"First of all, sir," he started to say, "I begin to believe it may be what you would wish most of all. This boy who so much resembles your own child of the past is likely to turn out his son or perhaps grandson, for his mother's name is Walters, we've learned. You ask me where I found him, and I meant to tell you later on, never dreaming that it would interest you more than casually. I picked him and his mother up Thursday evening just at dusk, when I was coming home from a farm in a sleigh, where I had been to get a sack of potatoes. The young woman was trying to ask me something when she swooned away."
"Go on, lad, go on!" pleaded the deacon hoarsely, as Hugh paused for breath.
"Of course, the only thing I could do was to get them into the sleigh and whip up the horse," Hugh continued. "Once I reached home my mother would not hear of the poor thing being taken to the hospital. She had her put to bed and the doctor called in. Since that time she has been threatened with fever; in fact, is partly out of her head, though Doctor Cadmus says he believes she will be sensible by to-morrow morning. She was simply half-starved, and dreadfully worried about something."
"But could you not hear a few random words she uttered that would give you some idea as to her identity, and where she came from?" asked the deacon.
"Besides her name, which seemed to be Walters, she has said nothing that gives us a clue, save that we imagine they must have lived somewhere in the West."
"In the West—and our Joel started for that section of the country!" gasped the old lady, still patting the curly head on her lap lovingly.
"And then the lad's name is very similar," broke in the deacon. "Are you sure, Hugh, if isn't Joel? Might not the child have simply given the baby pronunciation of Joey?"
"I think that would be very likely, sir," admitted the boy readily.
Again the agitated couple exchanged looks. Hugh would certainly never forget the joyous expression that sat upon both faces. It was as though Heaven had opened to them, and given them back the child of their younger years.
The deacon dropped down on his knees. One arm went around his aged wife and the little fellow she cuddled in her lap. In sonorous tones he lifted up his voice and gave thanks from the depths of his heart for the great mercy shown to them that night.
Hugh was deeply affected. He believed some invisible hand must have guided him when he took that sudden notion to have the child go walking with him, his mother having suggested that it might do the little chap good to get an airing after being shut up in the house all day long.
His mind raced back, and once more he marshalled all the facts, as far as he knew them, before him. Yes, there did not seem to be any reason to believe such a thing as a sad mistake could be made. That boy certainly had the Winslow blood in him; why, he greatly resembled the Joel of more than fifty years back, as shown in that old-time daguerreotype.
Then Deacon Winslow once more rose to his feet. His face was fairly radiant, as was that of his wife.
"I believe I can understand how this comes about," he was saying, just as if he might have had a revelation as he prayed there. "It is no accident, but the hand of a special Providence. Our petitions have been heard, and this is the answer; so the last few years of our lives may be made happy by the sight of our own flesh and blood. My poor service has come up as a memorial before Heaven. And let us hope that tomorrow, when that poor girl comes into her senses again, she will be able to tell us all of the wonderful story."
"There is one thing I should have mentioned, sir, which slipped my mind," Hugh went on to say just then. "Always in her delirium she seems to be pleading with someone not to deny her a place under his family roof with her little Joey. And it is to an imaginary grandfather she is appealing, so pathetically that I have seen my mother crying time and again, for very sympathy."
"A grandfather, and cruel at that!" said the old man, shaking his head, while the tears rolled unheeded down his furrowed cheeks. "At least, that does not apply to me. She will learn presently that we stand ready to take her into our hearts and home as our own. Oh! it seems too good to be true, this blessing that has come to us to-night. And, Hugh Morgan, you must always be associated in our minds with this realization of our utmost hopes, which of late years we have not even dared whisper to each other."
He wrung the boy's hand until Hugh almost writhed under the pressure; while the happy "grandma" continued to devour the plump, rosy-cheeked face of her charge with her eyes, as though she could not tear her gaze away.
Long they continued to sit there and talk, always upon that one subject, because everything else must be subordinated to the wonderful revelation that had come to them, to prove that truth is often stranger than fiction.
Three times did Hugh suggest that he had better be heading towards home: but they pleaded with him to stay "just a little longer"; for their starved hearts found it hard to let the newly found treasure out of sight, even for a short time.
"But I must really be going," Hugh finally told them. "It is now after ten, and mother will be worrying about the child, not knowing, of course, that he has found a new protector, two of them, in fact. You can both come over after breakfast in the morning, and visit the boy. If his mother has regained her senses, and the doctor permits it, you will be able to settle the matter once and for all by seeing her."
So with that they had to rest content. The child was bundled up warmly, and tenderly placed in the sleigh by his huge grandfather, after the old lady had kissed his forehead and cheeks a dozen times.
Then they were off, and shortly afterwards arrived at the Morgan home. Deacon Winslow insisted on carrying the tiny chap indoors; after which he hastened back, to sit up most of the night with his wife, talking of the wonderful thing that had come to bless them in their old age.
And Hugh, on his part, had a deeply interested auditor in his mother, as he spun the yarn that equaled anything he had ever read in the Arabian Nights.
IN A SAFE HARBOR AT LAST
Hugh had finished breakfast on Sunday morning, and was out looking after a few pets he had in the way of Belgian hares and homing pigeons, when he heard his mother calling him.
"Coming, Mother!" he answered hack, thinking on the spur of the moment he was needed to look after the furnace or steam boiler, from which the hired girl did not always succeed in getting the best results on particularly frosty mornings.
She waited for him just inside the door. Hugh saw immediately that his first surmise was wrong, for there was a look on her face to tell him it was no trivial matter she had to communicate.
"What is it, Mother?" he asked quickly.
"She is asking for you, Hugh," he was told.
Then he suddenly remembered about the young mother who had lain there since Thursday evening, and out of her mind with fever.
"Oh! then the good old Doc was right!" Hugh exclaimed; "he said, you know, that he felt sure she'd be in her right senses by Sunday morning. You've been talking with her, have you, Mother?"
"Yes, and relieving her immediate curiosity and alarm," he was told. "Naturally, she was full of wonder when she awoke to find herself in a strange room, with no little Joey near by. She thought it was the hospital, and that the cold had claimed him for a victim. But I soon calmed her fears, and she knows now all about how she came here; and also that her boy is still sleeping happily close by; for he is taking a long nap this morning, after his dissipation of last night."
"But, you didn't say anything about the deacon and his dear old wife, did you?" continued Hugh.
"Not a word, my son. I wished you to be the one to convey the glad news to that poor young mother. She wanted to ask me further questions, but I avoided committing myself. She did come from the Far West, it appears. Her money ran out just too soon and they had to leave the train at a station this side of Waldron Falls. She was go determined to reach Scranton before night that she actually started out afoot, it seems, despite the cold and the snow-covered roads. Several kind-hearted men gave them lifts on the way; but it was a long journey, and she became exhausted before reaching her destination. But come with me, Hugh; she wishes to thank you face to face."
Hugh did not like that part of it. As a rule, he ran away from such scenes; but in this case he knew that would never do, since he wished to learn further concerning Joey and his mother; and, besides, had some pleasant information to tell her that must cheer her heart amazingly, and also hasten her recovery.
So he followed his mother into the spare room where the young woman lay. She had been propped up with extra pillows by Mrs. Morgan while they talked, though kept well covered up. Indeed, the loving hands of the older lady had succeeded in placing a warm, knitted sack upon her arms and shoulders, Hugh saw.
She looked eagerly at the boy. Her face was not so feverish as before; indeed, he could see without being a physician that the patient was much better.
"And this is Hugh?" she said, in a voice that trembled. "Yes, I seem to remember your face, and how you listened to me trying to tell you how much I wanted to get to Scranton before I fell sick, for I could feel it coming on. And your mother tells me you carried us both home in your sleigh. It was a generous heart that could take an utter stranger in, as you have done, and care for her as if she were your own flesh and blood. Please let me thank you, Hugh, from the bottom of my heart."
Hugh took the hand she extended; but he was careful not to give it one of his customary vigorous squeezes; she looked so wan and frail that he knew he must hold himself in check.
"Oh! it was a mighty little thing for anyone to do, Mrs. Walters," he said, in some confusion, but speaking the name with a purpose in view.
"How did you know that was my name, Hugh?" she asked immediately.
"You mentioned it, my dear, in your delirium," explained Mrs. Morgan; "and then, besides, Joey told us that much."
"And did I tell you anything more in my ravings?" she asked, looking worried.
"Only something about a certain grandfather whom you seemed to think might not receive you as you ardently hoped when you started forth on this long journey," the older lady told her. "But then you did not know what was in store for you. Sometimes great blessings, as well as dire calamities, spring upon us without the least warning. Hugh, I shall leave the telling to you from this point on."
The young mother looked from one face to the other.
"Oh! what is it?" she almost gasped. "You are keeping something from me I ought to know. Please tell me, Hugh, I beg of you. If it is good news I shall be so very grateful, for little Joey's sake mostly. Everything I do, everything I think of, is in connection with my darling child."
"Then I hope you will forgive me if I'm rushing things too fast!" exclaimed the eager boy, unable to restrain his news longer; "but little Joey spent two hours last evening asleep in the loving arms of his great grandmother; while Deacon Winslow again and again embraced both, and gave thanks for the great blessing that had come to his fireside!"
How her eyes sparkled when she heard what he said. If Doctor Cadmus had been in the room just then he might have cautioned them against too much excitement, lest the fever return; but surely such glorious news could not do harm, with her heart singing songs of thanksgiving.
"Oh! tell me all about this wonderful thing!" she cried; "how could you guess my secret, if I did not betray it in my delirium? Now that you have said this much I must know all about it. Please go on, Hugh!"
He needed no such urging when the words were ready to fall in a stream from his lips. So Hugh commenced, and rapidly sketched the strange happenings of the preceding evening—how he had taken the little fellow with him for a walk, and stopped at the smithy to see the sparks flying upwards in showers; of the invitation to take supper, and spend an hour in chatting with the deacon and his good wife. Then, quick on the heels of this he told how Mrs. Winslow, while holding Joey in her arms so lovingly as he slept in his innocence, had suddenly made that amazing discovery in connection with the baby chain, and smooth medallion, shaped like a locket.
She lay there with her eyes closed, eagerly drinking in every word the boy uttered. The unrestrained tears crept unheeded down her cheeks; but Mrs. Morgan did not worry, because only too well did she know these were tears of overpowering joy; and not of grief.
Finally the story was all told, and she opened her eyes, swimming as they were, to look fondly at each of them in turn.
"What happiness has come into my life!" she said, with a great sigh; and, evidently, the load of years had rolled from her heart. "And how grateful I must always be to the kind friends who have brought it to me and mine. I can never do enough to show you how I appreciate it all."
Then Hugh thought himself privileged to ask a few questions in turn, wishing to thoroughly satisfy himself with regard to several points that were as yet unexplained.
She told them how her husband had lost his life; and that, when she and the boy faced poverty, the resolution had come to her to go East and try to find the relatives whom she had only lately learned were located somewhere near Scranton. She had come across an old and time-stained diary kept by her mother's father, who, of course, was the runaway son of Deacon Winslow; and thus she learned how he had left his home in the heat of anger, and never once communicated with his parents up to the time of his death, which occurred a short three years after his marriage.
It was all very simple, and supplied the missing links in the chain.
After she had told them these things once more she asked Hugh about the aged couple. That was a subject the boy could talk about most enthusiastically for a whole hour, he was that full of it. And the happy look on her face told how like balm to her heart his words came.
"And they are coming to see you early this morning," he finally assured her. "I wouldn't be surprised if either of them has had a single wink of sleep last night for counting the minutes creep by, they are that anxious to claim you and Joey."
Just then the doorbell rang. Hugh laughed, as though he had been expecting such a happening; in fact, he had heard the sound of sleigh runners without creaking on the hard-frozen snow, and suspected what it signified.
"There they are this minute!" he exclaimed; "shall I run down and let them in, Mother? And ought they come right upstairs?"
"Have them take off their wraps first, and warm their hands at the radiator," she wisely told him, thinking of the invalid who would soon be in their embrace.
It was a very brief time before he ushered them into the room. First the old lady was assisted across the floor, for she could hardly walk, even when so determined to come over, and greet her granddaughter. And when her arms were twined around the weak little figure on the bed, and she pressed her to her matronly bosom, Joey's mother broke down in hysterical sobs, and, in turn, twined her arms about the neck of her newly found relative.
The old deacon looked radiant. He kissed her on the forehead, and tried to say something appropriate, but was compelled to turn his head aside and blow his nose vigorously, for his emotions overpowered him.
Presently, however, they were able to talk rationally, and then it was all settled how Joey and his mother were to live with the old couple, and be their very own always. Everything was explained, and Hugh finally found himself able to "break away," being consumed by a desire to run across lots to Thad's house, and tell him the wonderful story.
There is no need of accompanying Hugh on his errand, and seeing how Thad took the amazing news. Of course, he was simply thunder-struck, and delighted also beyond measure. He must have made Hugh tell the full particulars as many as several times, for they were all of an hour together. But then, Thad's folks had been called in, and told how after all these years a descendant of Deacon Winslow had come back to the old roof-tree, to make the happiness of the aged couple complete.
Of course, the story was soon known all over Scranton, and everybody rejoiced with the beloved old blacksmith who had so long been the best friend of the boys of the neighborhood. But Hugh, who was really the hero of the occasion, was congratulated by everybody for being the means of re-uniting these lonely souls, and incidentally providing Little Joey with a good home.
MEETING BELLEVILLE'S STRONG TEAM
Another week rolled around, and once again school had closed for the Saturday and Sunday period of rest from studies.
It seemed as though luck favored the young people of Scranton this season, so far as fair weather went. There had been no snowfall of consequence during the entire week; and now Saturday opened with fair skies, as if inviting them to go forth and enjoy themselves to their full bent.
The great hockey game with Belleville High was to take place in the neighboring town, as Captain Kramer (known far and wide simply as "O. K.," because those were his initials) had drawn the long straw in settling this matter with Hugh, and was, therefore, given the choice of territory, according to custom.
Really no one in Scranton was sorry. They had held the last match there on the new rink, and could not expect to have a monopoly of these happenings all through the season. Besides, they had a splendid lake over at Belleville, which would be considerable of an attraction to the young people of Scranton, whom fortune had not treated so kindly, since they had formerly been compelled to trudge several miles to Hobson's mill-pond when they wished to skate, swim, or fish; though now, of course, they had the newly flooded area in the baseball park for diversion.
A great many went over to Belleville in every manner of vehicle. Sleighs were in great demand, but, besides these, cars could be seen by dozens on the highroad leading to the rival town, situated some ten miles away.
It must needs be something over which they had no control that could keep any Scranton High boy or girl away from Belleville that Saturday morning. The very atmosphere seemed to be charged with electricity, and was calling them to hasten away, to join the throngs already pouring forth, bent on giving encouragement to those gallant young athletes representing their school, who had as yet not tasted of defeat on the ice that season.
The lake just outside of Belleville was quite extensive, and could not be insulted with the name of "pond," for it ran at least a mile in length, and half that in width.
While the ice was no longer as smooth as had earlier been, the case, still it seemed in fair condition. Besides, the Belleville boys had managed to flood that section to be given over as a rink; and ordinary skaters were warned to keep off, so that it might not be all "cut up" with sharp runners before the match was started.
The Belleville team looked dangerous. They were, of course, pretty much the same fellows whom Scranton High had met the preceding summer on the baseball diamond; some of them had also taken part in the athletic tournament late in the Fall, accounts of which events will be found duly chronicled in earlier volumes of this series.
When all the preliminaries had been settled good-naturedly, the rival teams lined up to hear the last instructions of the referee. This party was the same gentleman who had officiated with such satisfaction in the game with Keyport on the preceding Saturday.
Here is the list of players, and the positions they occupied, Scranton having kept the identical Seven with which the last game had been so cleverly won, though many people were of the opinion they had a much more difficult proposition before them in the Belleville boys:
Scranton High Position Belleville Stevens ......... Goal ............ Leonard Hobson .......... Point ........... Wright Danvers ......... Cover Point ...... "O. K." Kramer Smith ........... Right End ........ Gould Dugdale ......... Center ........... Waterman Morgan .......... Rover ............ Conway Juggins ......... Left End ......... Haggerty
The game had hardly begun before Hugh realized that those Belleville fellows had determined to down the visitors, if it took every ounce of strenuous ability they possessed. Previous defeats at the hands of Scranton High rankled in their hearts, and they were grimly resolved, "to do or die," as one of them told Thad Stevens while chatting before the game was called.
They made a whirlwind beginning, and had scored two goals before the visitors began to "find" themselves. This would never do, Hugh determined. He gave his players a signal that called for a spurt, and himself led the way by capturing the puck, and shooting it into the cage of their opponents amidst loud footings of great joy from the loyal and now anxious Scranton rooters.
Juggins distinguished himself also immediately afterwards by a lightning play that amazed the Belleville spectators. He dodged all interference and when finally too hard pressed, managed to send the rubber disc across to Dugdale, who continued the good work by shooting it into the charge of Hobson; and, almost before Leonard could try to stop its flight, it had gone with a crash into the cage for the second goal on Scranton's side.
Things began to look brighter. If Belleville could play brilliant hockey through the coaching of an efficient instructor, the visiting team knew a few things also, which were calculated to surprise their rivals.
Of course, most, if not all of the Belleville Seven had attended the game on the preceding Saturday, their own match for that day, which they had easily won, coming off in the afternoon. Consequently, they had studied the methods of the Scranton boys, and believed they would be able to profit by their knowledge later on.
But Hugh had been wise to this fact, and posted Mr. Leonard, the coach; who, meanwhile, taught them a few new little wrinkles that were calculated to disturb the calculations of Belleville when the time came for the meeting. As in football, ice hockey presents a fruitful field for diplomacy and clever tactics; and the wisest general usually manages to carry his team to victory over those who may be much more nimble skaters and even smarter with their sticks, but not so able in the line of strategy.
Belleville also took a "hunch," as some of the boys called it, and again forged to the front. Indeed, they scored three times against one more goal for the visitors; and when the first half of the match had been finished the game stood at five to three against Scranton.
Hugh was in a dilemma. He knew that to win out he must have an infusion of new blood, for those husky players of the local school were too rapid for the Scranton boys. But, according to the rules of the game, substitutes can only be allowed in case of serious injury. So, unless one of his player chanced to be hurt in such a way as to necessitate his withdrawal from the game there could be no changes made in the line-up.
This is so hedged about with safeguards against fraud that even if a player is hurt he must be examined by someone competent to say whether he may be able to commence work again inside of seven minutes; and if so, the game must proceed. Should he be excused from further participation in the contest his captain may have the privilege of putting in another man; or, if he chooses to play with only six on the ice, the other side must also eliminate a player, so as to make the line-up equal.
Perhaps some of Hugh's comrades must have guessed what was gripping their leader around that time. Nothing else could have induced Smith, for instance, to say, as he did to Hugh, while they were resting in preparation for the last half of the game to start in:
"I'm awfully ashamed of that rotten run I made, Hugh, when you handed me the rubber so handsomely. If I'd known my business as I should I'd have landed it in the wire cage as snug as anything. But I fumbled, and that Conway got it away from me, the robber. I'm no good, Hugh; and I'd give a heap if only you could kick me out of the game, and get a better substitute."
"It can't be done, Just," Hugh told him; "a player has to be pretty badly hurt to be dropped, you know, and a substitute taken on. Cheer up, and get a fresh start. Two goals shouldn't be a hard job for us to tackle, once we get going at our old pace. There are a few tricks left in the bag still, before we reach the bottom."
"But, see here, I'm pretty lame at that, after the stumble and fall I had, Hugh," said "Just" Smith eagerly; "perhaps the referee would let me throw up my job if he saw how badly my shin has been scraped."
"Oh! you're in pretty good shape still, 'Just,' and you know it," remarked Hugh, smiling at the evident determination of his friend to sacrifice himself for the general good. "When we start play again we'll try the last dodge Mr. Leonard taught us, and see if it'll work for a goal. It's clean sport, and nothing tricky, you know."
So "Just" Smith shrugged his shoulders, and did not seem at all happy, though he let the matter drop. Hugh wondered, though, what that grim look on his face meant, and, later on, had a hazy idea that he had found out.
The game started again. Encouraged by their success, Belleville again took matters in their own hands and forced the fighting. There were several weak places in the Scranton High line-up. Many who diagnosed the play were of the opinion that the game was already as good as lost.
Then came a most violent scrimmage, into which "Just" Smith plunged with the utmost recklessness, as though determined to wipe out all his former mistakes in some brilliant playing. Suddenly the referee's whistle called the game. Something had happened to bring about a stoppage of play. A fellow was down on the ice, with half a dozen others bending over him.
It was "Just" Smith, and he was apparently badly injured in the bargain. A doctor was speedily called, who pronounced it a fracture of the leg, and decided that the player would have to be taken home immediately for a physician's attention.
As "Just" Smith passed his captain, being carried by two husky players to a waiting car that would convey him home, he actually had the nerve to grin in Hugh's face. A suspicion came into the latter's mind to the effect that the player had purposely taken terrible risks in the hope that he might be disabled, so that a substitute could be put in his place; though, of course, Hugh tried to banish this thought as soon as it gripped him.
"Get your substitute, Hugh, or else we'll have to drop a man!" called the Belleville captain; and Hugh glanced apprehensively around; then broke through the dense crowd, and seized upon a skater who had been hovering near.
It was Nick Lang!
"We need another player, Nick!" Hugh exclaimed eagerly; "and I want you to help get the team out of this nasty hole, for the sake of good old Scranton High. So don't say you won't, but come along, and do your level best to bring us out ahead!"
NICK MAKES GOOD——CONCLUSION
The look upon the face of Nick Lang when Hugh spoke in this way told the leader of the Scranton Hockey Seven he would fight with might and main to turn the tables on the winning Belleville team.
Nick's hour had struck!
The long-awaited opportunity to prove the genuine nature of the change that had taken place within his heart had arrived. He was going into play as one of the Regulars; he had been especially picked for that important service among twenty likely lads who only too gladly would have accepted a chance to distinguish themselves in such an emergency.
Accordingly Nick had a large letter S fastened to his jersey, to mark the side on which he fought, so that the referee might easily know where he belonged. One word from the coach as he strode forward Nick would never forget as long as he lived; it was a word of confidence; and, remembering how Mr. Leonard had at one time detested and distrusted this boy, it meant everything to Nick.
The game started again after the lapse of seven minutes.
Belleville considered that they had "the edge" on the visitors, and immediately went at it as though bent on adding considerably to the number of goals marked to their credit. But almost immediately it was discovered that the infusion of new blood had somehow altered the complexion of things greatly.
Thanks principally to the marvelous agility and strategy of Nick, a goal was shot inside of two minutes. It was immediately followed by another, this time Nick winning the score without the least help from anyone.
Wild applause rang out from parts of the crowd, where, of course, Scranton rooters mostly congregated. How sweet those cheers must have sounded in the ears of Nick Lange, who for years had only earned the hoots and jeers of his fellows in Scranton, on account of their distrust, and his own evil ways.
Why, the Belleville folks sat up and rubbed their eyes. They had never dreamed that any fellow not a professional player could prove himself such a marvelous wizard on steel runners. Nick fairly dazzled them with his speed, his eccentric twistings when hotly pursued, and the clever way in which he kept that rubber disc just in front of his hockey stick, always carrying it along toward the point where he meant to strike for goal.
And when he did make that stroke vain were the frantic efforts of the usually dependable Leonard to block its amazing passage; for almost before he swung he heard the plug of the puck landing in the wire cage which he was especially set to guard, and knew that another tally had been added to Scranton's growing score.
The conditions had changed, and the shoe was now on the other foot.
Thanks to the fine playing of Nick Lang Scranton was now ahead, and it seemed extremely doubtful whether Belleville would have another chance to make a single tally. The boys were plainly disconcerted by the excellent work of the substitute, and seemed to have lost much of that aggressive spirit so absolutely necessary in ice hockey in order to win games. They played almost sullenly, as if realizing that it was all over but the shouting.
Vain were the efforts of Captain Kramer to put new life in his followers. He himself fought more desperately than ever, and once even succeeded in taking the puck away from the triumphant Nick, the only one who attained that glory; only to lose it immediately afterwards to Owen Dugdale, who transferred it to Stevens by way of Hobson; and then it plunged into the cage, despite Leonard's mad attempt to stay its swift flight.
"Who's this you Scranton boys have thrown into the game?" demanded one chagrined Belleville gentleman, as he saw what a radical change Nick's coming had made in the affair on the ice rink. "He plays suspiciously like a certain Canadian I saw last winter, who set everybody in New York City wild with his work. Is Jean La Rue visiting anybody in Scranton; and have you rung him in on us to-day, to send our poor chaps down to defeat?"
"Don't you believe it, Mister," chortled a boy standing near by, whose jersey was decorated with the letters "S. H. S.," standing, of course, for Scranton High School. "That fellow is only our Nick Lang, who was born and brought up in our home town. The place was never proud of that face until this great day, because Nick, you see, has been the worst boy ever known in Scranton. Why, his escapades would take a week to tell you. He used to be the terror of everybody, the bully all boys feared and shunned. But it seems like Nick has turned over a new leaf. Folks didn't all believe in his change of heart; but after to-day, say, Nick could own the whole town if he was so minded. I'd give a heap if I was standing in his shoes this same day. He'll be a hero, as sure as he used to be the town scapegrace!"
It was just that way up to the time the referee signaled that the last half of the game had been played to a finish. Nick seemed capable of doing almost as he pleased. Whenever he got possession of the puck it was, as one enthusiastic Scranton boy whooped, a "regular procession." The Belleville lads just couldn't touch him. His actions bewildered them, so that they were continually becoming mixed up with their own side when they thought to corner Nick and the puck.
Well, it seemed too bad that after such a brilliant beginning Belleville should fall so low, and see the terrible figures, thirteen to seven, marked up against them.
In the annals of sport, as chronicled at Scranton High, that contest would always be known as the "Battle of Winchester," just because, as in the Civil War, when the Union army was in retreat and demoralized, the coming of a single man, General Phil Sheridan, caused them to turn about, and presently win a conclusive and overwhelming victory. And Nick Lang had been the Phil Sheridan for Scranton on that glorious day!
Nick tried to make a "grand sneak" as soon as the game finished, but the crowd would have none of that, hemming him in so that he could not run; and then for the first time in all his life the one-time bully of Scranton tasted of the joys of popularity.
Fellows wrung his hand who had always treated him with disdain. He was slapped on the back and praised to the skies. Why, even Sue Barnes, Ivy Middleton, Peggy Noland, and a lot of other school-girls seemed proud to shake hands with Nick, who was as red in the face as a turkey gobbler, and rendered quite breathless trying to answer the myriad of sincere congratulations that were showered on him.
But by the happy light in his eyes Hugh knew the die was cast, once and for all. Having tasted of the sweets of popularity and honest praise, nothing on earth could now tempt Nick to fall back again to his former ignoble ways. His foot was firmly planted on the second round of the ladder, and he had his aspiring eye on the better things nearer the top.
The deacon had come over to see the game. He and Hugh went home together, and the talk was mostly concerning the wonderful reformation of Nick Lang.
"I'm hoping to have Nick come to me when he leaves school," the good old man was saying. "He has the making of a clever blacksmith in him, and I'd dearly like to turn over my shop to him some day not far in the future; because it's almost time the old man retired, now that he has a sunbeam coming to his house, which is going to take up much of his attention."
So it seemed that Nick's future was assured, if so be he cared to take up that honorable trade, by means of which the deacon had accumulated his little fortune.
As for the two former pals of Nick, Tip Slavin and Leon Disney, in due time they were convicted of the robbery of Paul Kramer's store, and sent away to the excellent State institution, to remain there until they had reached the age of twenty-one.
There was at least a fair hope that long before that time arrived one or both of the boys would have learned a trade and decided to live a respectable life in the future; for many lads who were deemed uncontrollable at home, under the lax training they received there, have been fashioned into splendid men because of the strict discipline at the Reform School.
There is little more to add to make our story complete.
Joey and his mother were soon installed under the hospitable roof of the deacon, where they found themselves the objects of love and devotion. The miseries of the past would soon be forgotten in the great happiness that had come to them. And certain it is that no one would be a more welcome guest there than Hugh Morgan, because it was partly through his efforts that this joyous event had been made possible.
Since Scranton High had taken such a leading part in the outdoor sports so beloved by all wide-awake boys, it could be set down as certain that the fellows in Allandale and Belleville would not be content to let them rest upon their well-earned laurels, but would strive with might and main to excel them on the diamond, the cinder-path, the football gridiron, or some other field of athletic endeavor.
That many fiercely contested games would result was a foregone conclusion; and it is to be hoped that we shall have the privilege of meeting the readers of this volume in the pages of subsequent books, where some of those exciting happenings may be set down in an interesting manner.