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Fred Fenton on the Crew or, The Young Oarsmen of Riverport School

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"Hello! there, Bristles!"

"Hello! yourself, Fred Fenton!"

"Why, what ails you this fine summer morning, Bristles? You don't look as jolly as you might."

"Well, I was only waiting to see if you cared to speak to me, Fred."

"Why in the wide world shouldn't I, when you're one of my chums, Bristles Carpenter?"

Andy Carpenter was known far and wide around the town of Riverport as "Bristles," on account of the way in which his mop of hair stood upright most of the time, much after the manner of the quills on a fretful porcupine.

Usually he was a very good-natured sort of a chap, one of the "give-and-take" kind, so universally liked among schoolboys. But, on this particular early summer morning, with the peaceful Mohunk river running close by, and all Nature smiling, Bristles look glum and distressed, just as his friend Fred Fenton had declared.

"You haven't heard the latest news then?" remarked the boy with the thick head of stiff, wiry hair; and he made a grimace as he spoke.

"If you mean anything about you, then I haven't, for a fact," Fred replied, his wonder deepening into astonishment; for he now saw that Bristles was not playing any kind of a joke, as he had at first suspected.

"Huh! didn't know you had an awful thief for a chum, did you, Fred?" the other went on, laying emphasis on that one suggestive word, and frowning.

"Rats! what sort of stuff are you giving me now, anyway, Bristles?"

"Well, some people think that way, Fred; you ask Miss Alicia Muster, f'rinstance," grumbled the other, shaking his head dolefully.

"But she's your rich old aunt, Bristles!" cried Fred, more surprised than ever.

"That doesn't make any difference," complained the boy who was in trouble; "she believes I took 'em, all the same; 'cause, you see, I just happened to drop in to see her twice inside the last week, worse luck for me; and, Fred, each time one of 'em disappeared the funniest way ever."

"Go on and tell me what you mean; I can only guess that your aunt has met with some sort of loss. But why should she try to lay it on you, Bristles?"

"Huh! you don't know how good that makes me feel, Fred, just to think that one feller isn't goin' to believe me a thief," the other boy went on, drawing a long breath. "Why, even over at our house I seem to notice 'em all lookin' kinder suspicious-like at me; just as if they couldn't quite make up their minds whether I might 'a been tempted to take 'em or not."

"Take what?" demanded Fred, determined to learn the cause of his chum's trouble.

"Why," Bristles went on, "don't you remember that time I took you over to see my queer old maiden aunt, who's got the rheumatics so bad, and lives in the big house all alone with a colored woman, and all her silly pets,—cats, squawkin' crows she cares for like they might be humans; and with that big bulldog chained under her window?"

"Sure, I remember all that; keep going, now you've got started?" Fred broke in.

"And don't you remember her showin' us that collection of pretty stones she said were opals from a Mexican mine she had an interest in long ago?" the other asked, almost breathlessly....