At the time, it gave him little concern; but then he could not look into the immediate future, and see what it held for him. The coming of “Just” Smith would yet turn out to be an event of the first magnitude in Hugh’s humble opinion; as the reader will soon learn.
Hugh was jogging along nicely, and had long ago caught his second wind. He kept “tabs” upon himself, in order to know just how his energy held out, and if he was likely to be in condition for the gruelling finish that might become necessary, over the last half mile of the long course, should a visiting runner threaten to head the list with the goal in sight, and the thousands of eager spectators bursting out with cheers calculated to thrill the heart, and give fresh impetus to wearied limbs.
On the whole, Hugh felt fairly well satisfied with himself. He knew he had gone about as fast as ordinary runners would care to travel, who wished to conserve their strength toward the close of the race; and that he was holding back a good reserve stock of energy. Yes, he believed he was at his best, and if he failed to land the prize it was because some fellow was a better runner than he could ever hope to be.
Just then he heard a sound that gave him a sudden thrill. It was like a faint human cry for help, uttered in a weak voice, and seemed to come from his right.
Hugh stopped short.
His first inclination was to instantly dash from the road and endeavor to discover what caused that cry. Then he had a wave of suspicion dart over him. Could this be a sly trick on the part of some enemy, meant to lure him into the brush and rocks, where he could, perhaps, be overpowered? But Nick, as well as his two satellites, Leon Disney and Tip Slavin, had been on the grounds at the time Hugh started his run, for he had taken particular notice of this fact; consequently, it was hardly likely that they could be concerned in any practical joke; and certainly no other fellow would be guilty of such a thing.
That decided Hugh. He left the road, and started toward the spot where he judged that strange sound had welled forth. The country was exceedingly rough just there, and he fancied that some sort of deep gully, possibly a precipice, might lie off on his right, judging from the aspect of the land.
Not hearing the sound again, Hugh uttered a loud hello. Then, as he continued to press hastily forward, he once more caught the beseeching cry. It had an agonizing strain to it, and Hugh could plainly make out the words:
“Help! Oh! help! help!”
Someone was evidently in trouble, Hugh decided, accelerating his pace as well as the conditions of the rough surface of the ground permitted. He had taken pains to locate the cry this time, and was, therefore, altering his course just a little.
Again he called, and once more received a reply, more fearful than before:
“Hurry! Oh! hurry, before it gives way, and I’m lost!”