Perhaps the fact that it was about ten minutes of twelve influenced Fred in what he set out to do.
First he passed all the way through the strip of woods. It was not very thickly grown, and there was really only a stretch of about one hundred feet where he did not find himself in sight of some house or other.
Fred secreted himself about midway here. It was rather a gloomy spot, considering that it happened to be so near a town. The trees grew pretty thick all around the rambling path; and one big, old, giant oak in particular caught Fred's attention, on account of the fact that it seemed to be rapidly going into decay, being full of holes, where perhaps squirrels, or it might be a raccoon, had a den.
Then he heard the whistle from the factory in town, immediately followed by the ringing of the church bells. Noon had come, and if Gabe carried out his regular programme he would soon be coming along the trail.
Yes, that must be his whistle right now, turning off the latest air that had caught his fancy. Fred wanted to see him at close quarters. Perhaps he even had some faint idea of stepping out, and walking with Gabe, to judge for himself whether the other had a guilty air or not.
But if such were his plans he soon found cause to change them. Gabe came whistling along, looking behind him occasionally, and then all around. Fred became deeply interested. He fancied that this must mean something; and it did.
Suddenly the whistling stopped. Looking, he saw Gabe hurry over to the old tree trunk. He seemed to thrust his hand in, and draw something out. Fred, watching sharply, noticed that the boy was deeply interested in what he had taken from the hollow trunk; and he could give a pretty good guess as to what this must be.
But Fred did not move from his place of concealment. Lying snugly hidden he saw Gabe replace the little package, after which he stepped out into the trail, picked up the ragtime air just where he had dropped it, and came walking smartly along, a satisfied grin on his face.
Waiting until he had passed out of sight around a bend in the path, and his loud whistle began to grow fainter in the distance, Fred hurried over to the big tree.
He had noted that particular crevice in the hollow trunk too well to make any mistake now. A minute later and he had fished up a little cardboard box, not over four inches in length, and secured with a rubber band.
With trembling fingers Fred took this fastening away, and raised the lid; just as Gabe had recently done, no doubt being consumed by a desire to feast his eyes once more on the contents.
Fred gave a satisfied sigh. It was all right, and Bristles' reputation had been cleared; for in that little cardboard box which Gabe Larkins had secreted so carefully lay seven milk-white opals, doubtless of considerable value.
A PLAN TO CATCH THE THIEF
"That settles it!"
Fred was saying these three words over several times to himself as he stood and stared at the seven little opals. They had appeared rather pretty when he looked at them in Miss Muster's best room, on the occasion of his visit there in company with Bristles. They gave him a shiver now; just because he knew that they had tempted weak Gabe Larkins to commit a terrible wrong.
What had he better do about it?
Fred had, in fact, about made up his mind that there was only one course open to him in case he found the opals. This was to go to Miss Muster at once, and let her know what had come to pass.
She would be glad, for the sake of Bristles and his parents—yes, Fred began to believe the old maid really had a heart of her own, and would herself rejoice over the vindication of her nephew.
But should he take the opals along with him? He decided against this as unwise. To fully prove his case, he should be able to catch Gabe in the act of handling the precious stones, and with a witness present.
So he put the small cardboard box back into the cavity of the hollow oak, just as near where he had found it as he could. Then, with a cautious look along the trail, to make sure Gabe was not already returning, Fred hurried away.
He was unusually quiet at lunch time, his mother and sister noticed. They even asked him if he felt unwell; but Fred laughingly replied that he never was better in all his life.
A little while later Fred took his way to the large house in which Miss Muster lived. His heart beat high with satisfaction, because of the fact that he had in so brief a time fully proved the innocence of Bristles.
At sight of Fred it was remarkable what a sudden look of expectation flashed over the thin face of Bristles' aunt. Apparently, then, she had come to place considerable confidence in the boy, whose manly bearing must have impressed her, as it did nearly everyone with whom Fred came in contact.
"You are bringing me news, Fred!" she exclaimed, as she put out her hand toward him. "Your smiling face tells me that, for you cannot hide it. Oh! I hope I am not mistaken. Have you found my opals?"
"Yes, ma'am, the whole seven that you said you'd lost," he answered, promptly.
"That is good news," the lady went on; "but tell me more; have you learned who the thief is, Fred?"
A vein of anxiety might have been noticed now in her voice; for she could not help fearing that after all it might prove to be her nephew.
"I saw him take a little cardboard box out of the hollow of a tree," Fred started to say, "look at what it held, and then stick it back. After he went away, ma'am, I examined that same box, and found the opals there."
"W—who was the boy?" she faltered, her hands shutting tightly as she kept her eyes fastened on Fred.
"Gabe Larkins, ma'am!"
"Oh! the butcher's boy!" and she gave a great sigh, as of relief.
"Yes, ma'am. On the way home from the shop to get his lunch, he had to stop and take a look at his treasures," Fred continued.
"He did not see you watching him, I suppose, Fred?"
"Oh! not a bit of it," replied the boy, smiling. "I looked out for that."
"Have you the opals with you now, my dear boy?" she asked.
"No, ma'am," replied Fred. "You see, I thought it would be better if you could see Gabe handling the things, and know by the evidence of your own eyes he was the guilty one."
"That sounds very clever of you, Fred," Miss Muster remarked, with a look of sincere admiration. "Perhaps now you may even have figured out some sort of plan that would allow of my doing such a thing?"
"I have; that is, if you don't think it too much bother," he answered.
"Too much bother?" she echoed; "after what I have done in my haste to bring sorrow into the happy home of my niece, nothing could ever be too much trouble for me to attempt. And, besides, I should really like to face that unhappy boy, to reproach him for his wrongdoing. I know his mother, and she is a very good woman. Yes, tell me, Fred, what is your plan?"
"It's simple enough, to be sure," observed the boy. "Just give Gabe an extra chance to-morrow morning to slip into that parlor again. He's got the habit, I guess, and can't resist, if he sees an opening. Then, at noon, on his way home, why, of course, he'll stop at the big oak to add what he took to the others. You will be hiding right there with me and we can give Gabe the surprise of his life."
"I should think that would be a splendid idea, Fred," Miss Muster said, nodding her head approvingly. "I suppose that it would be what they say in the newspaper accounts of an arrest in the big cities, 'caught with the goods on!'"
"Then you'll agree to do it, ma'am?" asked Fred, eagerly.
"Yes. I will give Master Gabe the finest chance he ever saw to slip into my best room; and then about half-past eleven will meet you wherever you say. And, Fred, after it is all over, you will have full permission to tell Andrew; for my part, my first duty will be to go to his home, and ask his mother to forgive a foolish old woman because of her unjust suspicions."
The particulars were soon arranged. Fred mentioned a place where he would be on hand the next day, rain or shine, at eleven-thirty; and Miss Muster promised just as faithfully to keep the appointment.
After that they separated. Just as luck would have it, as Fred came out of the house he heard his name called; and looking up saw his chum, Bristles. Surprise was expressed upon the face of the other, to discover Fred issuing from his aunt's home. A dozen questions could also be seen there; but Fred put a damper on all these.
"Don't ask me a single thing, Bristles," he remarked mysteriously. "I've taken hold of your case, and things are working splendidly. All I'm going to tell you right now is that there's great hope you'll hear something, say by to-morrow afternoon. You ask me when we meet, about two or three, and perhaps I'll have some; news that'll surprise you. Now let's talk about the race that's going to be pulled off pretty soon. Have you had a line about what Mechanicsburg's doing?"
In this way, then, he closed his chum's mouth. Bristles was puzzled to account for the actions of his friend; but at the same time he had so much confidence in Fred Fenton that he accepted his explanation, and even began to take on a more cheerful appearance.
That afternoon the boys had the benefit of a coach; for Corney's father, the old college grad. and oarsman, gave them an hour of his time. He corrected numerous little faults that, as amateurs, they had naturally fallen into, and when finally Brad took his crew for a three-mile working-out spin, he was tremendously pleased at hearing the compliments bestowed upon them by Mr. Shays.
"You are doing finely, boys," declared the coach, in a tone as though he meant all he said. "The improvement in your style of rowing is decidedly worth seconds to you; and they count big in a race, you know. I shall come out again the next time you want me, and show you some more little faults in the way you recover after giving the stroke. I can save several of you more or less unnecessary exertion, which in turn means a concentration of energy for the final spurt that accompanies every boat race."
The boys thoroughly enjoyed having so pleasant a coach, and went home that evening convinced that their chances for victory in the coming struggle had been increased fully twenty per cent.
"Don't forget your promise, Fred," said Bristles, rather pathetically, as he parted from his chum where their ways separated.
"Depend on it, I just won't, Bristles," answered the other, positively.
It seemed a very long time until eleven o'clock the next morning; and Fred kept around the house, for he did not want to run upon Bristles, and have the other look at him in that eager way.
When he reached the place appointed for the meeting with Miss Muster he found her there, a heavy veil hiding her face. Together they made their way along the path that Gabe was accustomed to take as a short cut home.
"Do you think he took another of the opals, ma'am?" Fred asked, as they drew near the big hollow oak.
"I really had not the heart to look," she replied. "I gave him all the opportunity he could ask; and when he talked with me later on, I thought the boy looked confused; but I felt so sorry to think he had a mother who would be heart-broken, that I would not go into the parlor to examine. But guilt was written large on his face, or I am a poor judge of boy nature. Perhaps I am, after the mistake I made about my own nephew."
Fred soon found a spot where both of them could hide, and yet be very close to the big tree; indeed, a few steps would carry them alongside when the time came for action.
Then they settled down to wait. After a time the sound of bells told that noon had come. A few minutes later, and Fred touched the arm of his companion.
"That's Gabe coming now," he remarked.
And the trembling old maid could distinctly hear a very boisterous whistle that kept getting louder and louder as the butcher's boy strode jauntily along the path, heading in their direction.
TELLING THE GOOD NEWS
Gabe Larkins' big whistle suddenly stopped. The boy was looking craftily around him, up and down the winding path, as though anxious to make sure that no person was in sight.
Convinced of this act, he quickly stepped over to the big oak, and thrust his arm into the hollow. Miss Muster fairly held her breath with excitement as she saw him take out the little cardboard box, and opening it, drop something in, which he had drawn from the depths of a pocket.
Fred arose; and the lady, taking this as a signal, did likewise. Together they began to advance upon the crouching Gabe. The boy seemed to be so intent upon his business of admiring the gems that he was unaware of the presence of others, until possibly the rustle of the lady's dress startled him.
Then Gabe looked up, and his face turned ashy pale when he saw Miss Muster. In that one terrible moment he knew that his thievery had been found out. Nobody could ever know the thoughts that flashed through the boy's mind with the rapidity of lightning.
"Give that to me!" said Miss Muster, holding out her hand toward Gabe.
He dared not refuse; and as she received the little cardboard box the old maid, glancing in, counted ten of her opals there, just half of the entire collection. Gabe had increased his "take" that morning, and added three to his plunder. His apparent success was making him daily bolder.
He tried to face the indignant, yet sorrowful, lady, but his eyes quickly fell before her look.
"Have you ever stopped to think where you are going to land, if you keep on this way, Gabe?" she asked slowly.
The boy made no reply. Perhaps he was inclined to be ugly and sullen; but, on the other hand, as he was a young offender, It might be conscience began to awaken. And Miss Muster believed that, since she meant to let him off this time, she at least ought to impress a lesson of some kind on him.
"It means the penitentiary for a boy who begins to steal, as you show signs of doing, Gabe; yes, and a broken heart for your poor mother. Oh! I do hope this will be a warning that you will keep before you always. Because of that mother I am going to let you off this time, my boy; but unless you mend your ways there is only one end before you. Fred here will keep your secret also; you can depend on him. And make up your mind, Gabe, that even though you think you have succeeded in doing some evil deed in secret, the truth will sooner or later come out, Now you can go. I shall not speak to your employer, nor tell your mother; but from time to time I am going to have something to say to you, my boy. I want to be your friend."
Gabe had never opened his mouth to utter a single word, and when he hurriedly took his departure Fred was not sure but what it was a wide grin that appeared on his face; as though he fancied that he had gotten off cheaply after all. Whether Gabe would take his lesson seriously and reform, was a question in Fred's mind.
"That ends it, thank goodness!" remarked Miss Muster, after they had seen Gabe turn the path in the direction of his own home. "And now, Fred, you get your lunch. After Ive had my own I shall drop in to see my niece, and confess all my shortcomings. I fancy she will be too happy at learning her boy is innocent to hold any grudge against her wretched old aunt."
"Thank you," said Fred, laughing; "I do feel kind of hungry now. Just knowing what bully good news I've got for Bris—I mean Andy—seems to give me an appetite. I'll get there just in time to sit down with mother and Kate; because father doesn't come home at noon from the works."
"And, Fred, believe me when I say that I'll never forget what you've done for me and mine," were the parting words of the old spinster, as she squeezed the boy's hand.
"I'm glad, because I just know you'll make it all up with Bris—that is, Andy," he said; and she nodded her head in the affirmative.
And at the lunch table, after making them promise that it should go no further than the head of the Fenton family, Fred interested his mother and sister by a recital of the strange case of the disappearing opals.
"And remember, Kate," Fred went on, shaking his linger at his younger sister; "you must never, under any circumstances, mention a single word of all this to even one girl. Just forget you ever heard it I'm going to make poor Bristles mighty happy this afternoon; and the thought of it gives me so much delight that I guess I'll be off now to find him."
He hurried out of the room, followed by the admiring glances of those who knew only too well what pleasure It gave Fred to be of value to a chum.
Bristles was not at home, it turned out, having gone down to the river to hang around the boat-house, and wait for Fred to join him; because something seemed to tell him the other was going to bring good news.
But Fred did see Miss Muster coming down the road as he turned away; and from what she had said, he understood that the determined old maid meant to "eat humble pie," as Fred called it, by asking Bristles' mother to forgive her mistake.
None of the other boys happened to be around when Fred came upon Bristles. The latter was sitting on a pile of boards which were going to form part of the new house being erected for the Riverport Boat Club. As he heard the sound of approaching footsteps Bristles looked up, and smiled broadly to see Fred.
"Now tell me what's on the bills, Fred," he entreated. "I just feel it in my bones that you've got news for me. Have you found out where the opals went?"
"That's right," replied Fred, promptly.
"Say, you don't mean to tell me you've got 'em back for Aunt Alicia?" gasped Bristles, turning red, and then pale, by rapid turns, and leaning weakly against the pile of boards.
"Every one," declared the other; "your aunt says there isn't a single opal missing."
"And was it that cunning old bunch of feathers, Black Joe, after all; was my guess good, and did you find out where the old bird was hiding them?" continued Bristles, possibly pluming himself a little on having conceived a very brilliant idea.
"'Not for Joseph, not for Joe,'" sang Fred, merrily. "Fact is, when I told what you had in your mind to Miss Muster she said it was a fine thought, but she was sorry to say in this case no raven need apply. 'Cause why—well, she'd chained Joe to his perch for a week because he got sassy, and wouldn't mind; and so you see, if he had to stay there all the time he couldn't hop or fly into the other room and get away with the opals every other day or so."
"Shucks! I should say not," replied the grinning Bristles; "but do take pity on a poor fellow, Fred, and tell me the whole story. Who stole the opals?"
"Gabe Larkins, the butcher's boy," replied the other, soberly.
"You don't say?" was Bristles' comment, after he had given a whistle to emphasize his astonishment. "And yet, after all, I oughtn't to be much surprised, because I happen to know he's always reading the sporting page of the city paper his mother takes; and I've heard him even talking about horse races and betting. But, however in the wide world did you get on to him; and does Aunt Alicia know it all?"
"I think she's with your mother at this minute, telling her how sorry she is for suspecting you; and also what she means to do for you in the future to make it up. Now listen, and I'll make your eyes open a little, I reckon, Bristles."
"Never heard the like of it in all my life!" declared Bristles, when the narrative had reached its conclusion with the detection of Gabe in the act of adding his morning's spoils to the balance of the plunder which he had hidden in the old hollow oak. "I'll never pass that tree without thinking of what you've just told me. Gee! I'm glad I wasn't in Gabe's shoes when Aunt Alicia caught him. I can just see the look of fury in her snapping black eyes."
"You're wrong there, Bristles," said Fred, quickly. "Unless I'm mighty much mistaken there were tears in her eyes, when she looked down at Gabe cowering there. Your Aunt Alicia is a different woman these days from what you used to believe her. She's seen a light. She knows there are boys, and then again boys; and that not all of them are alike in everything."
"But what can I say to you, Fred, for getting me out of this pickle?" continued Bristles, with a quiver in his voice, as he squeezed the hand of his chum. "Only for you, look what would have come to me? I owe you a heap, sure I do; and I only hope the chance will come some day to show you how much I feel it."
"Oh! let up on that sort of talk, Bristles," said Fred, laughingly. "You'd have done just as much for me, or any of your chums, if the chance came your way; and you know it."
"You just better believe I'm going to keep on the watch to pass this along," declared the other, fervently.
"That's the way to talk," Fred remarked, looking pleased at being given the opportunity to bring happiness to one he thought so much of as Bristles; "and perhaps you'll be able to pull a better oar, now that this load is off your mind."
"Why, Fred, believe me," said Bristles, soberly, "I feel right now as though I'd be able to put more vim into my work than ever before in all my life. Wow! if I had wings I could hardly seem more like flying, my heart is that light!"
THE START OF THE RACE
The great day of the boat race between Riverport and Mechanicsburg opened with a clear sky. This made happy the hearts of the hundreds of young people belonging to the two towns on the Mohunk River.
Daily the husky crew of the town up the river had been busily engaged in practicing; and all sorts of ominous rumors were current among the more timid Riverport boys and girls as to the astonishing speed they had shown.
But when those who had faith in the ability of their own crew to come in ahead heard these tales, they only laughed, and nodded, as though they felt no fear. As to the ability of their rivals to "make circles" around the boys of Riverport, did they not realize that these stories were being industriously circulated for the very purpose of making them count the race lost even before it was started?
The clever coach, Corney Shays' father, warned them against believing anything of this sort. He said it was an old trick, and had been used by college men as far back as he could remember.
"Just believe you can do the job up clean, and pay attention to everything your coxswain tells you; and it'll come out right," he declared.
Early in the afternoon crowds began to assemble along the banks of the river, where the course had been marked off. Those in charge, being a committee of older pupils from each school, had taken all necessary precautions looking to having a clear course. They had also marked the turning point, where the rival boats must start on the return trip toward the home goal.
This latter was a boat anchored in the middle of the river, and bearing a large red flag, with the words "Stake Boat" in white. Each contestant had to turn this, without fouling, in heading for home; and the one capable of accomplishing this with as little waste of time and distance as possible would gain an advantage that might count heavily in the final result.
It was indeed a gay scene about half-past three that afternoon; the time of the race being scheduled for four exactly. Thousands of people lined both banks of the river, for the entire country had become deeply interested in the result, and taken sides, one way or the other.
While Paulding had no proper boat club as yet, evidently every boy and girl attending school there, together with many older persons, had flocked to witness the sight of a river regatta so near at hand.
School flags were waving everywhere, and class cheers accompanied their appearance, as the young people gathered in groups, the better to chant their patriotic songs.
When the long shell from above came speeding down to the starting point, the occupants were given a rousing welcome from friends and foes alike. For everybody admired the game, sportsmanlike qualities of those Mechanicsburg fellows.
"Who are they all, Flo?" asked Cissy Anderson, as she cuddled down alongside her chum, who was using a field glass; the girls being in the midst of a group that had a particularly fine place for witnessing the start and close of the race.
"Oh! we know everyone of them, because they've figured in the battles on the diamond and the gridiron," replied Flo.
"Wagner, of course, is among them; they say he has been made the coxswain of the Mechanicsburg crew; and then there must be Sherley, who was such a dear captain in their football games last fall; yes, and Waterman and Gould, too."
"That's right, Cissy," the girl with the glasses continued; "and Hennessy is stroke oar, for I can tell him by his big, bushy crop of hair. He makes me think of Bristles Carpenter, who, they say, is pulling a wonderful oar these days. Let's see, there's Harkness, too, and Boggs—how many is that, Cissy? Just six oarsmen, you say? Well, I can see Smith there, I'm sure; and the other, why, of course it's that fussy Bob Jones. Don't they look splendid; and how evenly they pull."
"You don't think now, for a minute, do you, Flo, that they can beat our boys?" the other girl asked, somewhat fearfully.
"Of course I don't, silly," replied Flo, who had the utmost confidence in the sterling ability of Fred and his fellows to hold their own, no matter whether on the football field, the baseball diamond, in a hotly contested hockey match on the ice, a snowball battle, or in athletic sports; and consequently in aquatic matters as well.
"There comes Sid and the rest!" exclaimed Cissy; just as though, in her eyes at least, the whole chance of success for the Riverport boys lay in the stalwart figure of Sid Wells alone.
As Brad Morton led his eight sparsely-clad young oarsmen from the new building, bearing the glistening and carefully kept shell on their shoulders, a cheer started that gained force as it ran along the crowds lining the banks of the river, until it died away far in the distance.
It had been decided to use the up-river course. And as the stake boat, which was to mark both the start and finish, was directly opposite Riverport, the turning point upstream must be just a mile and a half away; for the course was intended to represent exactly three miles, which was considered a long enough pull for young crews.
The first half would be against the strong current of the Mohunk, now pretty high for the beginning of summer; but when the two rival boats had made the turn, they could come down with greater speed. It was this rush along the home stretch that all of the spectators were most anxious to witness. And this accounted for the throngs on both shores of the river near where the boat containing the judges of the race was anchored.
It was now getting very close to four o'clock, and everybody began to breathe with eagerness, and possibly a little anxiety. No matter how loud the adherents of each school may have shouted for their colors, when it came right down to a question of supremacy the opposing crew began to loom up as a very dangerous factor; and they felt a faintness come into their hearts while watching the splendid way the rival eight carried themselves.
"They're getting them placed in line!" shouted a small fellow, who carried a megaphone almost as long as himself, and through which his voice carried as far as a mile, when he strained himself to give a yell.
This was a cousin of tall, long-legged Colon, and whose name of Harrison had long ago given way to that of Semi-Colon, to distinguish him from his big relative.
"Look at poor old Buck Lemington; would you?" remarked another, close to the bevy of girls around Flo Temple and Cissy Anderson. "He's in an ugly humor to-day, because he threw away his chance to be pulling an oar in our boat, and went off to get up a boat club of his own."
"And then smashed his shell on a snag the first thing," continued Semi-Colon, who had heard what was said.
"Wasn't it just like him to try and say poor Clem Shooks was to blame, when everybody knows it must have been only Buck's fault, because he didn't remember about that stump under the water," one of the girls remarked.
"And I even guess he'd have cared precious little if our boat had been burned up, when some of those tramps, they say, tried to set things on fire," a second girl broke out with; which remark appeared to amuse Semi-Colon very much, for he roared through his megaphone the word:
"Tramps! Ha! Ha!"
Evidently, while officially it had been decided to keep secret the facts connected with the finding of the bottle of kerosene and the rags, at the time Conrad Jimmerson was caught in Colon's trap, enough had leaked out among the boys connected with Riverport school to give them a pretty fair idea Buck must have been the leading spirit behind the miserable game.
"Silence there! the referee wants you to keep still while he says something to the crews!" roared a heavy voice through a megaphone.
"He's going to advise 'em what not to do," broke out Semi-Colon, for the benefit of the girls; "and that a willful foul with carry a penalty. There goes Coach Shays in that little launch; he's going to get in that car belonging to Judge Colon, and be whirled along the road, which keeps pretty near the river all the way. So you see, he can every little while shout out his directions to the coxswain."
"There, the referee is talking to them now," said Flo Temple, plainly excited, since the critical moment was at hand. "Oh! don't I just hope our boys will leave them away behind right in the beginning! Because, they say that the first one around the turning boat will have a big advantage. Every second on the down-current will put yards between them, that the second boat may never be able to make up."
"Brad Morton knows that, make up your mind, girls; and he won't let those Mechanicsburg fellows turn first, if he can help it," Semi-Colon advised.
"That's it, if he can help it!" mocked a girl near by, who was boldly waving the banner of the up-river town right in the stronghold of the rival school.
"Watch, they're going to start!" cried Cissy Anderson, shrilly.
Every sound seemed to cease like magic, as doubtless thousands of eager eyes saw that the decisive moment was at hand.
Then suddenly there came the sharp report of a pistol, which they all knew was to be the signal that would send those two boats forward with all the power that sixteen pairs of trained and muscular arms could bring to bear in exact unison!
Immediately a roar arose.
A GREAT VICTORY
"Yes, she does, smarty; better look again! They're tied, neck and neck!"
"But watch that stroke, will you; did you ever see anything so fine? Oh! you poor Riverport, get your tear-rags ready to weep!"
"Wait a little. You'll be laughing out of the other side of your mouth, Crabtree!"
So the various backers of the two teams bantered each other as they kept their eyes fixed on the rival shells. Thef boats were pushing up against the strong current of the Mohunk, steadily biting into it, and increasing the distance between them and the stakeboat that was presently to mark the closing scene of the river drama.
Steadily they kept on, nearing the bend that would shut them out from the sight of the great crowds gathered on either bank near the judges' boat. If the cheering diminished in volume at that point, it was taken up above, until one long wave of sound arose, every conceivable noise being used to create an uproar, from horns and whistles to megaphones, and class yells from the various schools.
It was a time long looked forward to, and which would last for so short a period that everyone seemed to think it necessary to exhaust himself or herself as speedily as possible.
"There they are, turning the bend now!" declared the anxious Cissy. "Oh! which one leads, Flo; tell me, please?"
"As near as I can make out, they seem to be running evenly," the other girl replied, with the glasses to her eyes, as though she could not drop them, or even gratify the curiosity of her best chum by allowing her a peep.
"And do you see Sid, and is he showing all the others how to keep cool, and hold himself in reserve against the last home quarter-stretch?" demanded Cissy.
"Well, I like that, now!" exclaimed the indignant Flo, who, as we chance to know, also had someone she admired in that school crew; "just as if there didn't happen to be seven other fellows rowing alongside Sid Wells. I know one at least who plays second fiddle to nobody."
"There they go around the bend!" cried another girl.
"And listen to the roars above there; will you?" called a boy passing by, who was decked out in Riverport colors. "Why, there must be a whole mob of people up to see 'em turn the other boat. I'd like to be there right now, if I could jump back here to see the finish."
"Watch the signals!" now arose on every hand.
Everybody knew what this meant, and consequently the eyes of the entire multitude began to be fastened on a particular place up at the bend. Here arrangements had been made by those in charge of the race, whereby the news would be flashed to those far down the stream which one of the rival boats had managed to make the turn ahead.
"Which are the signals?" one boy asked, as though he had become slightly confused, owing to the excited condition of his mind; and which, after all, was not to be wondered at, with all that racket around him, and his pulses thrilled with the hope he hugged to his heart that Riverport might win.
"Red if Mechanicsburg is ahead, and blue if Riverport turns first!" someone obligingly called out.
"There goes the flag up!" shrieked a voice just then.
There was a tall pole at the bend, and they could see some dark object mounting rapidly upward. The flag was bunched in some manner, to be released when it reached the top of the mast And how those few seconds did seem like hours to the anxious hearts of the onlookers, who were holding their very breath in suspense.
Then a mighty shout broke out that was like the great billows dashing on a rock-bound coast:
"It's blue! Riverport turns first!"
"Oh! you Mechanicsburg, how we pity you right now!"
"A runaway! They'll never be in sight when we cross the line!"
"The easiest thing ever! Football, baseball, and now rowing; why, you're not in it at all, Mechanicsburg!"
"Sure they are—in the soup!"
However, in spite of all this brave talk, those who taunted the up-river boys understood that it was quite too soon to do much crowing. What if Riverport had succeeded in getting the inside track of their rivals, so as to turn the upper boat first, that did not mean the others would lie down, and allow their old-time enemies of many a hard-fought game to triumph over them. Mechanicsburg players had the reputation of being stayers, who would not admit defeat until the last man was out, or the concluding yard been passed over.
Doubtless both boats were even now coming down the river at a marvelous pace. The question remained to be seen whether Mechanicsburg could throw enough power into their strokes to cut down the lead their rivals had obtained, and forge ahead as they drew near the goal.
"Will Colon overdo himself again?"
That was the question one white-faced Riverport boy put to a mate as they stood there, with their eyes glued on the bend above, around which the boats must come flying at any second now.
"Aw! come off with you, Tatters," was the immediate and scornful reply; "you know mighty well what made him drop that other time. Hadn't he been pretty near drowned the day before, so that his nerves shut up on him like a jack-knife? He's fit as a fiddle now, they say; and Bristles Carpenter is pulling like a race-horse. You watch and see. We're bound to win this race in a walk."
"There they come!"
The boats shot around the bend, and it was seen that while Riverport still held the lead, it was only by a margin of part of a length. As yet, then, it might be called anybody's race, since a very slight thing would serve to turn the tables.
On the river road could be seen the car belonging to Judge Colon, racing along from point to point; and above all other sounds the spectators could hear the sharp, shrill voice of Coach Shays as he shouted words of cheer to his crew; or warned them against some possible fatal blunder.
Despite the gruelling pull against the current that had marked the first half of the fiercely contested race, both young crews seemed to be keeping in perfect rhythm with the movements of their coxswains. And doubtless those shrewd leaders were keenly on the alert for any advantage that might come to them through either a quickening of the pace, if they thought the rowers capable of standing it, or some other change in the existing conditions.
Louder grew the shouts and songs as the two boats came flying down the stream, the young oarsmen pulling like mad to either retain or secure an advantage. Hope flickered up again in the hearts of the loyal Mechanicsburg rooters, who had well nigh taken a slump when they learned that their favorites were behind at the half-way boat.
How they did cheer their boys on! It was enough to almost make any fellow try to perform impossibilities, and strain himself to the breaking point, to hear how his comrades were banking all their hopes on him in particular. Loud and dear sounded each name of the Mechanicsburg rowers through a megaphone, backed by a voice that had Semi-Colon's put out of the running:
"Hennessy—Sherley—Harkness—Gould—Smith—Boggs—Waterman—Jones— Wagner—everybody pull!"
And they did certainly pull for all they were worth, desperately anxious to overcome that half boat-length that still lay between them.
But, on the other, hand, an equal number of young athletes in the other shell were just as doggedly determined not to yield one inch, if it could be held by any power of theirs. Brad believed he could call for just one more little advance in the stroke, and he was only waiting until they reached a certain spot marked in his mind as the place where the final spurt must be made.
"Now, Riverport, once more, and for the last time, give way!" came in the shrill tones of the coach.
Immediately the final spurt was on. Mechanicsburg, too, had been holding just a mite in reserve for this killing last quarter of a mile. As a consequence, the two boats seemed to retain about the same relative position as before, despite this change of stroke to a faster one.
The excitement ashore, as they drew rapidly nearer the line, was tremendous. Some fellows jumped up and down, waving their hats, and shrieking; while girls swung their colored banners frantically any way, in order to add to the confusion.
But there was not a single one who would remove their eyes for even a second from the stirring spectacle of those two shells, spinning side by side down the river, with only the little space of a second, as it were, marking the difference between victory and defeat.
Now they were close on the line, and Mechanicsburg gave one mighty pull, as if hoping to send their boat at least level with that of their antagonists, so that the chances of a tie might be improved.
"Look at Riverport, would you? They've been keeping it back all the time!"
"Oh! my, what a spurt! See 'em go, boys! We win! we win! Riverport takes the race! Hurrah! whoop! R-i-v-e-r-p-o-r-t! Siss! boom! ah!"
Amidst the roar of uncounted voices, the booming of several cannon held in readiness for just this very purpose, the bleating of horns, and everything else that could be utilized to create a racket, the Riverport shell shot pass the deciding stakeboat, fully a length ahead of their rivals.
It had been a clean race, with not a single note of discord. Although beaten, Mechamcsburg had carried their colors with honor; and a mighty shout from friend and foe alike attested to the satisfaction felt by all who had witnessed the close contest.
Riverport went fairly wild that night over the success of the school crew in the race against the crack oarsmen of Mechanicsburg. Perhaps there were a few fellows who took little or no satisfaction in the great victory. Buck Lemington might be set down as one of these; because, as a rule, Buck never enjoyed seeing his school win, unless he could be the central attraction, the hero to whom the plaudits of the cheering throngs were mainly given.
But no one cared much what Buck Lemington thought. Surely Fred Fenton was of a mind that the Lemingtons, father and son, were soon to be routed, horse, foot and artillery, when the long missing Hiram Masterson returned, as he had promised to do in that letter from far away Hong Kong, and tell all that he knew about the scheme of those in the syndicate to cheat Mr. Fenton out of his just rights.
And Bristles, too, was a happy fellow those days. He had known what it was to taste of the bitterness of having unfounded suspicion cast upon him. The pleasure of feeling that his name was fully cleared made him secretly resolve that if he knew it, his mother would never have to experience the sorrow that was evidently in store for Gabe Larkins' parent, unless that tricky boy changed his ways.
Nor was Bristles apt to forget that he owed most of his present condition of satisfaction to the earnest efforts of his good chum, Fred Fenton. Who but Fred would have taken it upon himself to interview Miss Muster, and get acquainted with the facts in the case? And who but he could have guessed the identity of the guilty party; which he later on proved so wonderfully well, in the presence of the old maid who had met with the loss of her precious jewels?
Bristles never told what a siege of suspense he had passed through. And if there were any curious ones among his mates, who took it upon themselves to wonder why their usually lively, wide-awake comrade moped, as he had done for a time, they had to take it out in guessing.
Fred did have one very pleasant little surprise sprung upon him, and which made him feel more drawn to the old maid than ever.
On the very night of the boat race, when the atmosphere of all Riverport was vibrating with parading crowds, and bonfires were already springing up, to celebrate the great victory of the young oarsmen, Fred, returning home about supper time, found a little packet beside his plate.
It had not come by mail, and undoubtedly his mother knew something about who sent or brought it; for there was a glow in her eyes as she watched him handle it, with a questioning look in his own.
"Suppose you open it, Fred, instead of trying to guess," proposed his sister Kate.
"Well," he replied, laughingly, "that does seem like a sensible thing for you to say, Kate. Perhaps I am a little dazed or rattled; who wouldn't be after taking part in such a grand race as that? You were there, Mom; for I noticed you waving your pocket handkerchief; and I wager now, you never saw anybody but the Fenton boy who was on the crew. I say, now, what's all this mean?"
Father, mother, and sister all watching him, Fred had opened the little packet; and out upon the table rolled three handsome opals, that seemed to take on all the hues of the rainbow as the light of the evening lamp fell upon them.
He also unrolled a sheet of paper on which were a few lines in a rather crabbed hand; which Fred would once have said was just like the character of the whimsical old maid herself, but which he now knew must be caused by age.
"Dear Boy:—I want you to accept these few tokens of my esteem, to know that I shall never forget what you have done to show me how necessary it always should be to look well before you leap. You will make me happy by keeping these, and saying nothing about the folly of
"Your Old Maid Friend,
"Just to think, she sends me these valuable opals, because I happened to help prove that Bristles didn't take her gems," Fred said, wonderingly, as he looked down at the handsome present that had been given to him.
"Well, I think you earned them," remarked Mrs. Fenton, proudly; "and when your father hears the whole story, which I have only kept from telling him because I wanted you to have that pleasure, I'm sure he'll agree with me. Yes, you ought to be a lawyer, Fred. You are cut out for a successful one."
"And then to think that he was on the crew that beat those smart Mechanicsburg fellows," Kate declared, as though to her mind that fact dwarfed everything else; "but, Fred, they are beginning to talk already how they mean to get even with Riverport this Fall. You know they had a fine gymnasium given to them by a rich man, and already they have started to practice all sorts of track events. I understand they mean to challenge Riverport to a meet; and having the advantage of that gymnasium, they expect to pay us back for the times we've beaten them."
"Oh! they do, eh?" remarked Fred, as though not greatly worried; "well, there will be two who must have a say in that, Riverport as well as Mechanicsburg. Perhaps they may turn out to have the better all-'round athletes; time will tell."
And time did tell; for the proposed athletic meet came to pass in the Fall. What stirring things happened along about that time, as well as the inspiring incidents connected with the great meet itself, will be recorded in the next story of this series, to be called: "Fred Fenton on the Track; Or, The Athletics of Riverport School."
Of course the Fentons were looking eagerly forward to the time when Hiram Masterson would redeem his promise to return and testify against the overbearing syndicate that was endeavoring to get possession of that rich Alaska mine, which had once belonged to Fred's uncle.
Days might pass, but each one meant in all probability that the missing witness, abducted by orders of the powerful combination of capitalists, was drawing closer; and every night on his return home Mr. Fenton fully expected to find the man from Alaska sitting at the table awaiting his coming.
True, he seemed to have so much knowledge of the almost unlimited powers of he syndicate, with which Squire Lemington was connected in some way, that Hiram had declared his intention of coming in some sort of disguise, so that he could give his evidence under oath before his unscrupulous uncle even knew that he was on this side of the ocean.
And so, on the whole, those summer days were times of almost unlimited pleasure to Fred Fenton. After his unsuccessful attempt to burn the racing boat of the Riverport schoolboys, Buck Lemington had remained a long time quiet. Possibly he feared that his crony, Conrad Jimmerson, when he was caught in Colon's quaint trap, might have told something of the truth before his mouth was closed by hearing that threatening signal outside. And Buck was waiting now to learn if anything was about to be done, in order to bring him to punishment.
Of course such a nature as his could not remain very quiet for any great length of time; and as the days grew into weeks doubtless his resentment toward Fred would once more become hot.
Then there would be more exciting times; for when Buck really worked himself up to a certain pitch, things were apt to happen.
The boys and girls of Riverport always did manage to have a good time during the summer holidays. True, there could be no singing school, and dances in the barn, such as winter brought along in its train; no skating on the river, sleighing over country roads with a pretty girl alongside, and the merry chime of bells in the air; but then picnics were held every little while; and as for the group of boys who somehow looked upon Fred as a sort of leader, there was hardly a weekday during the entire vacation that they did not go fishing, or at least pay a visit to the old "swimming hole."
When together, Bristles and Fred often talked about the affair of the opals. The latter said that his aunt kept in constant touch with Gabe Larkins, and seemed to be gaining considerable influence over the wild lad.
"I don't just know whether he means to reform, or is only pulling the wool over Aunt Alicia's eyes," Bristles declared; "but, anyhow, he seems to be walking a straight line now. Why, his mother told mine just yesterday that she didn't know what had come over Gabe, he was that considerate of her feelings nowadays. She wondered if he could be feeling ill, and expectin' to die. But maw just told her not to worry; that she reckoned he was only feelin' sorry because he'd been so bad in the past."
"I hope he means it," said Fred, with considerable earnestness in his voice. "It's a pretty hard thing for the leopard to change his spots, father says; but if Gabe does turn over a new leaf, he certainly ought to be helped by everybody."
"Oh!" said Bristles, quickly, "I stopped and shook hands with him the last time we met. And say, Fred, there did seem to be something a little different about his eyes; looked me square in the face, and you know he used to be seeing somethin' over your head every time before. I wonder now does it mean anything?"
But that again was another thing that only time could prove. Whether Gabe did really see a light, and mean to change his ways, or was playing a foxy game for some purpose, there could be no way of telling, until he chose to come out into the open.
Here, with the horizon looking so bright for those in whose fortunes we have come to feel such a deep interest, it may be as well for us to say good-bye for the present, and leave a further recital of their adventures and contests to another time.
THE SADDLE BOYS SERIES
By CAPTAIN JAMES CARSON
12mo. Illustrated. Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid.
All lads who love life in the open air and a good steed, will want to peruse these books. Captain Carson knows his subject thoroughly, and his stories are as pleasing as they are healthful and instructive.
THE SADDLE BOYS OF THE ROCKIES or Lost on Thunder Mountain
Telling how the lads started out to solve the mystery of a great noise in the mountains—how they got lost—and of the things they discovered.
THE SADDLE BOYS IN THE GRAND CANYON or The Hermit of the Cave
A weird and wonderful story of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, told in a most absorbing manner. The Saddle Boys are to the front in a manner to please all young readers.
THE SADDLE BOYS ON THE PLAINS or After a Treasure of Gold
In this story the scene is shifted to the great plains of the southwest and then to the Mexican border. There is a stirring struggle for gold, told as only Captain Carson can tell it.
THE SADDLE BOYS AT CIRCLE RANCH or In at the Grand Round-up
Here we have lively times at the ranch, and likewise the particulars of a grand round-up of cattle and encounters with wild animals and also cattle thieves. A story that breathes the very air of the plains.
THE SADDLE BOYS ON MEXICAN TRAILS or In the Hands of the Enemy
The scene is shifted in this volume to Mexico. The boys go on an important errand, and are caught between the lines of the Mexican soldiers. They are captured and for a while things look black for them; but all ends happily.
CUPPLES & LEON CO., Publishers, NEW YORK
THE SPEEDWELL BOYS SERIES
By ROY ROCKWOOD
Author of "The Dave Dashaway Series," "Great Marvel Series," etc.
12mo. Illustrated. Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid.
All boys who love to be on the go will welcome the Speed well boys. They are clean cut and loyal lads.
THE SPEEDWELL BOYS ON MOTOR CYCLES or The Mystery of a Great Conflagration
The lads were poor, but they did a rich man a great service and he presented them with their motor cycles. What a great fire led to is exceedingly well told.
THE SPEEDWELL BOYS AND THEIR RACING AUTO or A Run for the Golden Cup
A tale of automobiling and of intense rivalry on the road. There was an endurance run and the boys entered the contest. On the run they rounded up some men who were wanted by the law.
THE SPEEDWELL BOYS AND THEIR POWER LAUNCH or To the Rescue of the Castaways
Here is an unusual story. There was a wreck, and the lads, in their power launch, set out to the rescue. A vivid picture of a great storm adds to the interest of the tale.
THE SPEEDWELL BOYS IN A SUBMARINE or The Lost Treasure of Rocky Cove
An old sailor knows of a treasure lost under water because of a cliff falling into the sea. The boys get a chance to go out in a submarine and they make a hunt for the treasure.
THE SPEEDWELL BOYS AND THEIR ICE RACER or The Perils of a Great Blizzard
The boys had an idea for a new sort of iceboat, to be run by combined wind and motor power. How they built the craft, and what fine times they had on board of it, is well related.
CUPPLES & LEON CO., Publishers, NEW YORK
THE FRED FENTON ATHLETIC SERIES
By ALLEN CHAPMAN
Author of "The Tom Fairfield Series," "The Boys of Pluck Series" and "The Darewell Chums Series."
12mo. Illustrated. Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid.
A line of tales embracing school athletics. Fred is a true type of the American schoolboy of to-day.
FRED FENTON THE PITCHER or The Rivals of Riverport School
When Fred came to Riverport none of the school lads knew him, but he speedily proved his worth in the baseball box. A true picture of school baseball.
FRED FENTON IN THE LINE or The Football Boys of Riverport School
When Fall came in the thoughts of the boys turned to football. Fred went in the line, and again proved his worth, making a run that helped to win a great game.
FRED FENTON ON THE CREW or The Young Oarsmen of Riverport School
In this volume the scene is shifted to the river, and Fred and his chums show how they can handle the oars. There are many other adventures, all dear to the hearts of boys.
FRED FENTON ON THE TRACK or The Athletes of Riverport School
Track athletics form a subject of vast interest to many boys, and here is a tale telling of great running races, high jumping, and the like. Fred again proves himself a hero in the best sense of that term.
FRED FENTON: MARATHON RUNNER or The Great Race at Riverport School
Fred is taking a post-graduate course at the school when the subject of Marathon running came up. A race is arranged, and Fred shows both his friends and his enemies what he can do. An athletic story of special merit.
CUPPLES & LEON CO., Publishers, NEW YORK
THE TOM FAIRFIELD SERIES
By ALLEN CHAPMAN
Author of the "Fred Fenton Athletic Series," "The Boys of Pluck Series," and "The Darewell Chums Series."
12mo. Illustrated. Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid.
Tom Fairfield is a typical American lad, full of life and energy, a boy who believes in doing things. To know Tom is to love him.
TOM FAIRFIELD'S SCHOOLDAYS or The Chums of Elmwood Hall
Tells of how Tom started for school, of the mystery surrounding one of the Hall seniors, and of how the hero went to the rescue. The first book in a line that is bound to become decidedly popular.
TOM FAIRFIELD AT SEA or The Wreck of the Silver Star
Tom's parents had gone to Australia and then been cast away somewhere in the Pacific. Tom set out to find them and was himself cast away. A thrilling picture of the perils of the deep.
TOM FAIRFIELD IN CAMP or The Secret of the Old Mill
The boys decided to go camping, and located near an old mill. A wild man resided there and he made it decidedly lively for Tom and his chums. The secret of the old mill adds to the interest of the volume.
TOM FAIRFIELD'S PLUCK AND LUCK or Working to Clear His Name
While Tom was back at school some of his enemies tried to get him into trouble. Something unusual occurred and Tom was suspected of a crime. How he set to work to clear his name is told in a manner to interest all young readers.
TOM FAIRFIELD'S HUNTING TRIP or Lost in the Wilderness
Tom was only a schoolboy, but he loved to use a shotgun or a rifle. In this volume we meet him on a hunting trip full of outdoor life and good times around the camp-fire.
CUPPLES & LEON CO., Publishers, NEW YORK
THE DAVE DASHAWAY SERIES
By ROY ROCKWOOD
Author of the "Speedwell Boys Series" and the "Great Marvel Series."
12mo. Illustrated. Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid.
Never was there a more clever young aviator than Dave Dashaway. All up-to-date lads will surely wish to read about him.
DAVE DASHAWAY THE YOUNG AVIATOR or In the Clouds for Fame and Fortune
This initial volume tells how the hero ran away from his miserly guardian, fell in with a successful airman, and became a young aviator of note.
DAVE DASHAWAY AND HIS HYDROPLANE or Daring Adventures Over the Great Lakes
Showing how Dave continued his career as a birdman and had many adventures over the Great Lakes, and how he foiled the plans of some Canadian smugglers.
DAVE DASHAWAY AND HIS GIANT AIRSHIP or A Marvellous Trip Across the Atlantic
How the giant airship was constructed and how the daring young aviator and his friends made the hazardous journey through the clouds from the new world to the old, is told in a way to hold the reader spellbound.
DAVE DASHAWAY AROUND THE WORLD or A Young Yankee Aviator Among Many Nations
An absorbing tale of a great air flight around the world, of adventures in Alaska, Siberia and elsewhere. A true to life picture of what may be accomplished in the near future.
DAVE DASHAWAY: AIR CHAMPION or Wizard Work in the Clouds
Dave makes several daring trips, and then enters a contest for a big prize. An aviation tale thrilling in the extreme.
CUPPLES & LEON CO., Publishers, NEW YORK
THE WEBSTER SERIES
By FRANK V. WEBSTER
Mr. WEBSTER'S style is very much like that of the boys' favorite author, the late lamented Horatio Alger, Jr., but his tales are thoroughly up-to-date.
Cloth. 12mo. Over 200 pages each. Illustrated. Stamped in various colors.
Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid.
Only A Farm Boy or Dan Hardy's Rise in Life
The Boy From The Ranch or Roy Bradner's City Experiences
The Young Treasure Hunter or Fred Stanley's Trip to Alaska
The Boy Pilot of the Lakes or Nat Morton's Perils
Tom The Telephone Boy or The Mystery of a Message
Bob The Castaway or The Wreck of the Eagle
The Newsboy Partners or Who Was Dick Bost
Two Boy Gold Miners or Lost in the Mountains
The Young Firemen of Lakeville or Herbert Dare's Pluck
The Boys of Bellwood School or Frank Jordan's Triumph
Jack the Runaway or On the Road with a Circus
Bob Chester's Grit or From Ranch to Riches
Airship Andy or The Luck of a Brave Boy
High School Rivals or Fred Markham's Struggles
Dairy The Life Saver or The Heroes of the Coast
Dick The Bank Boy or A Missing Fortune
Ben Hardy's Flying Machine or Making a Record for Himself
Harry Watson's High School Days or The Rivals of Rivertown
Comrades of the Saddle or The Young Rough Riders of the Plains
Tom Taylor at West Point or The Old Army Officer's Secret
The Boy Scouts of Lennox or Hiking Over Big Bear Mountain
The Boys of the Wireless or a Stirring Rescue from the Deep
Cowboy Dave or The Round-up at Rolling River
Jack of the Pony Express or The Young Rider of the Mountain Trail
The Boys of the Battleship or For the Honor of Uncle Sam
CUPPLES & LEON CO., Publishers, NEW YORK