Allen Chapman.

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





He felt a little better, having arrived at this decision, and proceeded to get himself a meal. He lighted the stove, made coffee, and fixed up some sandwiches from a tin of beef. It was while sipping the hot beverage that another thought came to him.

I wonder if they went away prepared to stay all night? he asked himself. Ill take a look.

In the main, or sleeping tent, the cots had been made up that morning, as was the rule, so that, no matter how late the chums returned to camp, they could tumble into bed. The cots showed no signs of having been disturbed when Tom inspected them with a lantern. And then the lad saw something else.

The caps and sweaters of his chums still hung from the ridge-pole of the tent.

By Jove! cried Tom aloud. They would hardly go off that way in the dampness of the night without having taken more than they wore when I started on my walk. And they had on mighty little then. Even if they had to take the trail on the jump there would have been time enough to slip on a sweater, and grab up a cap. Those fellows went off in a big hurry.

He paused, to gaze in silence around the tent. He was more lonely than ever, as he recalled the jolly faces that he had thought would greet him on his return from the stroll in the woods.

And heres another thing, he reasoned. If they did take the trail after some of our enemies, one of them would most likely have remained to wait for me, and tell me to come along. Im sure theyd have done that. And yet theyre all gone, all three of them!

Tom Fairfield shook his head. The problem was becoming too much for him. He sought for a ray of light.

Of course, he reasoned, there may have been two parties of them. Skeel and the two cronies in one, and the old hermit by himself. In that case the boys may have divided themselves. Maybe thats it. Oh, hang it all! he exclaimed as if he found the puzzle too much for him. Im going to wait until morning.

But the morning brought no solution of the problem. Tom awoke early, after a restless night, during which he several times imagined he heard his chums calling to him. He would jump up, rush to the flap of the tent, toss some light wood on the camp fire, and peer out eagerly, only to find that he had dreamed about or imagined it.

Once or twice he called aloud, listening and hoping for an answer, but none came. And so the night passed and morning came.

Tom felt little appetite for breakfast, but he knew he must eat to keep up his strength for the task that lay before him.

Ive got to find them! he decided. Ive got to take the trail. Something may have happened to them. That bear we saw may have And then he laughed at the notion, for he knew that a bear, however large, could not make away with three strong, healthy lads. Unless there were three bears, he mused, with a smile, and thats out of the question.

He was thinking deeply, so deeply in fact that he forgot to look to the oil stove, and the first he knew the coffee had boiled over, and the bacon was scorched in the pan.

Oh, hang it! Tom exclaimed.

I cant even cook!

He fried more bacon, and an egg, and on that, and coffee, he made a lonely breakfast.

Now to reason things out, he spoke aloud. Im glad the rowboat is here anyhow, I can navigate the lake to a certain extent.

He walked down to the shore, and what he saw there caused him to utter a cry of astonishment.

Theres been a struggle here a fight! Tom cried. The boys have been taken away against their will!

He bent over and looked closely at the sandy shore. It was all too evident that some sort of a struggle had taken place there, and that recently. The marks visible by day but not at night proved this.

Those marks werent there when we landed yesterday afternoon, decided our hero. Besides, theyre quite a distance from where we brought the skiff in. Theres been some sort of a boat here, he went on, as he bent over the impression made by the sharp prow of some craft in the sand. Someone came in a boat, got hold of the boys somehow, and carried them off. But there was a fight all right, and a good one, too, Ill wager.

It did not take a mind-reader to decide this. The sand in several places was scuffed about, raised up in ridges, or scratched into depressions, while the heel marks, deeply indented in the soft material, showed how desperate had been the struggle. But the chums had been overpowered, that was certain, for they had been taken away.

And in my boat, too, Ill wager! cried Tom. The impudent scallawags! To take my boat, and then use it to carry off my friends. They must have taken some of my gasolene, too. Oh, wait until I get a chance at them!

The new discovery was overpowering for a time, and Tom sat down to think it out. Then he came to a decision.

Ive got to help my chums, he said. Ive got to go to their rescue. Theres but one place where they would be taken. The old hermit, or Skeel and the cronies, have them in the old mill or, hold on maybe theyre captive in the cave where we stayed that night. Those are two places where they might be. What shall I do?

It was no easy problem for the lone camper to solve, and Tom was frankly puzzled.

I think Ill tackle the old mill first, he decided. Thats the most likely place. Though I wonder why in the world the hermit or Skeel would want to capture Dick, Bert and Jack? Unless the treasure has been located, and they dont want us to find out about it. But they havent got me!

With Tom, to decide was to act, and so, putting himself up a lunch, he set off in the skiff for the old mill. It was hard rowing alone, for usually two worked at the oars, but our hero stuck to it, and in due time he reached the river. Then he decided to pay a visit to the cave.

He concealed his boat under some bushes, and, taking the oars with him, he hid them well up on the hill.

If they get away with the boat, they cant row, anyhow, he reasoned, and I dont believe theyll find her.

He approached the cave cautiously, for he did not want to fall a victim to those who had captured his chums. But the cavern in the hillside was empty, and Tom felt a sense of disappointment.

Now for the mill, he mused, as he set off in the skiff again. He had almost reached it, and was debating within himself how best to approach it, when a new thought came to him.

Suppose they catch me? he asked himself. They are four to one, and, though I dont mind Sam or Nick, the hermit and Skeel would be more than a match for me. If they get me I cant be of any help to the boys.

Tom was no coward, and he would have dared anything to rescue his chums. Yet he realized that this was one of the occasions when discretion was the better part of valor.

I think I can serve em best by staying on the outside a while, he argued, as he got to a point where he could catch a glimpse of the old mill. Ill look about a bit, he went on, and see what sort of a plan I can think out.

Keeping well in the shadow of the bushes that lined the river bank, he watched the mill. For half an hour or more there was no sign of life in it, and then, so suddenly that it startled Tom, there appeared at one of the third story windows the form of the old hermit, and he had a gun in his hands.

There he is! whispered Tom. Hes on the lookout for me. Lucky I didnt rush in. And hes on that third floor, though there doesnt seem to be any way of getting up to it. Ive got to go for help, and Tom, waiting until old Wallace had disappeared from the casement, slowly rowed away.

He reached the lonely camp late in the afternoon, for he spent some time going along the shore of the lake, searching for his motorboat. But he did not find it.

Now what shall I do? he asked himself as he sat down to a solitary supper. Go for help, or try to make the rescue myself?

CHAPTER XXI
TOM MAKES PLANS

Tom had two ideas, both centering about one subject the rescue of his chums. That they were held prisoners in the old mill he had no doubt.

Of course I could tramp into Wilden, he mused, as he sat beside the campfire, and get a posse of men to come here and raid the place. With them to help we could make short work of Wallace, Skeel and company, and wed get the boys out. But then, on the other hand, that would give the whole game away. Im sure theres some sort of treasure in that old mill, or Skeel would never bother with trying to find it. The hermit must have, in some way, proved to him that its there.

Now, then, assuming that it is in the mill, or somewhere around it, do I want a whole crowd out here, overrunning the place, and maybe finding the treasure? I certainly dont, even though they might not find it. But what would happen would be that a whole crowd of people, who have nothing else to do, would hang around here the rest of the summer, looking for the treasure if it wasnt found at the time of the rescue. That would spoil our camp.

Of course Ive got to rescue the boys thats certain. I might get some of Mr. Hendersons friends a few of them and make them promise to keep it a secret. Even then it would leak out, and the whole town would be out here sooner or later. We wanted to come to a wild place, and we found it. Now theres no sense in making it civilized.

No, Ill work this thing out alone, and Ill rescue the boys single-handed. I ought to be able to do it after I rescued dad and mother from that cannibal island, and got ahead of old Skeel. I defeated him twice and I can do it again, and I will!

Now that he had come to a decision Tom felt more hopeful, and he began to go over plans in his mind. He had made and rejected half a dozen, from undermining the mill, and blowing a breach in the walls, to making believe set fire to it and getting in under cover of the confusion.

But I dont believe any of those schemes would do, he mused. Ive got to use strategy against those fellows. They are evidently looking for an open attack, by the way the old hermit was doing sentinel duty in the window. I wonder how in the world he got up there when there are no stairs in the mill?

Toms brain was getting weary with so much hard thinking. He felt as if he was back in Elmwood Hall, and had to puzzle over some hard geometry proposition.

Im going to bed, he decided at length. Maybe in the morning Ill be fresher and can think better.

He collected a quantity of dry wood, and had it in readiness to throw on the embers of the campfire. He also took a lantern with him inside the sleeping tent, turning the wick low, and he had a gun in readiness.

Im not going to be taken by surprise if I can help it, he mused. Thats how they must have gotten Jack and the others into their power. Ill fight if they try to get me, and they might, for with one of us loose they know therell be an attempt at a rescue.

Tom made himself comfortable on his cot, but for a time he could not sleep. Then he fell into a doze, only to awaken with a start as he heard someone prowling about the camp.

Whos there? he called, sitting up and reaching out for his gun. There was no answer, and Tom arose and peered from the flaps of the tent. As he did so he saw a movement near the boxes where the provisions were kept.

Get out of there! he cried, as he fired in the air. A dark body leaped away and an ember of the fire, flaring up just then, revealed a small animal.

Only a fox! laughed our hero. Go ahead, youre welcome to all you can get, for he had made the provisions secure before turning in. He was not again disturbed, and to his surprise the sun was high in the heavens when he awoke.

I must have gotten in some good licks of sleep the latter part of the night, he reasoned, as he stretched and arose. Now for a good breakfast, and then to see whats best to do.

It was lonesome eating, all by himself, especially as he thought of the jolly times he and his several chums had had around the packing-box table.

I wonder if they have anything for breakfast? Tom mused, as he sipped his coffee. Well, I hope I can soon get em back with me again. The hermit, or Skeel, probably captured them to prevent them from making any further search for the treasure. But Im here yet! and he closed his teeth grimly.

Of course, after all, we havent any right to it, he went on, and if we do find it, and it belongs to old Wallace, Ill see that he gets it. But I like the fun of hunting for it, and, since theyve been so mean Ill be mean too, and do my best to beat em.

Breakfast over, Tom busied himself about the camp, washing the dishes, bringing in fresh water, and getting everything in order. It gave him something to do, so that he would not feel so lonesome, and he found that he could think better when he was occupied.

But, with all his reflection, he could not seem to hit on a plan of rescue. One plan after another was formed, only to be rejected.

I know what Im going to do! he finally exclaimed. Ill take another trip to the mill, and see how things are now. I may be able to get to the boys, or at least signal to them that Im on the job. They must be discouraged by this time.

He rowed up the lake to the river, and, proceeding as before, paid a visit to the cave, thinking perhaps there might be some developments there. But the place was just as they had left it.

Now for the mill! exclaimed our hero. He went by a different route, this time, so as to get in the rear of the structure. But, though he looked for a long time at the broken windows, he saw no signs of his friends.

If I could only signal them get into communication with them, he thought, they might propose some plan of rescue. But Im afraid I cant. Ill have to go it alone.

He circled about until he had a view of the front of the mill. Looking up at the upper window he saw, not the old hermit, but Sam Heller on guard with a gun.

Theyre all there all the conspirators, Tom murmured. Probably while one watches, the search for the treasure is going on. Oh, if I could only get in there!

CHAPTER XXII
TOMS DISCOVERIES

Tom waited around a bit, hoping someone might come out from the mill, or that the watcher with the gun would leave. But nothing of this kind happened.

If they would only come out, one at a time, I might capture them, he thought. Then I could go in and do as I pleased. But thats too good luck to have happen.

It was evident that he could gain nothing by remaining where he was. He had no glimpse of his chums, and he could think of no way of communicating with them.

If it wasnt so far, I could write a note, wrap it around a stone, and heave it into a window, he thought. But then it might fall into wrong hands, and Id be as badly off as before.

Hang it all! I wonder what Id better do? he asked himself. I havent been able to think of a thing. I guess, after all, Ill have to get help. No, I wont either! he exclaimed, a moment later. Ill take another day or so to think it over, and then, if I havent hit on a plan, Ill give an alarm.

They wont dare do much to the boys, he reflected. Theyll have to give em something to eat, even if its only bread and water, such as we got when we went on strike in Elmwood Hall. Yes, Ill wait another day or so.

Vainly giving a last look, hoping for some sign, Tom quietly made his way to the skiff, and rowed down the river again and across the lake to camp.

C?sars cats! but this is a lonesome place! he exclaimed, as he looked about at the tents. I never knew what it meant to have a jolly crowd with me before. This is like being a castaway on a desert island. Well, the only thing to do is to keep busy.

He entered the main tent, intending to get on some of his older clothes and prepare a meal. As he stepped inside the canvas house he uttered an exclamation of surprise.

Ive had visitors! cried Tom. And two-legged ones at that! Someone has been here, running about!

Well might he say that, for the place was in confusion. The neatly-made-up cots had been pulled apart, the valises and suitcases, of himself and his chums, had been opened, the garments tossed about. Boxes and packages had been searched.

This is the work of that old hermit, or else Skeel and his two cronies, decided Tom. They must have known Id go away from camp, and they watched their chance to sneak in. Oh! if I had only known it!

He looked about to see if anything had been taken, but there was no sign of anything missing, though it was hard to tell definitely because of the manner in which things were scattered about.

I wonder what they could have wanted? asked Tom aloud, and, having no one to answer it, he replied to his own question.

It couldnt have been me, he resumed, though they may have done this for spite because they didnt catch me. No, that would hardly be it. They would have done worse damage if they had done it just because of anger. It was something else. They were searching for something. I have it! The plan I found! Thats what they want! Maybe, after all, its the original and not a copy, and they cant go on with the search without it. Thats it, Ill wager a cookie! I wonder if I have it safe?

From an inner pocket he took the piece of paper containing the map.

Here it is, he murmured. Im glad I thought to take it with me, and not leave it around here. My! but they must be desperate to take such chances for this document. That shows how valuable it is.

Returning the paper to his pocket, Tom took an hour or so to straighten out his camp. Then, getting supper, which he ate in lonesome silence, he sat down by the fire to think.

Id be glad even if we had a dog, he mused. The next time I go camping Ill take one along. Now lets see where we are at.

Dick, Jack and Bert are prisoners in the old mill. Thats my first fact. Second, Ive got to rescue em. Third, is this plan going to be of any use to me?

Again he took it out to look at it, but the flickering of the campfire proved too uncertain, and he decided to go in the tent and examine it by the light of a lantern.

Maybe, now that were not so excited over it, I can make out things on it that I couldnt before, he told himself. But the first half-hours scrutiny did not develop anything. The plan appeared to be just that and nothing more.

And its here, in the third story, where the boys are held prisoners, mused our hero, as he put his finger on that part of the drawing. Only theres no stairway shown, as far as I can see.

He looked closely at the plan, lifting it from the table and holding it between himself and the light. As he did so he made a most remarkable discovery. He fairly shouted as he saw it.

For, drawn in some such manner as are the water-marks in paper, visible only when held up to the light, so on the plan, there was marked out a secret staircase, leading from the second to the third floor of the old mill!

By Jove! cried Tom. I have it. Now I see why that wall was so thick. The secret staircase is built in the thickness of the wall, and it doesnt show from either inside or outside the mill. In fact it doesnt show on the plans at first glance, and probably the old architect who drew them used a peculiar ink so that no one would know about the stairs. They must have been made so that anyone could get from the second to the third story of the mill in a hurry, and be hidden there when there was an attack by enemies. Well, Ive made one discovery. Now to see how they use the stairs.

But this did not show on the plan, though Tom held it close to the light, hoping to discover lines so faint that a strong illumination was needed to bring them out. The secret staircase, plainly indicated now, seemed to begin abruptly on the second floor, at a point opposite the big stone grinders, and end on the third story. How to get to them was not shown, and, from what Tom remembered of the inside of the mill, he was sure that the interior wall at this point showed no break, and no signs of a secret door.

But thats not saying it isnt there, he said aloud. Im going to have another look, now that I know where to search. Ill have the boys out yet!

He was so excited that he could hardly get to sleep, and again he was making rapid plans for the rescue of his chums.

Ill start the first thing in the morning, he told himself. Hurray! Im on the right track now! And maybe Ill be lucky enough to find the treasure, too!

By daylight he examined the plans again, holding the paper up to the sun. The secret staircase was shown more plainly, but there was nothing to indicate how it might be reached.

Its just as if it was hidden between the thick walls, murmured Tom. But there must be some way of getting at it, and Im going to find that way. Lets see, now; what do I need?

He decided to take no weapon, for he did not believe the captors of his chums were desperate enough to fire.

But Ill take one of our pocket electric flashlights, he decided. I may have to work in the dark if Im looking for a secret passage.





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