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The Scranton High Chums on the Cinder Path by Donald Ferguson

Part 3 out of 3

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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 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.



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

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 foot prints, 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 Mc. Kee, 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 bump 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

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

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.



"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.

"Hugh Morgan!"

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 grueling 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.


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