Allen Chapman.

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





CHAPTER XIII
A SHOT IN TIME

Tom looked around at his chums. From the tent Jack poked his head, having limped from his cot at the sound of Toms exclamation.

Do you really think it was some sort of a varmint critter? asked Jack.

Sure, was the answer. You can see plainly how he tramped around this tree, and, smelling the bacon, just reared up on his hind legs, clawed the door open, and made off with part of our provisions.

Well, its too bad the bacon is gone, said Bert, but this may make good hunting for us. Ive been wanting to get something bigger than a fox.

Its lucky the main part of our bacon is still in the original box, with the cover nailed on, or the beast might have gone off with that, commented Dick.

Yes, agreed Tom. Well have to be more careful after this, and I guess it will be a good plan to keep the fire going more regularly. Fire is a good thing to scare em off.

But we dont want to scare em off, said Jack. I want to get a shot, as soon as my leg gets better. Ill get a bear, or something, before I go back.

If they dont get you, commented Tom grimly. Well, lets get supper over with, and then well have a conference on that mysterious paper.

The meal was enjoyed, albeit they ate rather hurriedly, for they were anxious to try to solve the puzzle. The dishes were washed by the simple process of being put to soak in the lake.

Ill rinse them off with warm water in the morning, promised Bert.

Whats the use of being so fussy? asked Tom. The lake water is clean enough.

But its cold, spoke Bert, and you need hot water, and soap, to get the grease off.

Oh, were not as particular as all that, declared Dick.

Lanterns were lighted as the dusk settled down, and then the lads gathered in the main, or sleeping tent, around some boxes that had been arranged in the form of a table. On it the paper Tom had found was spread out.

Well, what do you make of it now? asked Bert, when he and the others had stared at the document for some time.

Its a plan a plan of the old mill, declared Tom. That much is certain. See, here is the ground floor, with the main wagon entrance. Then comes the second floor where we were, with the machinery, mill-stones and the like. Then the third floor is shown, where there were living rooms, evidently. That must be where the old hermit hangs out when hes home.

That part is all true enough, said Bert, but I dont see where the location of treasure is marked on here.

Of course not! exclaimed Tom. If it was you can wager Skeel or the hermit would have had it long ago.

Then what good is the paper? asked Dick.

Well, dont know yet, Tom admitted frankly. But I think its going to come in useful. And he little knew what a service that same piece of paper was shortly to render him and his companions.

I think its a sell, declared Jack decidedly.

I dont, fired back Tom quickly.

I tell you what I do think, though. I think that this is only the beginning of a search Skeel and the hermit have started for the hidden hoard. This is an old plan of the mill, evidently a copy of the original, for you can see that some of the words are spelled in the old-fashioned way, with f for s. And the distances, too, instead of being in feet and inches are in chains and links which, though they are still used by surveyors, are not in such general use as they were in the old days.

Then you think that the old hermit somewhere found an original of the old plans, and had a copy made? asked Dick.

I do, yes. And I think somehow our friend Skeel got in touch with him, and secured one of the copies to work on.

But I cant see the good of just a plan, spoke Dick.

I can only surmise, of course, went on Tom, but it seems to me that what Skeel intends to do is this: He will look at the plan, and from his knowledge of mathematics hell try to figure out the most likely place for a secret chamber, where treasure would be apt to be put. That would be more logical than digging here and there at random in the walls, with the risk of bringing them down.

Thats so! exclaimed Jack. But what if the stuff was buried somewhere outside the mill, Tom?

Thats different, of course. I dont see any directions on this plan for digging in the grounds about the mill. It may be that there is another paper a sort of map that the hermit has, and if he doesnt find the fortune in the mill hell have a try in the grounds the same as others have had. But as all we have is this plan, well work on that.

Once more they fell to studying the paper, but they could not seem to get anywhere. The plan gave them no more clew than any blueprint of a modern building would have done. The walls were shown, the partitions, the location of the doors, windows, and various pieces of mechanism, but that was all.

Maybe those words and figures, that seem to refer to the building, are a sort of cypher, suggested Bert.

Maybe, admitted Tom. I didnt think of that. How do you work out one of these cyphers, anyhow?

I know a couple of ways, said Jack, and they tried his method, but they only got a lot of meaningless words and figures, though they sat up until nearly midnight.

Its no good! exclaimed Tom regretfully. Lets go to bed, and have another try to-morrow. Im dead tired.

They all were. So they turned in, after making a campfire blaze that they hoped would at least glow until dawn. Nothing disturbed their slumbers, and in the morning, after breakfast, they again began studying the map.

They were forced to give it up, however, and Tom in desperation exclaimed:

Well just put this away for a few days, until we get another chance to visit the mill. Then well take it with us, and when were right on the spot some idea may come to us that will put us on the right track.

The others agreed that this was a good plan, and as a sort of recreation they went for a ride in the motorboat. They fished, having fair luck, and, having reached a large cove, not before visited, they went ashore and cooked the dinner they had brought with them, broiling their fish over the live coals of a campfire.

Say, this is something like living! exclaimed Bert, as he stretched out on some moss, and picked his teeth.

I should say so, agreed Dick. Im glad you fellows let me come along.

Were glad to have you, declared Tom. Supposing we take our guns and go off in the woods? Maybe we can have a shot at the critter who took our bacon.

Sure! Come on! exclaimed Bert.

Im afraid Im not up to it, said Jack. My leg is just beginning to get better, and I dont want to strain it with walking through the woods. I might stumble.

Thats so, agreed Tom. Well stay here then.

No, go on! urged the injured lad. Dont let me hold you back. Ill be all right until you return.

Ill stay with you, volunteered Dick.

No, you go along! insisted Jack. Ill be all right alone. Besides, I didnt bring my gun, and I wouldnt go if I didnt have a game leg. Go ahead.

Thus urged, Tom and his two chums set off in the dense woods, taking their route by a compass, so that they could more easily find their way back.

Left to himself Jack took a comfortable position, leaned against a stone that he had padded with leafy branches and ferns, and before he knew it he had fallen asleep.

Meanwhile Tom and the others tramped on, looking eagerly about for some sign of legitimate game that they could take a shot at. They roused several foxes, for the forest was almost primitive in its wildness, but they did not shoot the prowling creatures, as they were valueless for food or fur.

Tom, however, saw a big, snowy owl, and, as he wanted it for a specimen in his school den, he bowled it over.

Thatll look great, stuffed and perched on our bookcase, he said. Itll give the place an air of wisdom.

It needs it badly enough, said Bert, with the small amount of studying you and Jack do.

Get out, you traducer! shouted Tom.

They went on for a mile or two farther, but saw nothing worth their powder or shot, and, at Toms suggestion, they turned back.

We dont want to leave Jack alone too long, he explained.

They thought perhaps they might meet the hermit, or Mr. Skeel and the two cronies, but they neither saw nor heard anything.

Tom was in advance as they neared the place where they had left Jack, and, as he came to a place where he could have a view of the motorboat on shore, and his chum sleeping under a tree, our hero uttered an exclamation of horror.

What is it? cried Bert.

Look! That beast on the branch over Jacks head! whispered Tom, hoarsely. Its just going to spring!

They saw a tawny, yellow body, crouched on a limb directly over Jack, and their chum was peacefully sleeping. The back of the beast was toward them, but Tom had a clear view of the raised head. The tail was twitching, and the body quivering in readiness for the leap upon the sleeping lad.

Shoot! whispered Dick.

Im going to, answered Tom, and, raising his rifle, he took quick aim and pulled the trigger.

They could hear the thud of the bullet as it struck, and the next instant, with a scream of rage and pain, the beast launched itself into the air.

CHAPTER XIV
TOMS SCHEME

Roll out of the way, Jack! Roll out of the way! yelled Tom, as soon as the smoke had cleared from his line of vision, and he could see the result of his shot. The tawny beast was writhing on the ground in its final struggle, close to the prostrate youth.

Jack! Jack! Wake up! cried Bert.

There was no need for the last injunction, for Jack had sat up with a start at the report of the rifle.

Look out that he doesnt claw you! shouted Dick, and then Jack became aware of the cause of the commotion.

Roll to one side! Tom again called, and his chum understood.

It was probably the only thing that could have saved him, even after Toms lucky shot, for the beast still had plenty of fight left in him, and doubtless associated the pain he suffered with the youth on whom he had been about to leap. The creature was trying to reach Jack.

But if the latter could not spring up and run, because of his injured leg, he could roll to good advantage, and this he proceeded to do as soon as he saw the need of it.

Over and over he went, like some living log, down toward the lake shore, and away from the struggling beast.

Give him another bullet, Tom! cried Bert. Finish him off now.

Here goes! exclaimed our hero, and from the muzzle of his repeater he pumped another leaden missile into the brute. He had a clear view now, with Jack out of the way.

The animal sprang into the air, fell back, quivered convulsively, and then lay still. The second bullet had ended its misery.

Tom, Bert and Dick ran up.

Hes done for, remarked Bert.

Stop rolling, Jack! suddenly called Tom, or youll be in the lake, for his chum, being unable to see the result of the shot, still imagined himself in danger, and was approaching the water.

At Toms call, however, he slacked up in his queer method of progress, and arose to his feet.

That was a close call, said Jack, as he limped up to the others. Who did the business for our savage friend there? and he kicked the carcass.

Tom did. You might have known it, answered Bert.

I just happened to, said our hero modestly. I was in the lead, and saw it first. Then I fired.

And a good job for you that he did, remarked Dick.

Thanks, said Jack, fervently, and his hand and that of Tom met in a firm clasp.

What sort of a beast is it, anyhow? asked Bert, as he surveyed the tawny body.

A lynx, and a big one, too, declared Dick, who knew something about animals. Theyre as savage as a wildcat when theyre hungry, and this one probably thought Jack would make a good meal.

I never heard a thing until the shot, explained Toms chum. I was sleeping soundly and I thought it was a clap of thunder. Jove! If you hadnt come along! and he shuddered.

Well, shall we take it back to camp with us? asked Bert.

Id like to, spoke Tom, but its a hard job to skin it in hot weather, and Im afraid I couldnt keep the hide. Besides the fur isnt in very good condition. I guess well just leave it where it is.

Then, after a rest on shore, and talking over the incident, they got in the boat, Tom taking the big owl he had shot, and started back for their camp.

The next day they went off on another trip, exploring the woods and hills around the lake. They did more fishing, and looked for something to shoot, but saw nothing.

But there hasnt any more bacon disappeared, said Dick one morning, as he was frying some for breakfast.

No, I guess we got the lynx that took it, said Tom. I thought I detected the odor of fried bacon and eggs on him, he added with a smile.

But if they imagined they were to be free from the prowlers of the woods they were mistaken, for, a few nights later, they were awakened by a noise near the place where they threw the odds and ends from their kitchen empty tins, bits of food and the like.

Somethings out there, called Tom, as he and the others awoke.

The hermit, maybe, suggested Jack.

He wouldnt make as much noise as that, said Tom. Im going to take a look.

He got down a low-burning lantern from where it hung in the space between the two tents, turned it up, and flashed it from the entrance in the direction of the refuse pile.

As he did so he and the others saw a black body rear up, and then they heard a menacing growl, while something big and clumsy lumbered off in the darkness.

A bear! cried Jack. A bear as sure as youre alive! Take a shot, somebody!

Dick was the first to grab his gun, and, taking the best aim he could, he pulled the trigger. Following the flash and the report the boys heard a yelp as of pain.

You winged him! cried Bert. Come on, we can get him!

He would have rushed from the tent, lightly clad as he was, had not Tom grabbed him.

Hold on, urged our hero. Dont do anything rash.

Why not?

Because that bear if thats what it was is far enough off by now. And besides, hes probably only wounded. Dicks gun doesnt carry a heavy enough bullet to fetch a bear down in one shot, unless it went right into the brain. And again, youre not exactly dressed for a tramp through the woods at midnight, and Tom glanced at his friends bare feet. Wait until morning, he advised, and maybe we can trail him.

Morning showed them some drops of blood, and marks in the soft earth that were undoubtedly the tracks of a big bear.

Oh, if we can only get him! exclaimed Dick, with enthusiasm. Maybe hes worse wounded than we think.

But though they tramped about nearly all that day they did not come upon any traces of bruin, and they had to give up the chase, though they did so reluctantly.

Well, Tom, remarked Jack that night, as they sat about the campfire after supper, this isnt treasure-hunting very fast.

No, thats so. Ive been sort of holding off, hoping Id happen to think of some solution to that plan, but I havent. How about you fellows?

Nothing doing as far as Im concerned, said Jack, as he limped over to the water pail. He was much better and the soreness was almost gone.

Two more to hear from, suggested Tom.

I cant think of anything, admitted Bert, and Dick confessed to the same thing.

Then Ill tell you what well do, proposed Tom. Well take another trip to the old mill.

And do what? asked Jack.

Well take the plan with us, and try to see if, by looking at the structure itself, and, then the plan, we can come to any solution. It may be we might hit on some secret room, or something like that.

What about the old hermit? asked Dick. Hell be furious if he catches us there.

Well, well watch our chance, and go in the mill when were sure hes out, went on Tom. Then we wont all go in. Well leave someone outside to give the alarm in case he comes. How do you like my plan?

Good! cried Jack; and the others agreed with him.

Then well start in the morning, decided Tom.

CHAPTER XV
ALMOST CAUGHT

If there was only some plan by which we could draw the old hermit away from the mill for a day or so, we could have all the time we wanted, remarked Dick.

Send him an anonymous letter, suggested Jack. Tell him the money is buried at a point about ten miles from here, and hell go there and dig. That will leave us free.

Yes, a hot chance wed have of sending a letter up to him in this wilderness, laughed Tom. You might as well say a telegram. The only way to deliver a letter would be to leave it yourself, at the mill.

And thats as risky as the way we are going, said Dick.

It was the morning after the night on which Toms plan had been adopted, and the four chums were in the motorboat, journeying along the lake to the river on which the ruined mill was located. They had their lunch with them, intending to remain all day, if things were favorable, and Tom had the plan carefully put away in his pocket.

I wonder if well meet Skeel, and our two schoolmates? asked Tom, as he turned on a little more gas to increase the speed of the engine.

Not very likely, was Jacks opinion. I shouldnt be surprised but what they and the professor have taken up their quarters in, or near, the mill, to be right on the job.

Maybe so, assented his roommate. I wonder just where our old professor made his camp, anyhow? We might try to locate it, when we have nothing else to do.

It would be like hunting for a needle in a haystack to look for it in these woods, said Tom. That is, unless we had some better directions than just Crystal Lake.

If we could get the boat on that lake, we could sail around it, suggested Bert. If hes camping near a lake hes probably somewhere near the shore, and we could easily see his tent.

Yes, but we cant get the boat to Crystal Lake, and its too much of a jaunt to walk there. Well just let Skeel alone, and stick to the old mill.

What about Sam and Nick? asked Jack.

Well let them alone, too, as long as they dont bother us, decided Tom, and, on the whole, the crowd agreed with him.

Remembering their former experience, when the old hermit had come along so unexpectedly, they decided that it would be best not to take the boat as close to the mill as before.

Well just tie it about half a mile down the river, said Tom. Then the noise of it wont give the alarm, and we can go up quietly. If we have to run for it I think we can do the half mile somewhat under the time old Wallace can make.

Or Skeel, either, added Jack, for all the boys were good runners, and had done well in track athletic contests.

What about Sam or Nick, if they chase us? asked Bert.

We wont run from them, thats flat! exclaimed Tom. And I think theyll know better than to take after us.

They turned from the lake into the river, and proceeded up that stream, with the speed of the Tag cut down about half, so that the craft would not make so much noise.

I think this place will do to tie up at, remarked Tom, when they had covered a few more miles. Its secluded, and there seems to be a good path leading along the bank. We want a good path if weve got to run, he added.

The boat was made secure, and then, taking their lunch with them, for they did not expect to start back until late afternoon, they set out to walk the rest of the distance to the ancient mill.

Heres where we hid the time we saw Skeel and the hermit having a confab, remarked Jack, as they reached that spot. And theres the wharf where I barked my shins. Youll not get me on that again.

Lets take a look at the place where we found the paper, fellows, proposed Tom. Id like to see if they came back and made a search for it.

Proceeding cautiously, they reached the spot where Tom had made his find.

They sure have been looking for it! exclaimed Dick. Look how the bushes are trampled down. Theyve been tearing around in here for further orders!

It was very evident that this was so, and the boys realized that the loss of the paper was known to their enemies.

I wonder if they suspect that we have it? asked Bert.

I dont doubt it, spoke Tom, dryly. But thats all the good its going to do them. Im going to keep the paper until Im sure Im giving it to the rightful owner.

Now for the mill, suggested Jack, as they turned to go. I dont believe wed all better make a try for it at once. Wed better sort of spy out the lay of the land first. The old hermit, or some of his new friends, may be on the lookout.

It was agreed that this plan would be a good one to follow, and, accordingly, Tom was selected to go forward and reconnoiter.

Advancing cautiously, while his companions remained in hiding, our hero got to a point where he could command a good view of the old mill.

Now I guess Ill just lay low for a while, he remarked to himself. If I go any closer, and Wallace is in there, it will be just as bad as if we all plumped in on him. Me for a quiet wait.





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