Tom Fairfield in Camp: or, The Secret of the Old Millñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Tom made himself as comfortable as possible, and for nearly half an hour intently watched the mill for any sign of life. But he saw nothing, and he knew his chums would soon be getting impatient.
“I guess I’ll take a chance and go in now,” thought Tom. “I don’t see anything suspicious, and if the old hermit is there, surely he would show himself by this time.”
He rose from his crouching attitude, glad enough to be on the move again, for he was cramped and stiff, and was about to rise above the bush that screened him, when a slight noise in the direction of the old mill attracted his attention. A moment later old Wallace came out of the main entrance, dressed as though about to go away, for he had on his coat and cap, and carried his gun.
“Jove!” cried Tom. “That was a narrow escape! In another second I’d have been in plain view, and then the game would have been up.”
Hastily he stooped down again, and waited until the old man had gone down the hill, and was out of sight. Fortunately he took a course that would not bring him near the other hidden lads.
“Now to see if the coast is clear,” remarked Tom, after waiting a bit to make sure that the hermit was not coming back. “If Skeel and those fellows are in there I won’t mind them so much. I rather guess they won’t be glad to see me.”
Exercising all needful caution, Tom advanced closer to the ancient structure. He gained the old driveway, unseen, he hoped, and, walking carefully about, he listened intently. There was no sound save the murmur of the water in the old sluiceway.
“We’ll take a chance,” decided the lad, and he hurried back to signal his chums. In a few seconds they joined him.
“Now, fellows, we’ve got to work quickly,” explained Tom. “There’s no telling when Wallace will be back, though I think he’s gone for a long tramp. Skeel and the others don’t seem to be here.”
“What’s your plan?” asked Jack.
“To compare the mill, as it actually is, with the copy of the drawing we have. I want to see if we can find a secret hiding place anywhere, or some means of getting to the third floor. I don’t believe that scheme of tossing up a rope, and climbing it, would be safe, for it might slip, or the wood might be so rotten that it would pull away. But I think we ought to be able to get to the third story some other way.”
“So do I,” agreed Jack. “Well, let’s start in, and see where we come out. We’ll begin at the basement.”
This they did, and it did not take them long to make certain that the plan of the lower floor, as it was shown on the piece of paper Tom had found, was substantially correct.
“There doesn’t seem to be any place for a secret compartment for the hiding of treasure down here,” remarked Dick, when they had finished their inspection.
“That’s right,” agreed Tom, who had been looking at the thickness of the walls. “They are solid enough, and unless we tore them down we couldn’t come at anything hidden in them.
Let’s go upstairs.”
The examination there took longer, for, not only were they anxious to see if it was possible to secrete treasure there, but they wanted to find how the old man got to the third story, since there was no evidence that he lived in any other part of the mill.
But here, too, they were doomed to disappointment. They found that the plan they possessed corresponded with the actual building in every particular.
“And yet I’m sure there is some secret stairway or passage,” insisted Tom. “Let’s try the walls and see if they sound hollow.”
They were about to start this when Jack exclaimed:
“Say, what about that sentinel we were going to post? I thought someone was going to be on the watch to give warning if anyone approached.”
“Well, when old Wallace went off the way he did,” remarked Tom, “I didn’t think it would be necessary, but perhaps we’d better do it.”
“I’ll stand guard,” volunteered Dick, and he took his position a little distance from the old doorway, where he could have a good view about the mill.
Tom and his chums were busy sounding the walls, though they had not discovered anything, when there came a hail from Dick.
“Someone’s coming!” he cried. “Better get away.”
“Lively, fellows!” cried Tom, stuffing the plan in his pocket. “It may be old Wallace!”
They raced for the door, and had hardly emerged from it, to join Dick, before they saw, coming along the path he had taken a short time before, the old hermit.
For a moment he did not see them, but when Jack, who could not move quite as fast as the others, stepped on a stick which broke with a loud snap, the old man looked up and beheld the intruders. For a moment he stood transfixed, and then, rushing forward he cried:
“Ha! So you dare to come here; do you? Oh, if I had but known, I’d have been ready for you. I’ve got a dungeon that’s just yawning for such as you. How dare you trespass on my property?”
“Don’t answer,” advised Tom, in a low voice. “Come on.”
His chums lost no time in obeying, but if they thought they were going to get off without a chase they were mistaken.
“I’ll have the law on you!” cried the angry old man. “I’ll see if you can come here trying to take my treasure from me! I’ll take the law into my own hands if worst comes to worst!”
Then he started toward them, his gun much in evidence.
“Hit up the pace, boys!” Tom exclaimed. “This fellow may be a poor shot, but he doesn’t know what he is doing, and it won’t do to take chances. Run! I’ll give you an arm, Jack.”
He helped his chum, and the others hurried on, while the white-haired hermit, muttering threats, followed as fast as he could.
“Say, he can travel some!” exclaimed Dick, looking back over his shoulders when they had gone some distance. The hermit was still crashing through the underbrush after them.
“He sure can!” agreed Tom. “I would hardly believe that a man as old as he seems to be could be so spry on his feet.”
“He’s probably lived in the woods all his life,” explained Jack, as he limped along, “and he’s like an Indian. Are we getting away from him?”
“Well, we’re holding our own,” said Tom, as he looked back. “My! but he’s a savage-looking chap, though.”
On hurried the boys, anxious only, for the time being, to get to their boat and leave the angry hermit far behind.
“Wait ’till I catch you! Wait ’till I get hold of you!” the old man cried. “Young rapscallions! trying to do me out of the treasure I have looked for so long. Wait ’till I get you!”
“I hope he never does,” murmured Dick.
“That’s right,” agreed Bert.
They had come, now, to the path leading along the edge of the river, and it was easier traveling for them. So, also, it was for the hermit, and he made better speed too.
“We can’t seem to shake him off!” complained Jack.
“How about a trick?” asked Bert. “Can’t we make a spurt, get ahead of him, and then hide at one side of the path until he gets past?”
“I don’t believe so,” replied Tom. “He knows this path and these woods like a book, and he’d spy out our hiding place in a minute. Besides, if we did give him the slip, he might go on until he came to our boat, and then it would be all day with us.”
“How do you mean?” asked Dick.
“Why he’d set it adrift, or do some damage to it so we couldn’t run it. No, the only thing to do is to keep on until we outdistance him, and then jump into the boat and make a quick getaway.”
“I guess that’s right,” sighed Jack. “I’ll try to put on a little more speed, but my leg hurts like the mischief for some reason or other. I thought it was better, but I must have given it a wrench.”
“Take it as easy as you can,” advised Tom, but Jack did not spare himself, and limped on. Slipping, sometimes sliding, and often stumbling, the four chums hurried along the path, with the relentless hermit coming after them.
“I suppose this ends our chances of finding the treasure in the old mill,” said Bert, when they had covered nearly the remaining distance to the boat.
“I don’t see why,” spoke Tom.
“We won’t dare risk going there again. He’d be sure to be on the watch for us.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” replied our hero. “He can’t always stay in the mill, and we may strike a time when he goes away, as we did to-day. I’m not going to give up so soon. I want to see what that treasure looks like, if it’s there. I’m going to chance it again very soon, even if you fellows don’t.”
“Oh, we’ll be with you, of course,” declared Bert.
“Sure,” assented Jack, and Dick nodded to show that he, too, would not desert.
A turn in the path now hid the old hermit from sight, but they could still hear him coming on, muttering threats and calling them names for interfering in his search for the hidden wealth.
“It seems to me he’s farther back,” spoke Tom, listening with a critical ear to the progress of the man behind them.
“It does seem so,” agreed Jack. “I hope so, for I’m about all in.”
They slackened their speed, and all listened intently. It was so, they could scarcely hear the approach of old Wallace now.
“He’s giving up!” exclaimed Dick.
“Don’t be too sure,” Tom advised them. “He may be playing a trick on us. Creeping up on us without making much noise.”
“Or taking a short cut, as Skeel and those two fellows did that day,” added Bert.
“Come on!” urged Jack. “We don’t want to be caught napping. Hurry, fellows!”
“Oh, I think we can afford to take it a bit easy,” said Tom, who felt sorry for his roommate. There was a look of pain on Jack’s face, and it was evident that the strain was telling on him. Still he was game.
“Do you think it’s safe?” asked Bert.
“We’ll take a chance,” decided Tom. “We’re off his property now, and he can’t touch us. We can defy him, and all he can do is to call names. They won’t hurt us.”
“He can shoot!” exclaimed Dick, remembering the gun.
“I don’t believe he’d dare,” was Tom’s opinion. “Anyhow, our boat’s just around that bend, and we can soon reach it. Slow up, fellows,” he added.
They did, when it was evident, from careful listening, that the hermit had either given up the pursuit, or was coming on so slowly that they could easily distance him by a spurt. And, as Tom had said, they had left their boat around the next bend of the river bank.
“Whew!” exclaimed Bert, wiping his face with his handkerchief, “that was warm work while it lasted.”
“And we didn’t really find out anything,” added Jack.
“No, but we will!” exclaimed Tom, with conviction. “I’m not going to give up so easily.”
“Hurray!” cheered Jack. “Never say die! Don’t give up the ship! Bravo, Tom!”
“And we’re all with you,” added Dick, who had never before participated in such exciting adventures.
They had slowed down to a walk now, and Jack felt the relief to his injured leg, which was not so nearly healed as he had hoped. There were no further sounds of pursuit, and they all breathed easier, even though they realized that the hermit would have no right to attack them, as they were on neutral ground.
“I wish we hadn’t eaten all our lunch!” sighed Dick, as they neared the place where they had tied their boat.
“I guess there is some left, in one of the lockers,” spoke Tom. “I brought along a little extra supply, for I thought we might be hungry on the way back.”
“Bless you for that my son,” exclaimed Jack, half tragically. “I, too, would fain pick a morsel.”
“It’ll be a mighty small morsel,” laughed Tom, “for I didn’t pack much.”
“Anyhow we can sit in the boat and rest,” said Bert. “I’m fagged out.”
“I guess we all are,” declared Tom.
He was in the lead, and, as he neared the clump of bushes on the bank, that hid his boat from view, he quickened his pace. The others pressed on after him, and, a moment later they heard a surprised exclamation from Tom.
“What’s the matter?” called Jack. “Did you hurt yourself, old man?”
“No, but look here, fellows, our boat is gone!”
“The boat gone!”
“Isn’t she there?”
In turn Jack, Dick and Bert gave voice to these words.
“It’s clean gone!” gasped Tom.
The three chums pressed close to his side and all four gazed at the spot where the Tag had been tied. She was not there, and a glance down the stream did not disclose her.
“Gone!” exclaimed Jack. “It can’t be possible.”
“But it is possible!” exclaimed Tom. “Can’t you see that she isn’t here?”
“Maybe this isn’t the place where you tied her,” suggested Dick.
“Certainly it is. This is the very old stump that I wound the rope about.”
“Maybe it came untied and the boat drifted away,” was Jack’s contribution.
“The kind of a knot I made doesn’t come loose,” declared Tom, and his chums knew he was seaman enough to make this a certainty.
“Then someone has taken her!” declared Bert. “Someone has stolen your boat, Tom. We’re stranded!”
AN ANXIOUS SEARCH
For several seconds the chums stared at each other in silence. Then Tom burst out with:
“Well, wouldn’t that rattle your teeth!”
“I should say yes,” chimed in Bert.
“There’s no doubt but that she’s gone,” said Jack, slowly.
“You don’t need a map to make that plain,” explained Tom, with a sickly grin.
“But what makes you think someone took her?” asked Dick, who, perhaps, did not arrive at conclusions as quickly as did the others.
“I can’t account for it in any other way,” went on Tom. “The engine couldn’t start itself, that’s sure. I have known it to start on compression, when it was feeling real good, and had had a fine night’s sleep, but those times were few and far between. Besides it would take someone to throw the switch even then. And I know she didn’t drift away, for I had a new bowline on her, and I took particular pains with the knot I tied.”
“Then she’s been taken away,” decided Jack.
“And the next question is; who took her?” put in Bert.
“And the following one is; what are we going to do?” added Dick.
“Two pretty hard propositions,” commented Tom grimly. “I fancy we can answer the first question easily enough.”
“How?” asked Jack quickly. “Whom do you think took your boat?”
“Who else but Sam Heller and Nick Johnson?” retorted Tom quickly. “They’re prowling around this neighborhood with Mr. Skeel, and, though we haven’t seem ’em lately I’ve no doubt that they are around here. Very likely they came past here and, seeing my boat, knew her at once. They hopped into her, and made off.”
“I believe you’re right,” agreed Jack. “The sneaks! I wish I could get hold of ’em now! I’d settle with ’em, game leg or not. I wonder which way they went?”
“Down the river, and out into the lake, naturally,” declared Bert. “They didn’t pass us as we were legging it away from old Wallace.”
“Yes, I guess that’s right,” assented Tom.
“Which brings us to the second question,” remarked Dick.
“What’s that?” asked Jack.
“What are we going to do? How are we going to get back to camp?”
“And it’s a mighty serious question,” said Tom grimly. “It will soon be dark, and if we don’t get back – well – ” He shrugged his shoulders, and they all knew what he meant. They would have to spend the night in the woods, supperless. Not a very pleasant prospect, to say the least.
“Well, let’s have a hunt for the boat,” proposed Jack after a pause. “Maybe we can get a sight of those fellows if they’re in her, and if we do – ”
“Well, what?” asked Tom significantly.
“We’ll swim out and take her away from ’em.”
Tom shook his head. “Not much chance of that,” he said. “The Tag would walk right away from the best swimmer among us.”
“That is unless those fellows did something wrong to the motor, and it balked on them,” added Tom’s roommate.
“That’s a slim chance,” declared our hero. “Of course the Tag may kick up a fuss when she finds her rightful owner isn’t in her, but we can’t count on it. There’s one thing, though, in our favor.”
“What’s that?” asked Dick.
“There isn’t much gasolene in the tank,” said Tom. “I only had enough in to about carry us back to camp, and it won’t run those fellows very far. Then they’ll be stuck if they’re out in the lake.”
“They may find our camp and get more,” suggested Bert.
“I don’t think so. They wouldn’t be likely to head for our camp in the first place,” reasoned Tom. “They’d go off in some other direction, and by the time they’ve traveled a few miles they won’t have gas enough to fetch up at our place. No, I think we’re safe enough on that score.”
“But what can we do?” asked Dick. “We’ve got to do something.”
“Of course,” assented Tom. “Let’s walk down to the lake, and see if we can get a sight of ’em. They may be stuck first shot, but I doubt it. Sam knows something about motorboats.”
“Ugh!” groaned Jack, at the prospect of a long tramp. “I wish we had an airship.”
But it was vain wishing, and there was nothing to do but to walk. Off they started, along the river bank, wondering what they would do that night if they did not get their boat. It would not be long before darkness fell, and with a prospect of no supper, and a night in the woods, it was enough to make anyone gloomy.
Fortunately they were all sturdy lads, with high spirits, and they did not easily give way to despair. It was a time, however, to severely try them.
“Seems to me someone must have moved the lake,” declared Jack, after an hour’s tramp.
“Why so?” asked Tom, with a laugh.
“Because it’s a good deal farther off than it was when we came up.”
“It only seems so,” said Dick. “We’ll soon be there.”
They reached the place where the river flowed into the lake about half an hour later, and their anxious gaze sought the broad expanse for a glimpse of the missing boat.
“Not in sight,” murmured Tom, shading his eyes with his hand, for the rays of the setting sun struck across the surface. “Not a trace of her!”
“Let’s walk along the shore aways,” proposed Bert. “We may see them then.”
“Oh, dear me!” exclaimed Jack. “I don’t believe I can go a step farther – not without a rest, anyhow.”
“Then rest,” said Tom. “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. You stay here, and we’ll go along the shore for a mile or so. If we don’t see ’em, then we’ll come back.”
“You may miss me,” suggested his chum.
“We can’t. We’ve got to follow the lake shore, and we can’t get beyond the river, anyhow.”
“I’ll stay with him,” volunteered Dick. “You and Bert go, Tom.”
Thus it was arranged, and Tom and his chum started off, following the winding shore of the lake, casting their eyes over its lonely surface for a sight of the boat they so much needed. It was an anxious search, and it was not rewarded with success.
“Well, we may as well go back,” suggested Tom, after a bit. “It will soon be too dark to see, and we want to be together when night comes on.”
“That’s right,” assented his companion. “What are we going to do next?”
“Search me,” replied Tom laconically. “We’ll have to rough it, I guess; make some sort of a bunk with tree branches. Or we may find a sort of cave to sleep in.”
“And what about supper?” asked Bert, suggestively.
“We’ll have to take in our belts a few holes, and make our hunger small, as the Indians do.”
They turned back, and soon rejoined Dick and Jack, who were moodily sitting on the shore. One look at the faces of Tom and Bert told the story of their unsuccessful search as plainly as words could have done.
“Well, what about it?” asked Jack. “What are we going to do, Tom?”
“Look for a place to stay over night,” was the prompt answer. “We’ll need shelter, anyhow. Let’s find a good place, and cut some hemlock branches for a lean-to.”
“A cave would be just the cheese,” spoke Dick. “Maybe we can find one if we look.”
“Then we’ve got to get busy,” declared Bert. “It’ll soon be dark.”
Rather at a loss in which direction to start, the boys walked back along the bank of the river. Then, seeing a sort of trail, they followed that.
“Where does it lead to?” asked Jack, as he limped along.
“I don’t know,” answered Tom. “It’s been traveled, I can see that, and it may lead us to some sort of shelter.”
“I wish it would lead us to a restaurant,” murmured Bert.
“Hey, cut out that line of talk!” warned Tom.
It was now so dark that they could hardly see, but the trail was firm under their feet. It led up the hillside that sloped away from the river, and then, turning, followed the stream.
Tom, who was in the lead, as he usually was, came to a sudden stop when they had traversed several hundred feet on the straight path. So unexpectedly did he come to a halt that Dick, who was right behind, collided with him.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. “See a snake, Tom?”
“No, but I see something better. If that isn’t a cave I’m all kinds of a star-gazer. Look!”
They peered through the gathering dusk to where he pointed and beheld a black opening underneath a ledge of rock.
“It’s a cave all right!” cried Jack.
“Go ahead in it,” urged Bert.
“Maybe it’s where that bear hangs out,” suggested Dick.
“Nonsense!” exclaimed Tom. “A bear wouldn’t have a cave so near a main-traveled trail. He’d pick out a more secluded place for a summer residence.”
“Say, you’re getting mighty polite all of a sudden,” declared Jack. “Go ahead inside then, if you think it’s all right, Tom.”
“I didn’t say it was all right, but I’m going to take a chance on it if you fellows will come.”
“Sure,” assented Dick, who had brought his gun – the only one of the campers who had. “We’ll back you up.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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