he could not tell what minute the hermit, or some of those with him, might set out in search of the missing boat.

And I dont want them to take me unawares, he said grimly.

He decided that he would do as had been done on a previous occasion hide his boat some distance from the mill, and proceed the rest of the way on foot. He took particular pains to hide his craft this time, selecting a place where an eddy from the stream had followed out a miniature bay in the bank. It was well screened by overhanging bushes and trees, and as there were several others like it along the river, it would take a good guesser to pick out this particular one at first.

Tom marked the place so he would know it himself, even if he came past in a hurry, and then, having arranged the bushes so as to further screen his boat, and gathering up his package of food, the small axe, the blanket, and his light, he set out.

It was nervous work, for he realized that because of the loss of the boat a searching party might be out looking for it.

But theyre likely to stick to the river, he argued, and if I strike inland a bit, and go that way, theyre not so apt to find me. Ill do it.

He had to pass near the cave where they had spent the night the time they first missed the boat, and he looked inside the cavern. To his surprise it showed signs of occupancy since he and his chums had been there.

They have been here, he argued. Or maybe it was the hermit, who spent a night here, instead of in the mill.

There were signs that a fire had been recently made, and food cooked, and there were portions of the latter scattered about. Tom, however, did not stay long there. It was getting on toward noon, and he had much before him.

On the top of the bank, overlooking the river, he found an old trail, which he followed. It was narrow, showing that probably only one man had traveled it in recent years.

The old hermit, mused Tom. This is one of his paths. It must lead right to the mill, and itll take me there as well as if I had gone along the river, and a deal safer, too.

He walked briskly until he judged that he was close to the ancient structure, and then he proceeded more cautiously. As he came in sight of it he crouched behind the bushes, fairly crawling on until he had a good view.

His first glimpse was at the window where he had seen the sentinel stand with a gun, and to his surprise and disappointment, he now saw the sun glinting on the barrel of a weapon.

Pshaw! exclaimed Tom. No chance of taking them by surprise. And they arent out, as I half-hoped theyd be. They are still on guard. Ive got to wait.

He sat down under a bush and ate some of the lunch he had brought, sipping water from a bottle he had in his bundle. Then, after a half hour, he looked again. The gun was still pointed out of the window, seeming to be aimed at whoever should advance directly against the mill.

Still there, mused Tom angrily. They are taking no chances. Intently from his screened post of observation, he watched the gun barrel. Then a strange thought came to him a thought that sent the blood tingling through him.

Of course! he cried to himself. Why didnt I think of it before? Now to see if Im right.

Boldly he stood up, in plain view of anyone from the window. The gun did not move to follow his action. It remained pointing in the same direction.

Thats it! he exulted. The gun is just fixed there! No one is holding it. Its just like the trick once played in some battle. Its a dummy gun. Hurray! Im all right now. They have gone out, and left the gun pointing from the window to scare anyone who might come along.

Still Tom did not abandon all caution. He realized that though those guarding his chums might be gone from the top story, they still might be somewhere in the mill.

Ive got to be careful, our hero assured himself. But Ill take a few chances.

Approaching until he stood close under the open window from which the gun protruded, he tossed a stone up. It fell within the casement, and Tom heard it drop on the floor.

That ought to raise something, he said, looking warily around to see if he was observed. There was no movement, and no one appeared.

Here goes for another, said our hero. This time his stone hit the gun barrel, and it tinkled resoundingly. But it was not moved, proving conclusively that it was fastened there and not held by hands.

If I could only get Jack or some of the others to answer, thought Tom. I guess Ill have to get inside and let em know Im here. But how?

It was quite a puzzle. He knew he could not get to the third story from inside the mill, or at least he did not know the secret of the hidden staircase.

I havent time to hunt for a trick door, he told himself. Ive got to find a way thats plain to be seen. And I dont want to go inside unless I have to, either, for if they are hiding and playing some trick theyll nab me sure.

This thought made him look around apprehensively, and he decided to make a circuit of the mill from without, in order to make sure there was no one on the outside.

He moved away from in front, and went to one side, the place where, on the plans, the secret staircase in the thick wall was shown to be. The ground sloped away on this side, and as Tom came opposite a pile of stones, he was startled and surprised to hear a voice saying:

Oh, if only Tom would come!

Yes, I dont see why he doesnt, another voice answered.

Maybe they have him, too, spoke a third person.

Tom stood as if electrified.

My chums! he murmured. Their voices! But where do the sounds come from? He looked around to find the source of the hidden tones, but he could see nothing.


Tom stared uncomprehendingly at the heap of stones. As he stood there he again heard the murmur of the hidden voices. Some one said:

I wonder how much longer well have to stay here?

Jack Fitch, as sure as Im here! gasped Tom.

Hang it all, said a second voice, I dont see why Tom doesnt do something.

Thats Bert Wilson, murmured our hero.

Maybe hes trying to find us, but doesnt know where to look, spoke a third person.

That was Dick, mused Tom.

Oh, he must know were here, came from the hidden Jack.

Theyre around here, theyre within talking distance, and yet I cant get at them! thought Tom. Once more he looked at the stones, loosely heaped together. A sudden thought came to him. A flood of memory something he had once read in a book.

Kneeling down he placed his lips close to the crevices in the stones and called:

Fellows, Im here! This is Tom Fairfield! Where are you? Ive come to rescue you! Ive been trying all the while, but this is the first chance Ive had! Where are you?

Silence followed his words. Silence, and then came a rush of voices.

Its Tom!

Good old Tom!

Here at last!

Oh, Tom, get us out! Were almost starved, and we dont know what theyre going to do with us. Break in and get us out!

But where are you? asked our hero, much puzzled. I can hear you. Your voices seem to come through a speaking tube. But I cant see you. Can you look out of a window and see me?

No, Jack Fitch answered back. Were in some secret room in the old mill. The only window is a skylight. But where are you?

Near a pile of stones at the side of the mill. How were you brought in?

The old hermit, Skeel, and Sam and Nick. They made us prisoners, bound us, carried us off in your motorboat, and brought us here. They blindfolded us and carried us up. To the third story, I guess, though we never could find the staircase, said Jack, through some crack leading to the pile of stones.

I found the secret stairway, answered Tom. I saw it on the plans. Its built inside the wall, but how to get to it I dont know. Unless hold on, wait a minute! he called eagerly. Ive just thought of something! Oh, fellows, I believe Im on the trail!

Eagerly Tom began casting aside the stones of the pile. He worked feverishly, oblivious of any of his enemies who might see him. Stone after stone he cast aside, and then he found what he had suspected and sought.

Concealed under the pile of small, loose stones was a trap door and a flight of steps leading into the earth, and beyond them Tom could see a stone passage a tunnel. It seemed to lead toward the mill.

Im coming boys! he called. Ive found it! The way to the secret room! Im coming!

Abandoning his blanket and package of food, and taking only his electric flashlight and the small axe, Tom climbed down the steps. A damp, musty odor greeted him, but he did not halt. He had a momentary thought that he might meet the hermit, or some of his enemies, but he did not hold back. Instead he ran boldly forward, his lamp giving him light enough to see.

Now he was fairly within the tunnel, which had been hollowed out of the earth, and lined with stones to prevent a cave-in. On Tom ran, calling from time to time, but he could no longer hear his companions voices. At first a fear came to him that he had been discovered, and his chums removed to some other part of the mill. Then he realized that, because of some peculiar acoustic property of the tunnel, he could only hear them at the heap of stones. On and on he ran.

Presently he came to an old door that closed the tunnel. The portal was locked, but a few blows on the rotting wood from the hatchet opened the way for him. He saw before him a flight of stairs leading up, and opposite the lower landing was another door.

This is the secret staircase, decided Tom, and that other door is the way they get into it from the second floor of the mill, but it must be pretty well concealed. Im in between the walls now, and the boys are up there!

He paused a moment to flash his light upward, and saw that the coast was clear. Then up the stairs he bounded. He listened as he reached the top, and heard the murmur of voices.

Here I am, boys! he cried.

Tom! Tom! came the answering shout.

At the head of the stairs was another door. Tom pushed on it, but it resisted his efforts.

No time now to stop at trifles, he murmured. Im going to smash it! and smash it he did. It gave way with a crash, and Tom fairly tumbled into a large room. A hasty glance around showed that the apartment was empty, and another look disclosed the gun, fixed to the window sill in such a way that it looked as if someone was pointing it.

And that nearly fooled me! mused Tom. But where are the boys, I wonder?

He looked about. The room was a large one, and, opening from it were several apartments and halls. They were rudely fitted up, and in one were a stove and cooking utensils.

Heres where the hermit has been living, thought Tom, and I guess the others have been hanging out here with him, too. But where are my chums?

There was no sign of them in any of the rooms, and for a moment our hero feared it had all been some dream even the sound of the hidden voices. And yet he knew it could not be a dream.

Jack! Dick! Bert! he called. Im here! Where are you?

He paused, listening for an answer. It came, faint and as though from afar off.

Here we are, replied a voice. Were in some secret room. Listen while we pound on the wall, and that may guide you.

There came a faint tapping. Tom strained his ears to listen. He advanced toward one wall, and then to another, until he had located the place where the sound was heard most plainly.

I get you! he cried. The secret door must be somewhere around here. Here goes for a try at it.

He looked over the wall for a sign of some secret spring, or something on which to press to make the door fly back, but he saw nothing. Then, realizing that he was losing valuable time, he raised the hatchet and began chopping. The chips and splinters flew in all directions, and at about the tenth blow something gave way.

Whether Tom hit the secret spring, or whether he broke the mechanism, he did not stop to find out. A door flew open, revealing a passage, and down this our hero ran. A second door confronted him an ordinary door, fastened with a padlock on the outside. A few blows sufficed to break this, and a moment later Tom had burst into the secret room where his chums were prisoners.


Tom! Oh Tom Fairfield!

Youve found us at last!

Oh, we thought you would never come!

Thus Jack, Bert and Dick greeted their chum clasping Tom by the hands. He held them off and looked closely at them. There were marks of suffering and privation on their faces.

Youve had a hard time, said Tom gently.

You bet we have! declared Jack, with conviction. We are almost starved, and worried to death.

And those sneaks, Sam Heller and Nick Johnson, have been standing guard over us, and insulting us, added Bert. If ever they come back to Elmwood Hall

Dont worry. They wont dare show their faces there after this, declared Jack.

But what about them? asked Tom. Where are they? I havent seen a soul. Have they found the treasure and left?

I dont believe so, answered Dick. They were around this morning.

What about Skeel and the hermit? asked Tom.

Oh, theyre around too, said Jack. Theyre close after that treasure, or think they are. My! but theyre hot against you for getting that plan! It was the only one they had, it seems, and theyve been working in the dark without it. Thats why they captured us. They thought theyd get you, too, I guess, and that youd have the plan. You managed to keep out of their clutches, but they got us.

By sneaking up! said Bert bitterly. Say, that hermit is stronger than I gave him credit for. He tackled me, and Skeel went for Jack. Then Sam and Nick handled Dick.

They wouldnt have, only they stunned me with a blow first, declared the village lad.

Anyhow, they got us, went on Jack, and brought us here. Weve been here ever since. What happened to you, Tom?

Lots of things. Ive got my boat back. And Tom told his chums of his adventures. Well soon be out of here, he added. I have the boat hidden, and well make a quick run back to camp.

What about the treasure? asked Bert.

Im willing to let it go, said Tom. I dont believe there is any. But if there is

Hark! interrupted Jack. Someone is coming!

They all listened. Plainly the noise of someone ascending the stairs could be heard.

Look out for squalls, murmured Bert.

Tom stooped and picked up the axe he had dropped, thrusting his electric light into his pocket. A moment later the old hermit, followed by Professor Skeel, appeared in the secret room, while Sam Heller and his crony Nick brought up in the background. There was a look of anger and amazement on their faces.

Ha! cried the hermit. He is here! The other one! We have them all now!

Who is here? asked Mr. Skeel, who had not seen our hero at first.

I am! cried the lad who had come to the rescue of his chums.

Tom Fairfield! gasped the former Latin instructor. I I am

Yes, Im here, and Ill see that you give an account of yourself! snapped Tom. Youve been carrying things with too high a hand. Youre at the end of your rope now!

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