Read CHAPTER VII - WHERE IS COLON? of Fred Fenton on the Track / The Athletes of Riverport School, free online book, by Allen Chapman, on ReadCentral.com.

“Oh! what d’ye think of that, now?” cried Bristles.

“How could Colon ever do it; and all Riverport depending on him so?” exclaimed the tall student, Henry Clifford by name, who was always deeply interested in the field sports of his mates, though too delicate himself to take any part in them.

“Why, what d’ye think he’s done?” demanded Bristles, aggressively, turning on him.

“Perhaps he just got so nervous over this business that he couldn’t stand the push, and thought he’d better skip out,” replied the other, weakly.

“Rats! tell that to your grandmother, will you, Clifford!” burst out Semi-Colon, quick to rally to the defense of his cousin.  “Nobody ever knew him to flinch when it came to the test; ain’t that so, fellers?”

“Sure it is,” cried Bristles, sturdily; “and when I saw him last night he was just feeling as if he had a walkover ahead.  No, if Colon has disappeared there’s some other reason besides a sudden fear of being beaten.  He never went of his own account.”

“Tell us some more about it, Corney,” said Fred, himself considerably shaken by the stunning news brought by the runner.

Corney had by now succeeded in regaining his breath.

“Well, he’s gone, that’s a dead sure thing,” he began.  “I went around to his house to get him to come.  Found several other fellows sitting there on the bank outside the fence.  They didn’t have the nerve to go in and ask for Colon, you see.  But I walked up to the door, and knocked.  Mrs. Colon came out, and smiled to see the mob there, like she might be feeling proud that her boy was so well thought of.”

“Oh! cut it short!” growled Dick Hendricks.  “Get down to facts.  What did she say?”

“That she was letting Chris sleep longer this morning, because he was working so hard these days; but would go and wake him up.  A minute later I heard her call out, and then I ran in, fearing that something had happened to our chum.  She was there in his room, wringing her hands, and carryin’ on like everything.  Then I saw that the bed hadn’t been slept in.  Fellers, it gave me a cold creep, because you see, I just knew something terrible must have happened to poor old Colon.”

Fred tried to keep his head about him in this trying moment.  He knew that this peculiar disappearance of Colon could not be an accident; nor had the long-legged sprinter gone away of his own accord.  There must be more about the matter than appeared on the surface.

“One thing I think we can be sure of, right at the start,” he remarked, seriously; and it was wonderful how eagerly the others listened to what he was about to say, as if they had more than ordinary confidence in Fred Fenton’s judgment.

“What is that, Fred?” asked Dick Hendricks.

“Colon never went off willingly,” the other declared.

“Sure he didn’t; but who could have done it, Fred?” demanded Bristles, clenching his fists aggressively, and looking ready for a fight, if only he knew on whom to vent his anger.

“That’s where we’re all up a tree, and we’d better turn back right now,” Fred declared.  “No use practicing this morning, with Colon lost to us.  Who’d have any heart to do his best?”

“Just what I was going to say, boys,” spoke up Corney.  “Come along back to his home with me.  There’s getting to be the biggest excitement in old Riverport that you ever heard tell of.  Even when I chased after you they were running about in the streets, talkin’ about the latest sensation.  Women was gatherin’ in knots on the corners, and discussin’ it from all sides.  They had sent for the chief of our police force, and I saw him headin’ that way as I came along, with a whole mob of the fellers at his heels.”

“Whew! ain’t this a stunner, though?” gasped the tall student, hurrying to keep up with the excited little bunch of schoolboys as they headed back toward the town.

Just as Corney had declared, they found the place buzzing with excitement.  All thought of business seemed to have been utterly abandoned for the time being; and merchants, as well as clerks, gathered outside the stores, engaged in discussing the news that had burst upon them.

Fred, Bristles and the rest were soon at Colon’s home.

“Gee! look at the crowd; would you?” ejaculated Corney, as they came in sight of some scores of men, women and the younger element, who jostled each other in front of the house.  “Ain’t it funny how a thing like this spreads?  Talk to me about wildfire ­excitin’ news has got it beat a mile.  Why, they’re still comin’ in flocks and droves.  The whole town will be around here before long.”

“Can you blame them?” remarked Dick Hendricks; “look at us right now, heading for the hub of the wheel for all we’re worth.  But there’s one of the constables keeping ’em out of the gate.  Wonder if he’ll let us in?”

“He’s just got to,” said Corney.  “I’ll tell him Mrs. Colon sent me out to get the whole bunch, and he’ll pass us all right.”

Several did get in with the bold Corney, among them Fred and Bristles; but the main part of the group had to content themselves with kicking their heels against the fence, and waiting to get any additional news when their comrades came out.

Inside they found Judge Colon, looking very much flushed.  The missing boy was his nephew, and he was taking more than usual interest in the matter.

Just now he seemed to be trying to comfort the alarmed mother, who, being a widow, with her only boy taken away in this mysterious manner, was much in need of sympathy and advice.

“Depend upon it, Matilda,” the judge was saying; “it will prove to be only some wild prank on the part of his mates; Christopher will turn up presently, safe and sound.  You say he went out last night; do you happen to know where?”

“He was over to my house, Judge,” spoke up Bristles, boldly, wishing to give all the information in his power.

“Ah! yes, it’s you, Andrew, is it?” the gentleman remarked, looking around.  “And about what time did he start away for home, may I ask?”

“It couldn’t have been much after ten, sir,” replied the other.  “We were playing cribbage, and he got the odd game.  Yes, I remember, now, he said his mother would be in bed anyway when he got home.”

“And I did retire about nine, as I usually do,” remarked Mrs. Colon, upon whose face the marks of tears could be plainly seen.  “I didn’t hear Christopher come in, because I slept unusually well the early part of the night.  Then came that cruel shock this morning, when I saw his bed all made up, and knew he hadn’t come home at all.”

“You went to the door with him; didn’t you, Andrew?” the judge went on, with the persistence a lawyer might be expected to show when he had a willing witness on the stand, and was bent on getting every fact, however slight, from him.

“Yes, sir, I even went out to our gate; and we stood there for nearly five minutes, I guess, talkin’ about athletic matters.  Then he said good-night, and walked down the road.  There was a moon in the west, and I could see Colon swinging along in that sturdy way he has.  Then I turned around and went up to bed.”

“When you stood there at the gate did anybody pass by?” asked the judge.

“No sir, not a living soul,” responded Bristles, after a few seconds of thought.

“And you didn’t hear any suspicious sounds, like boys laughing partly under their breath; did you, Andrew?”

“Not a chuckle, sir,” replied the other.  “It was just a fine night, I noticed, and looked like we’d have good weather right along for the meet.  But if you think there are any fellers in this town mean enough to kidnap Colon, just to give us a black eye to-morrow, I must say I can’t understand it, sir.”

“Well, I believe I have known of a certain lot of young fellows who happen to hold forth around Riverport, and who would not be above doing a thing like that, given just half a cause,” the judge replied, meaningly; and every one knew whom he had in mind, for their thoughts immediately flew to Buck Lemington and his cronies.

“But perhaps it wasn’t any prank of boys at all,” Bristles went on, eagerly; “Colon said the night was so bright he had half a notion to take a two mile dash out over the Grafton road, just to wind up his big day.  I advised him not to think of it, but he only laughed.  But he’s awful set in his ways, sir, once he makes up his mind.”

“He said that; did he?” asked the judge, apparently thinking that there might be something worth while taking note of in this latest assertion.

“Yes, sir, he certainly did,” the boy answered.  “Colon’s a queer fish anyhow, and does heaps of things nobody else’d ever think of.  Now, what if he did start on that run; why, something might have happened to him ­perhaps he tripped, and fell, and broke a leg, so he couldn’t even crawl home.”

The mother started to cry again as she pictured her boy suffering all through the night as Bristles described so recklessly.  And so the judge moved aside with several of the boys, the better to talk unheard by Colon’s mother.

“Things are beginning to take on shape, I see,” he remarked, grimly.  “Possibly the boy did foolishly start on that late run by moonlight, and met with trouble.  Some people with whom I talked on the way here were of the opinion he had been kidnapped by tramps, and was being held for a ransom, just as if this might be Sicily or Greece.”

“I don’t think that way, Judge Colon,” said Fred, speaking for the first time.

“I’m pleased to hear that you have another idea, my boy; let us know its nature,” said the lawyer, who had always been favorably impressed with the sterling worth of Mr. Fenton’s son, and now hoped he had struck on a plausible explanation of the odd mystery.

“My idea is,” Fred began, modestly, yet firmly, “that Colon has been abducted by some of those Mechanicsburg fellows, who know they haven’t a ghost of a chance to win the three shorter running events on the schedule, with him in line.  They’ve got a college man for a coach, you see, sir, and like as not he’s been telling them of the tricks that are played among all the big universities; so they’ve just thought to spoil our game for us by holding our best man a prisoner till after the meet.”