And that very night, when Doctor Cadmus, hastily summoned to the home of Mrs. Kinkaid, examined the work of the deranged dweller of the quarry cave, he had pronounced it simply marvelous the clever way in which the other had set those bones and put a splint on the leg, with such clumsy means for working at hand. He declared he meant to interest himself deeply in the case and see if such a skillful surgeon might not be restored to the world so much in need of his kind, with the terrible war raging on the other side of the Atlantic.
To conclude with this subject, at last accounts Dr. Coursen had so far recovered as to send in his application for a berth in some hospital over in France, where his wonderful knowledge of surgery might prove useful to the countless wounded men at the front. And doubtless ere this reaches the eye of the reader he may be across the Atlantic, serving humanity in the great cause.
Long would those five lads remember that strange expedition up to the haunted quarry, and what a remarkable discovery they made after arriving on the ground. It may be that Horatio, yes, and Julius also, would be less apt to clothe anything along a mysterious nature with ghostly attributes, after learning how common-sense and investigation will, in nearly all cases, turn suspicion into ridicule. But while the country folks, of course, also learned how the phantom of the quarry had turned out to be just a crazy man who had escaped from his confinement at home and gone back to primeval ways of living, few of them would ever muster up the courage to visit the deserted quarry after nightfall. It had too many thrilling associations to please them; and besides, what was the use of going out of their way just to feel the "goose-flesh" creep over their bodies when an owl hooted, or some little forest animal gave a grunt?
K. K., being young and healthy, and attended carefully by good old Doctor Cadmus, was not confined to the house for many weeks. The bones did not require resetting, and rapidly knitted, so that after a while he could walk to and from school with the aid of a crutch; and later this, in turn, gave way to a cane. When February came he even threw this aid aside, and by March was seen taking his part in school rushes, as though he had never been injured at all. But his skates were never once used all winter, nor could he indulge in any sledding, both of which were favorite pleasures with K. K.
On the whole, however, he felt that he had much to be thankful for; and tried not to be too greatly disappointed. But his chums would miss him when the Marathon race was on; because he had been accounted one of the best long-distance runners without exception that Scranton High could boast.
SCRANTON'S "OPEN-HOUSE" DAY
Saturday opened with a promise of fair weather, and thousands of anxious hearts beat high with satisfaction when this important fact became manifest.
Before the morning was half over many strangers were noticed in town, having taken the day off in order to attend the wonderful meet, of which so much had been said. Every boy in Scranton was wild-eyed, and on the run most of the time, trying to be here, there, and in half a dozen places at once, if such a thing were possible.
Indeed, there was so much going on it reminded some people of the famous circus that visited the town two years back, with three separate rings, and something taking place in each at the same time; so that the spectators hardly knew how to take it all in and keep from being cross-eyed.
Out at the athletic grounds there were crowds gathered. Men were working at the fence, while another gang, under the orders of Mr. Leonard, carefully put in place such paraphernalia as would be needed in carrying out the programme. Even the big pole had been well greased for the climbing match; while the hurdles for the obstacle race were ready to be placed in position at the proper time; and a thousand and one other matters engaged the attention of the physical director, who was probably the most industrious man in seven counties that Saturday A.M.
Nor was that all. Some of the would-be contestants, not wholly satisfied with their record for proficiency, and wishing to key themselves up to top-notch speed against the now near hour of trial, were on the ground, and in their working togs. Here a bunch galloped swiftly around the cinder path, with one of their number holding the watch on them to ascertain what time they made. Further along several other fellows were jumping with might and main, and showing either jubilation or deep chagrin as they found themselves able to do a shade better than ever before, or else going backward in their scoring.
Indeed, that was going to be a red-letter day in the lives of all Scranton's young people. They begrudged the passing minutes, because their period of enjoyment would be shortened just so much with the loss of every sixty seconds.
When Hugh came on the grounds, after his trip to Hackensack, and seeing the hermit of the quarry once more safely lodged in the bosom of his delighted family, he had only one regret. This was the fact that poor K. K., whose heart had been so set on carrying the colors of Scranton High to victory in the Marathon race, should be debarred from participating in the same by a cruel fate.
As for himself Hugh was not quite so certain as before that he could accomplish such a thing as getting over those fifteen miles ahead of all competitors. What he had gone through with on the preceding day, coupled with his night journey, and only partial rest, after getting in bed at a late hour, had sapped some of his energy.
But Hugh's grit and determination were just as strong as ever, and he meant to do his level best. If he fell down, why, there were "Just" Smith, and Horatio Juggins, as well as two other Scranton fellows, any one of whom might be the winner. So long as the prize fell to a Scranton High boy, it mattered little who carried off the honors, Hugh felt.
Noon came at last.
Everything was now ready for the opening of the athletic tournament. Chief Wambold kept watch and ward over the grounds, assisted by his entire force of uniformed men. He evidently did not intend that any boy, with a mind that turned to practical joking, should have a chance to exercise his evil propensities unchecked. Should such a thing be attempted the joker would find himself up against a snag immediately; and, as those posters announced, he was going to be harshly dealt with up to the "extreme penalty of the law."
There were hundreds of people on the grounds at noon, which was a pretty good marker for the immense crowds that would soon be heading that way from every point of the compass. Most of these "early birds" were, of course, out-of-town folks, farmers' families that had come in, to market, perhaps, and they stayed over to see the great show, because everybody living for many miles around Scranton had heard about the meet, and and what a wonderful sight it would be, well worth going miles to gaze upon. These thrifty and sensible folks had, in many cases, brought their lunch along with them. Perhaps they disliked the idea of eating in small restaurants, such as Scranton, like most towns, boasted; but, no doubt, the main thing was economy in these times of scanty cash and inflated war prices.
It was well worth watching when they started to open their packages, and spread out the contents on the ground or, as might be, on the benches where they had taken up their positions the better to see what went on. And really it would have made any boy's mouth water to note the immense quantities of home-made pies, doughnuts, fried chicken, and all such good things as were displayed in those farmer's wives lunch packets. At least there must be no sign of hard times when the family went on a picnic, or any other sort of pleasure jaunt.
By then the crowds began to assemble in earnest. Town people, fearing a crush, hastened to leave home with the lunch dishes unwashed, and look for places to sit during the long afternoon. Along the roads every type of car, wagon, carriage, and other styles of equipages began to be seen, all heading toward the center of interest, which was the town of Scranton.
Hundreds came from Allandale; indeed, it might be safe to even say thousands, for in every direction could be seen the colors of Allandale High, just as though each enthusiastic boy and girl had rounded up all their relatives and friends, and induced them to make it a point to travel to the neighboring borough, there to shout and shriek, and in other ways lend encouragement to each Allandale aspirant for athletic honors wherever they showed up.
Belleville, too, must look very much like the "Deserted Village" on this particular afternoon; and, if the amount of business done depended on the few who had remained at home, her merchants would have to stay up until midnight in order to equal their customary Saturday sales.
At half-past twelve the throng had become so dense that Chief Wambold and his men were compelled to enlist the services of a number of willing volunteers who, temporarily decorated with a silver shield, were vested with the authority of regular officers, in order to keep avenues open, and prevent the throng from breaking through the ropes upon the limited field where the athletes expected to compete.
So far as attendance was concerned there was no longer the least doubt but that the meet would prove an abounding success; the rest remained to be proven. But the gathering athletes who began to appear in little knots, coming from the dressing rooms of the building, seemed full of confidence, and answered the loud salutes of a myriad of friends in the crowd with reassuring nods, and gestures calculated to buoy up their hopes.
The programme would be varied. First would come several short sprints between the best runners of hundred-yard distances in the county. These were sure to key up the spectators by their thrilling intensity, as is always the case. Following fast upon these there would be hammer-throwing, and the toss of the discus. Then the programme called for other athletic exhibitions along a line that would lend variety, and enhance the interest, as the different schools struggled for supremacy in the arena provided, spurred on to do their utmost by ringing cheers, and the dearly beloved class songs.
Everybody worth mentioning in Scranton would be there, from Dr. Carmack, the supervising head of the county schools, as well as principal of Scranton High, down the line to the Directors of the Games, the town council, the mayors of the three boroughs, and a whole host of notables besides.
And how the fond eyes of father and mother would follow the movements of John, or Edward, or Philip, as though he might be the only young athlete worth watching in all that animated scene. If he won, they had always known he did not have an equal in his specialty; and should he be so unlucky as to come in at the heels of the pack, why, it was easy to be seen that he had not been given a square deal by some of the rival runners, who persisted in getting in his way, and were probably leagued together to prevent him from carrying off the prize. But no matter, he would always be a hero in the eyes of those who loved him, though he might not decorate the family mantel at home with the prizes he aspired to win.
Hugh had kept fairly quiet after returning from Hackensack, and seeing the hermit once more safe in the charge of his folks. He knew that he must conserve his strength for the great undertaking that confronted him that afternoon. Those who had entered for the long-distance race would not be allowed, of course, to participate in any other event; that had been laid down as law by Mr. Leonard when they entered their names on the list of candidates. They must simply stand around and watch what was going on until the time came for staging the Marathon; when they could take their place in the long string that would await the pistol shot intended to start them on the telling grind.
Horatio and "Just" Smith were on deck, looking fit and eager. Then, too, there was Nick Lang, with a grin on his heavy face every time he glanced toward the other three fellows. It was getting on, and some of the earlier events had already been carried through, amidst great roars of applause as the different prizes went, this one to an Allandale fellow, another to a boy wearing the Belleville High colors; and three in succession to local lads.
"I don't exactly like the way that Nick Lang keeps on laughing to himself every time he looks over in this direction," Horatio was saying to the other two.
"I've noticed the same thing," spoke up "Just" Smith; "and it makes me wonder if the tricky fellow hasn't got some slick game up his sleeve, as usual, looking to giving the rest of us trouble. You notice, don't you, boys, that, look as you will, you can't see anything of either that Tip Slavin, or Leon Disney. Now, when fellows who are as fond of outdoor sports as those two have always been, keep shy when such a great event as this meet is being pulled off, there must be a pretty good reason."
"They may be somewhere in the crowd," Hugh went on to say, "because it'd be impossible for any single fellow to identify all that are in that solid heaving yelling mass of people. Nick believes he has a fair chance of leading the pack, and that makes him feel happy. I heard him say only yesterday that the one fellow he was afraid of in our whole bunch was K. K.; and now that accident has eliminated him, why, naturally, Nick feels more confidence. In imagination he's already receiving the grand Marathon prize, and hearing the crowds yelling themselves hoarse."
"Well," snorted Horatio, gritting his teeth in a way he had when aroused, "if that's what pleases Nick he's got another guess coming; for three of us are also in the game; and he's got to do some mighty tall sprinting in that last half-mile if he expects to win out. Then there are a lot of other fellows in the run who may give him a pain. But, according to the programme, our race comes next after this pole vaulting contest; so, boys, we'd better be moving around, and getting our place in line, according to our several numbers."
THE GREAT MARATHON RACE
It was plainly noticeable how that vast crowd began to stir, and show signs of increased interest when the numerous trim runners entered for the big Marathon started to gather for the preliminary stage of the race.
Each of the many contestants had a large number fastened upon both the front and back of his thin upper garment. By these they might be recognized even at a distance; and many persons carried field or opera glasses of various types just on purpose to make out who each runner was when he came in sight around the bend half a mile away, to open on that last stretch that was likely to see the cruelest work of all, if the competition chanced to be keen.
The boys, as a rule, looked very much like lithe grayhounds, for your natural runner is light of body, and can course along like the wind. Still, this applies more to short-distance sprinters than those whose specialty is endurance in a fifteen- or twenty-mile race.
Several of the fellows were quite muscular in build, and gave evidence of a grim determination such as the bulldog possesses. These chaps might be easily distanced in the start, but they would keep doggedly on, under the spur of the knowledge contained in that old adage that "the race is not always to the swift."
Hugh Morgan was, perhaps, the best built of them all, neither too heavy, nor yet betraying a weakness that would crop out after the first five miles had been covered, as might be the case with the more slender fellows.
They stood in line, listening to the last words of caution delivered by Mr. Hitchens, a former Yale man who had umpired the baseball games the preceding summer in such an impartial manner that everyone had the utmost reliance on his fairness.
He explained to them the simple conditions of the race,—how there must be no fouling of any kind; just how often and where the contestants must register their names in books kept by judges on the course; how each was supposed to give his word of honor not to accept any sort of lift for even a dozen feet; and that the great crowd assembled would be waiting to acclaim the first-comer as the victor in the greatest long-distance race ever attempted by high-school boys, at least in that particular county.
They were allowed a certain latitude as to their methods of running. If any of them could cut across lots, and still cover the entire course, as well as register faithfully wherever required, that was to be their option.
Having finished his little fatherly talk, the referee stepped to one side, and gave the word for the runners to make ready.
Every eye was glued on this or that contestant, according to the humor of the spectator. Each Allandale visitor saw only Allandale in that long line, swaying back and forth a trifle, like a reed shaken in the wind. They could not believe it possible that any other fellow had the slightest chance of coming in ahead of those fleet-footed boys upon whose ability they pinned their full trust.
So it was with the Belleville rooters; while, of course, the natives were certain the prize was already as good as won by Hugh Morgan; or, it might happen to be, Horatio Juggins, "Just" Smith, or possibly Nick Lang, the last-named looking ever so confident, as he leaned over nearly double in his favorite crouch, his fingertips in contact with the ground, and his knees bent.
Then came the sharp report of the pistol.
"They're off!" involuntarily exclaimed a thousand persons in unison, as the line of nimble runners was seen to leap into action, and shoot away with amazing speed.
There were a few little lively brushes in the start, before the runners settled down to real business. Some were immediately left behind, but this fact seemed to give them little concern, for they kept jogging away as though quite happy.
Doubtless, a number had entered with no idea of covering more than a few miles of the long course. They just enjoyed the excitement, and the honor of being able to say they had once run in a fifteen-mile schoolboy Marathon race.
After a bit these novices would drop out, perhaps even hasten back with various clever excuses for giving up; and having gained the cheers of their particular coterie of friends they could don a few more clothes to keep off the chill, and settle back to watch the rest of the entertainment. Their opinion would naturally be much sought after, as to the chances of this or that genuine contestant; which was one of the things they desired.
As it takes considerable time for even fleet-footed runners to go over a fifteen-mile course, the sensible committee, who knew just about how long the crowd would have to wait, had provided plenty of amusement meanwhile.
Interspersed with a number of minor events, such as further sprinting matches for younger entries, and some more pole vaulting, as well as Indian club exhibitions of skill, would come the humorous features of the meet.
These are always popular with the country people; indeed, nearly everybody seems to welcome them as a diversion calculated to raise hearty laughter.
There was also keen competition even in the potato race; and the crowd yelled itself hoarse to see the antics of those who met with all manner of mishaps when engaged in the hurdle, and the obstacle affairs.
The boys who had engaged to try for these prizes seemed to "get their dander up," as some fellow expressed it, and the way they struggled and vied with one another was "equal to a circus with a brass band."
Although mention may not have been made of the fact up to now, the Scranton band was giving of its very best from time to time, and the air throbbed with martial music suitable to a country just then at war with a foreign nation. It was a fair sort of band in the bargain, and well worth listening to; so that the music really added greatly to the enjoyment of the occasion.
When the three-legged race was pulled off the spectators howled their sympathy with this or that pair of contestants as they hopped along, now rolling on the ground while bound together, and, at times, even trying to creep in desperation, when it seemed as though a difference of opinions in the two minds trying to control what was just the same as one pair of legs, caused confusion, and a lack of progression.
Later on came the climbing of the greased pole. This is always comical enough, and aroused much enthusiasm. Nobody seems to be a favorite, and each successful attempt to mount is greeted with shrieks of laughter. So long as a valiant fellow is seen to be steadily making his way upwards, inch by inch, he may be applauded; but let him display the slightest hint of having "shot his bolt," and begin to slip back again, howls of derision will greet his ears, so that in confusion he finally gives it up, and retires in haste.
All sorts of small means are resorted to in order to allow the contestant to get a surer grip on the slippery pole; for, up to a certain point, these are allowable. One rubs sand in his hands, and for a brief time this seems to enable him to do splendid work; but then it soon wears away, and then his troubles begin; until, unable to make further progress, he is seen to glance over his shoulder to note how far from the ground he has risen. This is a sure sign of weakening, and, of course, the watchful crowd again roars at him to keep right on, that he's doing nobly, and all that; but John knows better, and so down he comes with a rush, and passes out, shaking his head in disgust and bitter disappointment; for possibly he had been within five feet of the top when his energies failed him.
So the time went on, merrily enough.
Many persons were declaring they had not enjoyed such an afternoon for years, and felt weak from so much laughter.
Watches were being consulted more and more frequently now.
"It's getting time we saw something of those chaps," could be heard here and there, showing that numbers had figured things out, or else received a tip from an authority in the game as to just how long it was likely to take a fleet runner to cover fifteen miles of good road.
Anxious eyes were being strained unduly, watching the bend half a mile beyond. It could be seen from almost any part of the field, fortunately, though once the big board fence was in position, the view would be partly cut off.
It had been arranged, as is always done, that when a runner was sighted nearing the bend a gun would be fired by the sentry on duty there, to attract the attention of the crowd, so that they might have the first glimpse of the leading contestants, as they rounded that abrupt curve where the view was shut off.
There was now nothing going on in the arena, the entire programme having been carried out. Still, few, if any, left their seats, although they had been there for several hours, it might be. The deepest interest centered upon the completion of the Marathon race. In comparison to this exhibition of school-boy endurance and pluck the other affairs seemed to sink into insignificance; although at the time they occurred doubtless those who had friends entered were wildly excited. But then the race that has already been finished is never as intensely interesting as the one in process of being run; just as the fish landed never seems quite so wonderful as the fellow who is still swimming the waters, and eyeing the baited hook as though tempted to take a hazard.
Seconds seemed fraught with undue importance, and many impatient fellows, upon consulting their watches, were seen to hold the same up to their ear, as though to make sure the time-piece had not stopped, so leaden-footed did the minutes seem to move along.
Some of the girls had commenced to sing their class songs, but in a mild sort of way; for they did not wish to lose the sound that would denote that a runner was in sight at the second bend, and could be expected shortly to come into view at the head of the last half-mile strip of road leading to the goal.
Once an engine on the railroad not far away gave a sharp whistle that thrilled everybody, and numberless eyes were glued on the point up the road where the first runner must appear. Then a general laugh ran around because of the false alarm.
But everything must have an end, and that keen anxiety finally met with its reward. Plainly came the heavy boom of the waiting gun. Everyone craned his or her neck to see. Hearts beat quicker with eager anticipation. Which one of the thirty contestants would be the first to appear? There might be several in a bunch, primed for the final sprint for goal. The very thought thrilled hearts, and added color to cheeks, as well as made eyes sparkle with anticipation. Allandale was not cheering now; Belleville rooters were strangely quiet; for, so far, the outcome of the great race was still wrapped in mystery; but the solution would soon come, they knew.
Another heavy boom told that a second runner was just around the bend, and when a third discharge quickly followed the crowd knew there was going to be an exciting finish to the Marathon.
Then a plainly audible sigh broke forth as the first runner was seen rounding the bend, and starting on the home stretch, but wabbling badly as he ran, being almost completely exhausted.
ON THE FINAL MILE OF THE COURSE
Meanwhile, in order to understand certain important events that came about, it is necessary that we follow the runners, and devote this chapter to what occurred up to the time that first fellow came lunging around the final bend, having covered the whole course up to the final lap.
For a mile or so along the road there were bunches of schoolboys and girls waiting to give some of the contestants a cheering word as they flashed past. The enthusiasts, however, would not linger long, for they likely enough wished to see the comical part of the programme carried out. Besides, once the runners had straggled past their posts the only interest remaining for them in the race was its conclusion. So they would want to get back to the grounds, and secure positions along the line to the first bend, where they could greet each contestant as he appeared, and cheer him on; for he would probably need encouragement, being near the point of exhaustion.
Hugh had figured things out exactly, and knew what he could do. He was not alarmed because several of the visiting runners led the way, and even "Just" Smith had quite a little lead over him.
Pegging along, Hugh covered mile after mile with a steadiness that he had reduced to machine-like motion. He had timed himself, and the whole course was mentally charted for his guidance. If he reached the cut-off road at a certain time he would know things were moving just as swiftly as necessary. Those boys who strained themselves in that first seven miles would be apt to rue their rashness when they began to feel their legs quiver with weakness under them, and still miles remained to be covered ere the goal came in sight. And, besides, they were sure to be in no condition for a hot final sprint, in case of keen competition.
So Hugh, having registered as required at two booths on the way, and thus learned the order in which the trio ahead of him seemed to be running, finally arrived at the sunken quarry road. He recognized the landmarks before he reached the spot; and losing not a second of time darted among the trees.
"Just" Smith was still leading him, for here and there he could distinguish the other's footprints, where the ground chanced to be a little moist. Hugh also had reason to believe that Nick Lang was coming strong not a great distance behind him. He wondered whether Nick meant to take advantage of the old quarry road as well as he and "Just" Smith, and Horatio in the bargain. For that matter Hugh did not care an iota; if Nick considered it would be to his advantage he was at liberty to benefit by this scheme of Hugh's. It was all for the glory of Scranton High; and far better that Nick won the prize, than that it should be taken by an Allandale, or a Belleville contestant—that is, if he won it honestly.
Apparently, on the face of the returns, when half of the fifteen-mile course had been run, the victory was likely to be carried off by Whipple, the fleet-winged Allandale chap who had played right field during the baseball matches; "Just" Smith; himself; or possibly Nick Lang. There was always a dim and remote possibility, however, of a dark horse forging to the front on the home stretch. This might be Horatio Juggins, or McKee, or perhaps that Belleville runner, Conway, who had looked so confident when Hugh surveyed the line of eager faces at the start.
Hugh remembered every foot of the way along that quarry road. He had a faculty for impressing features of the surrounding landscape on his mind, so that he could recall it at pleasure, just as though he held a photograph in his hand.
Now he was drawing near the quarry itself, the loneliest and most gruesome stretch of the entire cut-off; with "Just" Smith still in the lead. Hugh felt proud of his chum, and often chuckled as he contemplated the other's supreme delight in case a fickle fortune allowed him to come in ahead; for honors of this sort were a rare thing in the past of the Smith boy; and certainly he had never before been so close to reaping such a colossal prize as the winning of the Marathon would be reckoned.
Now Hugh glimpsed the quarry on one side of him. How his thoughts flew backward to marshal the strange events so recently happening there, in which he and some of his comrades had had the good fortune to participate.
Just then he heard a plain groan. It gave him a little thrill, but not because he fancied there was anything supernatural connected with the sound. Looking in the direction from whence the groan came he discovered a boy sitting on the ground, and rubbing his lower extremities vigorously.
It was "Just" Smith! Evidently something not down on the programme had happened to the boy who led the race across the quarry road. Hugh suspected treachery immediately. He turned aside, and sprang towards his chum.
"Hey! what ails you, 'Just' Smith?" he called out, wasting some of his precious breath in the bargain. "This isn't the way to win a Marathon, don't you know? What if you have barked your shin?—forget all about it, and get moving again!"
The Smith boy looked very sad, as he shook his face dolefully.
"Huh! wish I could, Hugh," he hastened to mumble, still rubbing his shin, and making faces as though it hurt him considerably. "I've tried to run, but shucks; what's the use when you can hardly limp at the best? I'm through, Hugh, sorry to say. You keep on, and bag the prize; next to winning it myself I'd love to know you took it away from that Whipple chap."
"But—how did the accident happen, 'Just' Smith?" continued Hugh.
"Accident nothing!" snapped the other, between his set teeth. "It was all a set-up game to knock one of us out of the race, I tell you. If you'd been leading at the time, why, that shower of rocks must have met you."
"Rocks, did you say?" exclaimed Hugh, looking dark.
Just then the sound of footsteps was heard. A runner went past them on the full tear. It was Nick Lang, and when he turned his face toward the two on their knees the wicked look on his grinning face told more eloquently than words how his brain had been the one to hatch up this miserable trick whereby he hoped to gain an advantage over one of his schoolmates who might happen to be leading him in the race. He vanished down the road, still running strong. "Just" Smith almost howled, he was so furious.
"That's the chap who engineered this rotten game, I tell you, Hugh!" he snapped. "And chances are ten to one it was Leon Disney and that Tip Slavin who threw all those stones, and then ran away laughing, so I couldn't glimpse 'em. Say, I was struck in half a dozen places. I've got a lump on my head nearly as big as a hen's egg; and my elbow hurts like everything. I was so flustered that I must have got twisted in a vine, or else struck a root, for I fell, and barked my shin something fierce. I wanted to chase after the cowards, but knew it was silly to think of such a thing. Then I tried to keep on, but it wasn't any use, and I gave it up as a bad job. But Hugh, I hope you don't mean to let that skunk profit by his trickery. Please start off, and beat him out, if it takes a leg."
"But I hate to leave you here, 'Just' Smith, much as I'd like to chase after Nick, because now he deserves to be beaten."
"Oh! don't bother about me, Hugh. I'll try and get to the main road, even if I have to crawl. Later on you can come back for me in some sort of rig. Whew! but I'm as mad as a hatter because I've lost my fine chance, when I was going so strong, with plenty of reserve force held back."
Hugh realized that duty called upon him to do as his chum demanded. It would be a shame if Nick Lang actually profited through such a rank act of treachery toward his fellows of Scranton High. An individual should be ready to sacrifice his school or its interests to his own personal ambition, and certainly never should it be allowed that he gain his ends through such a dastardly trick as the waylaying of another on the road, and his being assaulted, as "Just" Smith had been.
"All right, I'll do it, then!" Hugh exclaimed, with a look of sudden determination. "Expect me back later on, old fellow! Bye-bye! Don't try to do too much, and hurt yourself worse!"
With these words he sprang away. "Just" Smith gave him a parting cheer, that must have come a bit hard, owing to the pain he suffered, and also the bitter disappointment that wrung his boyish and ambitious heart.
Hugh had but one thought now, which was to speed along at such a clip as to allow him to finally overtake and pass the treacherous Nick, and leave him in the lurch. The spur of punishing the other for such dastardly conduct was apt to prove an incentive calculated to add considerably to Hugh's running.
Nick had the advantage, since he must be well on the way to the main thoroughfare by now; and once that was gained there was a clear field ahead of him. But one more registering station remained, and that was at a certain turn on the way home. Then would come the final three miles, with the pace increasing constantly, as those in the lead vied with each other to get ahead, or to retain that proud position.
Hugh quickly regained the mastery over his aroused feelings. He must stay cool and collected so as to do exactly the right thing at the right time. A little slip in the way of judgment was likely to lose him the race, for he now learned as he gained the main road, that there were not only one but two competitors ahead of him.
Yes, the fleet-footed Whipple had somehow managed to spin along over the ground, and was now not far behind Nick Lang. Possibly the fellow from Allandale had also secretly examined the course and discovered a cut-off on his own account, through means of which he anticipated gaining a great advantage over all the other runners in the Marathon.
Hugh now set out to make steady gains. He must be within a certain distance of those two fellows by the time the last stretch was reached, or else all his hope of overtaking and passing them would be lost.
He found that his powers of endurance and speed had not been misjudged, for they responded nobly when called upon for a further spurt. Now, he was greatly lessening the distance separating him from Whipple; who, in turn, seemed able to hold his own with Nick.
The latter began to show the first signs of distress when they were at the beginning of the last two miles. He looked over his shoulder, and no runner ever is guilty of such an unwise proceeding unless his heart has commenced to be filled with grave doubts as to his being a winner.
Again did Hugh notice Nick doing this, and he took fresh courage from the circumstance. Yes, and looking more closely he also saw that Nick was not running true to form any longer; he had begun to wobble more or less, as though unable to continue on in a straight line. That was another bad sign, since it causes the runner to cover unnecessary ground; and also indicates a weakening heart.
Hugh let out another burst of speed. He was closing the gap rapidly; and, apparently, Whipple also seemed to be gaining on the almost played-out Nick.
They were now within less than a mile of the finish; the last turn would soon be reached, with the gun booming out the fact of their arrival. Hugh girded his loins for a Garrison finish, and gloried in the conviction that he was in trim to do himself credit.
THE BOY WHO WON—CONCLUSION
"It's Nick Lang, as sure as anything!" shouted a boy who happened to possess an excellent pair of field-glasses.
"Nick Lang in the lead!" howled another; "well, what do you think of that? Where, oh, where, oh, where is Hugh Morgan about this time; and 'Just' Smith in the bargain?"
"But Nick is a Scranton High boy after all, and that's a heap better than to see an Allandale fellow come in ahead!" cried another near by.
"Look! a second runner has turned the bend; and see how he is coming up on poor wobbly old Nick hand-over-fist!"
"Hello! what's this mean?" whooped a visitor exultantly. "Surely I know the second fellow's build. It's certainly our great Whipple! He's going to cop the prize, boys! Give Whipple an Allandale yell right now to encourage him!"
Even as a score of boyish throats roared in response to this entreaty a third runner was discovered rounding the bend. He appeared to be tearing along at race-horse speed, as though having a reserve stock of power upon which to call in this closing half-mile of the long race.
The words seemed to run like wildfire through the vast crowd. Everybody repeated them, some with a growing delight, others with a sense of impending disaster to the wild hopes they had been so ardently cherishing; all according to the viewpoint they held. Scranton's register was rising, while Allandale visitors began to feel something was on the verge of happening to crush the budding paean of victory that was ready to bubble from their lips.
Nick evidently knew that he had shot his bolt. He, doubtless, tried frantically to encourage his legs to move faster, but they refused to hearken to the call. Whipple was now rapidly closing the short gap existing between them. At the same time it could be seen that the Allandale runner veered a trifle, as though to give Nick a fairly wide berth when passing.
Plenty of fellows noticed this fact, nor did they wonder at it. The tricky character of Nick Lang was pretty well known, and they believed he would not hesitate about throwing himself sideways, so as to collide with Whipple when the other was in the act of passing him; although such a vindictive act could, of course, not better the position of the local runner a particle.
When Whipple actually took the lead a great roar arose from thousands of throats. Doubtless many wild-eyed Allandale enthusiasts already counted the victory as won. They could be seen commencing to throw their hats and caps into the air, boy-fashion. Others, wiser, gripped their hands, and held their breath while waiting to see the actual finish of the great race.
Of a truth Whipple was doing splendidly, there was no gainsaying that; but coming on back of him was one who appeared to be making much better time. Hugh was gaining fast, they could see. The only question that remained to be settled was whether Whipple had it in him to increase his pace sufficiently to cross the tape first; or, on the other hand, if Hugh Morgan was able to speed up still more, and close the gap.
How the shouts rang out. Everybody seemed to be cheering madly at the same time. Men stood up, and waved their arms; girls embraced each other, though not an eye was turned away from that wonderful finish of the great Marathon race.
Now, Hugh had apparently released his final effort. He was gaining faster and faster. Whipple seemed to know that he was in deadly peril. He, too, looked back over his shoulder in alarm, possibly meaning in desperation to almost burst a blood vessel if he found that his rival was about to overtake him.
That proved his eventual undoing, though the result was no longer in doubt. He lost his balance, and, being so exhausted that he could not stand longer, pitched headlong to the ground, just as the fleet Hugh jumped into the lead, raced twenty steps further, broke the extended tape, and thus won the race.
How the heavens seemed to fairly quiver with the roars that broke out! It had been a most thrilling finish for the greatest race ever run in all the country. Time might come and time might go, but never would those who had been so fortunate as to witness the conclusion of the Marathon forget the thrilling spectacle.
Hugh bore his honors meekly.
He utterly declined to let some of the Scranton fellows pick him up and bear him around on their shoulders, as they threatened to do. After the prizes had been duly awarded the assemblage broke up, and the roads leading out of Scranton were soon blocked with hundreds of vehicles of every description carrying home the visitors.
Even Allandale and Belleville had no reason to be disappointed over the general results, for their young athletes had fared very well, all things considered. Of course, most of them would rather have seen the Marathon won by a representative from their school than to "scoop in" all the other prizes grouped together; but since it had to go to Scranton, they voiced the opinion of most people when they declared they were glad Hugh Morgan had won it, and not Nick Lang.
Even though overwhelmed with congratulations on every hand, Hugh did not forget his promise to "Just" Smith. As soon as he could get into his street clothes he hunted a fellow who chanced to have his father's flivver handy, and easily won his consent to take him along the road in the direction of Belleville, in order to find poor "Just" Smith, and get him home again.
This they did without any mishap, and it may be easily understood that the disappointed boy hailed their coming with great joy. He knew all about that gruelling finish of the big race in the bargain, some of those Allandale chaps passing by in vehicles having readily informed him as to the winner, and what a tremendously thrilling sight the finish had been.
Of course, since "Just" Smith had not once glimpsed the figures of his assailants, and as conviction can hardly rest upon a burst of vindictive boyish laughter, there was no public denunciation of Nick Lang and his cronies. Everybody could give a good guess, however, as to who was guilty; and after that Nick was destined to feel himself more ostracized by his schoolmates than ever before.
The great athletic tournament had proven to be a complete success, being marred by no serious accidents, for which many a devoted mother in Scranton gave thanks that same night, even though her boy may not have won undying fame through gaining a prize. Hugh himself was more than satisfied, though he would have been almost as well pleased had it been poor "K. K.," "Just" Smith, or Horatio Juggins who had won the big race, so long as the honor of Scranton High was upheld.
That was to be the finish of the fall sports, but with winter so near at hand, and that vast field being put in order for flooding, it might readily be guessed the boys and girls of Scranton were in line for considerable more fun while Jack Frost held sway over his frozen dominions. That this supposition proved to be a correct one may be judged from the title of the fourth and following volume in this series, which can be had wherever boys' books are sold, and bearing the suggestive title of "The Chums of Scranton High at Ice Hockey; or, A Wizard on Steel Runners." Get it, if you have enjoyed reading about Hugh Morgan and his loyal comrades in this and previous books; you will find it just as deeply interesting as anything that has gone before, since the boys of Scranton enter upon a fresh line of healthy competition, this time upon the ice.