Allen Chapman.

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





Theres some one out there, he murmured.

Rising cautiously he stepped to the flap of the canvas shelter and peered out. In the dying glow of the camp fire he saw an old man silently walking toward the tents.

For gracious sake! breathed Tom to himself. If that isnt the old hermit of the mill Im a lobster! I wonder what hes doing here?

With anxious eyes he watched, and as the moon came out from behind a cloud, to add to the glow of the campfire, Tom saw the light glint on a gun.

Hes looking for us! whispered Tom. I wonder what Id better do?

CHAPTER VIII
OLD ACQUAINTANCES

For a moment the lad stood there at the flap of the tent, pondering over the situation. He realized that he might have a desperate character to deal with a man who would not listen to reason, and who was impulsive, as evidenced by his leap into the water after the motorboat.

But Ive got to do something, thought Tom. If I dont he may take a shot at us, not meaning to do any harm, but just because hes erratic. And that sort of a bullet does just as much harm as any other. If he should fire into the tent

Tom did not finish out his thought, for at that moment there was a movement on the part of the old man. He had been standing still, silently regarding the camp, and now he again advanced.

Hes going to see what sort of a place we have here, mused Tom. I wonder if Id better awaken the boys?

He thought it over for a moment and then decided that perhaps he could best deal with the old man alone.

But how? he asked himself.

Tom watched the hermit. He came on with a tread like that of a cat silently stealthily peering from side to side. At times he muttered to himself.

Ill see if I can take him by surprise, decided Tom. Stepping back, where he could not be seen, inside the tent, our hero suddenly yelled:

Get out of here! What are you doing in our camp? Be off before I set the dogs on you!

The old man was evidently startled. He stiffened as he stood, but Tom was glad to see that he did not bring the gun to bear. From under the shaggy eyebrows the hermit gazed about him as if to determine whence came the voice.

But if Tom had any idea that he could frighten the man into going away he was mistaken. For the hermit of the mill came forward until he stood directly in front of the big tent, and then, straightening up, he fairly shouted:

Ha! I have found you; have I? Those who brought their infernal puffing engine on my lake. Now you are in my woods. I have been looking for you. I warn you away! You must leave at once! I will not be cheated out of my fortune this way. Leave my woods or it will be the worse for you! and he shook his fist at Tom, who had now stepped into view at the flap of the tent.

Hello! Whats the row? called Jack, suddenly awakening.

Is the camp on fire? asked Dick.

Whats wrong, Tom? cried Bert, and all three of our heros chums sprang from their cots and crowded around him.

Its our old friend the hermit of the mill, explained Tom in a low voice.

Hes come to drive us out of the woods.

What are you going to do? asked Jack.

I dont know. Lets see what he does.

He may be dangerous, commented Dick.

And these may be his woods, added Bert.

Nonsense, declared Tom. I asked dad about it before I came up, and he said this part of the forest belonged to a big lumber company that was holding it for the trees to get bigger before cutting. This old man doesnt own it any more than we do.

Then youre going to stick?

I sure am!

During this talk the old hermit remained motionless, regarding the boys with angry eyes. Then he spoke again.

Well, are you going to take yourselves out of my woods? Are you going to leave at once? I demand that you go!

No, sir, we are not going, declared Tom, firmly but respectfully, for after all, he thought the age of the man was entitled to some deference.

You must leave my woods! the hermit insisted. I have been bothered enough in the search for the fortune hidden from me. I want to be alone in my woods. Go! and he pointed his finger toward Wilden.

I do not think you have the right to make us go, said Tom. I understand these are not your woods, and we have as good a right to camp here as you have to wander about. We are not going!

For a few seconds the old man seemed dazed at the bold answer. Probably he had expected a meek compliance, but, as it developed, Toms answer was the best that could have been given.

Pausing a moment the hermit gazed almost reproachfully at the lads and then, with another shake of his fist at them, he called:

Well, you have been warned, and now you must take the consequences. The price of your folly is on your own heads!

He turned and vanished into the shadows of the woods.

Whew! Quite dramatic! exclaimed Tom, as he turned to his chums.

I should say so, agreed Jack. Nice thing to be awakened from pleasant dreams and told to move on in a trackless forest at midnight. Hes as bad as Professor Skeel used to be.

Speaking of Skeel reminds me, observed Tom. Do you think he has come up here to camp?

Hard to say, murmured Bert. But I know one thing, as long as Im awake Im going to have something to eat. Are there any of those chicken sandwiches left, Dick?

I guess so. And theres some cold tea.

Warm it up then, and well have a lunch.

Say, what do you think this is; a quick-eat restaurant? asked the amateur cook.

Oh, go ahead, suggested Tom. Well all help, and maybe well get to sleep again, after this interruption, if we eat.

The oil stove was lighted, and the tea put on to warm, while Dick set out a plate of sandwiches he had made from canned chicken. Then the boys ate and talked.

That old hermit is sure on our trail, declared Tom.

But he doesnt seem to be as dangerous as the folks made out, commented Jack.

I guess hes just simple-minded, thinking of the treasure in the old mill, added Bert. By the way, Tom, when are we going to visit the ruins, and have a try for the buried gold? and he laughed.

Oh, well go over there some time, agreed Tom. Id like to pick a day, though, when old Wallace wouldnt be on hand. Im not exactly afraid of him, but, from what I can understand, he does own the mill, though not these woods, and if he ordered us off that property wed have to go.

But we can take a chance, suggested Dick.

Oh, sure, came from Tom. Say, but that old chap must spend all his time wandering about the woods. I wonder where he sleeps when hes away from the mill?

Oh, he probably has plenty of bunks and caves that we never would dream of, said Jack. Well, Im going to turn in, he added, with a yawn. If he comes back again kindly tell him, Tom, to wait until morning before doing any more ordering-off.

Once more the lads sought their cots, to sleep undisturbed until morning. The day was spent in getting their camp more in ship-shape, and getting in a supply of wood for camp fires, and for cooking in case their oil gave out, or the portable stove failed.

In the afternoon they went fishing, and had good luck. Though they kept watch for the hermit, they did not see him. The woods and lake were as deserted as though they were in some country as yet unvisited by man, and there were no evidences that any camping parties had ever visited the region where the boys were.

It sure is wild, said Jack, as he gazed about.

Its just the cheese though, declared Tom. We couldnt have picked out a better place.

And as soon as we get busy on the secret of the old mill there may be lots of happenings, added Bert.

A week passed, during which our friends enjoyed life to the utmost. They fished, and as the lake had seldom been visited by devotees of the rod and line it proved a garden spot for such sport. One had but to throw in a line to have a bite. They hunted, too, but as the season was not open they managed to kill only a few foxes and skunks, and, as their fur was not of much value in the summer, even this they gave up as rather unprofitable work.

Its the mill we want to head for, insisted Jack. Come on, Tom, lets get up an expedition and go there. We can go in the boat, for, as you say, the mill is on the river that runs into the lake. Come on.

All right, well go to-morrow, agreed Tom.

Accordingly, having set their camp to rights, and having put up a lunch, for they would not be back to dinner, they set off in the Tag, heading up the lake to where the river entered it.

Shes running better than she did at home, remarked Dick to Tom, as he looked at the puffing motor.

Yes, but dont say anything, cautioned our hero. She may be holding back for a kick-up. I never praise this motor, for I actually believe it knows what you say. Let well enough alone, and the others laughed at his quaint conceit.

It was a beautiful day, and the trip along the lake was much enjoyed. It was rather lonesome, but the boys did not mind that.

As they moved along the shore of a little cove Jack suddenly called:

Hold on! I think I heard something moving near the bank there, and he pointed just ahead.

Slow down the engine, called Tom to Dick, and the latter throttled down, making the machinery almost noiseless. Then they all heard a crashing in the underbrush.

Maybe its the hermit, suggested Bert.

Very likely, agreed Jack. I hope he doesnt begin on one of his tantrums again.

The sounds in the bushes grew, and a moment later three figures suddenly stepped into view on the sandy beach of the lake.

Look! exclaimed Tom in a low voice. If this isnt the limit!

All four boys gazed toward the figures, to behold their old acquaintances, Professor Skeel, Sam Heller and Nick Johnson!

CHAPTER IX
AT THE OLD MILL

Difficult it would be to say which party was the more surprised. Certain it was, though Tom and his chums knew that their former teacher intended coming to the vicinity, and though they realized that Sam and Nick had gotten off the train with camping stuff near Wilden, they never expected to meet the three in this spot.

And, for that matter, neither did Mr. Skeel and the two lads, with whom he seemed to be on friendly terms, think to behold Tom, for the former plainly showed the surprise he felt.

Well what do you know about this? asked Jack, in a low voice.

Its the limit, agreed Tom.

Mind your wheel or youll have us on shore, said Bert. Theres a big rock just ahead of you.

Tom shifted the wheel with a rapid turn. He had been so interested in looking at the trio on shore that he had not noticed where he was steering.

Shall we speak to em? asked Jack.

No, dont, advised Bert. Theres no use getting into an argument.

And yet we might find out something about them, and what they are doing up here, insisted Jack, who generally liked to take the initiative.

I guess wed better not, spoke Tom. Anyhow, they wouldnt give us any satisfaction. If they hail us well answer, and thats all.

But the three on shore evidently had no intention of speaking. After his first stare of surprise Mr. Skeel was seen to speak to Sam and Nick, and then, with a final glance at our friends, the trio turned and plunged back into the woods.

Well, thats over for the time being, remarked Dick.

Yes, assented Bert. Can you see which way theyre going, Tom?

Why should we want to?

Because they may be going to the same place we are.

What, to the old mill?

Sure.

They dont know anything about it, declared Tom.

How do you know? That story of buried treasure is more or less known all over this section, and the hunt old Wallace is making for it, too. So why shouldnt Mr. Skeel, and Sam or Nick know of it?

Well, maybe youre right, agreed Tom. But we cant see which way theyre headed. The brush is too thick.

Were not far from the mill, if Im any judge, said Jack.

Why? Tom wanted to know. How can you tell? Youve never been there.

No, but theres a current setting into the lake now, and that means the river isnt far off. The mill is on the river, so, naturally were near the mill. Q. E. D., as we used to say after wed floundered through a geometry proposition.

Well, maybe youre right, admitted our hero.

Another thing, went on Jack. If were near the mill, so are those fellows. So you see

By Jove! cried Tom. I shouldnt be surprised but what you were right, Jack. This man Skeel would be up to any proposition to make money, and he may, as you say, have heard the rumor of treasure in the old mill.

How do you account for him meeting Sam and Nick? asked Bert.

Oh, it probably just happened, suggested Tom. If they are camping near here, and Skeel is doing the same thing, its not out of reason that they should meet. Well, if theyre after the treasure in the old mill I dont see whats to prevent us having a go for the same thing.

If Old Wallace will let us, put in Bert.

Oh, well, well have to take a chance with him, said Tom. Well have to wait until hes away from home, which he seems to be most of the time.

And if we get the treasure, what will we do with it? inquired Dick.

Wait until we do, laughed Tom. I dont believe there is one chance in a thousand of there being any treasure there, and if there is, its a hundred to one shot that we cant find it, nor can anyone else. But it will be fun to have a go for it.

And if we do find it, put in Jack, well all take a trip to Europe.

No, spoke Tom, quietly, if we do find any treasure, it will have to go to the one who owns it the old hermit, very likely.

Oh pshaw! cried Jack. After the mean way he treated us, Tom?

Sure. Right is right. But say, dont lets get into an argument over such a remote possibility. Wait until we get to the mill, and have a look around. Im an expert on buried treasure, and I can tell, as soon as I see a place, what the prospects are, and Toms chums joined in his hearty laugh.

Well, speed up, suggested Jack, and well see what sort of an Eldorado lies before us. Westward ho! and he struck a dramatic attitude.

Tom turned on more gasolene and advanced the spark, so that the Tag shot ahead. There was no further sign of Professor Skeel and the two boys.

Theres the river! exclaimed Bert, about a quarter of an hour later, as the boat went around a bend, and they came into view of a stream flowing into the lake. It was as wild and picturesque as the lake itself, with big trees on either bank, overhanging the water in places.

Say, thats great! cried Tom. Im going to get some pictures of that. Take the wheel, Jack, while I get out my camera.

Tom was soon snapping away, getting a number of fine views, while with Jack at the wheel, and Dick to watch the motor, the Tag swept slowly into the river. The current was not strong at this point, and it was possible to slow down to half speed, as the lads did not know the character of the water, nor how much depth there was, though the Tag did not draw more than two feet.

Lets see wholl spot the old mill first, proposed Tom, as he adjusted his camera to take more pictures when the ruin should be sighted.

Id rather get the first sight of the hidden treasure, declared Jack, who seemed to have more faith in the existence of the secret horde than did the others. Anyone can see a mill, he went on, but it takes an eagle eye to spot treasure.

And I suppose you think youve got the eagle eye! laughed Bert.

Sure I have. Say, Dick, isnt it almost lunch time?

I dont know. Im not the cook this week. Its up to Tom.

Can we eat, Tom? asked his roommate at Elmwood Hall.

Not until we get to the mill. Work before pleasure, my boy. Thats the rule here.

Well then, get ready with the grub, said Jack, quietly, for theres your mill, and he pointed just ahead of them.

By Jove! So it is! exclaimed Tom.

They had gone around a turn in the river, and on one bank, situated on a little rise, were the ruins of an old stone mill.

In its day it had been a big structure, built of field stone, and it must have been a substantial place to which the settlers for miles around probably came with their grain. But now it was in ruins, through the ravages of time and the hands of those who sought the treasure.

As the boat approached it the boys could see where a flume had been built to take the water from the river, and direct it over a big wheel. Of the latter there was little left. Trees and underbrush grew up close to the old structure, near which were the rotting remains of a wharf where, in the olden days, likely, the craft of the settlers had tied up when they came with grist.

Say, its a wonderful ruin all right, said Tom in a low voice. Put over to shore, Jack, while I get a picture. Then well get out and have a look around.

As Tom focused his camera, and clicked the shutter, there was a movement in the tangle of vines and bushes near what had been the main entrance to the mill.

Look out! exclaimed Jack. Some ones coming!

CHAPTER X
A CURIOUS CONFERENCE

Holding themselves in readiness for whatever they might see, or for whatever might happen, the boys peered anxiously toward the place whence the noise and movement came.

False alarm! laughed Tom, as a fox leaped into view and then, seeing human enemies, slunk out of sight.

It made noise enough for a man, declared Jack. I sure thought it was the hermit getting ready to repel boarders.

And treasure seekers, added Dick.

Well, lets go ashore, suggested Bert. That is, if Tom is done taking fancy snap shots of the old ruin.

Sure, Ive got pictures enough for now, though I may want some from the other side, assented our hero.

Making the boat fast to the rotting wharf, the four lads climbed out and made ready to inspect the old ruin.

Look out! suddenly called Tom. Thats a weak plank youre stepping on, Jack. Youll be through it in another minute!

He made a grab for his chum, but it was too late. Jack, who had hurried on in advance of the others, had stepped on a board of the wharf that was but a mere rotten shell, and, an instant later, one foot went through it, and Jack slipped down to his hip, the other leg doubled up under him.

Help! Help! he cried, in mock seriousness. One foots in the water, and the other will be in a minute.

Are you hurt? asked Bert anxiously.

No, but if this leg isnt skinned all the way up Im a loon. Pull me out, cant you?

As Bert and Dick started toward him Tom called:

Stand back! If we all crowd up on those old boards we will all be through. Wait until I can lay another plank down, that isnt so near gone. Then we can give you a hand.

With the aid of Bert and Dick, our hero ripped off a more substantial board, and then, stepping on this they managed to pull Jack from his uncomfortable position, for he could not help himself.

Well, how about you? asked Tom, when they had all made their way off the old wharf to shore.

Oh, so-so. Im badly battered up, but still in the ring. One foot is well soaked, but its warm weather and I guess I wont get the epizootic. Say, though, Im going to be lame, and Jack limped along.

An examination showed that his right leg was painfully skinned and bruised, where it had scraped on the edges of the hole in the plank, as his foot went through the timber.

Well bandage it up when we get to camp, said Tom, as he used an extra handkerchief on the worst cut of his chums leg. Do you feel able to go on to the mill, or shall we turn back, Jack?

Go on, of course, declared the injured one. Im not going to let a little thing like a game leg stand between me and a treasure hunt. Lead on, captain!

Thats the talk! exclaimed Bert. Youll get the best of the pirates hoard yet.

Now go a bit easy, cautioned Tom. It may be that Old Wallace is around somewhere, and, as this is his property, hed be justified in making a row if he found us here. So go a bit slow until we size up the situation.

They were on the lower side of the mill now, the side nearest the river. The ancient structure consisted of three stories. The lower one was a sort of basement, on a level with the lower ground, where it was evident that wagons had driven in to receive their loads of grain. Here too, was some of the old machinery of the mill, the levers that controlled the water gate and other things, but now all rotted and fallen into decay.

Say, this would be the place where the treasure would be buried, if anywhere, declared Jack.

I dont think so, spoke Tom. Its too conspicuous.

Thats just it, argued Jack. The more conspicuous a thing is, the harder it is to find it, sometimes. Nothing is more difficult to pick up, sometimes, than something right under your nose, as the saying is.

Thats right, agreed Bert. Did you ever play the geography game?

No. What is it? asked Tom.

Well, you take a big map, and ask a person to find some country, city, lake or river, as the case is. Most persons pick out for the puzzle a name printed in very small type, but those who know select a name printed in big letters, that take up half the map, maybe. And it most always happens that this is the hardest to find. I didnt originate that, he added, modestly. I think Poe speaks of it in one of his stories.





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