FRANK ROSCOE'S SECRET
Or, The Darewell Chums in the Woods
BY ALLEN CHAPMAN
AUTHOR OF "BART STIRLING'S ROAD TO SUCCESS," "WORKING HARD TO WIN," "BOUND TO SUCCEED," "THE YOUNG STOREKEEPER," "NAT BORDEN'S FIND," ETC.
I. PLANNING A DINNER II. A CONSPIRACY REVEALED III. NED IS CAPTURED IV. NED HEARS STRANGE TALK V. SUSPICIONS AROUSED VI. FRANK GETS A LETTER VII. BREAKING UP A DANCE VIII. FRANK IS WARNED IX. A STRANGER IN TOWN X. MR. HARDMAN'S QUEER ACT XI. NEWS FOR FRANK XII. THE LAZY RACE XIII. VACATION AT HAND XIV. THE TELEPHONE WIRE XV. SEARCHING FOR FRANK XVI. WHERE FRANK WENT XVII. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING XVIII. A CANOE TRIP XIX. AT THE SANITARIUM XX. THE INTERVIEW XXI. FRANK LEAVES AGAIN XXII. FRANK IS EMPLOYED XXIII. PLANNING A RESCUE XXIV. FRANK LOSES HOPE XXV. FRANK'S SECRET DISCLOSED XXVI. ARRANGING AN ESCAPE XXVII. THE RUNAWAY DONKEY XXVIII. THE RESCUE XXIX. THE CURE—CONCLUSION
FRANK ROSCOE'S SECRET
PLANNING A DINNER
"That's the way to line 'em out, Ned!"
"Go on now! Take another! You can get home!"
"Wow! That wins the game! Hurrah for Ned Wilding!"
Those were some of the shouts, amid a multitude of others, that came from scores of boyish throats as they watched the baseball game between the Darewell High School and the Lakeville Preparatory Academy. The occasion was the annual championship struggle, and the cries resulted from Ned's successful batting of the ball far over the center fielder's head.
It was a critical moment for the score was tie, it was the ending of the ninth inning, and there were two men of the High School nine out. It all depended on Ned.
But Ned was equal to the occasion. He had placed the ball well, and as soon as he heard the crack, when his bat struck it, he had darted for first. Then, running as he never had run before, he kept on to second. The encouraging shouts of his friends induced him to advance toward third, though by this time the center fielder had the ball and was throwing it to the baseman.
"Come on, Ned! Come on! Take a chance!" yelled Bart Keene, captain of the High School team.
Then Ned, from a baseball standpoint of safety, did what might be termed a foolish thing. He reached third base just an instant before the ball did. He heard it strike the baseman's glove with a loud "plunk!"
A second later, stooping to avoid being touched, Ned sprang up and ran toward the home plate. It was a desperate chance in a desperate game, for the Lakeville players were cool and experienced hands, and Ned was almost certain to be put out. However, he had chanced it. It was too late to go back now. He was running straight for home, as though there was no such thing as a baseman with a ball close behind him, waiting for a good chance to throw to the catcher and put him out.
Right at the catcher Ned ran. The third baseman drew back his arm to throw the ball. The catcher put out his hands to grasp it. Then Ned jumped up into the air, springing as high as he could.
This disconcerted the aim of the third baseman and he had to throw higher than he intended, to get the ball over Ned's head.
It was what Ned intended that happened.
The catcher was obliged to jump to reach the whizzing ball. He just missed it, the leather sphere grazing the tips of his fingers. Then it flew over his head, while there sounded a groan from the Lakeville supporters. The game was a High School victory.
An instant later Ned had passed the chagrined catcher and had touched the home plate, while the High School boys stood up on the bleachers and made themselves hoarse with cheers. Joining them came the shrill cries of the girls of Darewell, quite a throng of whom had come to see the game.
"Good, Ned!" cried Bart, as he ran up to grasp his chum by the hand.
"That's the stuff!" exclaimed Fenn Masterson. "I knew you could do it, Ned!"
"That's more than I knew myself," Ned answered, panting from his home run.
"Three cheers for the Darewells!" called the captain of the preparatory school nine.
The tribute to victory was paid with a will.
"Three cheers for the Lakevilles!" shouted Lem Gordon, pitcher on the High School team.
The winners fairly outdid their rivals in cheering. Then the diamond was thronged with girls and boys, all talking at once, and discussing the various points of the game.
"It was a close chance you took, Ned," remarked a tall, quiet youth, coming up to the winner of the game.
"I had to, Frank. I didn't risk much in being put out, but it meant a lot if I could get home, and I took the chance."
"Oh, Ned's always willing to take chances," said Bart Keene.
"Yes, and sometimes it isn't a good thing," replied Frank.
"Oh, you're too particular," came from Fenn Masterson. "What's the use of doing the safe thing all the while?"
"That's right, Stumpy my boy," commented Ned, "Stumpy" being Fenn's nickname because of his short, stout figure.
"Oh, I believe in taking chances once in a while," went on Frank, "but of course—"
He did not finish his sentence, and his three chums looked at one another, for Frank seemed to be dreaming of something far removed from the ball game.
"He's getting stranger than ever," remarked Bart to Ned in a low tone. "We'll have to get his mind off of whatever it is that's troubling him."
"That's right," agreed Ned.
"We ought to celebrate this victory in some way," suggested Fenn, as a crowd of boys, including several members of the ball team, joined the chums. "We ought to get up a dinner and have speeches and things like that."
"Nothing to eat, of course," said Ned.
"Oh, sure; lots to eat," Fenn hastened to add.
"Where could we have it?" asked Lem.
"In our barn," replied Fenn. "There's lots of room, and we don't keep horses any more. It's nice and clean. We could put some boards over saw-horses to make tables, and have a fine time. We can make all the noise we want, and no one would say a word."
"That's the stuff!" cried Bart. "The very thing! Stumpy, you're a committee of one to see about it."
"I'm not going to do all the work!" objected Stumpy.
"I'll help," put in Ned. "Where'll we get the stuff?"
"I guess there's enough in the club treasury for a little spread," said Bart. "This is the last game of the summer season, and we might as well spend some of our cash. We don't want to get too rich."
By this time most of the High School pupils had left the ball grounds and were on their various ways home. It was a Saturday afternoon early in June, and the fine weather had brought a big crowd to see the game, which was played on the Lakeville grounds. The members of the High School nine, including a few substitutes, rode home in a big stage, but trolley cars took the other Darewell boys and girls back.
On the way home the dinner was discussed in its various details, and it was voted to have it a week from that Saturday night.
"Better not talk too much about it," suggested Bart
"Why not?" asked Stumpy.
"I've got an idea that if too much is known about it there may be trouble."
"Trouble? What do you mean?"
"Well, you know the first-year boys have formed a sort of secret society. They call themselves the Upside Down Club."
"What has that got to do with our dinner?"
"Nothing, maybe, and again it may have."
"Have they any grudge against us?" asked Ned.
"No, nothing special, but it's part of their game to play tricks on all the other school societies, from the athletic teams to the debating club. Archie Smith, a cousin of mine, belongs, and I got that much out of him before he knew what I was after. Then he wouldn't tell me any more. So that's why I think the Upside Down boys may make trouble for us."
"Well, if they wish to make trouble we'll give them all they want," put in Fenn.
"Yes, but we don't want the dinner spoiled," said Bart. "There's a big class of first-year boys this term, and they could make a 'rough-house' of our spread in short order. That's why I think it would be better to keep quiet about the affair, at least as to the place where we're going to hold it."
After some discussion Bart's suggestion was agreed to. Further details of the dinner were arranged, and it was planned that Ned should be toastmaster, an honor which he would gladly have declined.
"No, sir, you won the game for us, and you've got to preside at the dinner!" declared Bart, to which all the others on the nine gave their approval with a shout.
"Mind now," Bart added, as the team was about to disperse, having reached Darewell, "no talking about the dinner. Everyone keep mum or there may be no spread at all. If any one hears of the Upside Down boys getting wind of the affair, tell me and we'll arrange to fool 'em."
The club members left their uniforms and outfits in the basement of the High School, where they had improvised dressing rooms, and then the boys started for their homes. Frank, Bart, Ned and Stumpy, four chums who were seldom separated, went down the street together. As they were passing the drug store they saw two girls going in.
"There's your sister Alice, Bart," called Ned.
"Yes, and Jennie Smith is with her," added Bart. "Hi, Stumpy! There's a chance for you. Jennie looked back as if she wanted you."
At this the other chums laughed, for Fenn was rather "sweet" on the girls, and Jennie was an especial favorite with him. But Fenn did not like to have his failing commented on.
"You let up!" he called to Bart. "You're so afraid of the girls you don't dare speak to 'em!"
"You do enough of that for the four of us put together," joked Ned. "But come on. Let's hurry, it's almost supper time."
A CONSPIRACY REVEALED
By this time the four boys were in front of the drug store, from which Alice Keene and Jennie Smith came out.
"What were you doing in there? Having a Dutch treat of soda?" asked Bart of his sister.
"I was taking back some court-plaster I had," replied Alice.
"Court-plaster? For what?"
"I'll not tell you."
"I know," answered Bart, for he had a habit of teasing his sister.
"What for then?"
"You heard Stumpy had broken his heart over the way Jennie treated him, and you were going to mend it."
"Silly! I'll tell you what for, and you can see how far wrong you were. I bought a lot, thinking some one might get hurt at the ball game. When I found I didn't need it I took it back and got my money. I hadn't opened it."
"Well, if that isn't the limit!" exclaimed Bart. "I s'pose you're sorry some of us didn't get all cut up and bruised, so you could patch us up."
"Well, of course I don't want any of you to get hurt, but if you had been injured it would have been good practice for me," replied Alice. "Come on, Jennie."
Alice, who had a desire to become a trained nurse, for which profession she believed she was fitting herself by reading a book on "First-Aid-To-The-Injured," walked off with her girl chum, leaving the boys to stare after the pair.
"Alice would rather play nurse than eat her meals," commented Bart. "I wonder why Jennie didn't say something about poetry?" he added, for Jennie was of rather a romantic disposition, and was very much given to reciting verses.
"Probably the presence of Stumpy made her bashful," suggested Ned. "But I'm going. See you Monday, fellows."
The four boys resumed their walk toward their homes. With the exception of Frank Roscoe they all lived near one another. Frank resided about a mile out of the town, with his uncle, Abner Dent, a wealthy farmer.
The four boys, because of their close association, were known as the "Darewell Chums."
Darewell was located on the Still river, not far from Lake Erie. The lads had played together ever since they attended primary school, and their friendship was further cemented when they went to the High School. Attending which institution our story finds them.
There was Ned Wilding, whose mother was dead, and their father was cashier of the Darewell Bank.
Bart Keene was a stout-hearted youth, more fond of sports than he was of eating or sleeping, his father used to say. As for Stumpy, he was just the sort of a lad his name indicated. Happy, healthy, hearty and with a fund of good nature that nothing could daunt.
Frank Roscoe was rather different from his chums, but they were very fond of him. Spite of his occasional fits of strangeness. Frank had lived with his uncle as long as he could remember. He had never known his father or mother, and his uncle never spoke of them. In case Frank asked any question concerning his parents, Mr. Dent would manage to turn the conversation into some other channel.
There seemed to be some secret hanging over Frank. What it was he did not know himself. Nor did his chums. They only knew that, at times, it made him gloomy and morose, and they never referred to it in Frank's presence, because they did not want to hurt his feelings.
Those of you who have read the previous books of this series do not need to be introduced to Ned and his chums, but for the benefit of the boys and girls who get this volume first it may be well to tell something of the two previous ones that they may better understand our story.
In the first, called "The Heroes of the School," was told how the four lads succeeded in solving a rather queer mystery. They were going through the woods one day when they met a man behaving very oddly. From then on they were mixed up in a series of queer happenings, which only ended in some events that followed a trip in a captive balloon that broke away and took them above the clouds.
In the second volume, "Ned Wilding's Disappearance," there was told of the things that followed Ned's visit to New York. Ned undertook to put through a small financial deal on his own account, and the consequences, which were not his own fault at all. Made him a fugitive from the police, as he thought. His chums, coming to the city to pay him a visit, could not find him. Ned was located under peculiar circumstances, through the aid of a waif whom the boys befriended and saved from freezing to death in the snow.
After locating Ned the chums came home, to find they were much in the public eye. When they left they were under suspicion of having blown up the school tower with dynamite, but it was discovered that another youth had done this, and the chums were not only cleared, but the president of the Board of Education, who had cast suspicion on them, publicly apologized.
The chums had resumed their studies at the High School after the tower had been repaired, and had made good progress through the spring term. It was now summer, and the long vacation was close at hand.
Monday morning, following the sensational winning of the game by Ned Wilding, saw the four chums assembled on the school campus, waiting for the ringing of the gong that would call all the pupils to their classes. It was almost time to go in, when Sandy Merton, a former enemy of the chums, but who had become a friend because of a favor received, approached Bart. Sandy had left school because of a dispute he and Bart had had over a ball game, but had returned for the spring term.
"I've got something to tell you," Sandy said.
"I'm listening," Bart replied.
"I can't tell you here," Sandy went on, with a look about him. "I don't want any of the Upside Down boys to hear."
"Oh, ho!" said Bart softly. "Something in the wind, eh?"
"I think there is," Sandy replied. "I'll meet you after school down by the boathouse."
"I'll be there," Bart answered. "Don't say anything to any of the others."
Sandy promised; and then the gong rang and the boys and girls hurried into the school. All that morning Bart was wondering what Sandy had to tell him. That it had to do with the dinner the nine intended to hold was his belief, but he did not see how the first-year lads had found out about it so soon.
"If they're up to any tricks," said Bart softly, "I think we can play two to their one. Let 'em try; it's all in the game."
"Let's go for a swim, Bart," proposed Ned, when school had been dismissed for the day. "Frank and Fenn are going."
"Where you going?" asked Bart.
"Up by the Riffles, of course," the "Riffles" being a place in the Still river where the boys frequently congregated. Near the Riffles, which were a series of shallow places in the stream, was the swimming hole and a little further up was a good place to fish.
"I'll meet you later," Bart replied.
"What's the matter?" asked Ned, for Bart was usually the first one to join in sport of this kind.
"Got a little business to transact. You fellows go ahead, and I'll come pretty soon."
Ned had to be content with this. A little later, with Frank and Fenn, he went to the swimming hole. Bart remained about the school until he saw Sandy start off, then he followed a short distance behind, heading for the dock, where the four chums kept a boat they owned.
"Hello, Sandy!" exclaimed Bart, as he saw the boy on the dock when he arrived. Bart spoke as though Sandy's presence was accidental, and he did that for the benefit of any of the members of the Upside Down Club who might be in the vicinity.
"Going out rowing?" asked Sandy, and he winked at Bart.
"Yes," was the answer, as Bart comprehended what Sandy meant. "Want to go 'long?"
Sandy nodded, and, with his help, Bart got the boat from the house and rowed it out into the middle of the river.
"Now I guess we can talk without being overheard," said Bart, when they were well out from shore, and rowing up stream. "What's up, Sandy?"
"The Upside Down boys have a plot on foot to spoil the dinner."
"What dinner?" asked Bart, wishing to see just how much Sandy knew.
"Oh, the dinner the baseball nine is going to have. It's all over. Some one must have talked. I heard of it late Saturday night, but it wasn't until last night that I heard of the conspiracy."
"What are they going to do?" asked Bart.
"That I can't tell," Sandy replied. "You know that, though I'm in the first-year class, I don't belong to the society. I didn't join. One of the members thought I was in and before he knew what he was doing he had blurted out something about their going to take the dinner stuff from Fenn's barn. Then he found out I wasn't a member, and a lot of 'em got around me and made all sorts of threats if I told. I wouldn't promise not to, but I can't find out any more, except that they're going to make a raid on the place just before it's time for the dinner."
"How many?" asked Bart.
"About fifty of 'em."
"Whew!" exclaimed the captain of the nine.
"That means trouble !"
NED IS CAPTURED
For a few minutes after receiving this information Bart was busy thinking. Then, turning to Sandy he said "Will you help me row the boat up to the swimming hole?"
"Sure. But let me out just before you get there. If any of the Upside Down boys see me with you they'll suspect I've given the thing away. Are you going to do anything?"
"I rather think we will," replied Bart "But I don't know yet what it will be. Row fast now, Sandy."
In a little while the boat was near enough to the Riffles so that Bart could manage it alone for the rest of the distance. Sandy went ashore and disappeared in the woods that lined the bank while Bart tied the craft to an overhanging limb and got out.
He found his three chums were enjoying themselves in the water, splashing about and ducking one another. There were a number of High School boys with them, including several of the first-year class, from the ranks of which the secret society was made up.
"There's Bart!" cried Fenn. "Come on in!"
Anxious to tell his chums the news he had heard, but not wanting to awaken the suspicions of the Upside Down Club members, Bart prepared and went in swimming. He managed to get close to his three friends in turn, and quietly told them to go out, dress, and wait for him near the boat, which he told them was tied close at hand.
"Go out one at a time," Bart cautioned, "or they may suspect something."
In a little while the four boys were seated in their boat and were rowing down stream.
"Now what's up?" demanded Ned. "I declare you're as mysterious as though something had happened."
"Something's going to happen," said Bart.
"The Upside Downs are going to spoil our dinner—if they can!"
"How did you hear of it?"
"Who told you?"
"What are they going to do?"
The three chums asked these questions of Bart all at once.
"What do you think I am, a lightning calculator?" demanded Bart. "One at a time, please! The line forms on this side."
Then he proceeded to tell them what Sandy had revealed.
"Good for Sandy!" exclaimed Ned. "He treated us pretty mean once, but he's making up for it now."
"Yes, it was a good stroke of business the day we helped him load the overturned sleigh," said Fenn, referring to an incident of the previous winter, as related in "The Darewell Chums in the City."
"What are you going to do?" asked Frank quietly.
"I haven't made up my mind," Bart answered. "I thought we'd better tell the rest of the nine, and then think up some plan to turn the joke on the Upside Downs."
"Maybe it would be just as well not to tell the others on the nine," suggested Frank.
"If you do, it will surely come to the ears of the first-year boys that we are onto their game. Then they may change their idea and be up to some dodge that we can't fathom. I guess we four can spoil their plans."
"Well, maybe that would be the best way," admitted Bart. "What do you propose?"
"Are there plenty of boards, planks and boxes around your barn, Fenn?" asked Frank.
"Lots of 'em."
"Then we'll set traps for our friends the enemy," said Frank. "They'll walk right into them."
Frank explained his plan more in detail as the boys rowed down stream. His idea was to build a series of traps all about the barn, covering every approach. The traps would be made of boxes and boards, so arranged that when a boy walked on them he would tumble off or slip into a box, and the racket made would apprise those on watch, in the barn, of the approach of the enemy. Then they could sally out, and, while the Upside Down boys were in confusion, could easily disperse them.
"That's fine!" exclaimed Bart. "The very thing! We must get right to work on it tonight."
That evening the four chums spent in the barn back of Fenn's house. There was considerable hammering and pounding and fitting together of planks, boards and boxes.
The next afternoon the four boys worked hard perfecting their arrangements. There were four entrances to the barn, consisting of large sliding doors in front and rear, and a small door that gave entrance to the stable proper. The way to each of these was so arranged that any persons passing along them would have considerable trouble in reaching the structure. It was impossible to walk along them and not step on a board, so fixed that it would tumble a box on the head of the enemy, precipitate the boys into a packing case, or upset a big pile of planks.
The fourth entrance to the barn was in the basement through an old cow stable, long unused. The door had not been opened in a number of years, and the hinges were rusty.
However, the four chums oiled the door so it would work easily, cleared away a lot of rubbish and then had a means at hand of getting into the barn of which they felt sure none of the conspirators knew. That the Upside Down boys were aware of the other entrances Fenn was sure, as several of the first-year pupils had been seen about the barn Monday. They did not, however, the chums thought, know of the traps.
Meanwhile preparations for the dinner went on. The food was purchased from a caterer in town, and was to be delivered at the barn Saturday evening.
The chums arranged to have it taken in through the large front doors, the traps leading to them having been temporarily removed. After the victuals were safely stowed away it was planned to have a guard of boys constantly on hand inside the barn to protect them. The rumor of the threatened attack on the spread was known to all the nine now.
"I rather guess they'll have all the trouble they want before they play any tricks on us," said Bart, as he surveyed the defenses.
"Can they break in the doors, in case any of them get past the traps?" asked Ned.
"I don't believe so," replied Fenn. "I've put extra hooks and bolts on, and there are heavy bars to the big front and rear doors."
Saturday evening the materials for the spread were duly delivered at the barn. Half a dozen boys volunteered as guards. It was arranged that the members of the nine and their friends, numbering in all about twenty-five, should come in through the cow stable door.
The guards were soon busy arranging the improvised tables, storing the food away in places where, in case the conspirators did manage to get in, they would have hard work to find it. Several were engaged in getting lanterns ready to illuminate the banquet table.
In fact they were all so much occupied that they did not notice three boys who had made a long circuit and brought up in the fields back of the Masterson barn. These three boys approached warily in the dusk of the evening.
"Is that the way they're going in?" asked one of the trio, as he saw the cow stable door.
"That's the way all but one of 'em is going in," was the answer. "There's going to be one vacant place at the dinner."
"Whose?" asked another of the trio, of the one who seemed to be the leader.
"Are you sure he will come along alone so we can grab him?"
"Alone or not we'll get him. In fact we did think one time of making a rush through the cow stable door, after we found out about their traps at the other entrances. But that door is so narrow we couldn't get in quick enough but what they could stand us off. So we decided on this plan. We'll capture their presiding officer. It'll be like the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out."
"What you going to do with him?"
"Denny Thorp has that in charge. I think he's going to carry him to some vacant house."
"What are we to do?" asked the member of the trio who had first spoken.
"We're to stay here until the rest of the crowd arrives, and watch what happens. But the main thing is to capture Ned."
All unconscious of the change in the conspirators' plans, and congratulating themselves on the success of their method in guarding against surprise, the members of the nine and their friends began assembling one by one in the barn, as it grew dusk.
Most of them were on hand, and the tables, which were boards placed across saw-horses, had been spread with the good things to eat.
"Where's Ned?" asked Bart, as he noticed that the toastmaster was not yet present.
"He and Frank are coming together," replied Fenn. "Better take a look out, fellows, and see if you can spot any of the enemy."
Several boys mounted to the hay loft and looked out of the small door formerly used to take fodder into the barn. The watchers reported the coast clear.
They came down, and were standing about the table, waiting for Ned and Frank, who were the only absentees, when a loud cry came from the direction of the cow stable door.
"Rescue! Rescue! Darewells to the rescue! They're kidnapping Ned!"
"That's Frank's voice!" cried Bart. "Come on, fellows! They've played a trick on us and they've got Ned!"
NED HEARS STRANGE TALK
There was a rush for the stairs leading from the barn down into the cow stable. The nine and their friends fairly jammed the narrow passageway, so eager were they to get outside.
"Easy!" shouted Bart. "We'll never get down this way! One at a time!"
The boys could hear the sounds of a struggle. There were confused cries, and the shuffling of many feet.
"Hurry! Hurry!" cried Frank.
At last Bart, Fenn and a few others managed to reach the outside small door, and rushed into the disused cowyard. There they saw a confusion of black forms. There were two knots of struggling boys.
One knot was grouped about Frank, and the other around Ned. From both groups came shouts and cries and the sounds of conflict, though it was all in fun, and there was no evidence of anger.
"To the rescue!" yelled Bart, making for one crowd. He was followed by several of his companions and then, others of the nine, and their friends, sailed in to help Frank, since Bart had tackled Ned's assailants.
But with the advent of the boys from the barn there appeared reinforcements of the enemy. The rescuers were fairly surrounded by a throng of the Upside Downs, who were shouting and laughing, and fairly overwhelming the ball players and their companions.
Suddenly the group surrounding Frank seemed to break apart. The members of the first year class, who had been pulling and hauling him this way and that, drew off. At the same time a cry sounded.
"This way, First Years!"
Off through the darkness, out of the cow-yard, moved a mass of boys.
"We've beaten them off!" cried Bart exultantly.
"Yes but they're taking Ned with them!" shouted Frank.
Only a few of the members of the nine heard what he said, so great was the shouting and confusion. Frank tried to make himself understood. He ran toward Bart, but several of the Upside Down boys got in his way and prevented him. When at last he was able to make Bart understand what had happened the group surrounding Ned was out of the yard.
"We must get them!" yelled Bart as he caught Frank's meaning. "Come on, fellows!"
There was a rush for the gate, but when Bart and his friends reached it they found it was fastened. All the Upside Down boys had disappeared. A dark mass of them could be seen hurrying across the fields, seeming to bear some burden in their midst.
"They've got Ned!" cried Bart. "After them!"
"Wait!" shouted Fenn. "Maybe it's only a trick to get us away from the barn, so they can steal the dinner!"
"That's so!" agreed Bart, much excited. "Are you sure they have Ned, Frank?"
"Sure! We both came in together, and they grabbed us. But it was Ned they wanted, because he was to be toastmaster. They must have gagged him, as I didn't hear him yell."
"What had we better do?" asked Bart.
"Some of us stay here to look after things and the rest try to get Ned," suggested Fenn.
"They're five to our one," objected Frank.
"That's nothing! We've got to get Ned! They'll have the laugh on us if we don't," said Bart.
There was a hasty consultation and the dinner party was divided into two forces. Some were left on guard, while the others set off on a run after the Upside Down boys.
But the delay had given the assailants the very chance they needed to get a good start. When the pursuers set off across the fields the captors of Ned were out of sight. There was a hasty search for them, but the first year boys had apparently hidden in some place that defied the efforts of the ball crowd to locate it.
"This is a pretty pickle!" exclaimed Bart, as he came to a halt in the middle of the big field that stretched out behind the Masterson barn. "They've beaten us all right enough. I wonder where they could have taken Ned?"
"I guess it's up to us to find out," replied Fenn. "Come on. We haven't half looked yet."
"Maybe that's just what they want us to do," put in Lem Gordon. "They think we'll let the dinner slide."
"That's so," agreed Bart. "It's bad enough to have 'em take Ned, but that shouldn't spoil the dinner completely. Let's go back, eat the grub, and then continue the hunt for Ned. Besides maybe he'll get away from them. He will if he has half a chance."
This plan of proceeding was talked over, and, though they all disliked the idea of leaving Ned in the hands of the enemy, they felt it would be the wisest move.
"Ned would want us to do it, if he were here," said Bart. "Let's go back."
So the searching party went back, rather crestfallen, it is true, to report failure to those left on guard. However, there was no help for it, and the dinner had to be eaten without the presence of Ned, the toastmaster.
"It's a hard pill to swallow, boys," Bart announced, as he was voted into the position of presiding officer, "but we'll pay 'em back some day. It has taught us a lesson. I didn't believe that crowd had such a strong organization. We'll have to form a society ourselves and get even with 'em."
"That's what we will!" declared Fenn.
In the meanwhile Ned was being borne away by his captors. At the first sign of the attack he had guessed the object of it. He had fought valiantly against being taken, but was overpowered by the weight of numbers. He had given an involuntary call for help when first seized, but, after that, he resolved to fight alone as best he could. That was why he did not cry out when he felt the boys lift him to their shoulders, after binding his arms and legs, and carry him away.
Ned hoped his friends would rescue him, not so much that he minded being captured, as it was all in fun, but that he did not like the first year boys to play such a trick on the older pupils. He had an expectation, when Bart sang out for aid to effect his recapture, that he would be taken from the hands of the enemy, but when he felt himself being carried further and further away, he knew the Upside Down boys had triumphed.
"At any rate," thought Ned, "they didn't get the dinner away from us, even if they did get me."
Hurrying onward, his captors carried him for nearly a mile. They then came to a halt in a dark thoroughfare. As he was being borne onward face upward, Ned could not tell where he was, nor to what part of the town his enemies had brought him.
"What are you fellows going to do?" he asked at length, when they had remained for several minutes, as if waiting.
"That's for us to know and you to find out," replied a voice Ned did not recognize.
"Here comes—" began another of the first-year lads, when a companion cautioned him with:
"This way!" someone called, and in obedience to the summons, those carrying Ned turned to the right. They went down a short lane, and, a moment later, Ned saw a doorway over his head. He was carried into a building and laid down on a pile of bags in one corner of a room. It was quite dark.
The captive heard his enemies running away, and then he knew their trick was complete. They had carried him away—had kidnapped him in fact—and taken him to some building where they left him bound and helpless.
For a few moments Ned did not stir. He was not uncomfortable, as it was a warm evening, and the pile of bags was soft. The cords hurt his hands somewhat, and his legs were cramped. By the smell of lime and mortar Ned could tell he was in some new building, one probably near completion.
He went over in his mind the location of all the new structures going up in Darewell. There were several, in different parts of the town, and so he could not decide where he was. Then, as he listened, he could hear the sound of running water, and he knew he must be near the river. All at once the locality became plain to him. He was in a new house, one of several in a row, on a street leading down to the stream.
"Now to get loose," said Ned, as he tugged and strained at his bonds. He felt the cords about his wrists giving somewhat and he redoubled his efforts. In their haste the boys had not used much skill tying the knots, and, in about five minutes, Ned was free. He rubbed his arms and legs to restore the circulation, and started to leave the building. As he did so he heard someone coming in, and noted the sound of voices.
"They're coming back!" thought Ned. "I'd better hide until they go. Then I'll hurry back to the dinner!"
The footsteps and voices sounded nearer. Some persons came into the house. They stumbled about in the darkness. Then a voice asked:
"Are you sure it's safe to talk here?"
"Those are not high school pupils!" Ned said softly to himself. "They're men!"
"It's the safest place in the world," someone replied, in answer to the first question. "No one here but ourselves. Now then, how far have you got with the plans?"
"I had a letter from the lawyers in New York. It seems they have heard from Wright & Johnson and they're going to fight us. Wright & Johnson have written to Frank, so I've heard, but he's puzzled over the whole affair and don't know what to do. Oh, it's safe enough. We've only got the boy to look after and he will never know how to proceed. Besides, old Dent, his uncle, has the wool pulled over his own eyes so thick he'll never make any trouble. I tell you it's safe, and in a few months the property will be ours."
"Where is his—" but Ned could not catch the end of the sentence before the other man replied:
"Good quiet place. In a sanitarium on—"
Just then a door shut, and Ned was unable to hear any further talk of the men, who had so strangely come to the vacant house. He could distinguish the hum of their voices, but that was all.
"I wonder what that means?" he asked himself, as he stood there in the darkness. "It sounds as if there was going to be trouble for Frank."
The voices of the men had sounded from a front room downstairs. Ned was in an apartment across the hall from them. They had shut the door leading from the hall to the room where they were. This gave Ned a chance to come out of the apartment into which he had been taken and he tiptoed to the closed door to see if he could hear any more.
But either the men were conversing in whispers or they had moved back to some remote corner where their voices could not be heard.
"I guess I'd better get out of here while I have the chance," Ned thought, and moving softly he left the building.
As he hurried along the street toward Fenn's house, determined to join his friends at the dinner, he could not help thinking of what he had overheard. It drove all thoughts of his capture from his mind.
"Wright & Johnson," Ned murmured to himself. "I've heard that name before, or else I've seen it somewhere. I wonder where. Wright & Johnson? Did I see their sign when I was in New York, I wonder. No! I have it! It was the name on the envelope of that letter Frank got the day we were in swimming. That's it!"
Ned had struck the right clue. He referred to an occasion, told of in the first volume of this series, when, as the four chums were in swimming one day, a special delivery messenger from the post-office had brought Frank a letter. On reading the epistle Frank had seemed much excited. He had immediately left his companions and, when they followed him from the water a little later, they found he had dropped the envelope, Bart had picked it up, and shown it to his companions. In one corner was the name of Wright & Johnson, lawyers, of 11 Pine Street, New York.
The boys had followed Frank back to town, and had seen him come from the office of Judge Benton, a lawyer, and mail a letter in the post-office. Bart gave Frank back the envelope, but the latter had told his chums nothing of his queer letter. Nor did he afterward refer to it, though the four friends had few secrets from each other. From that time on Frank's queerness had increased, until, on the return of the chums from New York, where Ned's disappearance was cleared up, his conduct caused his friends some anxiety.
"There must be some secret in Frank's life," thought Ned. "The letter from Wright & Johnson, his growing queerness, and now the strange talk of these men, all point to that. I wish I had found out who they were. Maybe they are going to do Frank some harm!"
He paused, with half a mind to go back and see if he could learn the identity of the men. Then he reflected it would not be wise to be caught by them playing the spy.
"I'll tell the fellows about it," Ned thought. "Maybe we can find out what it means. I wonder if I had better tell Frank? I guess I'll not until I consult Bart and Fenn. Frank didn't tell us about the letter, and perhaps he would not like it if he found out I had discovered something, though, to be sure, it's not much."
Thus pondering over what he had heard, Ned hurried on, and, in a little while was at the barn, where the feasting was still in progress. The crowd was making merry in spite of the damper which Ned's capture had cast on the dinner. At his entrance, however, there burst out a cheer and cries of welcome.
"I've been keeping your chair warm for you!" shouted Bart.
"Come on in! Tell us all about it!" sung out Fenn.
"Did you fight 'em off?" inquired Lem.
"Oh, I managed to get away," replied Ned, and he told of being taken to the vacant house, and of his escape. He said not a word of the two men.
With their toastmaster thus restored to them, the baseball boys and their friends went merrily on with the dinner. There was much laughter and every one seemed talking at once of the fight with the Upside Down boys.
"We've got to play a trick on them that will make this one fade out of sight," commented Bart. "We'll fix 'em!"
"That's what we will!" exclaimed Fenn. "I wish they had tried to take the dinner and had fallen into our traps."
"We didn't have much use for 'em, for a fact," put in Lem. "Never mind, we had some fun out of it, anyhow."
Ned joined with the others in talking over the episode but he noticed that Frank was unusually quiet. When he got a chance he slipped around to where his chum was sitting and asked:
"Anything the matter, Frank?"
"No. What makes you ask me that?"
"Why I thought you looked worried over something."
"No, I'm all right," replied Frank, with forced heartiness. After that he tried to join in the talk and fun, but it was too obviously an effort to deceive Ned.
"Something's wrong with Frank," Ned decided in his own mind. "We've got to find out what it is in spite of him, and help him. I must speak to Bart and Fenn as soon as I have the chance."
It was not until all the other boys, including Frank, had left the barn and gone home, late that night, that Ned found the opportunity he wanted. Then he told his two chums of what he had heard at the new house.
"What do you make of it?" asked Bart.
"I'll admit I'm suspicious," said Ned. "It looks as though Frank was mixed up in something."
"Do you mean something bad?" asked Bart.
"No, I don't know's I'd call it that. But something suspicious, anyhow. You remember that letter from Wright & Johnson?"
"The one of which we found the envelope?" Bart inquired.
"That's the one. Well, these men evidently are mixed up in the case. It seems to concern property. Maybe Frank has some property and will not give it up."
"If Frank has any property he has a right to it!" said Fenn with emphasis. "Frank's done nothing wrong, but he certainly is acting queer."
"Then I don't know what to make of that reference to a sanitarium. They shut the door at that point and I couldn't hear any more."
The three boys discussed the subject from all sides, but could come to no solution of the mystery. That the men had referred to Frank, Ned was sure, and his chums partly agreed with him.
"Of course there are a number of boys named Frank," said Bart. "But when they spoke of Frank's uncle, Mr. Dent, it must be they meant our Frank."
"There's another thing," spoke Ned. "They mentioned pulling the wool over Mr. Dent's eyes. I wonder if we had better warn him."
"What could we tell him?" asked Fenn.
"I could tell what I heard," replied Ned.
"Which wouldn't be enough to do any good, and it might cause a lot of trouble," said Bart. "I think we'd better let this thing alone. Frank may tell us something that will give us an opening to talk to him about this matter, and you can then tell him what you heard the men say."
"I guess that's the best plan," admitted Ned.
"Perhaps we could learn something more of the men who were in the house," suggested Fenn.
"By going down there and making inquiries. I know those buildings. There's a watchman hired to stay on guard all night. Perhaps he saw the men and could tell us who they were."
"It's a good idea," said Ned. "We'll go down and see him to-morrow night. That will be Sunday, and there's not likely to be any one around to hear us question him."
"We must not take Frank along," remarked Bart. "We'll have to keep this thing quiet from him, at least until we know more about it."
"It's the first time we haven't all been in a thing together," commented Ned. "It seems queer to have something on Frank doesn't know about."
"We're doing the best we know how," said Bart. "It's for Frank's interest we're working. I hope it will all come out right."
Sunday evening the three chums went to the building where Ned had been taken by the Upside Down boys. Frank had not called on any of his chums since the dinner the night before.
The boys found the night watchman, who had just come on duty. Ned knew him, for the man, James Rafferty, had once been employed as a porter in the bank of which Ned's father was cashier.
"Good evening, Mr. Rafferty," said Ned. "It's a fine night."
"It is that, me lad. An' what brings ye down here?"
"To see you."
"Sure, thin, an' ye must have some object. Few indade want's to see ould Rafferty now. He's gittin' too old fer much use."
"We wanted to ask if you saw anything of two strange men around these buildings last night?"
"Nary a wan did I see, Masther Ned. Sure there was a slatherin' lot of lads bint on some joke, an' I didn't interfere wid 'em, knowin' they was up t' no harm. But I saw no men."
"That blocks this end of the game," said Bart in a low tone, as he and his chums came away.
FRANK GETS A LETTER
Somewhat disappointed at their failure to get any information from Rafferty, the three boys returned to Ned's house, where they had met that Sunday evening.
"Better let the thing drop until something turns up," suggested Bart. "We can't do anything, as I see."
"Only be on the lookout for strangers in town," said Ned. "I want to find out who those men were."
"And you'll have quite a job," spoke Bart. "I'm going home. See you at school to-morrow."
"There's one point we forgot to look up," Ned remarked.
"What is it?" inquired Fenn, as he prepared to accompany Bart.
"Those men spoke about someone being in a sanitarium. Do you know of any such place around here?"
"Never has been a sanitarium in this neighborhood," replied Bart. "There's the hospital, but I don't believe they meant that."
"I either," responded Ned. "There's some mystery in it all. Perhaps we can solve it and help Frank."
Little was talked of at school next morning but the contest between the ball team members and the Upside Down Club. The story was told over again, with all sorts of embellishments, and there were any number of versions; from one that Ned had escaped by leaping from the roof, to another that his friends had descended on the building and torn it apart to get him out.
As a matter of fact the victory of the Upside Down society was only a partial one, as Ned had been able to go to the dinner before it was more than half over. The first-year lads had hoped to keep Ned a prisoner until the affair was at an end, but, it developed, there was a misunderstanding in the plans of the conspirators, and those boys who were supposed to be left to guard the prisoner, went away, giving Ned a chance to escape. But the contest with the older students gave the first-years chance enough to crow, and they lost no opportunity to do so.
"What'll we do to pay 'em back?" asked Ned of Bart at the noon recess. "They're making all sorts of fun of us."
"Let 'em laugh. Our turn will come sooner or later."
Frank joined his chums that afternoon, when school had closed for the day, and all went swimming. There was quite a crowd of pupils at the river, including a number of the Upside Down boys, and there were several rather warm discussions among the members of the rival factions. Once or twice it looked as if there might be fights. Lem Gordon, in particular, was much incensed at the action of the first-years, and when Richard Kirk, a member of the Upside Down Club, taunted Lem with belonging to the side that lost in the Saturday night struggle, Lem advanced toward Richard and acted as though he was going to strike him.
"Don't," advised Bart. "That will only make them keep the thing up longer. We'll fix 'em."
"We ought to do it pretty soon," growled Lem. "I'm getting tired of being laughed at. We ought to pay back the ringleaders anyhow. Who were the fellows that held you, Frank?"
"It was so dark I couldn't see well."
"You ought to have recognized some of 'em."
"I didn't," Frank answered, somewhat shortly, as he began to dress.
"What makes Frank act so queerly?" inquired Lem of Bart. "Has anything happened?"
"Not that I know of," Bart replied carelessly. He did not want other pupils to think Frank strange, even if the three chums did. When Frank had finished dressing he started away.
"Where you going?" Fenn called after him.
"I've got a little errand to do uptown," was Frank's reply. "I'll see you later."
Ned, Bart and Fenn looked at one another, but they said nothing. It was not like Frank to go off by himself, but they did not comment on it at the time, as they did not want their companions to take notice.
A little later the crowd at the swimming place began to disperse. The three chums walked away together, conversing in low tones of Frank's action. As they were going through the woods, along a path that led over the fields to the outskirts of the town, they saw a boy stretched out on a log. His eyes were closed and he seemed asleep.
"It's Jim Morton," said Bart. "What's he doing here? I thought he was too lazy to walk this far," for Jim had the reputation of disliking exertion of any kind.
"Hello, Jim!" called Ned. "What you doing here?"
"Waiting for you," replied Jim.
"All three of you. Got a message."
"What is it? Speak up! Don't be all day about it," exclaimed Bart.
"Judge Benton gave me a quarter to come out here and see if I could find any of you chums."
"What does he want? Whom does he want?"
"He wants Frank Roscoe," went on Jim, in drawling tones. "Wants to see him right away. Important business he said. That's all I know. I was to tell Frank if I saw him, or if not, any of you boys. I've done my part, and earned the quarter, I guess. Now don't bother me, I'm going to sleep," and Jim turned over on the log as if that was all there was to it.
"But what's it about? Why can't you tell us more?" asked Bart. Jim did not answer, and a snore seemed to indicate that he was slumbering.
"If he isn't the limit!" ejaculated Ned. "Come on, fellows. We'll see if we can find Frank and give him the message."
"Perhaps he was going to the judge's office," suggested Fenn.
"Well, we'll tell him what Jim said, anyhow," suggested Bart. "Frank can do as he likes then."
They hurried back to town, thinking they might overtake Frank before he reached Darewell, but he had evidently walked fast for they did not see him. As they were passing the post-office, Ned looked in, and caught sight of their chum.
"There's Frank," he said. Frank had just taken a letter from his uncle's box. He was reading it when the three chums entered, and he seemed surprised as they came up to him.
"Judge Benton wants to see you," spoke Ned. "Jim Morton went out to the swimming hole with a message, but you'd gone, so we came after you."
"Thanks," replied Frank, glancing up from his letter. "I was just going over there."
He folded the letter to put it back in the envelope, and Ned caught a glimpse of the name Wright & Johnson, New York, before Frank put the epistle into his pocket.
"See you later," called Frank to his chums, as he hurried from the post-office.
The three boys stood staring at one another as Frank walked out. It seemed so strange they could not understand it. Ned spoke of having noticed the name of the lawyers on the envelope; the same firm that had written to Frank before.
"I can't understand it," declared Bart, as he and his chums went out, in time to see Frank mounting the steps of a building opposite the post-office, where Judge Benton had his office.
"I don't know's it's any of our affair," put in Fenn. "Only I'd like to help Frank if he's in trouble."
"So would I," spoke Ned.
"Shall we wait for him?" asked Bart.
"It's hard to know what to do," declared Ned. "If we go away he may think we're mad. If we stay he might imagine we're trying to find out what Judge Benton wanted him for. However, I guess we'd better wait for him a little while."
They did not have to wait long. Frank came out, and he seemed more cheerful than he had been in some time. It appeared as though something, that had been troubling him, had been settled to his satisfaction.
"Glad you waited," were Frank's first words as he joined his chums. "I've got an idea."
"What is it?" asked Bart.
"We ought to get right to work and play a trick on the Upside Down boys. We haven't much time left this term."
"Good!" exclaimed Fenn. "That's what I say. But what shall we do?"
"I think I have a plan," said Frank. "You know Judge Benton's son belongs to that crowd."
"Does he?" asked Ned, for this was news to himself and his two chums.
"Yes. I didn't know it until a little while ago. I was talking to the judge about—er—about some private matters—and he asked me if I was going to the dance. I asked him what dance, and he said the one the High School boys were getting up. That was the first I'd heard about it, but I pretended to know a little bit, and I learned that the Upside Down boys, of which his son is a member, are planning one for Saturday night in the hall over the drug store. Young Benton had to ask his father for some money to help pay expenses, so that's how the judge knew. Now what's the matter with us getting even with them for what they did to us, by playing some trick at the dance."
"Are there going to be girls there?" asked Ned.
"Then I think I know something that will break up the dance and not harm any one either," Ned replied.
BREAKING UP THE DANCE
"What is it?" asked Bart.
"Let's get away from here, to some place where we can talk it over quietly," suggested Fenn. "We don't want them to know we're onto their plans."
The four chums moved off down the street. Frank seemed to have recovered his good spirits, and joined in the talk readily enough. They listened to Ned's suggestion, and the more they talked of it the more enthusiastic they grew over it.
"This'll beat their breaking-up of our dinner all to pieces," said Fenn. "It's all to the merry. They'll wish they'd let us alone."
"There's one point we almost overlooked," said Frank, just as the chums were about to disperse.
"What is it?" asked Fenn.
"To make the plan work right we've got to get on the floor where the dance is going on, and I don't believe we can. Those fellows will have every entrance guarded."
"Leave that to me," spoke Ned. "I know that old dance hall like a book. There's an entrance they'll never guard and we can use that."
For the next few days the four chums were busy at home every spare moment. Their folks wondered what was in the wind, but the boys kept their own counsel.
"Have you got any cheese?" asked Bart of his mother one evening.
"What for? Are you hungry?" asked Alice, looking up from the first-aid-to-the-injured book that she was studying.
"No, but I'm going to feed it to those who are hungry," her brother replied.
"Do you want it for some poor persons?" asked Mrs. Keene. "I think, Bart, I can give them something better than cheese."
"No; cheese is just what's wanted," Bart answered. "You see it's a secret."
"Oh, I guess he's going to have some sort of an initiation in a secret society!" exclaimed Alice. "Tell me about it, Bart, I'll never breathe a word of it, really I won't."
"I'd like to, Sis, but I can't," Bart replied. "It's very secret."
Bart got the cheese and took it to his room. Alice tried to tease him into telling her what he wanted of it, but Bart maintained a provoking silence.
"All right!" declared Alice. "I'll never tie your hand up again, if you hurt it with your shotgun," referring to an incident when Bart had slightly injured several of his fingers by the premature discharge of his gun.
"I don't intend to get shot again," Bart made answer. "Really, Alice, I'd like to tell you about this, but you'll hear about it soon enough."
"Saturday night, maybe."
"But I'm going away Saturday night."
"To a dance."
"A dance, eh?" and Bart looked interested. "What dance?"
"Why one the first-year boys are getting up. I've got an invitation."
"You don't mean to say you're going to the racket the Upside Down Club is going to give?"
"Yes; why not?"
"Yes, there is something. I can tell by the way you act."
"Well, I didn't think a sister of mine would go to an affair given by the enemies of the Darewell baseball team."
"Oh, you're mad just because they played a trick on you about your dinner. That's nothing. I'm going to the dance just the same. So you'd better tell me now what you want the cheese for."
"Oh, if you go to the dance you may hear of it there."
"Now, Bart, I think you're real mean! Please tell me! How can I hear of it at the dance?"
"Run along now, Sis, I'm busy," and Bart, with a provoking smile, shut the door of his room. Alice waited a minute, and then, hearing her brother moving about among his possessions, and realizing that it was useless to tease him further, went downstairs.
"I don't care," she said to herself. "I'll have a good time at the dance, anyhow."
Preparations went on for the little informal affair the boys of the Upside Down Club were to give. They tried to keep it a secret, but it was impossible. However, they took precautions to prevent any unbidden ones gaining access to the hall. The place was kept locked all day, and in the evenings, while the work of decorating it was under way, there were enough of the first-year boys on hand to prevent any untoward acts on the part of their enemies.
The four chums had taken a few of their closest friends of the nine into their confidence, but they kept matters so quiet that none of the Upside Downs suspected that a plot of vengeance was afoot. While the first-year boys did not ask any of the other male pupils of the school to the dance, they were not so strict with the girls, and a number from all the classes of the institution were bidden to the affair.
"The more the merrier," said Ned, when he heard of this. "It will be the talk of the town Monday morning."
"If it works out right," put in Fenn.
"Oh, it will work out right," Ned said confidently.
The night of the dance came at last. Alice put on her prettiest dress, and, as she was leaving she saw her brother, attired in an old suit of clothes, lounging in his room.
"I thought you were going to tell me about that secret to-night," she said.
"The night isn't over yet," Bart replied. "There's time enough."
So Alice went to the dance. She found many other girl acquaintances there, and scores of boy friends among the members of the Upside Down Club.
Bart, who had remained in his room all the evening, was started from a revery about nine o'clock by a whistle out in the street.
"There are the fellows!" he exclaimed, and, catching up his cap, and taking a package, from which sounded a mysterious scurrying and squealing, he went out.
In front of his house he met Ned, Fenn and Frank. Each one had a bundle similar to the one Bart carried.
"Got plenty of 'em?" asked Ned.
"About two dozen," was the answer.
"You had better luck than I. I got fifteen."
"I have twenty and Fenn has ten," put in Frank.
"That's enough to break up a dozen dances," spoke Ned. "Come on now, we've got to do a bit of climbing."
The hall, where the dance was being held, was over the drug store. This was in the center of a business block, the drug structure being higher than any of the buildings amid which it stood. The ballroom was on the top floor.
"Have you arranged about getting in?" asked Fenn.
"We can't get in," Ned replied. "They've got every door doubly guarded, for they suspect we're up to something. In fact we don't want to get in. I have a better way. Come along."
Ned led the way, through back streets until he came to a certain high fence.
"One of us has got to climb over and open the gate," he said. "After that the rest is easy."
Bart, being a good climber, was soon over the obstruction, and admitted his companions to a yard in the rear of a group of buildings.
"Where are we?" asked Fenn.
"We're in back of Williamson's hardware place," replied Ned. "That's right next to the drug store. We're going to the roof of that, and when we get there we can go up a short ladder until we get to the roof of the drug store."
"How did the ladder get there?" asked Frank.
"I bribed a telephone lineman, who was stringing some wires on the buildings yesterday, to leave it there."
"But what are we going to do when we get on the roof of the drug store?" asked Fenn.
"You watch and you'll see," Ned answered.
By means of an outside stairway, and by climbing up on a rear porch, the boys reached the roof of the hardware building. Thence it was an easy task to get on top of the structure in which the dance was being held. They could hear the music below them, and the sound of merry feet tripping to the melody of a two-step.
"There's a scuttle near the center," Ned spoke. "Walk quietly now. It's a tin roof, and they may hear us, in spite of the music. Go easy!"
They found the scuttle, and it was unlocked. Ned had seen to that, by giving a judicious hint to the janitor of the place the day before. The boys cautiously removed the covering to a hole that led into a sort of attic or ventilating space. A few minutes later the four chums were in a dark loft, looking through the grating of a ventilator in the wall right down on the dancing floor.
"My, but they're having a good time!" exclaimed Ned in a whisper. "It seems a pity to spoil it."
"Pity nothing!" exclaimed Bart. "What did they do to us? Besides, there's no harm in this. There'll be a little screaming from the girls, but that's all."
"Have you got 'em in paper bags?" asked Ned, as he began to open the box he carried.
"Sure," replied Bart, and the others answered in the affirmative.
"When I open the grating just toss the bags out, right in the middle of the floor," Ned went on. "Do it quick, as I want to close the ventilator before they see where the things come from."
An instant later Ned had opened the ventilator grating, which he had previously loosened. Then, through the air, went sailing four paper bags. They struck almost in the middle of the ballroom floor and burst.
Then from the bags there scampered over three score mice, rushing, running, leaping and darting amid the dancers, with frightened squeaks and squeals.
For a moment there was silence, broken only by the noise of the rodents. Then every girl in the room, and there were forty of them, uttered a frightened scream and rushed for a place of safety.
"A mouse! A mouse! Oh, save me!" was the universal cry, and the music came to a stop in a crash of discord as the dance was most effectually broken up.
FRANK IS WARNED
All over the room ran the mice, and all about darted the frightened girls. The boys were, at first, too surprised to know what to do, but, at a rallying cry from someone, they started after the mice. However, they had no weapons to kill the rodents with, and had to be content with taking kicks at them as they darted past, seeking means of escape.
"Couldn't have worked better!" exclaimed Bart, as he and his chums watched the scene from where they were hidden.
"I hope none of the girls faint," said Fenn.
"Oh, Stumpy's getting worried about Jennie, I s'pose," remarked Ned.
"No danger of any of 'em fainting," said Bart. "They're too much afraid a mouse would bite 'em."
So it seemed, for the girls contented themselves with screaming and getting up on whatever offered in the way of chairs or benches.
Meanwhile the mice, bewildered by the lights, the noise and the strange place, were running about, squealing as loudly as they could. Every time one of the frightened creatures came near a girl, or a group of them, the cries of the damsels drowned the squeaks of the rodents.
The boys of the Upside Down Club were at their wits' ends, for they could wage no effectual warfare against the mice. One or two of the committee of arrangements scurried around until they secured brooms, but by this time the mice had hidden in corners, whence they scurried out occasionally, to the great fright of the girls.
The dance had come to a sudden end, for the girls, even after comparative quiet was restored, refused to venture on the floor. Even Alice, who was braver than most girls, stayed in a corner.
"Who did it?"
"Where did they come from?"
"How did it happen?"
These and many more questions were heard on every side. The paper bags from which the mice had burst were still in the center of the floor. Some of the first-year boys picked them up. From them dropped slips of paper on which were printed:
COMPLIMENTS OF THE DAREWELL BASEBALL NINE.
"I thought so!" exclaimed Walter Powell, the chairman of the arrangement committee of the dance. "The Darewell Chums had a hand in this. We must find 'em, fellows!"
"Come on!" exclaimed Ned to his companions in the ventilator space. "We'd better skip. They may find us."
They went out as they had come in, and soon were on their way home.
"Talk about getting even," remarked Fenn. "I guess we did it all right!"
"I caught all the mice in our house," said Ned. "Dad says he wishes I'd take the job steady, though he didn't know why I was doing it."
"Alice tried to find out one night what I was going to do with the cheese I got to bait the trap with," Bart remarked. "I guess she knows now."
Meanwhile the boys of the Upside Down Club, much chagrined at the unexpected ending of their entertainment, were trying to induce the girls to go on dancing. They said all the mice had gone, which was probably true, but they couldn't get the young ladies to believe it.
"I'm going home!" declared Jennie Smith, and several other girls decided to go with her.
The boys made an ineffectual search for those who had played the trick. They soon discovered that the bags had been thrown through the ventilator, but, by the time a committee of investigation had gone to the loft, the four chums were far away.
"We'll not say anything about this at school, Monday," Ned remarked as the chums prepared to separate that night. "Let it come from the other fellows."
"Oh, it will be town talk by to-morrow," declared Frank, as he started off down the road toward his uncle's house.
Mr. Dent's residence was about a mile outside of Darewell. The road leading to it was well lighted up to within half a mile of the Dent place, and then the lamps were few and far apart. Frank hurried on, thinking of many things besides the trick of the mice, for he had a real trouble, and one he had not yet shared with his chums. It was bothering him, and had been for some time. He wished he had someone he could take into his confidence.
As he neared his uncle's house he noticed there was a light in the sitting room. This was unusual, as his uncle and aunt were in the habit of going to bed early. They left no light for Frank, who had a key to the front door, and who carried matches to light the lamp always left on a table for him.
"I wonder if any one is sick?" the boy thought, as he approached the house.
He turned up a side path, as he wanted to get a drink at the well before going to bed, and the water in the house was not likely to be fresh. As he advanced cautiously through the darkness he heard voices, coming, evidently, from the direction of the front porch. Frank halted, and, as he did so, he heard his uncle's tones. Mr. Dent was saying:
"Of course it's too bad, but if he's violent, there's only one thing to do."
"That's all," the voice of a man replied. "We will have to keep him in the sanitarium for a while yet. I am just as sorry about it as you are. But we must not let the boy know. It might have a bad effect on him."
Frank started. All his troubles seemed to come freshly to his mind. He knew the man talking to his uncle had something to do with them, and he resolved to find out more about the matter. He remained silent, hoping to hear additional talk, but the two had concluded their conversation, and the stranger could be heard walking down the gravel path toward the front gate. That was what the light had meant. Mr. Dent had received a visitor, and Frank determined to find out who it was.
"Well, I'll see you again when necessary," the stranger called to Mr. Dent. "Good-night"
"Good-night," replied Frank's uncle, as he went into the house and shut the door.
Frank waited until the stranger was out on the path in front of the house. Then, keeping as much as possible in the shadows, the boy followed. He stole along, walking on the sod to deaden his footsteps, and soon found himself on the main highway. Just ahead of him he could see the figure of the man. He tried to see if he knew the stranger, but it was too dark.
"But I'll find out where you go," Frank declared to himself, "I'll get on the track of this mystery sooner or later, and I guess I've got a good start now."
All unconscious of being followed, the man hurried on. He seemed to know his way, for, though it was dark, and the path was uneven, he kept on at a good pace.
Frank was drawing closer, in the eagerness of his pursuit. He was not as careful as he had been to walk on the sod, and, after he had gone about half a mile, the boy suddenly stepped on a loose stone which made him slip. The sound was heard by the stranger, who was about one hundred feet in advance, and he turned quickly.
"Who's there?" he asked sharply.
Frank did not answer.
"Who's there?" the man inquired again, and there was menace in his tones.
Frank crouched down to get in the shadow of a big tree.
"I know someone is following me," the man went on, in a sharp voice. "Whoever it is I warn him he had better come no further. If it's money you're after I'll tell you I am armed, and I'll not hesitate to shoot. If it's a beggar I have nothing for you. If it is anyone else I warn him I will stand no trifling. I will say nothing to you, and if you follow me you do so at your peril. Be warned in time and go back. You must not meddle in this affair, whoever you are. I shall protect myself if I am attacked!"
The voice ceased, and there sounded a click in the darkness, that might indicate the man had cocked his revolver. Frank did not move. He hardly breathed. He did not know what to do, for he had not counted on being discovered.
"Remember! Follow me at your peril!" the man exclaimed again. Then, turning quickly he ran ahead in the darkness, and was soon lost to sight.
A STRANGER IN TOWN
Dazed by the sudden ending to his chase, Frank remained a while standing by the tree. He had half a mind to ignore the warning and keep on after the man, but on second thought felt it would be an unwise thing to do.
"I must try another plan," the youth said to himself. "I will get at the bottom of this mystery concerning me. I did not know Uncle Abner was mixed up in it. I wonder if I had better ask him about it?"
Frank debated this question in his mind as he went back home. Then he decided he would say nothing about what he had overheard until there was a chance of learning more about it.
"Is that you, Frank?" his uncle asked him, as the boy went into the house a few minutes later.
"Well, be sure you lock up well. There have been thieves about, I hear, and we don't want 'em to get in here."
Frank wondered at his uncle's caution, for Mr. Dent was not usually nervous. It was also news to Frank to learn that there were thieves about.
"Have you seen any?" he asked his uncle.
"No, but Jim Peterson's hired man was over a while ago, and told me his dogs had barked at some tramps passing in the road. There are strangers in the vicinity, I guess."
Frank wondered if the dogs had barked at the stranger who had been at the Dent house a little while before, but he said nothing about it, and, soon went to bed.
As the chums had anticipated, the breaking-up of the Upside Down Club dance created more talk among the High School pupils than had anything else in the line of sports and fun since the institution was built. The members of the ball team, and their friends, who had been let into the secret, preserved a discreet silence about the affair, and would answer no questions.
Although it was generally believed that the four chums had been the prime instigators of the affair, they would admit nothing, and many were the conjectures about the mice.
As for the girls, after their first fright, they laughed as heartily as did the boys over the sudden ending of the dance. The only pupils who seemed angry over the matter were the boys on the dance committee, who were incensed at the breaking up of the affair.
"I know those Darewell Chums had the most to do with it," said Denny Thorp, who was the leader of the crowd that had captured Ned. "I'll get even with them."
"It looks to me as though they had gotten even with us," remarked Peter Enderby, Denny's chum. "They paid us back, good and proper."
"That's all right. What we did wasn't half as mean as letting those mice loose and spoiling the dance."
"Oh, get out!" exclaimed Peter. "It's all in sport. What's the use of getting mad?"
But Denny declared he was going to watch his chance to pay the Darewell Chums back with interest.
But, though the four friends heard of Denny's threat, they were not alarmed over it. They felt they could hold their own. From then on, however, there was open warfare between the Upside Down Club members and the baseball nine and their friends, and many were the tricks each side played on the other.
One afternoon, about a week later, Jim Morton, who was watching a crowd of boys playing on the school campus, hailed Bart, as the latter, in chase of the ball, ran toward where Jim was lying stretched under a shady elm tree.
"What is it?" asked Bart
"I've been waiting until someone would knock a fly over in this direction, so's you come close," Jim went on. "I wanted to speak to you."
"Speak ahead," Bart went on, as he threw the ball back.
"Do you want a job as guide?"
"Guide? What do you mean?"
"I met a man the other day, stranger in town, I guess, and he asked me if I'd show him the corduroy road through the woods. I told him I had to go to school, and he said Saturday would do. But I don't just feel like taking the job. I've got spring fever I guess. To-morrow's Saturday, and he expects me to go to the hotel after him, and show him the road. But I know I'll be tired tomorrow and I thought maybe you'd like the job. He says he'll give five dollars."
"Oh, I don't know," Bart replied, somewhat surprised at what Jim told him. "What sort of a man is he?"
"He has red hair, that's all I remember. I was sort of sleepy the day he met me, and I didn't take much notice."
"How'd he come to ask you?" inquired Bart, wondering why lazy Jim had ever been requested to do anything.
"Sandy Merton told the man about me. The man went to Sandy first, said he heard Sandy knew the woods pretty well. But Sandy works for a farmer every Saturday, and he couldn't go, so he recommended me. Said it would be easy work, but I don't fancy tramping through the woods. Do you want the job?"
"Sure, I'll take it," Bart replied. "It'll be fun. I wonder if he only wants one boy?"
"I guess he doesn't mind. Said I could bring a friend along if I wanted to. Here, I'll give you his card, and you can inquire for him at the hotel," and Jim extended a bit of pasteboard on which was printed the name:
"I'll go see him," Bart remarked. "Sure you don't want the job, Jim? Five dollars is a nice bit of money to pick up for just going to the corduroy road."
"I—got—spring—fever," murmured Jim, and Bart saw that the boy's eyes were closed as though he had gone to sleep.
"Queer he had energy enough to tell me that much," remarked Bart, as he moved off. "Just like him, to lie here and wait for a chance ball to bring me in his direction. Jim certainly is the limit when it comes to laziness."
That evening Bart went to see Mr. Hardman at the hotel. He found the stranger pleasant enough, and, as Jim had said, with a wealth of thick red hair.
"You're the third boy that has been engaged for this work," said Mr. Hardman with a smile, when Bart had explained his errand. "I hope you will not fail me. You see I am a stranger in this locality, and I'm thinking of buying land for a house, if I like the place. But I'm fond of solitude, and I have heard that the woods, through which the corduroy road runs, are just about what I want. I don't wish to get lost, so I thought I would hire one of the town boys to show me around. Do you know your way through the forest?"
"Quite well," Bart replied. "I have camped there. The road is easy to find, but it winds in and out, and you might get lost, as there are several branches to it. What time do you want to start to-morrow?"
"About nine o'clock. You might bring a couple of friends, if you like. I'm fond of company. Is it worth while to take lunch?"
"Well, we could hardly go there and back before dinner."
"Then we'll take something to eat," Mr. Hardman went on. "Here are two dollars. Get some sandwiches and things, and we'll have a little picnic in the woods."
In spite of the man's apparently hearty manner Bart felt an indescribable aversion to him. Mr. Hardman was pleasant enough, but he had a habit of shifting his gaze around as he talked and he did not look one squarely in the eyes. But Bart gave only a momentary thought to that. He was wondering whether he had better bring his three chums on the trip. He was about to ask the man if he would object to a party of four boys, but Mr. Hardman evidently considered the incident closed, for he bowed to Bart and opened the door of his room, where the interview had taken place.
"I'll bring 'em anyhow," Bart decided, as he went downstairs. "He didn't mention any special number. Besides, I don't know the road any too well, and the others can help me out."
Bart told his three chums of the matter that night. Fenn and Ned said they would go, but Frank declared he had to do some errands for his uncle and would not be through in time.
"I may walk out that way and meet you," Frank said. "I expect to be finished shortly after dinner. Are you just going to the road and back?"
"I don't know how far he may want to go," Bart answered. "We'll probably be gone all day."
"Wish I could go," Frank said, but, as he spoke, his thoughts seemed to be elsewhere.
"Frank's getting stranger than ever," remarked Ned, as the former left Ned's house where the four chums were talking that evening. "I wonder if he doesn't want to go?"
"I guess he'd like to, if he could," Bart replied.
"Do you know anything about this Mr. Hardman?" asked Fenn.
"Only what I've heard," Bart answered. "He came to the hotel about a week ago. Seems to have plenty of money. Treated me very nicely, but, somehow I don't like him, and I can't give any reason for it."
"Did you get the grub with the money he gave you?" asked Ned.
The next morning the three chums went to the hotel. They found Mr. Hardman waiting for them.
"On time I see," he remarked, as Bart introduced Ned and Fenn. "It's just the morning for a nice long tramp. I hope you boys are good walkers."
"I guess we can keep up with you," Bart replied, and they started off.
MR. HARDMAN'S QUEER ACT
It was about five miles from the hotel to where the corduroy road began to wend a tortuous way through the big woods back of the town of Darewell. It was the same road over which the chums had traveled the time they went camping just before the previous Thanksgiving, during which excursion they had shot considerable game.
They walked out through the suburbs of the town, and soon were in the open country. Then came a stretch of woodland, and, after a mile of this, the chums turned aside into a denser forest.
"Here's the corduroy road," said Bart, pointing to where the log highway began.
"Ah, indeed," remarked Mr. Hardman. "Quite interesting. Made of little logs laid side by side. To prevent wagons from sinking down into the mud, I suppose?"
"It isn't used much nowadays," volunteered Fenn. "It was built by the loggers when they were cutting some timber, but that was several years ago."
"Where does it lead to?"
"Right into the middle of the woods, and then it stops," replied Bart, thinking of the winter day they had last traveled over the road, and recalling what events had followed the discovery of the Perry family, suffering in the forest hut.
"We'll take a walk along it," Mr. Hardman went on. "It seems to be just the sort of locality I'm looking for. Quite lonesome enough to suit me."
It was pleasant in the forest that June day. On either side of the road grew tall ferns and there were many wild flowers. The birds were flitting through the branches, and, in spite of the rather queer expedition they were on, the boys enjoyed themselves. As for the man they were guiding, he was content to walk along, stopping, here and there, to look through the forest, or gather some flowers.
"Is there any particular place you want to go to?" asked Bart, when they had been walking on the road for perhaps half an hour.
"I thought you said the road did not lead anywhere."
"Neither it does, but there are paths through the woods branching off the road, and if you wanted to get to a certain spot I think we could take you there."
"No, I only want to see how the road runs. I am not looking for any particular place. But these paths you speak of, are they easy to find?"
"Not unless you know the woods pretty well," put in Ned.
"Ah! Then I suppose a person coming—say from the other side of the forest—would have difficulty in reaching the road and getting into Darewell?"
"It would be quite hard, I imagine," said Bart, "We have never been to the other edge of the forest. It is about ten miles in extent, and we have only been about half way through. It is pretty wild, the farther in you go."
"So much the better," Mr. Hardman murmured. "Now boys, are you ready for lunch? I confess the walk has given me an appetite."