Allen Chapman.

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





And I did, by gum! Though it wasnt a hard matter, seeing as how youre the only ones who got off the train. But come on now, suppers waiting, and Sallie wont like it to get cold.

Tom and his chums, pleased with their warm reception, followed Mr. Henderson, and were soon sitting down to a substantial meal, enlivened by much talk.

Tell us all you can about the old mill, and that crazy man, please, asked Tom, during a lull in the conversation.

Oh, I do hope you dont run across him! exclaimed Mrs. Henderson. Hes really dangerous, and she proceeded to give a few more details of the story of the secret of the mill, already substantially known to my readers.

Tom and his chums asked innumerable questions, as to how to reach the mill, and where the best spot to camp would be.

I can see what those boys are pointing for, said Mr. Henderson when the four had gone to bed.

What? asked his wife.

The old mill. You couldnt keep em away with ropes. Theyll go poking about it, looking for that treasure, which I dont believe exists, and theyll have a row with old Wallace as sure as chickens.

Oh, Amos! What had we better do?

Cant do anything, as I can see. Those boys will do as they please, anyhow. But I guess they can look out for themselves.

Early the next morning Tom went to see about getting the boat and other stuff carted to the camp in the woods. On the advice of Mr. Henderson they had picked out the east shore of the lake, that being the nearest to Wilden.

And that side is the most direct road to the old mill, by way of the river, said Mr. Henderson, but, he added, with a twinkle in his eyes, I dont spose you boys will go there.

Oh, wont we though! exclaimed Tom, laughing.

Provisions were bought, the camping stuff, together with the boat, was loaded upon a heavy wagon, and with good-byes to the Hendersons, the boys started for the depths of the woods. The boat had been hard to get on the wagon, and they knew they would have difficult work launching it, but the wagon-driver and his helper promised to assist.

During the drive through the woods Tom and the others kept a lookout on every side for a possible glimpse of the old man who had searched so long for the mill-treasure, but they did not see him. The scenery became more and more wild, and the road was almost impassable in places.

Say, this looks like the jumping-off place, remarked Dick, as they passed through a particularly lonely spot.

Its just what we want, declared Tom. Well do some real camping out here.

Yes, I guess no one will bother you, said the driver. No one hardly ever goes to Lake Woonset, except maybe a fellow who wants some good fishing now and then. I like it myself, but I havent been but twice in the last three years. It sure is lonesome.

How much farther to the lake? asked Dick, after a pause.

About a mile.

You can see it when we get to the top of the next hill, but the road winds around.

A little later they had a glimpse of a beautiful sheet of water, set in the midst of wooded hills.

Thats great! cried Tom, and the others agreed with him.

They drove along the edge of the lake until they came to a place where a spring bubbled out, and Tom exclaimed:

Heres where well camp! Lets unload and get the boat into the water. I want to see if shell run.

Got gasolene? asked Jack.

Yes, theres plenty on the wagon, and Ive arranged for a supply to be brought up to the lower end of the lake, and left there. A couple of barrels ought to last us all summer.

It was hard work to unload the boat, and harder still to launch it, but it was finally accomplished, and when the tents and camping paraphernalia had been stacked up, the driver and his helper turned back toward civilization.

Say, it sure is lonesome! exclaimed Dick, when the rattle of the wagon had died away.

It wont be in a minute, said Tom. Weve got lots to do to get our camp in shape. Come on, now, everybody get busy, and well try out the boat.

There was some little work to be done to it, and then, having filled the gasolene tank, and improvised a dock out of some dead tree trunks, the boys were ready for a spin.

Now to see if shell run, remarked Tom, as he prepared to turn over the flywheel.

There was a wheeze, a cough, a sigh and a groan, and the Tag started off as if she had never an idea of balking.

Hurray! cried Tom. This is great!

As they skimmed over the smooth lake, the beauty of it impressed them more and more, and they were delighted with their camping place. Tom steered the boat into a little cove, and as he neared the shore something moved in the bushes.

Look! whispered Jack. Its a deer, maybe.

A moment later a man, with a long white beard, and clad in ragged garments, fairly leaped into view. For a moment he stood staring at the slowly moving motorboat, as if he could not believe the evidence of his eyes. Then with a howl of rage he leaped into the water, and began swimming toward the craft.

CHAPTER VI
A BIG FISH

Look at him! yelled Tom. What in the world is he doing?

Who is he? inquired Jack.

Put around! excitedly yelled Bert. Hes coming after us!

The man was swimming directly toward the boat as if he contemplated an attack, and for a moment, though they knew he could not seriously harm them, the boys were actually afraid. For the swimmer had a really ferocious look as he came on through the water. He got to a shallow place, and stood up, running toward the boys.

What do you make of this, Tom? asked Jack.

I dont know what to make, answered Tom, as he turned the boat away from the man. But I think I can guess who he is.

Who? cried his three chums.

Thats the hermit the wild man old Wallace who has been hunting for the fortune in the mill so long that his mind is affected.

By Jove! I believe youre right, said Jack.

But whats he coming after us for? asked Dick, for the aged man was swimming again now, and could not hear the talk in the boat.

I dont began Tom when the old man interrupted with another of his wild cries, following it with:

Get out of this lake! What are you doing here? This is my lake! All this country around here is mine! Leave at once! Get out of my lake! and again he yelled like a madman.

This is fierce, said Dick.

It gets on my nerves, admitted Tom. Lets hurry away. He may swim out after us so far that he cant get back again, and I dont want to be even indirectly responsible for any harm coming to him.

Speed up then, advised Jack, and well get so far away that hell see it will be hopeless to keep after us.

Thats what I will, agreed Tom, and, speeding up the motor, the Tag was soon well out in the water.

Go away! Get out of my lake! yelled the old man, as he again stood up in a shallow part, and shook his fist at the boys. Never come here again!

Then he turned and went back toward shore.

Thank goodness for that, spoke Tom. Hes got some sense left, anyhow.

Whew! That was an experience, remarked Jack, as the boat turned a point of land, and the hermit was out of sight. I hope he doesnt find our camp.

I dont believe he will, said Tom. I guess he was just walking around, and when he saw the motorboat it sort of frightened him. I dont suppose theres ever been a craft like this on the lake before, and the old man may have imagined it was some sort of infernal machine. He came at us if he was going to throw us all overboard.

Hes a fierce character, declared Bert. The less we see of him the better.

And you dont catch me monkeying around any mysterious old mill, if a fellow like that lives in it, added Dick.

You said he had a gun, too, didnt you, Tom? asked Jack.

Thats what I heard, but maybe its a mistake. He didnt have one this time, anyhow.

The boys discussed their odd experience as they motored along, and soon they were back where they had left their camp stuff. It had not been disturbed, and there was no sign that the hermit had taken a short cut through the woods to get to their location, as Tom had half feared he might do.

Now to get busy! exclaimed our hero as they landed at the improvised dock. Theres lots to do. In the first place well have an election.

What for? asked Jack.

To choose a cook. Weve got to eat, and some one has to cook. Well take turns at it.

They selected a cook by the simple process of drawing lots, and the choice fell upon Dick, who made a wry face about it.

Whats the matter? asked Tom, with a laugh.

I cant cook a little bit, was the answer.

Oh, sure you can, declared Jack. Anyhow weve only got canned stuff so far, and you can read the directions and go by them. Start in now and get us up a meal. Im hungry.

So am I! came in a chorus from the other two.

Well, if Ive got to cook, you fellows have to get wood and water, declared Dick. Thats one of the rules of this camp.

All right, agreed Jack, only we wont need wood with our oil stove. Ill get you water though, and he started toward the spring with a pail.

While Dick was getting out the food, and lighting the stove, Tom and Bert opened the tents and got ready to set them up. They also laid out their stores, and planned how they would arrange the camp. When Jack came back with the water he helped at this work and soon one tent was set up.

Dinner! called Dick, after fussing about the stove for some time.

What are you going to give us? asked Tom.

And what are we going to eat from? asked Jack. Wheres your table cloth? Set out the knives and forks.

Table! Table cloth! exclaimed Dick with a grunt. Say, if you think this is a summer hotel youve got another guess coming. Ive broken out the dishes, and knives, forks and spoons. You can use your lap or a log for a table, though we charge ten cents extra for logs. The money goes to found a home for aged cooks.

Never mind about that! exclaimed Tom. Just give us some grub and well do the rest.

Wheres the bill of fare? asked Jack. Im particular about what I eat.

Soup, corned roast beef, potato chips, bread, butter, jam, condensed milk and coffee, rattled off Dick.

Ill take it all! came from Bert.

Same here! chorused the other two, and soon the lads were passing around the food.

Say, this is all right, declared Tom, as he tasted the mock-turtle soup. They had brought along several cases of canned goods, soup among them.

Its easy to make, explained Dick. All you do is to open the can, chuck in some hot water, heat the mixture for a few minutes, and your soup is made.

How about the roast beef? asked Bert.

I er I boiled that, explained Dick calmly.

Boiled it! cried Tom. Boiled roast beef! Oh wow!

What difference does it make, as long as its hot? demanded the young cook. Here, you taste it, and see if it isnt good. I put some ketchup on it, and a lot of spices, and it tastes

It must taste like a mixture of Hungarian goulash and Chinese chop-suey! laughed Tom. Boiled roast beef! Oh my stars!

Well, you dont have to eat it, fired back Dick, as he dished out a curious mixture. The boys tasted it, and to their surprise it was very good, or perhaps their appetites made it seem so. Then with bread, jam and coffee the meal progressed, and they all declared it a good one.

Now for finishing up the tents, and getting ready for the night, suggested Tom.

The cooking tent was put up, with an awning connecting it with the sleeping quarters, and with a table that was made of pieces of packing boxes. They had folding cots, and these were set up, and the bed clothes gotten out. Then each one picked his cot, arranged his personal belongings near or under it, and the camp was in fairly good shape.

And now to begin to enjoy ourselves, said Tom.

If only the old hermit doesnt come puttering around to bother us, suggested Jack. Bur r r r! When I think of the fierce way he started after us it gives me a cold shiver.

He was sort of uncanny, agreed Bert. But I guess he wont bother us. I dont know what the rest of you are going to do, but Im going fishing. I think some nice fresh fish would be pretty nearly as good as boiled roast beef. Oh, wait until I tell the fellows about that! he laughed. Well have to have it at one of our midnight suppers in Elmwood Hall.

Thats right, agreed Tom. But dont you let em worry you, Dick. Youre doing fine.

They cant worry me, declared Toms country chum. I can do queerer stunts in cooking than that. You just wait.

Well, if were going fishing lets go, suggested Jack.

The boys had brought their rods and tackle with them, and soon they had dug some worms, caught a few grasshoppers, and were casting in from some rocks and logs on the shore of the lake.

They had been fishing for perhaps half an hour, and no one had had more than some nibbles, when Jack, who was perched on a high rock, close to deep water, suddenly felt a jerk on his line.

A bite! A bite! he cried. And a big one, too! Oh, fellows, Ive got a dandy. Watch me pull him in!

His reel was whirring at a fast clip, singing the song of the fish, and he was holding the butt, and winding in as fast as he could.

There was a splash in the water, and a flash of silver drops as a big fish broke.

Give him line! Give him line! cried Tom.

Reel in! Give him the butt more, suggested Dick.

Pull him in! yelled Bert.

Jack was working frantically. The big fish leaped and plunged. Suddenly Jack leaned over a bit too far, lost his balance, and a moment later he was floundering in the lake.

CHAPTER VII
A MIDNIGHT VISITOR

Help! Get a boat! Help me out! Blub! Splub! Come on! stammered and yelled Jack, as he went down under the water, and came up again, somewhat entangled in his fishing tackle.

Dont let the fish get away! cried Tom.

Grab him by the tail! advised Dick.

Hold him, no matter if you do get wet, was Berts contribution. Youve had all the luck!

Luck! Luck! retorted Jack. If you call it luck to fall in the lake I

He was interrupted by a flurry of the big fish, that had not yet gotten off the hook, and, as Jack had instinctively kept hold of the rod, the finny prize was still a captive.

Its luck to get a fish like that, declared Tom. If I had him I wouldnt let go, and he started across the rocks to the aid of his chum. Dick and Bert had also laid aside their rods and were hurrying to the immersed one.

By this time Jack had managed to swim ashore, as he was only a few feet from it, and he was clambering up the rocky bank, keeping hold of his rod and line as best he could.

Is he off? asked Tom anxiously, as he joined his comrade. Have you got the big fish yet?

Say, you care more about the fish than you do about me! objected Jack.

Why shouldnt I? asked our hero, with a laugh. This is the first fish any of us caught. Reel in now. Never mind about yourself, youll dry, but we want that fish!

Jack did have enough sporting blood to forget his own condition, and soon he was reeling in the fish, which was still on the hook. But most of the fight was gone from him, and it did not take much of an effort to land him. The prize proved to be a large bass.

That will be great when Dick cooks it! exclaimed Bert, as he held up Jacks catch.

Me cook it! cried the village lad. Say, I thought everyone had to cook his own catch.

Not much! exclaimed Tom. Youre cook for this week, and you have to serve up all the fish and game we bring in. Im thinking of bringing in a bear soon.

And Ive got an idea where I can get a lot of frogs legs, added Bert.

Ill manage to furnish a mock turtle, and we can make more soup, added Jack. Or, if you like, Ill keep on with the fish.

Say! cried Dick. You fellows can cook your own game. Ill manage the canned stuff and

Yes, and I suppose youll fricassee the baked beans if we dont watch you, put in Tom with a laugh.

Oh, get out! ejaculated the exasperated cook.

Well, I got the fish, anyhow, said Jack as, dripping water from every point, he held up his prize. Its a beaut, too.

It nearly got you, commented Tom. But say, there must be great fishing in this lake when they come right up to shore and take the bait that way.

Oh, weve struck a good place all right, declared Jack. As soon as we get straightened out well go out in the middle, and pull in some of the big ones.

I think I can get another like yours right here at shore, said Tom, and he threw in. Shortly he had a bite, and almost duplicated Jacks catch.

Meanwhile Jack was cleaning and scaling his prize, and drying himself out. The other boys had fair luck with rod and line, and then it was up to Dick to cook the fish, which he did, frying them in bacon and corn meal.

Oh, say, maybe they dont smell good! cried Tom, as the savory odor was spread about the camp.

Theyll taste better, was Jacks comment.

The evening meal was a great success and they all voted that Dick was a much better cook than he had given himself credit for.

How are you on pies? asked Tom, as they sat around the campfire that evening, after everything was ready for bed. Think you can tackle them, Dick? Weve got prepared flour, and you can use some jam, or canned apples, for filling.

Ill try it, agreed the amateur cook. Well have pie to-morrow.

They did not sleep very well that night, as the beds were rather hard, not having been properly made, and they were all rather excited over the events of the day.

Breakfast, however, with coffee, and bacon and eggs which they had brought from Wilden, put them all in good humor, and they made a merry meal.

Now for some fishing! exclaimed Tom, as he went down to look about his motorboat.

And Im going to take a gun and see if I can get anything in the line of game, put in Jack. Its out of season for most things, but I may get something in the bird line.

And Dick is going to make pie, said Bert. Make four, old man, so therell be one apiece.

All right, agreed the young cook good naturedly. I wont guarantee results, but Ill do my best.

Tom started out in the boat with Bert to do some fishing, while Jack wandered off in the woods with his shotgun. Dick did up the dishes and then began rummaging around in the supplies. Soon he was whistling away and, as Tom and Bert could see, from where they were in the boat, he was kept quite busy over something.

Well, did you get em made? asked Tom, when they had all assembled for dinner. How about the pies, Dick?

There they are, was the retort, and Dick pointed to the pastry.

Hum! They smell good! exclaimed Jack, as he whiffed an odor from the pies.

They look good, commented Tom.

Lets see if they taste good, suggested Bert.

The pies were served as dessert, and at the first mouthful Tom let out a howl.

For the love of tripe! he cried. What did you put in these pies, Dick?

Apples, of course, replied the injured cook. What did you suppose it was?

Well, if those are apples then theyre flavored with something funny, declared Tom. Wheres the can you used?

Dick brought two empty tin cans up to the table, which was made from packing boxes.

The paper labels soaked off, he explained, but there were cans of apples on top and below these so I thought it was all right. Isnt it?

Tom took a smell, and cried out:

Say, fellows, he dumped a can of quinces in the apple pie stuff and baked that all together and then used baking soda for powdered sugar! Oh wow! What a taste!

There was a general laugh, and Dick replied with:

Well, if you fellows think you can do any better you can have my job. Im sick of being cook.

Tut, tut! Its all right, said Tom hastily. We were only fooling. Youre doing fine, Dick, only, after this, smell of a can if it hasnt got a label pasted on it, and taste the powdered sugar.

But if the pies were a failure, the rest of the dinner was good, and later on Dick proved that he could make good pastry when he used the right ingredients.

They had more fish that day, as luck was good, but the game was scarce, as might have been expected at that season of the year.

After dinner, the rest of the day was spent in getting the camp into better shape, and making the beds more comfortable. The boys were in the habit of making up a camp fire early in the evening, and sitting in the glow of it to talk. They did this on their second night, and when it had about died down Tom tossed on some heavy sticks of wood and remarked:

Well, Im going to turn in. Im tired and I want some sleep. To-morrow well take a long boat ride.

When are we going to the old mill? asked Jack.

Oh, maybe we can try that soon if we like, said Tom.

It was nearly midnight, as Tom ascertained by looking at his watch, when he was suddenly awakened by hearing something moving about near the sleeping tent. At first he thought it was one of his chums, and he called out:

Whos that? You, Jack?

There was no answer, and, looking across to the other cots, our hero saw the forms of his companions under the covers. They were all quiet.





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