The Boys of Columbia High on the River/Chapter 18
TIT FOR TAT
"Keep back, there!"
"Hands off our chum!"
"Hurry up, fellows! To the rescue! Columbiad! Columbiad!"
That last word was known far and near as a signal of distress; and no true son of Columbia High would ever ignore the call for help it stood for. Those boys who had been lagging behind put on a new spurt of speed, and came tearing to the spot where an angry circle of lads surrounded the two men.
Joey and Martin could have fled if they had not been averse in the beginning to running away from a parcel of mere boys. And now they stood there, scowling at the dozen lads who formed that circle around them.
Joey had started in to kick the prostrate Frank vigorously, even while the other was striving to climb to his feet.
"Stop that, you ruffian!" shouted Molly Manners, the dudish student, whose only accomplishment
in the way of outdoor sports lay in his running.
"Somebody cut my hands loose!" gasped Frank, whose blood had been fired by this cowardly action of the smaller hobo.
Almost before the words were out of his mouth one of the fellows, who held an open pocket knife in his hand, had applied the blade to the cords. They fell apart, and with a tiger like jump Frank was on Joey.
He heard the other man shout out something. Then came the report of a pistol; but George Hastings had kicked it from the extended hand of Martin when he tried to make use of the weapon. After that the whole bunch hurled themselves on the man like so many rats. He threw one off but only to have others clutch hold. Vain were his efforts to run away; for with several clinging to each of his arms and legs like leeches, he could not move ten feet without going down.
Those boys who played football never had a better chance to show their skill at a flying tackle than right then and there. Martin shouted, and said all manner of hard things; but the yelling pack covered him, and swarmed about him until finally they got him down for good.
Meanwhile Frank was having all he could do to hold his own against the other fellow. Joey was in a desperate state of mind now. He saw that they had made a terrible mistake in remaining when the crowd of half-grown lads hove in sight. It promised to be their Waterloo. Wildly he struggled to throw Frank aside. All he had in mind now was to gain his freedom, so that he could run.
"Let loose!" he shouted, trying to batter the boy in the face; but Frank ducked each time, and avoided punishment.
Several of the new arrivals, seeing that their services were not needed in the other case, rushed up to help Frank. Joey was soon as hotly beleaguered as his companion had been, and fighting still, went down under a half a dozen fellows.
"What does it all mean, Frank?" gasped Ben Cloud, as he sat upon the writhing figure of Martin, whom his comrades were holding down.
"Get them tied up first, and I'll tell you. Roll that fellow over on his face. If he objects make him eat dirt. Now, who's got some strong cord?" asked Frank.
"Here's a strap I had along with me," observed one boy.
"Fine! Couldn't be better. Cross his wrists, fellows. Hold still, now Martin, or you'll get something you won't like! Tit for tat, you know. You can examine the lay of the Columbia police head-quarters for yourself, and not depend on me to tell you what things look like. There, that will do for you! Let him up, boys, but don't leave go of his arms."
"I've got the pistol George kicked out of his hand," said Sandy Griswold.
"Hand it here, then. Now, will you be good, you two? It's Columbia for yours, straight. Any more straps handy?" continued Frank briskly.
He had some specks of blood on his face, but did not seem to notice so small a thing as this in the general excitement of the hour. As luck would have it a second boy found that he had a strap around his waist he could spare; and accordingly Joey was accommodated in the same manner his larger companion had been.
A madder pair of rascals it would have been hard to find anywhere. To be captured at all was bad enough, but the idea of a parcel of boys accomplishing what all the police chiefs had been unable to do was humiliating.
"I see what it is," grumbled Martin, with a shrug of his broad shoulders to signify disgust; "you're one of them fellers that's born under a lucky star, Frank Allen. Things just naturally come your way all the time. We was big fools to have anything to do with you. Joey here suggested it first."
"Aw! go hang yourself, Martin! Didn't you say how we might squeeze some valuable news outen the kid if we grabbed him? Anyhow, it don't much matter either way. Our goose is cooked, all right," snarled Joey.
"Now tell us what it all means, Frank!" pleaded the boys, still lost in wonder over the strange occurrence.
"It just happened that I ran across the two rascals who left that buggy with Lanky and myself the other night. You know all about that, fellows? Well, these are the rascals all right. They captured me when I was riding past where the spring crosses the road. And thanks to your coming up, the boot is on the other leg now. Will some of you help me get them back to town?"
"Will we? The old paper chase can go hang for all we care about it now! Why, we can just pose as real heroes this time, eh, Frank? Say, ain't that the boss thing though, fellows? Frank wants to know who'll lend a hand; now, don't all speak at once!"
But there was an immediate response, and never a soul declined the honor.
"We're all going in a bunch, Frank. Here's another belt, so you can strap the two rascals together, or make them do a lock step. Might as well get used to it, you know. So these are the real article of hold-up men, are they, ready to steal anything that comes handy? Didn't expect such high honor when we started out to overtake the bounding hares, did we, boys?"
Frank stopped at a little brook to bathe his face, since he had been told that he looked as though he had been in a free-for-all scrap. He also discovered that he felt a bit sore in a few places, as a result of the several encounters he had had with the two rogues, not to mention his fall.
But it was with a light heart that he trundled his wheel along behind the procession, and held Martin's pistol in the other hand; not that he could have had the heart to use it under any circumstances; but it seemed to be a part and parcel of the game.
"You're just the luckiest fellow I ever knew," observed Sandy, enviously, as he stalked along at Frank's side.
"Oh! I don't know. If I were I should have brought my boat in a nose ahead of Clifford this morning, instead of having a dead heat. But mind you, I'm raising no kick at all. I get my share of knocks, but it's something to be able to come up smiling after every round," laughed Frank, feeling of his arm.
"I hope you aren't badly hurt, old chap," remarked George, solicitously; "with that tie to be rowed off day after to-morrow. If they lose you out of the crew the cup's as good as lost to Columbia. How is it, Frank?"
"Nothing much. A few little cuts and a bruise or two; but they won't bother me after to-morrow. I'll forget all about them whenever I think of what's happened to these fellows here."
"Look here, boys, you might let us go. We ain't done nothing to you, and it's a terrible thing to be shut up in prison for ten years or so. Call it off, won't you, and cut these things loose? You'll never be sorry for it," suggested Martin.
A roar of laughter greeted his plea, and made him frown savagely. After that he wasted no breath in trying to hoodwink those bright boys. They knew what type of rascal he and his companion represented, and that the best place for them was under lock and key. Every home would be that much safer once these strolling thieves were behind stone walls.
They were still in the woods, though nearing the road where the walking would be much better. Frank limped along as best he could. He would have liked to mount his wheel, and thus relieve his lame leg as much as possible; but to do so he would have to quit the column of guards. This he absolutely declined to do, for fear lest those desperate scoundrels find some clever way to escape.
"Makes me think of the victorious Romans returned from Carthage, with their captives tied to their chariots," declared one boy, hilariously.
"Only we haven't got any chariots. But we do look a little like ancient Romans, all right, don't we, fellows, with only running togs on?" laughed a second.
"I say, Frank, do you know if these chumps had any friends around here?" demanded George suddenly.
"What makes you say that?" cried Frank, quickly, for he realized from the tone in which the question was put that the other had some reason for asking it.
"Why, they say that these hoboes or yeggmen always hunt in bunches. Anyhow, I heard Chief Hogg make that remark. And I was wondering whether it could be true."
George was one of those fellows who like to hear themselves talk. When he had anything to say he took a roundabout course in delivering himself, that was very irritating to wide-awake chaps like Frank.
"You've seen something, George. Now, what was it?" he demanded, sternly.
"Well, I happened to be looking ahead among the trees when I saw a man just popping behind a tree. There, if you look sharp you'll see him peeking out now. And as sure as you live, there's another of them back of that big sycamore yonder. Why, the woods are full of them, fellows. Perhaps we've just walked into a trap, and it's cut and run for us!"
Various exclamations of surprise and chagrin greeted this announcement, and the bunch of lads began to exhibit signs of extreme nervousness.