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HOME > Short Stories > The Mercer Boys at Woodcrest > 12. The Paper Chase
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12. The Paper Chase
One of the oldest sports at Woodcrest was the game of hare and hounds, paper chase, the boys called it. It was the custom of those interested to divide into two groups, one the hares and the other the hounds. The hares were provided with canvas bags which they filled full of paper, and they were given an hour’s start of the hounds. The hares dropped the paper as they ran through the woods, thus providing a definite trail for the hounds to follow. The game generally took all day, and the hares were supposed to arrive back at the school before the hounds overtook them. Each year the rivalry was very keen, and for some years past the hares had won. Veteran members of the hounds were out for revenge that year, and the three friends, as members of the track team, were welcomed to the game with eagerness.
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One Tuesday was given over to the game, a Tuesday which happened to be Election Day and a holiday at Woodcrest, and early in the morning the two teams met on the edge of the campus down near the woods. There were about thirty boys willing to play the game, which was strenuous in the extreme, and they divided up quickly. All had been provided with sandwiches and the hares had the bags of paper.

Rhodes, Vench, Merton and Chipps were on the side of the hares, with a dozen other boys, and Don, Jim, Terry, Lieutenant Thompson and others were running with the hounds. Final instructions were given and the hares started off for the dark woods.

“See you guys right here at nightfall,” called out Chipps, waving to the hounds as they sallied out.

“Yes, we’ll have a fire going to roast you rabbits!” returned Terry, as the hounds settled down to wait for their time to come.

The hares broke away on a slow run, dropping bits of paper as they went. If the majority of the hares were captured, the decision went to the hounds, but if the hares got a majority back in the yard before the hounds overtook them the victory was theirs. So the hounds waited impatiently for the word to go. Thompson, who was captain of the hounds, had to curb their impatience. Some of them wanted to kick a football around, but the leader put an end to that.

“We’ve got a long run ahead of us,” he warned them. “If we go running around chasing a football we’ll be winded and they’ll run circles around us. Remember, this is our year.”
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It was a glorious November day and the hounds found great difficulty in remaining still. Overhead a bright sun shone out of a clear blue sky and a cool breeze assured them that they would not become exhausted from any undue heat. The leaves had turned all colors and the lake was a steel blue. Each young man felt exhilarated and ambition surged high.

When the hour was up Thompson gave the word and the hounds set off at a loping run. They would be compelled to run faster than the hares, who had now a fair start over them, but they were planning to travel steadily and hoped to figure out short-cuts. That was the dangerous part of it all, for they might decide to leave the trail and cut across a hill or valley, figuring that the trail led there, and if they were mistaken valuable time would be lost. The paper trail was easy to follow, for the hares were together, but later on they would split into pairs or threes, and then the work would become harder and the body of hounds would disintegrate. Except on the home stretch, when within a mile or two of the school, the hares never went singly, but always travelled in pairs and threes. That meant that the hounds split up into as many groups and pursued the hares in the same manner.

For about five miles the hounds pursued the hares in one body, and it was not until noontime that they found out from the trail that the hares had split. Down in the hollow of a swamp the paper trail went in different directions, and the hounds stopped to plan their campaign.
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“Three of them went this way,” said Thompson, pointing toward the east. “Billings, Barton and I will follow those three. The rest of you fellows pick up a trail and follow it. Well, we’ll be getting on. Don’t lag, and we’ll see you at the fire tonight.”

The three cadets struck off through the woods on the trail and the other boys set about finding trails of their own. Terry and some of the others trotted away to the west on a trail and Don and Jim examined the nearby bushes. Finally Don straightened up.

“There’s a pair running off in this direction,” he said, pointing north. “Let’s get underway, Jim.”

He and Jim followed the trail, picking it up from pieces of paper that showed through the underbrush, and they tirelessly followed it for three miles, without coming across any of the fleeing hares. Shortly past noon they stopped at a farmhouse and took a drink from a well, sitting down against the fence to eat. They did not spend much time eating, but as soon as the meal was over they hurried back to the woods and took up the trail in earnest.

The chase was leading them into wild country, heavily wooded and broken by small ranges of hills. Very few houses were to be seen, and so far they had not noticed anything that would lead them to believe that there was a town near by. It was not until three o’clock that they came to the edge of a clearing and saw before them a little country town. A single spur of the railroad ran through the place, six or seven small frame houses grouped near the station, and off in the distance they saw the roofs of some fairly good-looking homes. Yellow, dusty roads wound over the nearby hills.
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“Wonder what place this is?” said Jim.

“I don’t know,” returned Don. “The hares just skirted the place, judging by their trail. Let’s walk down near the station and see what place it is.”

Jim grinned. “I don’t know why such a sleepy-looking place has a station,” he observed. “If the engineer happened to be looking the other way he wouldn’t even notice the town.”

They veered off the paper trail and approached the tiny station which was bathed in the late afternoon sun’s glow. Don narrowed his eyes and read the sign over the structure.

“Spotville Point,” he read. “Well, it isn’t much more than a point, at that.”

“Spotville Point,” mused Jim. “Where have I heard that name before? Oh, I know!”

“And so do I!” exclaimed Don. “This is the town where Colonel Morrell got off the train and was never heard of again!”

Forgetting the paper chase in their interest the two brothers walked up to the little board shack and examined it with interest. It was a one-story affair with a small platform, a single waiting room and a tiny office. Through the screen the boys could look across the tracks and see the station agent inside, bending over a book.
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“Don,” said Jim, “the Colonel got off at this spot, and he had a good reason to do so. Maybe we can unearth some clue.”

“Maybe,” shrugged Don.............
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