Paul never suggested ordinary things. More than once he had engineered some game that brought honor and glory to the boys of Stanhope; and remembering these satisfactory “stunts” of old, it was no wonder these fellows had come to the place of meeting without a single exception.
With Bluff Shipley close upon the heels of the leader, and Robert Oliver Link, whose name had long since been corrupted into Bobolink, bringing up the rear, the seven lads trailed through the woods, following some path with which they were evidently more or less familiar.
Several times Paul gave a recognized signal that caused every one of the bunch to stop short, and turn his head on one side in the endeavor to discover whether hostile footsteps could be heard in their rear.
But although there were doubtless many rustling sounds, the boys laid these to the bright-eyed little denizens of that strip of woodland. Too often had they watched the chipmunks and red squirrels hunting for nuts under the already falling leaves, not to know that the forest was peopled with these harmless animals.
After five minutes more there loomed up before them the dark outlines of a huge barn that seemed rather out of place here on the border of the woods.
This belonged to the father of Bluff, who, being a prosperous tobacco grower in this valley, used the place to cure the product of his broad fields, after it had been harvested in the fall.
Paul had been carrying some sort of package in his hand, and the boys for some time amused themselves in guessing its nature. When he took off the paper it stood revealed as a lantern, ready for lighting.
“Show us the way inside, Bluff. Then we’ll have a little light on the subject,” remarked the leader, with a last anxious searching look around; as though he still entertained suspicions that their march to the old barn might have been observed by some of the hostile Slavin crowd.
Ted Slavin had long been known as the bully of Stanhope; for it seems that there never yet existed a village or town without some big chap exercising that privilege. He was a fighter, too, and able to hold his own against the best. Besides, Ted had shown some of the qualities that indicate a natural leader; though he held the allegiance of those who trailed after him mostly through fear, rather than any respect for his manly qualities.
His leading crony for the past year had been Ward Kenwood, son of the wealthy banker who was also a leading real estate owner in the place. Once upon a time Ward would have scorned the thought of associating with Slavin and his crowd; but an occasion had arisen whereby he had need of a strong arm to even up a score, and once he found himself indebted to Ted he kept on in the bully’s company.
His rivalry in many fields with Paul had much to do with his throwing his fortunes in with the other fellows. And nothing pleased him more than to be able to upset any calculations the latter entertained. That explained why Paul was anxious to avoid a meeting with the Slavin crowd on this particular night, when he was brimming over with a great idea.