The Chums of Scranton High at Ice Hockey
by Donald Ferguson
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At Ice Hockey





Copyright, MCMXIX



Printed in the United States of America










Hugh looked at the big thermometer alongside the Juggins' front door as he came out, and the mercury was still falling steadily.

"It's certainly a whole lot sharper than it was early this morning, Thad. Feels to me as if the first cold wave of the winter had struck Scranton."

"The ice on our flooded baseball field, and that out at Hobson's mill-pond ought to be in great shape after a hard freeze to-night, Hugh."

"We're in luck this time, chum Thad. Look at that sky, will you? Never a cloud in sight, and the sun going down yellow. Deacon Winslow, our reliable old weather prophet blacksmith, who always keeps a goose-bone hanging up in his smithy, to tell what sort of a winter we're going to get, says such a sign stands for cold and clear to-morrow after that kind of a sunset. Red means warmer, you know."

"I only hope it keeps on for forty-eight hours more, that's all I can say, Hugh. This being Thursday, it would fetch us to Saturday. I understand they're not meaning to let a single pair of steel runners on the baseball park, to mark the smooth surface of the new ice, until Saturday morning."

"Which will be a fine thing for our hockey try-out with the scratch Seven, eh, Thad?"

"We want to test our team play before going up against the boys of Keyport High, that's a fact; and Scranton can put up a hard fighting bunch of irregulars. There are some mighty clever hockey players in and out of the high school, who are not on our Seven. I guess there ought to be a pretty lively game on Saturday; and there will be if several fellows I could mention line up against us."

The two boys who had just left the home of a schoolmate named Horatio Juggins were great friends. Although Hugh Morgan had seemed to jump into popular leadership among the boys of Scranton, soon after his folks came to reside in the town, he and Thad Stevens had become almost inseparables.

Indeed, some of the fellows often regarded them as "Damon and Pythias," or on occasions it might be "David and Jonathan." Both were of an athletic turn, and took prominent parts in all baseball games, and other strenuous outdoor sports indulged in by the boys of Scranton High; a record of which will be found in the several preceding books of this series, to which the new reader is referred, if he feels any curiosity concerning the earlier doings of this lively bunch.

Hugh was cool and calm in times when his chum would show visible signs of great excitement. He had drilled himself to control his temper under provocation, until he felt master of himself.

It was the 10th of January, and thus far the opportunities for skating that had come to the young people of that section of country where Scranton was located, had been almost nil; which would account for the enthusiasm of the lads when Thad announced how rapidly the thermometer was giving promise of a severe cold spell.

Scranton had two keen rivals for athletic honors. Allandale and Belleville High fellows had given them a hard run of it before they carried off the championship pennant of the county in baseball the preceding summer.

Then, in the late fall, there had been a wonderfully successful athletic tournament, inaugurated to celebrate the enclosing of the grounds outside Scranton with a high board-fence, and the building of a splendid grandstand, as well as rooms where the athletic participants in sports might dress in comfort.

With the coming of winter the big field thus enclosed had been properly flooded, so that it might afford a vast amount of healthy recreation to all Scranton boys and girls who loved to skate.

Hitherto they had been compelled to trudge all the way out to Hobson's mill-pond, and back, which was a long enough journey to keep many from ever thinking of indulging in what is, perhaps, the most cherished winter sport among youthful Americans.

The two friends had been asked around by the Juggins boy to inspect a wonderful assortment of treasure trove that an old and peculiar uncle, with a fad for collecting curios of every description, and who was at present out in India, had sent to his young nephew and namesake.

These consisted of scores of most interesting objects, besides several thousand rare postage stamps. Taken in all it was the greatest collection of stamps any of them had ever heard of. And the other things proved of such absorbing interest that Hugh and Thad had lingered until the afternoon was done, with supper not so far away but that they must hurry home.

Thad, apparently, had something on his mind which he wished to get rid of, judging from the way in which he several times looked queerly at his chum. Finally, as if determined to speak up, he started, half apologetically:

"Hugh, excuse me if I'm butting in where I have no business," he said; "but when I saw you talking so long with that town bully, Nick Lang, this afternoon, after we got out of school, I didn't know what to think. Was he threatening you about anything, Hugh? After that fine dressing-down you gave Nick last summer, when he forced you to fight him while we were out at that barn dance, I notice he keeps fairly mum when you're around."

Hugh chuckled, as though the recollection might not be wholly displeasing; though, truth to tell, that was the only fight he had been in since coming to Scranton. Even it would not have taken place only that he could not stand by and see the big bully thrash most cruelly a weaker boy than himself.

"Oh! no, you're away off in your guess, Thad," he replied immediately. "Fact is, instead of threats, Nick was asking a favor of me, for once in his life."

"You don't say!" ejaculated Thad. "Well, now you've got me excited there's nothing left but to tell me what sort of a favor Nick would want of you, Hugh."

"It seems that for a long time he's been admiring those old hockey skates of mine," continued the other. "In fact, they've grown on Nick so that he even condescended to ask me to sell them to him for a dollar, which he said he'd earned by doing odd jobs, just in order to buy my old skates. He chanced to hear me say once that my mother had promised to get me the best silver-plated hockey skates on the market, for my next birthday, which is now only a few days off. That's all there was to it, Thad."

"Well," commented Thad, "we all know that Nick is a boss skater, even on the old runners he sports, and which mebbe his dad used before him, they're that ancient. He can hold his own with the next one whenever there's any ice worth using. And as to hockey, why, if Nick would only play fair, which he never will, it seems because his nature must be warped and crooked, he could have a leading place on our Seven. As it is, the boys refused to stand for him in any game, and so he had to herd with the scratch players. Even then Mr. Leonard, our efficient coach and trainer, has to call him down good and hard for cheating, or playing off-side purposely. It's anything to win, with Nick."

"You're painting Nick pretty true to life, Thad," agreed Hugh; "though I'm sorry it's so, I've got a hunch that chap, if he only could be reconstructed in some way or other, might be a shining mark in many of our athletic games."

"Oh! that's hopeless, Hugh, I tell you. The leopard can't change its spots; and Nick Lang was born to be just the tricky bully he's always shown himself."

Hugh shook his head, as though not quite agreeing with his chum.

"Time alone will tell, Thad. There might come a sudden revolution in Nick's way of seeing things. I've heard of boys who were said to be the worst in the town taking a turn, and forging up to the head. It's improbable, I admit, but not impossible."

"Oh! he's bad all the way through, believe me, Hugh. But did you sell the skates, as he wanted you to do?"

"No, I told him I didn't care to," Hugh replied. "I was tempted to agree when he looked so bitterly disappointed; then an ugly scowl came over his face, and he broke away and left me; so that opportunity was lost. Besides, it's best not to be too sure I'm going to get those silver-plated skates after all, though Mom is looking pretty mysterious these days; and some sort of package came to her by express from New York the other day. She hurried it away before I could even see the name printed on the wrapper."

"Perhaps," said Thad a bit wistfully, "you might bequeath me your old skates in case you do get new ones. Mine are not half as good for hockey. I don't blame Nick for envying you their possession; but then it hasn't been so much what you had on your feet that has made you the swift hockey player you are, but coolness of judgment, ability to anticipate the moves of the enemy, and a clever stroke that can send the puck skimming over the ice like fury."

"Here, that'll do for you, Thad. No bouquets needed, thank you, all the same. According to my notion there are several fellows in Scranton my equals at hockey, and perhaps my superiors. Nick Lang, for instance, if only he had skates he could depend on, and which wouldn't threaten to trip him up in the midst of an exciting scrimmage."

"But, see here, Hugh, you were speaking just now about a chap built like Nick turning over a new leaf, and making himself respected in the community in spite of the bad name he's always had. Honestly now, do you really believe that's possible? Is there such a thing as the regeneration of a boy who's been born bad, and always taken delight in doing every sort of mean thing on the calendar? I can't believe it."

Hugh Morgan turned and gave his chum a serious look.

"I've got a good mind to tell you something that's been on my mind lately," he said.



On hearing his chum say that, Thad gripped Hugh's arm.

"Then get busy, Hugh," he hastened to remark. "When you start cogitating over things there's always something interesting on foot. What is it this time?"

"Oh! just a little speculation I've been indulging in, Thad, and on the very subject we were talking about—whether a really bad man, or boy, for that matter, can ever turn right-about-face, and redeem himself. You say it's impossible; I think otherwise."

"Tell me a single instance, then, Hugh."

"Just what I'm meaning to do," came the ready response, "but it's in romance, not history; though there are just as strong instances that can be proven. I've heard my father mention some of them long ago. But it happens, Thad, that I've been reading over, for the third time, a book we once enjoyed together immensely. We got a splendid set of Victor Hugo's works lately at our house, you remember."

"Oh!" exclaimed Thad, "you're referring to his Les Miserables, I guess. And now I remember how you said at the time we read it together that the scene where that good priest forgave the rascally Jean Valjean for stealing his silver candlesticks and spoons, after he had been so kind to him made a great impression on your mind. But, see here, Hugh, are you comparing that sneak Nick Lang to Jean Valjean, the ex-convict?"

"Yes, in a way," the other replied. "The man who had been released from the galleys, after he had served his term for stealing a loaf of bread was despised by society, which shut the door in his face. He was like a wild beast, you remember, and hated everyone. Well, by degrees, Nick is finding himself in just about the same position. Everybody looks on him as being thoroughly bad; and so he tells himself that since he's got the name he might as well have the game."

"I suppose that's about the way it goes," Thad admitted.

"There's no doubt of it," Hugh told him. "Several times I remember we had an idea Nick meant to reform; but he went back to his old ways suddenly. I think people must have nagged him, and made him feel ugly. But I've been wondering, Thad, what if Nick could have a revelation about like the one that came to Jean Valjean at the time that splendid old priest, looking straight at the thief when the officers dragged him back with those silver candlesticks and spoons hidden under his dirty blouse, told them the men had committed no wrong, because he, the priest, had given the silver to him; which we know he had done in his mind, after discovering how he had been robbed."

Thad shook his head in a dogged fashion, as though by no means convinced.

"I reckon you'd be just the one to try that crazy scheme, Hugh, if ever the chance came to you; but mark me when I say it'd all be wasted on Nick."

"But why should you be so sure of that?" asked the other. "The ex-convict was pictured as the lowest of human animals. Hugo painted him as hating every living being, because of his own wrongs; and believing that there was no such thing as honor and justice among mankind. It was done to make his change of heart seem all the more remarkable; to prove that a fellow can never sink so low but that there may be a chance for him to climb up again, if only he makes up his mind."

Thad laughed then, a little skeptically still, it must be confessed.

"Oh! that sounds all very fine, in a story, Hugh, but it'd never work out in real life. According to my mind that Nick Lang will go along to the end of the book as a bad egg. He'll fetch up in the penitentiary, or reform school, some of these fine days. I've heard Chief Wambold has declared that the next time he has anything connected with breaking the law on Nick he expects to take him before the Squire, and have him railroaded to the Reformatory; and he means it, too."

"Well, you can hardly blame the Chief," agreed Hugh, "because Nick and his pals, Leon Disney and Tip Slavin, have certainly made life hard for the police force of Scranton for years back. Brush fires have been started maliciously, just to see the fire-laddies run with the machine and create a little excitement; orchards have been robbed time and again; and, in fact, dozens of pranks more or less serious been played night after night, all of which mischief is laid at the door of Nick Lang, even if much of it can't be actually traced there."

"Of course, what you say is the exact truth, Hugh."

"Give dog Tray a bad name, and he gets it right and left," chuckled Hugh. "I've had an idea that once in a while some of the more respected fellows in town may have broken loose, and gone on night expeditions. They felt pretty safe in doing it, because every citizen would believe Nick was the guilty one. But, in spite of your thinking my idea impossible, I'd be tempted to try it out, if ever I ran across the chance. It'd settle a thing I've worried over more than a little."

No more was said on that subject, though afterwards Thad had it brought to his attention again, and in a peculiar way at that.

The two boys separated a little further on, each heading homeward.

On the following morning it was found that their predictions concerning the weather had been amply verified. The mercury had dropped away down in the tube of the thermometer, and every youngster had a happy look on his or her face at school, as though the prospect for skating brought almost universal satisfaction.

Thad, with several others, had gone out to Hobson's mill-pond to try the new ice after high school had dismissed for the week-end. Hugh wanted to accompany them very much, but he had promised his mother to spend a couple of hours that afternoon in mending something, which had gone for a long time. And once his word was given Hugh never broke it, no matter how alluring the prospect of sport might be abroad.

It was about half-past three in the afternoon.

Hugh sat in his den amidst his prized possessions. He was working on his lessons so as to get them out of the way, as there was some sort of affair scheduled for that evening, which he meant to attend; and he would be too tired after skating all day on Saturday to study any that night, as he well knew.

Several times he glanced over to where his carefully polished and well-sharpened skates, strapped together, lay on a side table. Each look caused him to shrug his shoulders a bit. He could easily imagine he heard the delightful clang of steel runners cutting into that smooth sheet of new ice out at the mill pond; and the figures of the happy skaters would pass before his eyes. Yes, probably Sue Barnes would be there, too, with her chums, Ivy Middleton and Peggy Noland, wondering, it might be, how he, Hugh, could deny himself such a glorious opportunity for the first real good skate of the season.

Then Hugh would heave a little sigh, and apply himself harder than ever to his task. When he had an unpleasant thing to do he never allowed temptation to swerve him. And, after all, it was pretty snug and comfortable there in his den, Hugh told himself; besides, that was a long walk home for a tired fellow to take, even in good company.

Then he heard his mother speaking to someone who must have rung the doorbell.

"Go up to the top of the stairs, and turn to the right. You will find Hugh in his den, I believe. Hugh, are you there? Well, here's a visitor to see you."

Supposing, of course, that it must be one of his close friends, who for some reason had not gone off skating, and wished to see him about some matter of importance, Hugh, after answering his mother, had gone on skimming the subject on which his mind just then happened to be set.

He heard the door open, and close softly. Then someone gave a gruff cough. Hugh looked around and received quite a surprise.

Instead of Thad Stevens, Owen Dugdale, Horatio Juggins, "Just" Smith, or Julius Hobson he saw—Nick Lang!

"Oh, hello, Nick!" he commenced to say, a little restrained in his welcome; for, of course, he could give a guess that the other had come again to try and buy his skates, which Hugh was not much in favor of selling.

He shoved a chair forward, determined not to be uncivil at any rate. After that talk with Thad about this fellow it can be understood that Hugh was still bent on studying Nick, with the idea of deciding whether he did actually have a grain of decency in his make-up, such as could be used as a foundation on which to build a new structure.

The outlook was far from promising. Indeed, he could not remember ever seeing Nick look more antagonistic than just then, even though he tried to appear friendly.

"But then," Hugh was telling himself, "I reckon now Jean Valjean was about as fierce looking a human wild beast as that good old priest had ever seen at the time he invited the ex-convict into his snug house, and horrified his sister by asking him to sit at table with them, and spend the night there under his hospitable roof."

"You wanted to see me about something, did you, Nick?" he asked the other.

Nick had dropped down on the chair. His furtive gaze went around the room as if it aroused his curiosity, for this was really the first occasion when he had ever graced Hugh's den with his company.

When his eyes alighted on the coveted skates Nick's face took on an expressive grin. Then he turned toward Hugh, to say, almost whiningly:

"Sure thing, Hugh. I thought mebbe I'd coax you to let me have the skates, if I told you I'd managed to get another half dollar by selling a pair of my pigeons. Here's a dollar and a half; take it, and gimme the runners, won't you?"

His manner was intended to be ingratiating, but evidently Nick was so accustomed to bullying everyone with whom he came in contact that it was next to impossible for him to change his abusive ways. Hugh felt less inclined than ever to accommodate him. Under other and more favorable conditions he might have been tempted to promise Nick to hand him over the skates, for nothing, after he had actually received the expected new ones.

"I'm sorry to refuse you again, Nick," Hugh said coldly; "but at present I have no other skates, and, as I expect to take part in a hockey match with the scratch Seven to-morrow, I'll need my runners."

"But there's nothing to hinder you selling me the same, say next week, that I can see; unless mebbe you're just holdin' out on account of an old grudge against me. How about that, Hugh?"

Hugh was still unconvinced.

"Just now I'm not in a humor to sell the skates, Nick," he said. "If I change my mind, I'll let you know about it. That's final. And when I dispose of my skates it's my intention to give them away, not sell them."

He turned to do something at the desk where he was sitting. Meanwhile, Nick had shuffled away, as though meaning to leave the room. When Hugh looked up he was half-way through the door, and turning to say with a sneer:

"I ain't going to forget this on you, Hugh Morgan, believe me. I thought I'd give you a chanct to smooth over the rough places between us; but I see you don't want anything to do with a feller who's got the reputation they give me. All right, keep your old skates then!"

With that he hurried down the stairs. And a minute afterwards Hugh, happening to glance over to the table at the side of the room, made a startling discovery. The skates had disappeared!



"Why, he cribbed them after all!" Hugh exclaimed, as he jumped to his feet, and hurried over to the table, hardly able to believe his own eyes.

Something caught his attention. A dirty dollar bill and a fifty cent silver piece lay in place of the skates. Then Nick had not exactly stolen Hugh's property, but imagined that this forced sale might keep him within the law.

Hugh at first flush felt indignant. He gave the money an angry look, as though scorning it, despite the hard work Nick may have done and sacrifices also made in order to build up that small amount.

"Why, the contemptible scamp, I'll have to set Chief Wambold after him, and recover my skates!" he said, warmly for him. "Serve him right, too, if this is the last straw on the camel's back, to send him to the House of Refuge for a spell. He is a born thief, I do believe, and ought to be treated just like one."

Hugh, aroused by the sense of injustice, and a desire to turn the tables on the slippery Nick, even stepped forward to snatch up his cap, with the full intention of hurrying out to see if he could overtake the thief; and, if not, continuing on until he came to the office of the police force. Then he stopped short with a gasp.

He had suddenly remembered something. Into his mind rushed the details of a certain recent conversation in which he had indulged with his closest chum, Thad Stevens. Again he saw the picture of that good priest of the story, looking so benignly upon the wretched Jean Valjean, brought into his presence with the valuable silver candlesticks and spoons found in his possession, which he kept insisting his late host had presented him with, however preposterous the claim seemed.

"Why, this is very nearly like that case, I declare!" ejaculated Hugh, almost overcome by the wonderful similarity, which seemed the more amazing because of the resolution he told Thad he had taken.

He dropped back into his seat, with the money still gripped in his hand. He stared hard at it. In imagination he could see Nick, who never liked hard work any too well, they said, busying himself like a beaver, putting in coal for some neighbor, perhaps; or cleaning a walk off for a dime. He must have done considerable work to earn that first dollar.

"Then after that," Hugh was saying to himself, "he sold a pair of his pet pigeons, and I reckon he thinks a heap of them, from all I've heard said. Yes, Nick must have wanted my old skates worse than he ever did anything in all his life. And when I refused to sell them to him he just thought he'd do the trading by himself. It's a queer way of doing business, and one the law wouldn't recognize; but, after all, it was an upward step for Nick Lang, when he could have taken the skates, and kept the cash as well. This certainly beats the Dutch! What ought I to do about it, I wonder? Of course, if I told the whole thing to mother, I suppose she'd let me have the new skates ahead of time; or I could borrow Kenneth Kinkaid's, because, after breaking his leg that way in the running race he says he isn't to be allowed to skate a bit this winter. But ought I let the scamp keep my skates?"

He mused over it for several minutes, as if undecided. Then the sound of voices outside caught his attention. One seemed to be gruff and official, another whining.

Hugh jumped up and stepped to a window. He could see down the street on which the Morgan home stood. Three persons were in sight, and hurrying along toward the house. One of these he recognized as his chum, Thad, who must have returned from Hobson's mill-pond earlier than he had expected. Another was the tall, attenuated Chief Wambold; and the party whom he was gripping by the arm—yes, it was none other than Hugh's late visitor, Nick Lang!

"Oh, they've caught him, it seems, just like those awful police did poor, wicked Jean Valjean," Hugh muttered, thrilled by the sight; "and right now they're fetching Nick back here, to ask me if he wasn't lying when he said I'd sold or given him my skates!"

He realized that, undoubtedly, by some strange freak of fortune Thad must have seen the other gloating over his prize; and recognizing the skates, for they were well-known to him, he had beckoned to the policeman who happened to be near by, with the result that Nick was nabbed before he realized his peril.

Hugh had to decide quickly as to what he should do, for they were coming in through the gate even now. Once again did the wonderful story he had been reading flash before his mind.

"I must try it out!" he exclaimed suddenly, gripped by the amazing coincidence between this case and that so aptly described by Hugo. "I said I would if ever I had a chance. It worked miracles in the story; perhaps it may in real life, Anyway, it's going to be worth while, and give me a heap of enjoyment watching the result. So here and now I say that I've sold my skates to Nick, and that they really belong to him at this minute. But I reckon he'll be scared pretty badly when he faces me again, expecting the worst."

Thad knew how to get in by the side door that opened on the back stairs; so he did not waste any time in ringing the bell. Now Hugh could hear heavy footsteps. They were coming, and the great test was about to be made.

The door opened to admit, first of all, Thad, his face filled with burning indignation, and his eyes sparkling with excitement. Close on his heels the others also pushed into the room on the second floor, transformed into a genuine boy's den by pictures of healthy sport on the walls, besides college burgees, fishing tackle, a bass of three pounds that had been beautifully stuffed by Hugh himself to commemorate a glorious day's sport; and dozens of other things dear to the heart of a youth who loved the Great Outdoors as much as he did.

Chief Wambold looked triumphant and grim. Nick fairly writhed in that iron clutch, and his face had assumed a sickly sallow color; while his eyes reminded Hugh of those of a hunted wild animal at bay, fear and defiance struggling for the mastery.

"Stand there, you cub!" snarled the police officer, as he gave Nick a whirl into the room, closing the door at the same time, and planting his six-foot-five figure against it, to prevent such a thing as escape.

It was quite a tableau. Hugh believed he would never forget it as long as he lived. But Thad, it appeared, was the first to speak.

"Hugh, this skunk has gone and beat you after all!" he cried, pointing a scornful finger at the glowering Nick, who was eyeing Hugh hungrily, as if trying to decide whether or not the other would tell Chief Wambold to lock him up as a thief. "I chanced to see him pull something out that he had been hiding under his coat, and recognized your nickel-mounted skates. So I beckoned to Chief Wambold, and told him about it; he made Nick come back here to face you, and confess to the theft."

Nick growled something half under his breath, that sounded like:

"Didn't steal 'em, I tell you; I bought the skates fair and square from Hugh here. You're all down on me, and won't listen to a thing I say; that's the worst of it."

The tall head of the Scranton police force held up something he had been carrying all the while.

"Here's the skates he had, Hugh," he went on to say. "Thad tells me they are your property. He even showed me your initials scratched on each skate. Take a good look at the same, and let me know about it, will you, before I lug this sneak off to the lock-up. I reckon he's headed for the Reform School this time, sure!"

At that Nick grew even more sallow than before, if such a thing were possible; and the fear in his eyes became almost pitiable.

Hugh, meaning to make a straight job of his idea, calmly looked the skates over. He knew full well how Nick was watching his every action, trying to hug just a glimmer of hope to his heart that, perhaps, Hugh might be merciful, and let him off, as the skates were now once again in his possession. The shadow of the Reformatory loomed up dreadfully close to Nick Lang just then, darker than he had ever before imagined it could look. It terrified him, too, and caused him to shiver as though someone had dashed a bucket of ice-cold water over him unexpectedly.

"Yes, I recognize these skates very well, Chief," Hugh told the waiting officer.

"And do they belong to you, Hugh?" continued the officer, with a stern look at the cringing culprit near by, who weakly leaned against the table for support after his recent rough handling.

"They were my property until just ten minutes, more or less, ago, Chief," said Hugh, deliberately fixing Nick with his eye, so as to impress things on him in a way he could never forget. "Then I had an offer from Nick here to buy them. At first I was averse to letting him have them, but I changed my mind. These skates belong to Nick, Chief. You must set him free, and not hold this against him. He's going to wipe the slate clean this time and astonish folks here in Scranton by showing them what a fellow of his varied talents can do, once he sets out to go straight. And, for one, I wish him the best of success from the bottom of my heart. I hope you enjoy your skates, Nick."

He held out his hand, and the astounded Nick mechanically allowed Hugh to squeeze his digits. But not one word could he say, simply stared at Hugh as though he had difficulty in understanding such nobility of soul; then, taking the skates, he went from the room. They could hear the clatter of his heels as he hurried down the stairs, as though afraid Hugh might yet repent and send the officer after him.

Of course, Chief Wambold departed, shrugging his shoulders as though still more than half convinced there had been something crooked about Nick's suspicious actions.

Of course Thad had to be told the whole amazing story. He shook his head at the conclusion, and went on record as being a doubter by saying:

"I wish you success in your wonderful experiment, Hugh, I sure do; but all the same I don't believe for a minute the leopard is going to change its spots, or that Nick Lang, the worst boy in Scranton, can ever reform."

Hugh would say nothing further about it, only, of course, he made Thad promise to keep everything secret until he gave permission to speak. If Nick made good this would never happen.

That night Hugh had a jolly time, and it was fairly late when he crept into bed. As he lay there, instead of going to sleep immediately, he looked out of the window toward the west, where a bright star hung above the horizon. It seemed like a magnet to Hugh, who lay there and watched for its setting, all the while allowing his thoughts to roam back to the remarkable happening of that afternoon.

"It's a toss-up, just as Thad says, whether anything worth while will come of my experiment," he told himself; "but, anyhow, I've given Nick something to think over. And if he makes the first advances toward me I'm bound to meet him half-way. I only hope it turns out like the story of Jean Valjean did. But there goes my Star of Hope down behind the horizon; and now I'd better be getting some sleep myself. All the same I'm glad I did it!"

And doubtless he slept all the more soundly because of the noble impulse that had impelled him to save Nick Lang from the Reform School.



There was a large crowd present to watch the local hockey match that morning. Not only were Scranton High pupils interested, but many of the town folks seemed to find it convenient to stroll around to the field that, during the recent summer, had been the scene of bitterly contested baseball games.

Even a number of gentlemen were on hand to criticize, and also applaud, according to what their judgment of the work of the young athletes proved to be. Some of these men had been college players, or, at least, interested in athletic sports. They hailed the awakening of Scranton along these lines most heartily. And most of them had only too gladly invested various sums in the up-building of the athletic grounds.

Now that the high board-fence surrounded the large field, and the carefully planned clubhouse stood at the near end, the grounds had a business-like air. Those who knew just how to go about it had seen that the water was just the right depth, and this was now frozen almost solid. As the enclosure was limited in dimensions, it became apparent that half of the ice should be given over to the hockey players. When the game was finished the entire pond could be used by the general public.

The "rink" had been scientifically measured off, and such lines as were necessary marked, after the rules of the game. The two goals in the center of the extreme ends were stationary, the posts having been rooted to the ice in some ingenious fashion, with the nets between.

Hugh Morgan had been unanimously chosen to serve as leader of the Scranton Seven. He was admirably fitted for the position, since his playing was gilt-edged, his judgment sound, and he never allowed himself to become excited, or "rattled," no matter what the crisis.

The other members of the team consisted of fellows who had done nobly in the stirring baseball encounters of the previous summer, and were, moreover, well up in the various angles of skating.

By name they were as follows, and those who have read previous stories in this High School Series will recognize old friends in the list:

Julius Hobson, Thad Stevens, Joe Danvers, Owen Dugdale, Horatio Juggins and Justin Smith, commonly known as "J. J."

The scratch team consisted of some fine players in addition, boys who were swift on the wing and able with their hockey sticks. When the two teams were lined up to hear the last instructions from Mr. Leonard, who, being the physical instructor at Scranton High, had taken upon himself the duties of umpire and coach and referee all in one for this occasion, they stood as follows:

Scranton High Position Scratch Team Stevens ......... Goal ........... Anthony McGrew Hobson .......... Point .......... Frank Marshall Danvers ......... Cover Point .... Dick Travers Smith ........... Right End ...... Nick Lang Dugdale ......... Center ......... Tom Rawlings Juggins ......... Left End ....... Phil Hasty Morgan .......... Rover .......... Tug Lawrence

Just before the game began there was a hasty consultation among the players opposed to the regular team. One of their members had sent word he could not come up to time, as his mother had refused to let him play. This necessitated a change of program. A substitute must be found, and as they knew that Hugh's Seven already greatly outclassed them it was of considerable moment that they pick up a player who would strengthen their team, regardless of his identity.

So Nick Lang had been approached and offered the position of Right End, a very important place for swift action and furious fighting. Nick had been skating quietly by himself and evidently greatly enjoying his new skates, which many boys recognized as the pair Hugh Morgan had once owned.

He had hesitated just a trifle, and then agreed to fill the vacancy. There were those who shook their heads dismally when they saw Nick the trouble-maker in the line-up. Previous experiences warned them that the game was very likely to break up in a big row, for such had been the fate of many a rivalry when rough-and-ready Nick Lang entered the lists.

But Hugh, who had secretly been the first to suggest to the captain of the other Seven that Nick be chosen, somehow believed the one-time bully of Scranton might surprise his critics for once by playing a straight, honest game.

Hugh, of course, was mounted on his new silver skates. He had found little difficulty in persuading his mother to advance his birthday gift a few days, after telling her the whole circumstances; and it must be said that Mrs. Morgan approved of his plan from the bottom of her heart.

Mr. Leonard had often had trouble with Nick in times gone by. When he sternly told the boys before the game was started that he meant to be severe in inflicting punishment and penalties for foul or off-side work he had Nick mostly in mind. Indeed, everyone who heard what he said concluded that it was meant almost entirely for the Lang chap.

Nick only grinned. Those who knew him best did not find any encouragement about his apparent good nature. Nick could "smile, and smile again, and still be a villain," as some of them were fond of repeating.

The game began, and was soon in full progress, with the players surging from one end of the rink to the other, according to which side had gained possession of the puck, and were endeavoring by every legitimate means possible to shoot the little rubber disc between the goal posts, and into the net of their opponents.

It was soon seen that as a whole the Scratch Team was woefully weak. Hugh's players had things pretty much their own way. Before more than half of the first twenty-minute period had been exhausted the score stood five goals for Scranton High, and none to the credit of their opponents.

Then the tactics of the Scratch Team underwent a change. The captain put Nick Lang forward to oppose Hugh Morgan when the puck was again faced for a fresh start. In a fashion truly miraculous Nick managed to gain possession of the rubber, and the way in which he sent it flying before him along the ice was well worth seeing. Many started to cheer, forgetting their former antipathy toward the bully. Despite the clever work of Hugh, and others, as well as the able defense of the goal-keeper, Thad Stevens, Nick succeeded in shooting the puck between the goal posts for a score.

Hugh was ready to shake hands with himself, he felt so pleased. And not once so far had Mr. Leonard found occasion to reprimand Nick on account of foul work so flagrant that it could be no accident.

Many rubbed their eyes and asked their neighbors if that could really be Nick Lang, the terror of Scranton, who played like a fiend, and yet kept well within his rights?

"But just wait till something happens to upset Nick," they went on to say, with wise shakes of the head. "We know how he's just bound to carry on. It's a nice game so far, but the chances are three to one it'll break up in a row yet; they always do when that fellow has a hand in the going. He wouldn't be happy without a fuss, and an attempt to win by some dirty work."

When the first half had passed, and there was a recess of fifteen minutes called for the warm players to secure a little rest, the score was five to three. That looked better for a well-contested game. And so far there had not been any flagrant breaking of rules to call for condemnation on the part of the referee.

Mr. Leonard himself looked a little surprised. He could not understand it, but continued to keep an extra sharp eye on the usual trouble-maker, as though expecting Nick to break loose with more than ordinary violence because he had kept "bottled up" so long.

Hugh noticed another thing that interested him. During this intermission Nick skated by himself. His old cronies, Tip Slavin and Leon Disney, were on the ice, and, of course, indulging in their customary derogatory remarks concerning the playing of the Regulars, but Nick did not seem to want to join them, as had always been his habit hitherto.

Twice Hugh saw the crafty Leon skate up alongside and speak insinuatingly to the other, as though trying to persuade him to agree to something; but on each occasion Nick shook his head in the negative, and broke away. Leon looked after him rather disconsolately, as though at a loss to understand what could have happened to take all the fight and "bumptiousness" out of the former bully.

Then play was resumed.

Hugh had taken his comrades to task during the intermission. He told them several weaknesses had developed in their team play, which should be corrected if they hoped to down the strong Keyport Seven. Nor did Hugh spare himself in making these criticisms, for he knew his own faults. It is a wise boy who does.

Having tested Nick's superb playing and found it good, the captain of the Scratch Seven was willing to put him forward as their star player, even if it went against the grain to realize that they had to depend on a fellow so much in disrepute.

There were several hot scrimmages, as always occur during a strenuous game of ice hockey. Even the most careful of players will sometimes err in judgment at such times, and either be reprimanded by the referee or having their side penalized on account of their too energetic work. Strange to say, Nick Lang never once caused a penalty to be inflicted on his side, though Rawlings, Hasty and Lawrence were unwitting offenders, as were also Dugdale and Hobson on the part of Scranton High.

Everybody was satisfied when the game finally came to an end with the score nine to six. It was a pretty good contest, all things considered. Perhaps the Regulars did not try quite as hard as they might, since after all this was to be considered only in the light of practice, and they were more taken up with correcting certain glaring errors than in making goals.

The talk of the whole game, however, was the playing of Nick Lang, who had left the ice after it was all over; but not before Hugh had congratulated him on his fine work.

"How did he ever go through with it all, and never make a nasty break once?"

"This must foe one of Nick's special good days, I reckon!"

"He's sure a hummer, all right, when he chooses to play straight. What a pity he has that crooked streak in his make-up. Only for that Nick would be a jim-dandy hand at any old athletic sport. I wonder if it will last, or is he due to break loose, to-night perhaps, just because he's held himself in so long."

These and many similar remarks passed between the astonished boys of Scranton High, but they did not seem able to understand it at all. Hugh, however, only smiled when they appealed to him, and would say nothing; but deep down in his heart he was satisfied that the seed he had sown had fallen on fallow soil and taken root.



"Hugh, have you heard the news this Sunday morning?"

With these abrupt words Thad Stevens burst upon his chum who was feeding some long-eared, handsome Belgian hares, which of late he had taken to keeping, as it had become quite a fad among the Scranton boys.

Hugh turned to look at his friend. It was plain to be seen that Thad was laboring under considerable excitement. His face was flushed as if with running, while his eyes glowed much more than was their wont under ordinary conditions.

"Why, no, I haven't heard a thing except the church bells ringing, and people going past our house early this morning for mass. You know we live on a street that is largely used by those who have to get out shortly after daybreak Sunday mornings in winter. What's happened during the night? There couldn't have been a fire, because I'd have heard the bell, and been out with the rest of the boys."

"Oh! you couldn't guess it in a dozen trials, Hugh. It was a regular down-right burglary that was pulled off, even if the stuff taken consisted of candy, cigarettes, and the like, as well as some sporting goods and several revolvers."

Hugh looked interested.

"From the way you talk, Thad, I should say it might have been Paul Kramer's Emporium that had suffered; because he's really the only man in Scranton who keeps sporting goods."

"A good guess, Hugh, because Paul is the chap. They got in through a back door, and everybody says it was a pretty slick job, too," Thad went on to say.

"Let's see what you're telling me," Hugh remarked thoughtfully. "If they took candy and cigarettes and sporting goods it would look to me pretty much as if the robbery was the work of unprincipled boys, rather than men."

Thad stared hard at his companion.

"Well, you are a wonder, Hugh, at seeing through things!" he hastily declared. "Why, that was what Chief Wambold said right away. And, Hugh, he followed it with the declaration that he guessed he could put his finger on the guilty fellows without much trouble. You know who he had in mind, of course, Hugh?"

"It goes without saying that one of them would be Nick Lang," came the quick reply, while a small cloud crept over Hugh's face.

"Sure thing," continued Thad, shrugging his shoulders. "When a fellow has built up a nice reputation for himself along those lines he can't blame folks for suspecting him of every single tricky piece of work that is pulled off in town. In the past Nick has been ring-leader in lots of lawless doings, and the Chief was dead certain he'd get him with the goods on this time, as he called it."

"Perhaps he may, but I hope that for once Chief Wambold will find himself mistaken," said Hugh soberly, and then adding: "How did you happen to hear about it, Thad?"

"Oh! I chanced to be out early this morning on an errand for mother, taking some things over to that sick colored wash-lady we have do our weekly work, and passing through the public square on my way back I saw a crowd around Kramer's place. Of course I stayed on the job, and heard all sorts of things said. But, Hugh, they've got one of the thieves, all right."

"Who was he, Leon Disney?" asked the other, quickly, as he suddenly remembered the actions of the boy in question when he twice approached Nick Lang on the ice during that intermission for rest in the hockey match; and when he, Hugh, fancied Leon was entreating his former pal to do something which Nick refused to entertain.

"Just who it is," said the wondering Thad. "The Chief went to his house and insisted on making a thorough search. He's a shrewd old duck, is Chief Wambold, for all his faults. He seemed to guess just where a boy like Leon would hide the spoils of a raid like this. Under the floor of the old barn on the Disney place he found about half the stuff that was taken, candy by the wholesale, cigarettes, two revolvers, and even a pair of choice hockey skates."

"About half you are saying, Thad; then it looks to me as if there must have been just two of the thieves, for they had divided things equally between them."

"What a lawyer you would make, Hugh, or a detective either, for that matter," the other boy exclaimed.

"What did Leon say when they found the stolen stuff hidden under his barn?" further questioned Hugh, deigning to smile at his chum's compliment, however.

"Nary a thing would he say, except to declare himself innocent, and that he himself had heard a noise out there last night, and guessed that some enemy of his must have set up a mean game on him, wanting to get him nabbed. But say, Hugh, the Chief pulled seven packets of cigarettes out of his coat-pocket, every one stamped with the same maker's name; and nobody in Scranton handles that brand but Paul Kramer."

"It looks pretty bad for Leon, I should say," remarked Hugh.

"Oh! he'll get a free pass to the Reform School this time, as sure as anything!" asserted Thad; "and a good riddance of bad rubbish, most people in Scranton will be saying. Of course they'll be sorry for his mother, who is a respectable woman, and has had heaps of trouble with that good-for-nothing son of hers."

"But about the other thief, Thad?"

"Well, Chief Wambold said there wasn't any doubt in the wide world but that it must be Nick Lang, and I guess everybody around agreed with him, Hugh."

"Did he go up and arrest Nick?" asked Hugh, deeply interested.

"Just what he did, and I was along with the crowd," Thad told him. "Well, sir, you never saw such a cool customer. Nick smiled as brazenly in the face of the Chief as anything you ever saw. They searched, and searched, but never a scrap of the stolen goods could they run across."

"Well, what then, Thad?"

"Why, of course the Chief declared that Nick had only been some smarter than his pal in hiding the spoils where no one could find the stuff. He told Nick he would have to arrest him on general suspicion because Leon and he were such great pals, and Leon was already as good as convicted."

"Yes, and what did Nick say to that?" asked Hugh.

"Would you believe it, Hugh, he up and told the Chief that he could prove an alibi. You see, the robbery was done before eleven o'clock last night, because the clock that was knocked down when the thieves were rummaging around in the store had been broken, and it stopped at just a quarter to eleven. Even Chief Wambold agreed on that point."

"Yes, and it was cleverly settled, I must say, Thad. But how about Nick's alibi; would the Chief accept his mother's word, knowing that the chances were Nick had slipped out of the house by a window when she supposed him to be sound asleep in his bed?"

"Oh! Nick had much better proof than that, Hugh. He demanded that Chief Wambold call up old Deacon Joel Winslow, who, you know, is a man much respected around Scranton, and keeps the blacksmith shop out on the road to Allandale where it crosses the one leading to Keyport. Yes, sir, and when the officer did so from Headquarters the blacksmith weather prophet plainly told him Nick had been working alongside himself from seven until a quarter-after-eleven the night before!"

Hugh laughed. It really seemed as though a load had been suddenly taken off his chest. He had begun to fear lest his experiment might have already met with its Waterloo.

"I'm pleased to hear you say that, Thad, I certainly am," he remarked, "And did our wonderful Chief conclude to hold Nick after that?"

"He wanted to, Hugh,—I could see that plain enough; but Nick demanded that he be set at liberty. Say, you know I'm not much of an admirer of Nick Lang, but he did bluff the tall Chief of Police good and hard. He actually told him he'd sue him for damage to his reputation if he dared to hold him when there wasn't a particle of evidence connecting him with the robbery, except that once upon a time he used to go with Leon Disney, as lots of other fellows did, too."

"Then he was let go free, I take it, from what you say, Thad?"

"Oh! well, the police head said he knew very well Nick was in the racket, even if he had covered his footsteps so cunningly; and even fooled Deacon Winslow. He told Nick he'd parole him temporarily, but that he might still consider himself as under arrest."

"That must be a joke," chuckled Hugh. "It was silly on the part of Chief Wambold. But then, of course, Nick has made him a whole lot of trouble in the past. So only one fellow has been taken, and he refuses to tell on his pal, does he?"

"Absolutely, though the Chief says he means to put Leon through the third degree, and force a confession from him. What does he mean by that, Hugh? I've seen it mentioned in the papers lots of times."

"I believe in cities like New York some of the detectives act roughly with a suspected prisoner, and scare them into saying things. But a clever head of police once on a time had a smarter way of getting a confession than by rough-house tactics."

"Yes? Tell me about it then," pleaded Thad.

"When he had reason to believe several members of a gang were implicated in a robbery, or other crime, he would have the weakest arrested, and brought into his presence. Then, while the man sat there nervously waiting for the dreaded ordeal of an interview and looking out of a window, he would see one of his fellow gangsters taken past in charge of several plain clothes men. Of course that would give him a shock, and when the Chief turned and told him the other fellow had already promised to make a confession in order to save himself, the prisoner nearly always broke down, and told everything to get in ahead."

"Well, the last I saw of Chief Wambold," continued Thad, "he was starting out to interview Deacon Winslow. You see, he believes the old blacksmith must have meant ten-fifteen instead of eleven. That would give Nick plenty of time to get back to town, so as to take part in the robbery of the Emporium."

Hugh rubbed his hands together after the manner of one whose mind was completely satisfied.

"I fancy he'll have all his trouble for his pains," he went on to say calmly.

"Meaning that the deacon will stick to his statement, and so clear Nick of complicity in the crime—is that it, Hugh?"

"We all know Deacon Winslow to be a reliable man," Hugh told him. "He is accustomed to dealing in figures, and not inclined to make a mistake about the time. I'd wager now he has something positive to settle the matter of Nick's staying there, working at the forge, and learning how to be a blacksmith, until exactly fifteen minutes after eleven."

"Well," said Thad, scratching his head as though still confused, "things look pretty queer to me, and I hardly know what to believe about that Nick Lang."



At that Hugh, having finished his work in connection with the care of his tame pets, turned around and faced his chum.

"On my part, Thad," he was saying, quietly but sincerely, "I'm getting to be hopeful of Nick. I honestly believe that fellow has seen a great light. I think he's made up his mind to turn over a new leaf and redeem his rotten past. And I want to say here and now it's up to every boy in Scranton High to treat him decently while he's still fighting his old impulses of evil. I know I shall let him feel I believe in him, until he does something to forfeit my esteem."

"That's just like you, Hugh; and I guess the rest of us ought to be ashamed to throw any stumbling block in the way of a chap who is trying to get out of his old rut. But it passes my comprehension how he can change, and play fair and square, when all his life he's been so tricky and low-down mean."

"As for that, lots of men who were once down in the gutter have reformed, and proved giants in helping others to get up to respectability again. Take that Jean Valjean we were talking about the other day, who changed right-about-face, and became just as fine a man as he was bad before. You don't suppose it all came in a flash, do you?"

"Why, no, of course not, Hugh. He was the lowest sort of a beast, as pictured by Hugo, with the vilest ideas concerning human nature. After he had that revelation, and saw the good priest actually tell a lie in order to save him, he woke up, and, as you said, began thinking for himself. Then the change came gradually, and he determined to work to help those who were down and out like himself."

"All right," said Hugh. "This case of Nick Lang is like this, in a small way. But, Thad, do you feel like taking a walk this fine crisp winter morning?"

"Just for the exercise, or have you any scheme in your mind, Hugh?"

"Both, I might say. The mile walk will do us good, and then we may be able to satisfy ourselves about a few things. It is just half a mile out to the cross-roads, and Deacon Winslow's house and smithy, you know."

Thad looked interested at once.

"So, that's the way the wind blows, is it?" he remarked. "You want to interview the deacon, too, as well as Chief Wambold?"

"But not from the same motive, Thad. On the contrary, while he went out to try and find a reason for believing Nick guilty, in spite of his alibi, I mean only to ask a few questions that will clear up a little point that is a bit muddled."

"Perhaps I could guess what that is," said Thad quickly. "You're puzzled to understand why Nick should have been out there on just last night of all times, when any other would have done just as well. How about that, Hugh?"

"That's one of the things I'd like to have cleared up," Hugh admitted. "Between us, Thad, I've got a pretty good notion Nick knew about this contemplated raid on Kramer's store. Perhaps in times past they may even have plotted such a thing, so as to get all the cigarettes and candy they wanted for once. I even believe he was refusing Leon and Tip Slavin, who were urging him to join in with them, when I saw him shake his head and skate away yesterday."

"Go on, Hugh, you've got me interested again; sure you have."

"While Nick wouldn't think of betraying his former associates, from whose company he had broken away, at the same time he was smart enough to see he would be placed under suspicion. And he must have arranged this alibi so as to prove his positive innocence. If that turns out so, it shows Nick to be a wise one."

Shortly afterwards the pair were trudging along the road outside the corporation limits of the town of Scranton. It was some time before the customary church hour, and they were almost certain to find the old deacon at home, Hugh believed.

On the way they met a car coming along the road. In it was Chief Wambold. Scranton had advanced far enough toward the dignity of cityhood to have an auto for the police force, since the Chief often had to go to neighboring towns on matters of business, taking a prisoner, or getting one to fetch back.

He nodded to the boys as he shot past.

"Doesn't look very amiable, does he?" muttered Thad. "So I rather guess he didn't get much satisfaction from the old deacon. But he's awful stubborn, is our efficient head of police; and if he can find any way to put that business on Nick's shoulders he will, take my word for it."

Hugh only smiled as though he was not worrying about anything Chief Wambold could accomplish. He had known the other to make several "bone-plays" since coming to Scranton, and hence Hugh did not have a very high opinion of the official's merits, though not doubting his honesty of purpose at all.

After a short time they arrived at the smithy. Deacon Winslow lived close to his shop. He was a big man, with the proverbial muscles of the blacksmith; and for many years he had been looked upon as a pillar in the church he attended.

Besides this he was reckoned a good man, who could always be counted on to go out of his way to do a favor for anybody. The poor of Scranton loved him better than they did anyone they knew. His acts were often "hidden under a bushel," since he did not go around, as Thad once said, "blowing his own horn, and advertising his goodness as one would soft soap."

Strange as it might seem, Deacon Winslow had taken quite a fancy to Nick Lang, and possibly he was the only respectable man in all Scranton who did. Perhaps he admired Nick's muscular build, and believed he would make a fine smith, if the husky boy only took a liking to the vocation of hammer and forge and anvil.

Then again it was likely that the deacon, who was a shrewd old fellow as well as good-natured and honest, saw deeper into that bad boy's soul than ordinary people, judging from surface indications. Hugh himself was inclined to believe this might be the case.

Be that as it may, Nick had been known to go out there to the Winslow shop occasionally after supper, and work alongside the old man for hours at a time. Folks considered it only another odd fad on the part of the deacon. They prophesied that he would sooner or later he sorry for having anything to do with such a good-for-nothing scapegrace as Nick Lang, who would not hesitate to play some nasty practical joke on his benefactor when the notion seized him and he had grown tired of bothering with blacksmithing.

The deacon himself came to the door. He knew both lads, and asked them to step in and sit with him before his cheery fire, as he had half an hour on his hands before starting to church.

Hugh plunged into the matter without waste of time. He told Deacon Winslow how he had been reading that wonderful story of Jean Valjean; and then what a strange freak of fate allowed him to play the same part that the good priest had done.

Step by step he carried it along, and Deacon Winslow appeared to be deeply interested, if one could judge from the way he rubbed his hands together, and nodded his head approvingly when he learned of the motives that had influenced Hugh to act as he did.

Even what had occurred on the ice on the preceding afternoon was narrated, for, as Hugh explained, he believed it had a great deal to do with the startling event that had stunned Scranton that same Sunday morning.

When he had finally ended with a profession of his belief in Nick's innocence the old man once more nodded his head. His wise eyes shone with a rare delight as he gazed at Hugh. The boy could not help thinking that the good priest in the story must have been a whole lot like old Deacon Winslow; who could believe wrong of no one, boy or man, but was always finding some excuse for forgiving, even those who deceived him in business transactions.

"You have done well, my lad," said the old man warmly, patting Hugh on the arm affectionately. "And rest assured Nick is entirely innocent of this crime. I have become deeply interested in that boy. He has had a bad name, it is true; but somehow I seemed to feel that there were elements of great good in him, if only he could be brought to book, and made to change his ways of life. He must have a new viewpoint of human nature, to start with. I thought I might arouse him through talking, and fatherly advice, but so far I could not see success following my labors. But you have hit upon an ingenious device, my boy, that promises wonderful results. We may yet make a second Jean Valjean of the despised Nick Lang; and that would be an achievement worthy of anyone."

Hugh felt more than repaid for all he had done when he heard the old deacon say this with such warmth.

"There was one thing I wanted to learn, sir, if you don't mind telling me," he went on to say. "It concerns his engagement to come out here and help you last night. Were you expecting him? Was Saturday night the one he generally took to come and help you get rid of some of your extra work that couldn't be done in the daytime, for all the horse-shoeing you have on your hands?"

The deacon smiled, and Hugh really had his answer before the old man even opened his lips. All the same he was pleased to hear him say:

"Up to now it has always been on Monday night Nick came out. That was more convenient for me, as a rule, and he accommodated himself to my wishes. But yesterday afternoon he dropped in to see me here, with his skates dangling across his shoulder, as if he had been skating. He said he would like very much to come for that once on Saturday night, instead of Monday; and that he had a good reason for making the change, which meant a whole lot to him."

"I see," remarked Hugh; "and it was clever of Nick. You agreed, of course, sir, seeing that he was here?"

"It made no particular difference to me," added the blacksmith, "and I was glad to know the lad cared enough about the work to want to make the change. So I told him to be along as usual about seven, as I had a raft of work on hand that would keep us until well on after eleven. As a fact, it was fifteen minutes after that hour when Nick started for home."

"You remember that positively then, sir,—the hour, I mean?" asked Hugh.

"Oh! I could swear to it," came the reply. "In the first place I heard the town clock strike eleven, and counted the strokes myself, remarking that we must shut up shop soon as it was getting close to Sunday morning. Then as he was quitting Nick asked me again just what time it was, and I consulted my reliable watch. I can see now that possibly Nick had an object in impressing the time on my mind, so I could say positively he was there at eleven, and after. I don't like the idea of his having known about the intended robbery, and keeping silent, but suppose he considered himself in honor bound to his former chums."

So their interview with Deacon Winslow proved a very enjoyable one after all. Hugh felt he should like to know the big amiable blacksmith better, for he had been drawn to him very much indeed.

"And," he told Thad, as they trudged back along the road to town, "the way things seem to be working, I'm more than ever encouraged to keep on with my experiment."



"Do you know," mused Thad, as they continued on their way to town, "the more I see of that blacksmith the better I like him. In my opinion, he's a grand old man."

"I was just going to say that myself," Hugh told him. "He makes me think of the priest in the story. And they say he loves boys—all boys."

"You can't make him believe there's a boy living but who has something worth while in him," Thad advanced. "Sometimes it's hid under a whole lot of trash, as Deacon Winslow calls it, and you've got to search a heap before you strike gold; but if you only persist you'll be rewarded."

"His actions with regard to Nick prove that he practices what he preaches, too," said Hugh.

"Well, the old man went through a bitter experience many years ago," Thad went on to say; "and he learned his lesson for life, he often says."

"Why, how's that, Thad? I've heard a great many things about different people since we came to Scranton; but I don't remember listening to what happened to the old deacon long ago."

"Is that a fact, Hugh? Well, I'll have to tell you about it, then. Once upon a time they had a boy, an only child; and, as happens in some families where the parents are the finest kind of Christian people, young Joel had a bad streak in his make-up. Oh! they say he gave his father no end of trouble from time to time. And it wound up in a row, with the boy doing something disgraceful, and running away from home, nearly breaking his mother's heart."

"Didn't he ever come bad again?" asked the interested listener.

Thad shook his head in the negative.

"They never looked on his face again, either living or dead," he said. "Worse than that, they never even heard from him. It was as if Joel had dropped out of sight that night when he left a line to his mother saying he was going west to where they raised men, not sissies. And so the years rolled around, and, they say, the old lady even now sits looking into the sunset skies, dreaming that her Joel, just as she remembered him, had sent word he was coming back to visit them in their old age, and to ask forgiveness for his wrong-doing."

Hugh was greatly moved by the sad tale, which, however, he knew could be easily matched in every town of any size in the country; for it is of common occurrence, with a multitude of sore hearts turning toward that Great West.

"That must have been how long ago, Thad?" he asked presently.

"Let me see, I should think all of forty years; perhaps forty-five would be closer to the mark, Hugh."

"How sad," mused the other lad, with a shake of his head; "and to think of that poor old lady, an invalid, you said, and confined to a wheelchair, watching the sinking sun faithfully each evening as it sets, still yearning for her boy to come back. It is a dream that has become a part of her very existence. Why, even if young Joel had lived he would now be over sixty years of age, but she never thinks of him that way. The deacon, they say, is eighty-five, though you'd never believe it to see his brawny muscles and healthy complexion."

"You see," continued Thad, anxious that his chum should know everything connected with the subject, now he was upon it, "the old man often takes himself to task because he didn't understand boys as he might have done, when younger. He believes he could have spared his wife her great sorrow if he had only been more judicious, and won the boy's confidence as well as his affection."

"And that accounts for the deep interest he has felt in all boys ever since," Hugh was saying reflectively; "especially those who seem to have a streak of badness in them."

"I suppose," Thad remarked, "it is his way of doing penance for what he considers a fault of his earlier years. Sometimes I think I'd just like to be able to follow up that chap when he ran away from home, and learn what really did become of him."

"He may have met with a sad fate out West, Thad; plenty of fellows have gone out and been swallowed up in the whirlpool."

"If, on the other end, he didn't, and lived for many years," continued the other, "he must have been pretty tough not to write to his poor old mother at least once in a while. I could never forgive Joel for that. But they say he had an ugly nature, and was very stubborn. Well, I'm glad the deacon has taken an interest in the reformation of Nick Lang, even if I have my doubts about his meeting with any sort of success."

"Well, you may be a whole lot surprised one of these fine days, my boy," Hugh smilingly told him.

"The age of miracles has passed, Hugh," remarked Thad skeptically.

"Not the miracles that are brought about by a complete change of heart on the part of someone the world looks down on as a scamp," Hugh persisted. "But you're one of those who want to be shown; I reckon, Thad, your folks must have come from Missouri, didn't they?"

"Wrong again, Hugh, because none of them ever saw the Mississippi, though my grandfather fought through the Civil War, and was with Grant when Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. But I admit I am a little stubborn, and prejudiced. It runs in the blood, I suppose. The Stevens were always sort of pig-headed."

"I've also heard considerable about the deacon as a weather seer, Thad; how about that? Does he manage to hit it off occasionally, so as to equal our forecaster at Washington, whose predictions come true every now and then?"

"Oh! the deacon has made that quite a fad," he was told by the obliging Thad. "He doesn't confine himself to figuring out just what sort of day we'll have to-morrow, or even for the coming week. He looks ahead, and finds out from the signs of Nature what sort of winter or summer we're going to have next,—cold, mild, hot, cool, dry or rainy. And say, I've heard he hits it nearly every time."

"Well, what did he say about this particular winter?" Hugh asked, with renewed interest; for such subjects always gripped his attention, because he believed some of these shrewd countrymen, who watched the weather and observed what was going on all around them, could tell better than any scientific gentleman what was liable to come along during the succeeding seasons.

"He predicted a severe winter," replied Thad promptly. "Some people laughed at what he said, especially when Christmas came and went, and so far we'd had precious little of cold. But it's come along at last, and from all reports some of the most dreadful weather ever known is happening away out in the Northwest right now."

"And how does the old blacksmith get his ideas—from Nature, you said, I believe, Thad?"

"He studies the bark on the trees; the way the squirrels store the nuts away; and how the caterpillars weave their cocoons. Oh! he has a hundred different signs that he depends on before making up his mind. I used to laugh when I heard him talking about it, but since I've grown older I've decided that there may be a whole lot in that sort of weather prediction."

"I incline that same way," agreed Hugh. "Many of the little animals of the woods are given a wonderful instinct that enables them to know what to expect. Even bees that always lay by a certain amount of honey for winter use, are said to stock up extra heavy on years when a severe winter comes along. It must be a mighty interesting study, I should think. Some time I mean to know the old deacon better, so as to get posted on his vast store of knowledge along those lines."

"His wife is rather feeble now," continued Thad. "She's a fine old lady though, and as cheery as can be, considering all things."

"But if, as you said, she has to move around in one of those self-propelling wheel-chairs, how does she ever get her house-work done, Thad?"

"Oh! they have a girl in during the daytime," came the explanation; "though Mrs. Winslow still mixes all the cakes and bread. And, say, she does make the greatest crullers you ever tasted in your born days. I know, because that couple are always sending things out to houses where there are growing boys. Their world lies in boys only; you never hear either of them say a thing about girls."

Hugh could easily understand that. He had been in numerous homes where there were only boys in the family; and the parents knew next to nothing about the delight and constant anxiety of girls.

"As I like crullers about the best of any sort of cakes," he chuckled, "I think I'll have to cultivate the acquaintance of Mrs. Winslow. Some time I may have the pleasure of tasting her famous cooking that you rate so highly. But to turn to another subject, Thad, have you heard any more reports about those Keyport High fellows we expect to go up against next Saturday?"

"Yes, I have, Hugh. Podge Huggins was over there two days back. He saw them practicing on some thin ice over a pond, and he told, me they were an exceptionally husky proposition. He also saw us work yesterday afternoon in the scratch game, and when I asked him how we compared with Keyport, why Podge wouldn't give me a straight answer; but only grinned and turned the subject."

"Evidently then Podge doesn't have the confidence in his school team that he ought to feel," said Hugh, apparently not at all disturbed. "Well, we have a whole week still for practice, and ought to keep on improving. I'm hoping that Keyport may overdo it, which is always possible."

"You mean too much work will cause them to go stale; is that it, Hugh?"

"Physical directors and coaches are always on their guard against that, Thad. The boat team is always strongest at a certain point. If the race comes off when they attain that top-notch pinnacle, they're apt to do their very best; but should it be delayed, by weather or something else, the coach becomes alarmed, because he knows there's a great chance of their losing speed from too much nervous tension and overwork."

From which talk it was evident that Hugh must have imbibed considerable valuable knowledge from Mr. Leonard, who, as a college man, ought to understand a thing or two concerning sporting matters.

So the two chums continued to talk all the way back to town. Hugh had picked up a whole lot of information by making the journey out to the cross-roads. Somehow he seemed to feel drawn toward the old blacksmith, who seemed to be such a sterling character.

Hugh had met him in church circles and at sociables, but, not knowing the tragedy that lay back in the deacon's younger life, he had so far failed to cultivate his acquaintance. But he was now determined to see more of Deacon Winslow, for he believed the weather prophet would be able to tell him a host of interesting things about Nature's storehouse, from which he had gleaned astonishing facts during many years' study.



Another week of school had commenced, with winter now in full swing.

The weather seemed to have settled down to show what it could do, after such a long delay. It was making up for lost time, some of the boys declared. But then it could hardly be too cold for fellows warmly dressed, and who had their three hearty meals a day. The poor might complain, because they suffered, especially when such spells were prolonged.

Deacon Winslow was seen in town more frequently than usual, he leaving the work to the charge of his assistant for an hour or so at a time. He always carried a big basket in his wagon or sleigh; and those who knew his warm heart could easily understand that his visits were wholly at homes where there was none too much in the way of comforts and food.

During the earlier days of the week the talk was pretty much of winter sports. Ice hockey occupied a prominent place in the conversations that were carried on wherever three or more Scranton High fellows clustered, to kick their heels on the pavement, or sun themselves while perched on the top of the campus fence that would go down in history as the peer of the famous one at Yale.

During afternoons the hockey players gathered at the park, and each day saw them engaging in some sort of practice game,—their opponents being such fellows as could be gathered together to constitute a fair Seven.

Hugh seemed satisfied with the progress made, and Mr. Leonard, too, looked as if he felt well repaid for the trouble he was taking showing them certain clever moves that might reward them in a fiercely contested match.

Meanwhile the mystery concerning that robbery at Paul Kramer's Emporium had not yet been wholly solved. Leon Disney still languished in the lock-up at Police Headquarters, his folks having been unable to secure bail for him. They could not raise the amount themselves, and somehow there seemed to be no person in the whole community philanthropical enough to take chances with Leon, who was reckoned an exceedingly slippery individual, who would most likely run away before his trial came off, leaving his bondsman to "hold the bag," as the boys called it.

He was just as stubborn as ever in his denial of complicity in the robbery. Leon doubtless believed that a lie well stuck to was bound to raise up friends. There are always well disposed people whose sympathies are apt to be aroused when they hear of a case like this.

But Leon was not being held on circumstantial evidence. He had been caught "with the goods on him." All that loot hidden under the old barn on his place was positive proof of his guilt. Still he held out, and declared himself the victim of some base plot calculated to ruin his reputation; which was rather a queer thing for Leon to say, since the only reputation he had in Scranton was for badness.

Another thing was that he still declined to betray his pal, for everyone felt positive he had had company when foraging through the cases in Paul Kramer's establishment, taking such things as naturally appeal to a boy's heart—candy, cigarettes, revolvers and sporting goods.

Chief Wambold suspected one boy from the start, after finding that the former chief offender in these lines could prove a positive alibi. This was the third of the bad lot, Tip Slavin.

He had even gone to Tip's humble home and made a thorough search, high and low, but without the least success. If Tip were guilty he must have been smarter than his confederate, who had hidden his share of the plunder under the loose boards of the floor of his folks' barn.

Not having any evidence beyond suspicion the officer did not dare arrest Tip, who continued to loaf about his customary corners and look impudently at every fellow who stared meaningly at him when passing. Hugh himself never once doubted the guilt of Tip Slavin; though he fancied the authorities might have a hard time catching him, unless the stubborn Leon at the last, finding himself on the way to the Reform School, confessed, and implicated his companion.

He and Thad were talking about that very same thing on Thursday afternoon while on the way home from the park a little earlier than usual.

"Where do you think that sly Tip could have hidden the stuff, Hugh?" Thad asked, continuing their conversation.

"Oh! there would be plenty of places, and no one likely to ever run across it, on one condition," replied the other.

"What might that be?" demanded Thad.

"If only Tip could himself keep away from his cache," he was told. "That may be his undoing, after all. You know, when an ordinary thief has done something big, and is being looked for, the smart police always ask whether he has a wife or a sweetheart; because they know that sooner or later he is bound to communicate with such a person, and so a clue may be found to his hiding-place. Well, Tip's heart will be located where his treasure is. He'll soon get a yearning to indulge in some of the candy and cigarettes he's got hidden away."

"Then if Chief Wambold knew his duty," snapped Thad vigorously, "he'd keep tabs of Tip day and night, and shadow him wherever he went."

"That would be his best move," agreed Hugh.

"You ought to post the Chief on that same sort of clever job, Hugh."

"Well, I did think of that," admitted the other boy, "but somehow I hated to have a hand in railroading Tip to the Reformatory. It's true he ought to be there, for he's a terror to the whole community; but he's got a mother, Thad, and I'd hate to see her swollen eyes, and remember that I'd had a hand in parting her from her boy. It isn't as if I were paid for doing such things, as Chief Wambold is; this is hardly any business of mine, you know, and I've concluded to keep my hands off."

"Well, now, somehow I don't just look at it the way you do, Hugh. Perhaps I'm not quite so tender-hearted as you are. It may be the best thing that ever happened to Tip if he is sent to the Reform School before he plunges any deeper into the mire of crime. Plenty of boys have become fine men after being sent there, to be taught what it should have been the duty of their careless or incompetent parents to put into their heads."

"Do you mean that you might take a notion to drop a hint to the Chief, Thad?"

"I'll think it over, and decide later," the other told him. "Perhaps I'll ask advice of Dominie Pettigrew, who's a good friend of mine, and would tell me what my duty was, not only to Tip, but to the community at large, which he had so flagrantly abused time and again."

"Suit yourself about that, Thad. Perhaps, after all, you may be right, and that it would be a good thing all around if Tip could be sent away with Leon. But it's likely Leon will weaken when his trial comes off, and betray his pal; though he may give Tip a hint beforehand so he can clear out in time."

"And about Nick Lang?" continued Thad.

"I haven't changed my mind about him, as yet," Hugh replied sturdily enough. "So far Nick seems to be minding his own business, and having as little to do with other boys as possible. I heard Dr. Carmack say he was astonished at the difference in Nick's work in classes. He seemed particularly pleased, too, because, with all the other teachers, he's had a hard time with Nick in the past."

"But in all the days we've practiced our hockey work Nick hasn't once joined the scrub team we've fought against. That's why we've been able to lick them so easily, I guess, Hugh. That fellow certainly is a wizard on runners, and would make a good addition to our Seven, if by some chance he could be squeezed in. But one of the Regulars would have to be dropped, and I think there would be some bad blood shown if anyone had to give way to a fellow who's had such a bad reputation in the past. Even now lots of people think he's only shamming reform for some deep purpose."

"Lots of people are due for a surprise, then, let me tell you," said Hugh. "But, of course, just as you say, I wouldn't dare take any fellow out as long as he was working his best, and substituting Nick. It would raise a howl, to be sure. But, Thad, if the time should ever come when we're up against a hard proposition, with defeat staring us in the face, and one of our team was injured, I'd grab at Nick like a drowning man does at a plank floating near."

"One lucky thing happened for us, Hugh, anyhow."

"You're referring to the toss of the coin that gave us the choice of grounds for the game, and will force Keyport to journey over here on Saturday, eh, Thad?"

"Yes, that's what I had in mind. Captain Mossman seemed to be a pretty fine sort of chap, too, I thought, when he dropped in on us yesterday afternoon to look the place over; because it seems he's never played before in Scranton."

"Well, Scranton was hardly on the map until this year," Hugh laughed. "However, some of our neighboring towns have already learned that Scranton is alive and wide-awake."

"Just what they have, Hugh, and there are other surprises coming for them, too. I noticed that you cut out all play while the Keyport chap was with us. Didn't want him to get a line on our methods, I suppose?"

"It might give them a little advantage, you see, and weaken our play. Some of the Scranton boys have gone over to Keyport to see what's doing there. They bring back great reports of the confidence shown in the team; but Coach Leonard has positively forbidden any member of our Seven to make the trip. He says it smacks too much of spying to please him."

"Oh! that's drawing the line pretty tight, Hugh. Lots of players in the baseball world try their level best to get a line on a pitcher who is going to oppose them, and consider it legitimate enough."

"Well, they are professionals, to begin with," said the other; "and business is business with them. But, right or wrong, there's going to be no spying on our part, so long as Mr. Leonard has charge of the athletic end of the game at Scranton. You can depend on that every time."

"There's Owen now; he wasn't at practice this afternoon, I wonder why?" exclaimed Thad, as they sighted another boy coming toward them. "He looks as if he might be bursting with some sort of news, Hugh. Now I wonder what he's run up against."

Owen quickly arrived. His face did have an eager look, and his eyes were fairly dancing with some sort of emotion.

"Hugh, I've got something to tell you!" he burst out with, at which Thad shot a knowing glance toward his chum, which said as plain as could be: "There, what did I say to you?"

"All right, Owen, relieve yourself of the load right away, before you burst," Hugh went on to advise, in his pleasant fashion.

"It's about a certain chap who's under suspicion right now of having been implicated in that breaking into the Kramer store and robbing it."

"Tip Slavin, you mean, Owen?" asked Hugh, looking interested at once.

"Yes, no other, Hugh. Well, I've discovered beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the guilty partner of Leon Disney, just as everybody suspected!"



Thad gave utterance to an ejaculation, and then followed it up by saying:

"Well, now, I like that! After all, Hugh, I may not have to bother giving the Chief that tip you mentioned, if Owen here has discovered something big. Tell us about it, Owen, please; since you've got us excited by your news."

"I couldn't get over to practice this afternoon, Hugh, as of course you noticed," the other commenced to say. "But it wasn't any fault of mine, I give you my word. I had to do several things around the house for mother. One of the pipes had frozen and had to be thawed out. Then there were other jobs that kept me busy for an hour. Finally, when I began to hope I might get down a short time before you closed shop, she remembered an errand that would take me out on the road leading to Hobson's Mill-Pond. I had to go to Farmer Brown's for some butter and eggs."

All this was said with such a lugubrious expression that Hugh had to laugh.

"It's plain to be seen you started on that walk feeling anything but pleased, Owen," he went on to remark. "Of course you'd much rather have been skating with the balance of the crowd over at our new rink. Well, what happened?"

"Just this, Hugh. I was well out of town, and walking briskly along, thinking of the game we expect to win on Saturday, when someone suddenly turned a bend ahead. I saw that it was a boy who was smoking a cigarette like everything,—yes, Tip Slavin, if you please. He discovered me at about the same second, and, say, you ought to have seen how he flipped that coffin-nail thing from his lips, and came on as bold as anything."

Thad chuckled.

"Huh! guess you got him dead to rights that time, Owen. Did you accuse him of being a thief?" he asked hurriedly.

"Well, hardly, because, you see, I wasn't begging for a fight; and there's no doubt in the world that's what would have followed. But I made out as if I hadn't noticed anything out of the way, and just nodded careless like to Tip as we passed by."

"I admire your way of grasping the situation," said Hugh impressively, "because already I can guess you had some sort of scheme in your mind to make use of your discovery."

"Just what I did," chortled Owen. "I walked on, and turned the bend he had come around. Then I crept back, and peeked, taking care he didn't glimpse me. When I saw him stop as if deciding on something I was disappointed, because I expected he meant to come back after it; but then he seemed to think it not worth while, and later on passed out of sight in the distance."

"And then you hunted for the cigarette he had thrown away, I suppose?" ventured Thad.

"Oh! I'd noted the exact spot where he was at the time, and also on which side of the road he'd tossed the stub; so I didn't have much trouble about picking it up; after which I continued on my way. Hugh, here it is."

"With that Owen took something from his pocket, carefully wrapped in the folds of his handkerchief. It turned out to be a half-smoked cigarette. Hugh fastened his eyes instantly on some small printing in blue ink, giving the name of the manufacturers down in Virginia.

"It's the same make as those found under the Disney barn-floor," he said impressively; "and that alone would be proof that Tip has a cache somewhere back along the road to the mill-pond, perhaps in a hollow tree in the woods. A clever police officer could easily find it by following back Tip's trail, and learning just where he came out of the woods. I myself happen to know his left shoe has a triangular patch across the toe,—that would serve to identify the tracks anywhere."

"Listen to that, will you, Owen?" gasped the wondering Thad. "If my chum here doesn't take up the line of an investigator of crime for a livelihood believe me there'll be a great loss to the world. I wonder now, Hugh, if you've got tabs on all the fellows, so that you could tell who made any footprint in the mud?"

Hugh only laughed as he went on to say:

"It was just a mere accident that I knew that about Tip's mended sole, and it might never happen again. But when Owen here told us about a hidden cache I only gave you my opinion as to what would be the easiest way to discover its location. But what will you do about it, Owen,—let the Chief know of your discovery, or keep mum?"

"Why, I look at it this way," said the other, with a line of perplexity marked upon his usually smooth forehead; "if it was only a suspicion I might keep quiet, not wanting to injure Tip, though I've got little cause to love the brute. But since I actually know something that would prove a valuable clue to the officers, I'm afraid it would be what I've heard a lawyer call 'compounding a felony' if I refused to inform on Tip. How about that, Hugh? I want to do the right thing, even if I hate to be an informer."

"It's up to you, Owen, and your duty is plain enough," said Hugh.

"Then I ought to see the Chief, you mean?" asked the other.

"I'd advise you to do so, for your future peace of mind, if nothing else," Hugh told the hesitating boy, who thereupon drew a long breath, and remarked:

"I'm more than half sorry now I went back to look for this cigarette; because only for my picking up such positive evidence I needn't get into this nasty game. But I'm in now, and I'll have to shoulder my share of the responsibility, I guess. So, while the thing is still fresh in my mind, I'll trot around to Headquarters to wake up our sleeping Chief. Things have come to a pretty pass here in Scranton when boys have to lend a helping hand to the police force so as to nab a petty thief."

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