Allen Chapman.

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





Thats right, agreed Tom. At any rate some one has had a try for the treasure here, at any rate, if signs of digging go for anything.

This was indeed so, for the ground was torn up, and in many places stones had been knocked out of the thick walls, as if some one had looked for secret hiding places.

Well, we cant stop to dig now, said Tom. But if things go right we may later. Lets go up on the main floor, and he started toward an ancient doorway.

Not there! cried Jack, holding back his chum.

Why not?

The boards there will be as rotten as those on the wharf, and well all take a tumble. Lets go outside and around on the solid earth. I dont want to put my other leg out of commission, and he limped out of the basement of the ancient mill.

The others followed, and soon they stood in the doorway of what had evidently been the main entrance to the ancient structure. It was on a level with the higher ground, farther back from the river.

This floor contained the mill-stones, now fallen from their position, and encumbered with wreckage. There were several rooms, opening one into the other, now that the doors had fallen from their hinges, and here were holes that went through to the floor above. These holes had once contained the chutes through which the grain was fed to the mill-stones.

There might be treasure here almost anywhere, remarked Jack, as he looked about.

And its been pretty well grubbed for, commented Tom. Theyve almost ripped the insides out of the mill looking for it. I suppose old Wallace has cut and sawed and pulled apart until its a wonder the old mill hangs together.

Its a well-built old place, said Dick. The stone walls are thick. There may be a hiding place in them.

I shouldnt wonder, and Bert shrugged his shoulders. Well, its going to be a job to take them apart all right, and he looked at the stones imbedded in mortar that was as good still as it was the day it was mixed.

The boys wandered about the main floor, and looked for a place to ascend to the third story, but there seemed to be none.

If we had a rope we could make it, said Tom. Well bring one next time.

Huh! How you going to get up there to fasten it? asked Bert.

Tie a stick on the end, throw the stick up, and when it catches, crossways, in one of the chute-holes we can go up easily enough.

Good boy! Bright idea! complimented Jack. Well, lets see if we can find where old Wallace hangs out. We havent come across his living quarters yet.

There were several rooms they had not yet explored, and they now proceeded to visit them. They had evidently been the living apartments of the former miller, but now they were pretty much in ruins.

No signs of a course dinner having been prepared here, commented Tom. It smells as musty as time. He must hang out somewhere else.

Upstairs, Ill wager, said Dick.

But how does he get up? asked Jack.

Oh, he has some secret way, declared Tom.

Well have to get a rope and explore that third story all right.

Say, maybe were staying too long now, suggested Bert. Old Wallace may come along and nab us. Weve seen all there is to, I guess, except upstairs.

But we havent seen any gold, said Jack. I want to find some before I go back.

Get out! laughed Tom. All the gold there is in this mill you can put in your eye. But I think it might be a good idea to look outside a bit. Maybe theres some outbuilding, or some secret cache where the pirates or settlers hid their stuff. Well take a look.

And then well have some eats! suggested Jack. Im as hungry as the proverbial bear.

They strolled about the old mill, and saw more signs of where a search had been made for the reputed treasure. Holes innumerable were on every side, but the attempts to locate the hidden gold had soon been given over, for the excavations were shallow.

Now for the eats! exclaimed Jack, as they started for the dock where their boat was tied. Lands! but Im stiff!

He really was limping painfully, and his chums had to help him down the hill to the river. As they approached their boat Tom, who was slightly in advance, uttered an exclamation of surprise as he peered along a path that led up the river.

What is it? asked Dick.

Look, was the answer. Old Wallace! We got away just in time.

And see whos with him! exclaimed Jack, in a hoarse whisper. Professor Skeel!

By Jove! So it is! gasped Tom. Wonders will never cease. Have they seen us?

It was evident they had not, but to make sure of it the boys hurried behind a screen of bushes, where they could see but not be observed.

Look! exclaimed Tom again. Theyre going to have a conference.

As he spoke the others could see that the former professor and the old hermit had come to a halt in a place where the path widened. It was in a little glade, and, sitting down beneath the trees, the two men, one of whom had played such a strange part in Toms life, and the other, who was destined to, proceeded to talk earnestly.

What they said could not be heard, but it was evident that it was some subject that interested them both, for they held their heads close together as if afraid of being overheard. They little realized that they were being watched.

What are they doing now? asked Dick.

The old hermit has some sort of a paper, said Tom.

And hes showing it to Mr. Skeel, added Bert.

Maybe its some sort of map to tell where the treasure is, suggested Dick.

But why would he be showing it to our old professor? asked Tom. If he wants to keep it a secret why is he giving it away like that?

Hard to say, commented Jack. I think, though

He did not finish, for at that moment Mr. Skeel and the hermit leaped to their feet and gazed down the path as though they heard some one coming.

CHAPTER XI
AN ANGRY HERMIT

Something new on the programme, commented Tom in low voice.

Do you think they heard us? asked Dick.

No, they couldnt. And they dont see us. Theyre looking the other way, said Jack.

But theres something doing, declared Bert. I wonder what it is?

They had their answer a moment later, when there came into view around the bend in the path Sam Heller and Nick Johnson.

Well, Ill be jiggered! gasped Tom. We meet them at every turn.

I wonder how they got here so soon after we met them? asked Bert. Its quite a distance to walk.

Maybe they took a short cut, suggested Jack.

Hush! Look whats going on now, advised Tom.

As they glanced toward where the professor and the hermit had held a conference, they saw the old man transported into one of his fits of rage.

He stamped about, and shook his fist at Sam and Nick, occasionally changing by making threatening gestures at Mr. Skeel.

Say, hes the limit! murmured Dick.

Listen, cautioned Tom. Hes saying something.

Leave here! Leave here at once! commanded old Wallace, almost hitting the two lads as he shook his fists at them. How dare you come on my property? You are after the treasure; are you? Well, you shall never find it! I will locate it! I will make the old mill give up its secret! Be off!

Wait, wait, said Mr. Skeel in a calm voice, laying his hand on the hermits arm.

Ha! You too are in a plot against me, I believe! cried the angry hermit. I am sorry I ever had anything to do with you. Go away! and he took hold of the professor, and began shoving him away down the path.

One minute, said Mr. Skeel in soothing tones, much different from the harsh ones he had almost constantly used in his classes at Elmwood Hall. What is it you object to?

These lads what are they doing here? Are they spying on me? and the aged man pointed at Nick and Sam.

They are my assistants, said the professor soothingly, and, though he spoke in a low tone, Tom and his chums could hear him. Without their aid I can not help you, Mr. Skeel went on, and when the hermits back was turned toward him our hidden friends distinctly saw the professor make a signal of caution and of acquiescence toward the two lads, who craftily nodded their understanding.

Your assistants? asked the hermit.

Yes. If you want me to help you I must have them to help me. I would have told you about them, but I did not get the chance until they came so unexpectedly. Had they known that you objected to their presence they would have remained away. But I assure you that you can trust them.

Well, said the hermit, bitterly, since I have told you part of my secret, and trusted you with it, I suppose your assistants must be in on it. But no more! No more! and he shook his fist toward the clouds, and glanced around as though he feared more intruders. There were some other boys around the other day, the aged man went on, and if I find them sneaking about my mill it will be the worse for them.

Say, we did get away just in time, whispered Jack.

Thats right, agreed Dick.

But what in the world does Skeel mean by saying he is going to help Wallace, and that Sam and Nick are his assistants, I wonder? asked Bert.

Thats easy to guess, answered Tom. Skeel, somehow or other, has heard about the treasure. Now hes trying to soft-soap the hermit into letting him have a hunt for it. Probably hes promised to turn most of it over to the old man.

I think I see him doing it, if he finds it, commented Bert.

And Skeel has the nerve to say that Sam and Nick are his helpers, said Jack. Hot helpers they are!

Oh, that was just a bit of jollying, thought up on the spur of the moment, declared Tom. He didnt figure on Sam and Nick following him, and he had to concoct some story to account for their presence. Though I dont doubt but what Skeel, and those two cronies, are in thick about some scheme.

Searching for the treasure? asked Dick.

I believe so. Well, theyve got one advantage of us, but maybe we can get ahead of them yet, spoke Tom. If only we can get a chance to do some exploring well do it. But we cant do anything more now.

No, lets go down to the boat and eat, suggested Jack. Im still hungry.

Wait a minute, advised Tom. I think theyre going to move on, and we dont want to run into them.

As they watched they saw Sam and Nick turn and retrace their steps back along the path. They had held a little conversation with Mr. Skeel, to one side, so that the hermit had not heard, though he eyed them suspiciously. Then Mr. Skeel and the old man resumed their talk.

Lucky that Sam and Nick didnt come this way, said Tom, as he helped Jack to stand up. Now dont make any more noise than you can help, or they may hear us.

Theyll hear the boat when it starts, said Dick.

Ill drift down the river a bit before I crank up, spoke Tom. Come on, everybody.

They started down the bank, toward their boat, having come to a halt a little distance from it. Suddenly Dick, who was in the rear, uttered an exclamation.

What is it? called Tom sharply.

Theyre going away Skeel and the hermit, and one of them has dropped a piece of paper on the path.

A piece of paper! exclaimed Tom. We must have that! Here, wait a minute! If they dont miss it, and come back for it, Ill get it.

He crawled cautiously back to his former post of observation behind the screen of bushes.

CHAPTER XII
THE PIECE OF PAPER

Anxiously did Toms chums watch his movements. They realized, as did he, that the piece of paper, dropped either by Mr. Skeel or the hermit, might give them the very clew they needed to locate the treasure if there was any. And they also realized the danger if Tom was seen.

If they catch him, it will be all up with our chances, I guess, murmured Bert. Well have to leave here mighty soon.

Thats right. With that old professor, the hermit, and those two lads against us, we wouldnt have much chance, added Dick.

Oh, you fellows make me tired! exclaimed Jack. Why, its only four to four, and if we arent a match for that bunch Id like to know it! Get out of here? I guess not much! Well stick! Jack was like Tom he believed in fighting to the last ditch. Besides, he went on, as Tom said, the woods are as much ours as they are those other fellows.

But the mill, and the land around it, arent, returned Bert. They could keep us away from here.

Maybe, and maybe not, said Jack. I guess Tom Fairfield can find some plan for getting around it. Whats he doing now? for our hero was somewhat screened from the observation of Jack, though the others could see him well.

Hes crawling forward again, spoke Bert in a low tone. I guess the coast is clear. I hope he gets that piece of paper.

What good will it be? asked Dick.

Some good, you can wager, or Skeel and the hermit wouldnt have been so excited over it, declared Jack. Id like to get a look at it.

Tomll get it all right, insisted Bert. He generally does get anything he goes after.

The three lads waited impatiently for the return of their chum. Dick took another look, and reported that Tom was not in sight now.

Hes probably working his way along the path to the place where the talk went on, was Jacks opinion.

They resigned themselves to waiting, talking meanwhile of what might happen. Then, interrupting their talk, came a sound as of someone approaching down the slope.

Who is it? asked Jack eagerly, for he had been sitting down on a stone to ease the pain of his injured leg.

Its Tom all right! exclaimed Dick, who was acting as sentinel.

Has he got the paper?

Yes, theres something white in his hand.

Good! exclaimed Toms college roommate.

A few seconds later our hero rejoined his chums. There was a look of satisfaction on his face.

What is it? demanded Bert eagerly.

I dont know yet, was the reply. Its all folded up, and I didnt open it. Didnt want to take the time. Theres no telling when they might miss it, and come back. I made tracks as soon as I saw I could safely advance and grab it up. Come on down to the boat.

Go slow, begged Jack, and they helped him down the slope. Not taking time to examine the bit of paper, Tom loosed the mooring line of his craft, and, pushing her out into the current, he let her drift down before starting the motor, as he did not want their enemies to hear the noise of the exhaust.

I guess its safe enough now, spoke Jack, after a bit, from his position on a cushioned seat in the stern, his stiff leg stretched out in front of him. Turn on the gas, Tom, and start her off.

This was done, and soon the Tag was making good time down the river toward the lake.

What about the feed? asked Bert. Seems to me weve earned it now, Tom.

Lets look at that paper first, suggested Jack. Thats more important than feeding our faces.

Here it is, spoke Tom, producing it from his pocket, while Dick took the wheel.

Eagerly the others looked over the shoulder of our hero as he unfolded the paper. It proved to be quite large, being of thin but tough fabric, and it was creased into many folds, as though it had been intended to occupy a small space. It was covered with lines, words and figures.

An architects plan! Nothing but a plan! exclaimed Jack.

Thats all, added Bert in disappointed tones.

Maybe they didnt drop it at all, suggested Dick. It may have been there all the while, and they didnt bother to pick it up. I dont see what good it is, though.

Tom said nothing for a space. He was intently studying the sketch.

Chuck it overboard, spoke Dick.

No, mail it back to Skeel, and tell him how we found it, was Berts suggestion. Itll show him how close we are on his trail.

Ill do neither, answered Tom quietly. Were going to keep this piece of paper for ourselves.

Can you make head or tail of it? asked Jack.

I fancy I can, answered our hero. I think this is a detail drawing of the floor plans of the old mill, and I believe it may be the key to the location of the treasure or at least the place where the treasure is supposed to be.

You do? cried his chums in a chorus.

I sure do, replied Tom, with conviction. And Im sure either Skeel, or the hermit, dropped this. It wasnt there on the path before they held their confab, and neither Sam nor Nick was near the spot where the paper lay. Boys, I believe weve got a valuable clue here!

Lets see it, requested Jack, and Tom passed it over. His chum gazed at it thoughtfully, turned it around, and peered at it upside down. Then he remarked, as he passed it back: Well, if you can make anything out of that, Tom, youre a good one. What does it say?

That I dont know yet, spoke our hero. Its going to take some studying to ferret this thing out, but well do it. Meanwhile well just forget all about it for a little while, and have some grub. Get busy, fellows, and have dinner.

They ate with exceedingly good appetites, while the motorboat speeded on her way toward the lake. Between bites they talked of their experience, and kept a lookout for any possible signs of their former professor, his cronies and the hermit.

It must be that there are short cuts through these woods that we know nothing about, said Tom, or otherwise they never could have been on the ground at the same time we were, from where we last saw them. Still, I dont think they can get ahead of us this time.

And this was so, or, at least, our friends saw nothing of the four whom they were trying to circumvent.

Well, I know one thing, declared Jack with a grunt. Ill be glad when we get back to camp, and I can rub some liniment on this leg of mine.

Its too bad, consoled Tom. I hope youre not laid up with it.

They emerged from the river into the peaceful lake and in due time were back at camp, without further incident having occurred.

Oh, wow! but Im stiff! cried Jack, as he attempted to leave the boat.

Wait, well give you a hand up, said Tom, and they had to assist him much more than they had previously, for a severe stiffness had set in. However, they got Jack to the tent, and on a cot. Then they proceeded to give him such rough and ready treatment as was possible under the circumstances.

Well, it feels better, anyhow, said Jack with a sigh of satisfaction as he stretched back. Now lets have that screed again, Tom, and Ill have a go at translating it. I dont believe it can be much worse than some of the Latin stuff old Skeel used to stick us with.

All right, try your hand at it, agreed Tom. The rest of us will get things in shape for the night, and see about supper. How about quail on toast for you, Jack? he asked with a whimsical smile as he handed over the mysterious piece of paper.

Nothing doing. I want roast turkey and cranberry sauce, with ice cream and apple pie on the side.

I think I see you getting it, remarked Bert. Corned beef and beans will be about the menu to-night.

While Jack lay back on his cot, easing his injured leg, and studied the piece of paper Tom had picked up, the others proceeded to get the camp to rights for the night. Bert, whose turn it was to cook, started the oil stove, and began opening canned stuff. Tom looked to see if there was a good supply of wood for the campfire, for, though they did not really need it, they always lighted one for the sake of the cheerfulness.

I say, called Bert, as he went about collecting the various items he needed for the meal. What did you do with that piece of bacon, Tom?

What piece?

The one partly sliced off. I laid it in this box, but its gone now.

Is that so? asked Tom, and there was a curious note in his voice. Thats queer. I remember seeing it there when we started off. Well have a look.

Oh, take another piece, and dont delay the meal, suggested Dick with a laugh.

It isnt that, said Tom. If things begin to disappear from camp we want to know about it, and find out who is taking them.

Together with Bert he examined the place where the bacon had been put. This was in a box, fastened about four feet above the ground, in a tree. It was a sort of cupboard, thus raised, in which to keep stuff that was not protected by tins, so that prowling rats, squirrels or chipmunks could not get in. There was a door to it, fastened with a wire.

Was the door opened when you went to get the bacon? asked Tom.

Yes, answered Bert, and Im sure it was closed when we went away.

Tom stooped down, and began examining the soft ground at the foot of the tree. As he did so he uttered an exclamation.

What is it? asked Bert, eagerly.

Theres been some animal here, declared Tom. A fox maybe. I can see the footprints, but Im not enough of a naturalist to tell what made em.

A bear, suggested Dick.

I dont believe there are any in these woods, though there may be. Its wild enough.

Those arent bear tracks, declared Bert. I know, for a fellow with a dancing bear once went past our house, and it was just after a rain. I noticed the tracks, and they were as big as a ham. This isnt a bear.

Tom had arisen and was looking at the door of the cupboard.

The wire fastening has been pulled out of place, he said. And look! Here are the marks of sharp claws. The wood is all splintered. Some wild beast took our bacon all right!





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