Allen Chapman.

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





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 Ill take a chance and go in now, thought Tom. I dont 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 Id 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 wont mind them so much. I rather guess they wont 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.

Well take a chance, decided the lad, and he hurried back to signal his chums. In a few seconds they joined him.

Now, fellows, weve got to work quickly, explained Tom. Theres no telling when Wallace will be back, though I think hes gone for a long tramp. Skeel and the others dont seem to be here.

Whats 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 dont 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, lets start in, and see where we come out. Well 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 doesnt seem to be any place for a secret compartment for the hiding of treasure down here, remarked Dick, when they had finished their inspection.

Thats right, agreed Tom, who had been looking at the thickness of the walls. They are solid enough, and unless we tore them down we couldnt come at anything hidden in them.

Lets 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 Im sure there is some secret stairway or passage, insisted Tom. Lets 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 didnt think it would be necessary, but perhaps wed better do it.

Ill 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.

Someones 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, Id have been ready for you. Ive got a dungeon thats just yawning for such as you. How dare you trespass on my property?

Dont 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.

Ill have the law on you! cried the angry old man. Ill see if you can come here trying to take my treasure from me! Ill 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 doesnt know what he is doing, and it wont do to take chances. Run! Ill 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.

CHAPTER XVI
STRANDED

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.

Hes probably lived in the woods all his life, explained Jack, as he limped along, and hes like an Indian. Are we getting away from him?

Well, were holding our own, said Tom, as he looked back. My! but hes 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.

Thats 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 cant seem to shake him off! complained Jack.

How about a trick? asked Bert. Cant we make a spurt, get ahead of him, and then hide at one side of the path until he gets past?

I dont believe so, replied Tom. He knows this path and these woods like a book, and hed 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 hed set it adrift, or do some damage to it so we couldnt 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 thats right, sighed Jack. Ill 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 dont see why, spoke Tom.

We wont dare risk going there again. Hed be sure to be on the watch for us.

Oh, I dont know, replied our hero. He cant always stay in the mill, and we may strike a time when he goes away, as we did to-day. Im not going to give up so soon. I want to see what that treasure looks like, if its there. Im going to chance it again very soon, even if you fellows dont.

Oh, well 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 hes 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 Im about all in.

They slackened their speed, and all listened intently. It was so, they could scarcely hear the approach of old Wallace now.

Hes giving up! exclaimed Dick.

Dont 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 dont 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 Jacks face, and it was evident that the strain was telling on him. Still he was game.

Do you think its safe? asked Bert.

Well take a chance, decided Tom. Were off his property now, and he cant touch us. We can defy him, and all he can do is to call names. They wont hurt us.

He can shoot! exclaimed Dick, remembering the gun.

I dont believe hed dare, was Toms opinion. Anyhow, our boats 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 didnt really find out anything, added Jack.

No, but we will! exclaimed Tom, with conviction. Im not going to give up so easily.

Hurray! cheered Jack. Never say die! Dont give up the ship! Bravo, Tom!

And were 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 hadnt 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.

Itll be a mighty small morsel, laughed Tom, for I didnt pack much.

Anyhow we can sit in the boat and rest, said Bert. Im 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.

Whats the matter? called Jack. Did you hurt yourself, old man?

No, but look here, fellows, our boat is gone!

Gone!

The boat gone!

Isnt she there?

In turn Jack, Dick and Bert gave voice to these words.

Its 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 cant be possible.

But it is possible! exclaimed Tom. Cant you see that she isnt here?

Maybe this isnt 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 Jacks contribution.

The kind of a knot I made doesnt 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. Were stranded!

CHAPTER XVII
AN ANXIOUS SEARCH

For several seconds the chums stared at each other in silence. Then Tom burst out with:

Well, wouldnt that rattle your teeth!

I should say yes, chimed in Bert.

Theres no doubt but that shes gone, said Jack, slowly.

You dont 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 cant account for it in any other way, went on Tom. The engine couldnt start itself, thats sure. I have known it to start on compression, when it was feeling real good, and had had a fine nights sleep, but those times were few and far between. Besides it would take someone to throw the switch even then. And I know she didnt drift away, for I had a new bowline on her, and I took particular pains with the knot I tied.

Then shes 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. Theyre prowling around this neighborhood with Mr. Skeel, and, though we havent seem em lately Ive 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 youre right, agreed Jack. The sneaks! I wish I could get hold of em now! Id 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 didnt pass us as we were legging it away from old Wallace.

Yes, I guess thats right, assented Tom.

Which brings us to the second question, remarked Dick.

Whats that? asked Jack.

What are we going to do? How are we going to get back to camp?

And its a mighty serious question, said Tom grimly. It will soon be dark, and if we dont 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, lets have a hunt for the boat, proposed Jack after a pause. Maybe we can get a sight of those fellows if theyre in her, and if we do

Well, what? asked Tom significantly.

Well 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 Toms roommate.

Thats a slim chance, declared our hero. Of course the Tag may kick up a fuss when she finds her rightful owner isnt in her, but we cant count on it. Theres one thing, though, in our favor.

Whats that? asked Dick.

There isnt much gasolene in the tank, said Tom. I only had enough in to about carry us back to camp, and it wont run those fellows very far. Then theyll be stuck if theyre out in the lake.

They may find our camp and get more, suggested Bert.

I dont think so. They wouldnt be likely to head for our camp in the first place, reasoned Tom. Theyd go off in some other direction, and by the time theyve traveled a few miles they wont have gas enough to fetch up at our place. No, I think were safe enough on that score.

But what can we do? asked Dick. Weve got to do something.

Of course, assented Tom. Lets 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 hours tramp.

Why so? asked Tom, with a laugh.

Because its a good deal farther off than it was when we came up.

It only seems so, said Dick. Well 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!

Lets walk along the shore aways, proposed Bert. We may see them then.

Oh, dear me! exclaimed Jack. I dont believe I can go a step farther not without a rest, anyhow.

Then rest, said Tom. Ill tell you what well do. You stay here, and well go along the shore for a mile or so. If we dont see em, then well come back.

You may miss me, suggested his chum.

We cant. Weve got to follow the lake shore, and we cant get beyond the river, anyhow.

Ill 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.

Thats right, assented his companion. What are we going to do next?

Search me, replied Tom laconically. Well 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.

Well 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. Well need shelter, anyhow. Lets 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 weve got to get busy, declared Bert. Itll 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 dont know, answered Tom. Its 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.

Whats the matter? he asked. See a snake, Tom?

No, but I see something better. If that isnt a cave Im 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.

Its a cave all right! cried Jack.

Go ahead in it, urged Bert.

Maybe its where that bear hangs out, suggested Dick.

Nonsense! exclaimed Tom. A bear wouldnt have a cave so near a main-traveled trail. Hed pick out a more secluded place for a summer residence.

Say, youre getting mighty polite all of a sudden, declared Jack. Go ahead inside then, if you think its all right, Tom.

I didnt say it was all right, but Im 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. Well back you up.





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