“I’m glad the lightning didn’t strike the lodge while we were there,” said he.
“It was certainly a severe storm while it lasted, Joe. By the way, shall I say anything about those two men?”
“Perhaps it won’t do any harm to tell your father, Ned.”
“Very well, I’ll do it.”
Soon Riverside was reached, and having paid for the fish and the outing, Ned Talmadge walked in the direction of his residence. Joe shoved off from the tiny dock and struck out for his home. He did not dream of the calamity that awaited him there.
A HOME IN RUINS.
As Joe rowed toward his home on the mountain side, a good mile from Riverside, he could not help but think of the two mysterious men and of what they had said.
“They were certainly rascals,” he mused. “And from their talk they must have come from New York and are now going to try some game in Philadelphia.”
The hermit’s boy was tired out by the day’s outing, yet he pulled a fairly quick stroke and it was not long before he reached the dock at which he and Hiram Bodley were in the habit of leaving their boat. He cleaned the craft out, hid the oars in the usual place, and then, with his fishing lines in one hand and a good sized fish in the other, started up the trail leading to the place that he called home.
“What a place to come to, alongside of the one Ned lives in,” he said to himself. “I suppose the Talmadges think this is a regular hovel. I wish we could afford something better,—or at least live in town. It’s lonesome here with nobody but old Uncle Hiram around.”
As Joe neared the cabin something seemed to come over him and, for some reason he could not understand, he felt very much depressed in spirits. He quickened his pace, until a turn of the trail brought the homestead into view.
A cry of alarm broke from his lips and with good reason. The little shelter had stood close to a large hemlock tree. The lightning had struck the tree, causing it to topple ever. In falling, it had landed fairly and squarely upon the cabin, smashing it completely. One corner of the cabin was in ashes, but the heavy rain had probably extinguished the conflagration.
“Uncle Hiram!” cried the boy, as soon as he recovered from his amazement. “Uncle Hiram, where are you?”
There was no answer to this call and for the moment Joe’s heart seemed to stop beating. Was the old hermit under that pile of ruins? If so it was more than likely he was dead.
Dropping his fish and his lines, the youth sprang to the front of the cabin. The door had fallen to the ground and before him was a mass of wreckage with a small hollow near the bottom. He dropped on his knees and peered inside.
“Uncle Hiram!” he called again.
There was no answer, and he listened with bated breath. Then he fancied he heard a groan, coming from the rear of what was left of the cabin. He ran around to that point and pulled aside some boards and a broken window sash.