THE BOYS OF BELLWOOD SCHOOL
FRANK JORDAN'S TRIUMPH
BY FRANK V. WEBSTER
AUTHOR OF "TOM THE TELEPHONE BOY", "COMRADES OF THE SADDLE", "THE NEWSBOY PARTNERS", ETC.
I FRANK JORDAN'S HOME II THE TINKER BOY III THE DIAMOND BRACELET IV GILL MACE V THE RUINED HOUSE VI AN ASTONISHING CLUE VII THE CONFIDENCE MAN VIII NIPPED IN THE BUD IX A BOY GUARDIAN X AN OBSTINATE REBEL XI TURNING THE TABLES XII A STRANGE HAPPENING XIII SOME MYSTERY XIV THE ROW ON THE CAMPUS XV DARK HOURS XVI THE FOOT RACE XVII THE TRAMP AGAIN XVIII A DOLEFUL "UNCLE" XIX A CLEAR CASE XX FRANK A PRISONER XXI A QUEER EXPERIENCE XXII A STARTLING MESSAGE XXIII UNDER ARREST XXIV CLEANING UP XXV CONCLUSION
FRANK JORDAN'S HOME
"Where did you get that stickpin, Frank?"
"Bought it at Mace's jewelry store."
"You are getting extravagant."
"I hardly think so, aunt, and I don't believe you would think so, either, if you knew all the circumstances."
"Circumstances do not alter cases when a boy is a spendthrift."
"I won't argue with you, aunt. You have your ideas and I have mine. Of course, I bought the stickpin, but it was with money I had earned."
The aunt sniffed in a vague way. The boy left the house, looking irritated and unhappy.
Frank Jordan lived in the little town of Tipton with his aunt, Miss Tabitha Brown. His father was an invalid, and at the present time was in the South, seeking to recuperate his failing health, and Mrs. Jordan was with him as his nurse. They had left Frank in charge of the aunt, who was a miserly, fault-finding person, and for nearly a month the lad had not enjoyed life very greatly.
There were two thoughts that filled Frank's mind most of the time. The first was that he would give about all he had to leave his aunt's house. The other was a wish that his father would write to him soon, telling him, as he had promised to do, that he had decided that his son could leave Tipton and go to boarding-school.
What with the constant nagging of his sour-visaged relative, the worry over his sick father, and the suspense as to his own future movements, Frank did not have a very happy time of it. He felt a good deal like a boy shut up in a prison. His aunt used her authority severely. She kept him away from company, and allowed none of his friends to visit the house. From morning until night she pestered him and nagged at him, "all for his own good," she said, until life at the Jordan home, roomy and comfortable as it was, became a burden to the lad.
"It's too bad!" burst forth Frank as he crossed the garden, climbed a fence, and made toward the river through a little woods that was a favorite haunt of his. Reaching a fallen tree he drew from its side a splendid fishing-pole with all the attachments that a lover of the rod and line might envy. His eye grew brighter as he glanced fondly along the supple staff with its neat joints of metal, but he continued his complaint: "When she isn't scolding, she is lecturing me. I suppose if she ever hears of my fishing outfit here, she'll be at me for a week about my awful extravagance. Oh, dear!"
Frank had a good deal over which to grumble. His aunt certainly was a "tyro." She was making his life very gloomy with her stern, unloving ways. Frank had promised his parents, when they went away, that he would be obedient in all respects to his aunt. He was a boy of his word, and he felt that he had done exceedingly well so far, hard as the task had been. His aunt was very unreasonable in some things, however, and he had been at the point of rebellion several times.
"You'd think I was some kind of a beggar, to hear her talk," he grumbled to himself. "Father sends plenty of pocket money, but the way Aunt Tib doles it out to me makes a fellow sick. As to the stickpin—heigh ho! I won't think about it at all. I've lots to be thankful for. I only care that father gets well and strong again. As to myself, he's sure to decide soon what school I will be sent away to. That means no Aunt Tib. I shall be happy. Hello! What's wrong now?"
From the direction of the river there had come two boyish screams in quick and alarming succession. Frank recognized a signal of pain and distress. He started on a run and reached the edge of the stream in a few moments. He leaned beyond a bush where the bank shelved down a little distance along the shore. His eyes lit upon quite an animated scene.
A strange-looking, boxed-in wagon, with an old white horse attached, stood stationary about forty rods distant. Just this side of it was a ragged, trampish-looking man. He had just picked up a piece of flat rock, and as he hurled it Frank discovered that he had aimed at a tree directly across the narrow stream, but had missed it.
"Why, there's a boy in that tree," said Frank. "That big bully must have hit him before I came, and that was the boy's cry I heard. The good-for- nothing loafer!"
Frank rounded the brush in an impetuous and indignant way. He was about to challenge the man, when the latter shouted something at the boy across the stream, and Frank stopped to listen.
"Are you going to come down out of that tree?" the man demanded in a bellowing tone.
There was no reply, and the man repeated the challenge. The boy addressed continued silent. Frank could see him crouching in a crotch, his face pale and distressed.
"See here," roared his persecutor, getting furious and shaking his fist at his victim, "I'm after you, Ned Foreman, and I'm going to get you! Why, you vagabond, you—you ungrateful young runaway! Here I'm your only solitary living relative in the whole world, and you sit up in that tree with a big stone ready to smash me if I come near you."
"Yes, and I will—I will, for a fact!" cried the lad, roused up. "You try it, and see. Relative? You're no kin of mine, Tim Brady. I'd be ashamed to own you."
"I hain't?" howled the man. "Who married your step-sister? Who gave you a home when you was a helpless kid, I'd like to know?"
"Huh, a healthy home!" retorted the boy. "It wasn't your home; it was my sister's, and you robbed her of it and squandered the money, and broke her heart, and she died, and you ought to be hung for it!" and the speaker choked down a sob. "Now you come across me and try to rob me."
"Say," roared Tim Brady, gritting his teeth and looking dreadfully cruel and hateful, "if I hang twice over I'll get you. Better give me some of your money."
"It isn't mine to give."
"Better give me some of it, all the same," continued the man, "or I'll take the whole of it. I'm desperate, Ned Foreman. I'm in a fix where I've got to get away from these diggings, and I've got to have money to go. Are you going to be reasonable and come down out of that tree?"
"No, I ain't."
"Then I'm coming after you. See that?" and the man held up a heavy stick and brandished it. Then he sat down on a rock and started to remove his shoes, with the idea of wading across the stream.
Frank felt that it was time for him to do something. He was not a bit afraid of a coward, but he realized that he and the boy in the tree together were no match for the big, vicious fellow just beyond him. The boy in the tree looked honest and decent; the man after him looked just what he was—a tramp and perhaps worse. Frank thought of hurrying toward the village for help. Then a sudden idea came to his mind, and he acted upon it.
The man who was preparing to go after the boy who would not come to him, sat directly under a big bush. Right over his head among the branches Frank noticed a double hornets' nest. He knew all about hornets and their ways, as did he of all the interesting things in the woods. Frank drew his fishing-pole around and upward, until its willowy end rested against the straw-like strands by which the hornets' nest was attached to the limb.
Very gently he got a hold on the connecting strands of the double nest and detached it from the limb. Then he lowered it, carefully poising it with a swaying motion over the head of the stooping figure of the man.
"Now!" said Frank breathlessly.
Already the disturbed hornets were coming out of the cells in the nest, angrily fluttering about to learn what the matter was. Frank gave the fishing-pole a swing. He slammed its end and the hornets' nest right down on the head of the tramp.
Instantly a swarming myriad of the little insects made the air black about the man. The fellow gave a spring and a yell of pain. Then, his hands wildly beating the air, he darted down the river shore like a shot.
THE TINKER BOY
"You had better hurry over here quick, if you want to get away from that man," said Frank, coming out from cover.
"Yes, I will," responded the boy up in the tree.
He threw to the ground a flat stone he had been resting in the crotch of the tree, his only weapon of defense, dropped nimbly down after it, and started for the water.
"Hold on," directed Frank; "there's a crossing plank a little way farther down the stream."
"I'm wet, anyway," explained the boy, dashing into the water, and he came up to Frank, dripping to the waist.
"Don't be scared," said Frank, as his companion looked in a worried way in the direction the tramp had taken. "That fellow will be too busy with those hornets for some time to come, I'm thinking, to mind us."
"Oh, I hope so," said the lad with a shudder. "He's a terrible man. I must get away from here at once."
As he spoke the boy ran to where the wagon stood and climbed upon its front seat. As Frank, keeping up with his pace, neared the vehicle, he noticed across its box top the words: "Saws, knives, scissors and tools sharpened scientifically."
"I wish you would stay with me until I get to town," remarked the boy, seizing the lines with many a timid look back of him.
"Oh, you want to get to town, do you?" observed Frank. "All right, I'll be glad to show you the road."
The boy started up the horse with a sharp snap of the lines. The animal was old and lazy, however, and could not go beyond a very slow trot.
"Turn at that point in the rise," directed Frank, pointing ahead a little distance, "and it will be a shorter cut to town."
"Yes, yes. I want to get away from here," said Ned Foreman anxiously. "Oh, there he is again!"
Frank followed the glance of his frightened companion to observe the tramp in among the brush. He was slapping his face and body as if he had not yet gotten rid of all the hornets, but he was certainly headed in the direction of the wagon.
"Your horse won't go fast enough to keep ahead of that fellow," remarked Frank. "Don't tremble so. He shan't bother you again if I can help it. Keep on driving."
Frank leaped to the road. Keeping up a running pace with the wagon, he stooped twice to pick up two pieces of wood of cudgel shape and size, and then regained his seat.
"Now, then," he said, "drive on as fast as you can. It's less than a quarter of a mile to houses. If that man overtakes us you must help me beat him off. If we can't make it together, I'll pester him and keep him back while you run ahead for help."
"I'd hate to leave you—he's a cruel man," said the lad, "but I've got quite an amount of money, and it doesn't belong to me."
"Aha!" exclaimed Frank suddenly. "There's no need of our doing anything. I'll settle that tramp now."
From the cut in the road ahead they were making for, a light gig had just come into view. On its seat was a single passenger, with a silver badge on the breast of his coat and wearing a gold-braided cap.
"It's Mr. Houston, the town marshal," explained Frank, and his companion uttered a great sigh of relief. "Stop till he passes us. Oh, Mr. Houston," called out Frank to the approaching rig, "there's a man over yonder annoying this boy and trying to rob him."
"Is, eh?" cried the officer. "Whoa!" and he arose in the seat to get a good view of the spot toward which Frank pointed. "I reckon he's seen me, for he's making back his trail licketty-switch."
"Keep your eye on him so he won't follow us, will you, Mr. Houston?" pressed Frank.
"I'll do just that," assented the marshal pleasantly. "I'm after these tramps. There's a gang of them been hanging around Tipton the last day or two, begging, and stealing what they could get their hands on, and I'm bound to rout them out."
"There's your chance, then," said Frank, "for, from what this boy tells me, that fellow yonder is as bad as they make them."
The officer drove on slowly, keeping an eye out for the tramp. Frank's companion urged up his laggard horse. His face had cleared, and he acted pleased and relieved as they got within the limits of the town.
"Any place in particular you're bound for?" inquired Frank.
"Where is that?"
"I'm due at the town square."
"Then keep right on this road," said Frank, and within five minutes they arrived and halted on the shady side of a little park surrounded by the principal stores.
"I expect some one will be here to see me soon," said the lad. "I don't know how to thank you for all you've done for me. If that man had got hold of me he would have robbed me of every cent I had. I've been trying to keep away from him, fearing he might be looking for me and come across me accidentally. Now I'm safe."
"Won't he hang around and try it again when you leave town?" questioned Frank.
"But I'm not going to leave town," explained Ned Foreman, "that is, not on this wagon. I've been working for a man who runs half a dozen of these scissors grinders over the country. At Tipton here another employe will relieve me. I give him what I have taken in the last week, and he pays me my wages out of it. I'm going to give up this job now."
"Don't you like it, then?" asked the interested Frank.
"Well enough—yes, it isn't unpleasant; but I've an ambition to get an education, and have been working to that end," said Ned in a serious way that won Frank's respect. "I want to go to school. I have saved up a little money, and I shall start in right away."
"That's good," said Frank. "I'm only hoping to get away to school myself soon. Say, what kind of a traveling caravan is this, anyway?"
"I'll show you," said Ned promptly, and as both got to the ground he touched a bolt and the back of the wagon came down, forming steps. Reaching in he moved a bracket, and a section of the side of the wagon slid back, letting light into the vehicle. Frank noticed a sort of a bench, a lathe, and some small pieces of machinery.
Ned Foreman got up the steps and touched something. There was a click and a spark of light. He pulled a wheel around and then there was a chug-chug- chug.
"Now, what's that?" asked the curious Frank.
"It's a little gasoline motor," explained Ned. "Step in and see what a famous tinkering shop on wheels we've got."
"Why, this is just grand!" declared Frank, as he glanced around the interior of the wagon in an admiring way.
"Yes, it's clean, attractive and made up to date," said Ned. "The man who owns these outfits is working up some good routes. If you have anything to sharpen, now, I'll show you the kind of work we do."
Frank whipped out his pocket knife in a jiffy. Ned touched a lever near the motor, and things went whirring. There was a busy hum that made the place delightful to Frank. He was astonished and pleased to observe how deftly his companion handled the knife, putting it through a dozen operations, from grinding to stropping and polishing. Then he adjusted a little drill to a handle and said:
"I'll put your name on the handle, if you like."
"All right," assented Frank with satisfaction. "It's Frank Jordan."
"There you are," said Ned a minute later, handing the knife back to Frank. "You'll find a blade there that will cut a hair."
"Yes, that's fine work," declared Frank, looking over the knife in a gratified way. "You've got quite a trade, haven't you?"
"Oh, sort of," answered Ned carelessly, "and the knack of doing things like this comes in handy for a fellow who has to work and wants to work. There's my man," he added suddenly, as there was a hail outside, and Frank observed a middle-aged man, with a tool-kit satchel extending from his shoulder, approaching the wagon.
"Well, good-by, and glad I met you," said Frank, shaking hands with Ned.
"Lucky for me I met you," retorted the tinker boy gratefully. "I hope I'll meet you again some time, but I don't suppose I'll ever be in this town again."
"If you ever do—" Frank paused, and then added quickly: "why, hunt me up."
He had an impulse to invite his new acquaintance up to the house, but suddenly thought of his aunt and changed his mind. Nothing would have delighted him more than to have Ned Foreman tell him about his travels and adventures, for they must have been many.
Frank strolled homeward, trying his knife on a piece of willow and shaping out a whistle. As he came up the walk to the house he heard voices inside. His aunt was speaking in her sharp, strident tones, a little more excitedly than usual.
A gruff, masculine voice responded, and Frank, wondering who the owner might be, stepped into the hall and peered into the reception-room.
"Aha!" instantly greeted him, as a man there sprang to his feet. "Here is that precious nephew of yours, Miss Brown. I say, Frank Jordan, what have you done with my diamond bracelet?"
THE DIAMOND BRACELET
Frank looked at the speaker in wonder. He knew Samuel Mace, the jeweler, perfectly well. The village tradesman was greatly excited, and he glided toward Frank in a threatening way, as if he would walk straight over him.
What made the occasion doubly puzzling to Frank was the fact that his aunt looked more severe, shocked and alarming than ever before. He did not move, drawing upright with boyish manliness, and the jeweler halted and then retreated a step or two.
"Your diamond bracelet, Mr. Mace?" repeated Frank in a perplexed tone; and then, with a faint smile, glancing at the wrist of the angry visitor: "I did not know you wore one."
"Don't you try to be funny!" stormed the jeweler, and he seized Frank by the arm. "You young rascal, where is that bracelet you took from my store?"
Frank got a glimmering of the facts now. He was dumfounded, and listened like one in a dream, while Mr. Mace continued his furious tirade:
"He took it. Can't you see from his actions that he took it, Miss Brown? Nobody else could have done it—nobody else was in the store when he bought that stickpin he wears. After he left the shop the bracelet was missing."
"Frank, if you have the bracelet give it up," said his aunt coldly.
"See here, aunt," cried Frank, firing up instantly at this, "you don't mean to say that you imagine for one instant that I am a thief?"
"We are all sinful and tempted," returned Miss Brown in a tearful, whispering tone.
"Not me," dissented Frank—"not in that mean way, anyhow. Why, you wretched old man!" he fairly shouted at Samuel Mace, "how dare you even so much as insinuate that I know anything about your missing bracelet—if there is any missing bracelet."
"You was in my store—it was gone after you left. You took it," stubbornly insisted the jeweler.
"I tell you I didn't take it!" cried Frank.
"You give it up, or I'll have you arrested," declared the jeweler.
"If you do, my folks will make it hot for you," declared Frank. "I am no thief."
He drew himself up proudly in his conscious innocence, and marched from the room all on fire with resentment and just indignation.
"Why, the old curmudgeon!" exclaimed the boy as he passed out into the open air again. "How dare he make such a charge. I won't even argue it with him; it's too ridiculous."
He had cooled down somewhat after walking aimlessly and excitedly about the garden a round or two. When he came again to the front of the house, Samuel Mace was departing from the scene. As he caught sight of Frank he waved his cane angrily at him with the words:
"I'll see about this, young man!"
Frank went into the house to find his aunt locking up the secretary in the library, just as she did when there was a burglar scare in town. Her very glance and manner accused Frank, and he could scarcely restrain himself from arguing with her. Then he remembered his promise to his absent parents and that Miss Brown was a credulous, suspicious old maid. He tried to forget his troubles by going after his fishing-rod. This he had left at the spot near the river where he had met Ned Foreman. Frank swung along whistling recklessly, but he did not feel at all pleasant or easy.
He had returned from his errand and was putting in a miserable enough time feeding some pet pigeons when a voice hailed him from the fence railings.
"Hey, Frank—this way for a minute."
Frank recognized a friend and crony of Samuel Mace. This was pompous, red- faced Judge Roseberry. He had once been elected by mistake a justice of the peace, had never gotten a second term, but for some eight or ten years had traded on his past reputation. He managed to eke out a living by giving what he called legal advice at a cheap rate, and mixing in politics. Sometimes he collected bills for the tradesmen of the town, and in this way he had been useful to Mace. Most of the time, however, he hung around the village tavern. He looked now to Frank as if he had just come from that favorite resort of his. There was an unsteady gravity in the way that he poked an impressive finger at Frank as he spoke to the youth.
"What do you want?" demanded Frank, ungraciously enough, as he half guessed the mission of this bloated and untidy emissary of the law.
"Judicial, see?" observed Roseberry, gravely balancing against the picket fence.
"Go ahead," challenged Frank, keeping out of radius of the judge's breath.
"Come, come, young man," maundered Roseberry. "I'm too old a bird to have to circumlocate. You know your father has great confidence in me."
"I never heard of it before," retorted Frank.
"Oh, yes," insisted Roseberry with bland unction. "Had a case of his once."
"The only case I ever knew of," returned Frank, "was a collection he gave you to make. I heard him tell my mother that he never saw the creditor or the money, either, since."
"Ah—er—difficult case; yes, yes, decidedly complex, costs and commissions," stammered the judge, becoming more turkey-red than he naturally was. "We won't retrospect. To the case in hand."
"Well?" spoke Frank, looking so open-faced and steadily at Roseberry that the latter blinked.
"I—that is—I would suggest an intermediary, see? The law is very baffling, my friend. Once in its clutches a man is lost."
"But I'm not a man—I'm only an innocent, misjudged boy," burst forth Frank. "See here, Judge Roseberry, I know why you come and who sent you."
"My client, Mr. Mace—"
"Is a wicked, unjust man," flared out Frank, "and you are just as bad. Neither of you can possibly believe that I would steal. Why, I don't have to steal. I have what money I need, and more than that. I tell you, if my father was here I think you people would take back-water quick enough. When he does come, you shall suffer for this."
Judge Roseberry looked impressed. He stared at Frank in silence. Perhaps his muddled mind reflected that the accused lad had a good reputation generally. Anyhow, the open, resolute way in which Frank spoke daunted him. But he shook his head in an owl-like manner after a pause and remarked:
"My function's purely legal in the case—must do my duty."
"Do it, then, and don't bother me," said Frank irritably, and started away from the spot.
"Hold on, hold on," called out the judge after him. "I've a compromise to offer."
"There is nothing to compromise," asserted Frank over his shoulder.
"Suggestion, then. Don't be foolish, young man."
"Well, what's your suggestion?" demanded Frank.
"We'll take a walk in the woods, see? I've got a ten-dollar bill in my pocket. I'll walk one way, you walk the other. No witnesses. I'll put the ten-dollar bill on the stump—you'll do your part at another stump. We'll turn, pass each other. Backs to each other, see?"
"I don't know what you are driving at," declared Frank.
"As you pass my stump you take up the ten-dollar bill; it's yours. As I pass your stump—backs to each other, mind you, no witnesses, matter pleasantly adjusted—I'll pick up the diamond bracelet."
"All right—that suits me," said Frank readily, but with a grim twinkle in his eye.
"You agree?" inquired the judge eagerly.
"Provided you furnish the bracelet," went on the boy.
"Bah!" snorted the judge in high dudgeon, marching from the spot. "Young man, I've done my duty out of consideration for your respected family. You won't listen to reason, so you must take the consequences. I shall advise Mr. Mace to have you arrested at once."
About the middle of the afternoon Frank strolled down to the village. He had been worked up a good deal all morning, and when dinner time came he was made aware that his aunt was determined to treat him as a kind of culprit.
The cross-grained old maid did not speak to him during the entire meal. She sat prim and erect, barely glanced at him, and as Frank arose from the table, half choked with the unwelcome food he had eaten, he resolved to speak his mind.
"I'd like to say a word or two, Aunt Tib," he began.
"Say it," snapped his ungracious relative sharply.
"About this monstrous charge made against me by Mr. Mace," continued Frank.
"It is indeed a terrible charge," remarked Miss Brown, with a chilling, awesome groan.
"Of course it isn't true, and of course you can't believe it," went on Frank. "I am sure that a day or two will change things that look so black for me now. All that I am worrying about is that this affair may get to father and mother. It would simply worry them both to death, and it mustn't be. I hope you wouldn't be so cruel, so wicked, as to add to their troubles."
"I shall not write to them until you have confessed."
"Confessed!" cried Frank hotly. "There is nothing to confess. Don't I tell you that I never saw old man Mace's bracelet? Aunt Tib, I am ashamed of you. I tell you, I'm holding in a good deal. If I thought you believed that man's story I'd leave the house for good."
"You mustn't do that, Frank," she said quickly. "We must bear our crosses patiently."
"It's no use; I'm just fighting mad," declared Frank to himself as he left the house. "I just hope Mace and Roseberry will do something to bring affairs to a focus. If this thing gets around the village, it will be a nice, pleasant thing for me, won't it, now? I've half a mind to make a break and get out of it all."
Frank was in a decidedly disturbed state of mind. From being angry he got dejected, and for some time he allowed his thoughts to wander unrestrained. He actually envied Ned Foreman and his wandering career. If it had not been for his loyalty to his parents he would have hunted up the grinding wagon to ask the man who had relieved Ned to give him a job.
It would not have been so hard for Frank if he had had any close chum to whom he could have confided his troubles. But Miss Brown had spoiled all that. She kept the garden like a parlor, and scared away what few acquaintances Frank had with her severe looks and manner. The Jordans had lived at Tipton for only a year. The greater part of that time Frank had been absent at a boarding-school in a neighboring town. The lads with whom he had formerly associated in Tipton were away at various academies. Frank did not know the town schoolboys very well.
He went downtown and strolled about for a time. Defiantly he walked calmly past Mace's jewelry store, and even paused and looked through its front plate-glass show window. He passed the usual hangout of Judge Roseberry, and did not hasten his steps a bit when he saw that the judge, lounging on a bench, noticed him.
Frank fancied that after he had passed the tavern the judge said something to some of his fellow hangers on, and that they glanced after him with some curiosity. A little farther on two little schoolboys paused in their walk, stared hard at him and then scooted away, saying something about a "burglary."
"Mace is bluffing, and so is the judge," determined Frank. "They have no evidence against me, and they don't dare to arrest me. If they spread their false stories, all the same, they shall suffer for it."
Frank felt pretty lonesome and gloomy as he passed the schoolhouse. The boys were rushing out, free from the tasks of the day. It might have been imagination, but Frank fancied that one or two of them greeted him with a cool nod and hurried on. As he politely lifted his cap to a bevy of girls, he imagined that they were rather constrained in their return greeting and looked at him queerly.
Beyond the schoolhouse was Bolter's Hill, a famous place for coasting in the winter time. Just now it had a new power of attraction for the schoolboys. An old hermit-like fellow named Clay Dobbins had lived for years at the other side of the hill. He owned a little patch of ground and a dilapidated house. His wife had died recently, and all the village knew of his two chronic complaints.
The first was that "Sairey had died leaving a sight less money than he had expected," and old Dobbins had wondered if the lawyers or the speculators had got it.
The second was that the old man had got nervous and lonely living in the isolated spot. So he had rented a hut the other side of Bolter's Hill, near the schoolhouse. He planned to have his house moved there, and intended starting a little candy and notion store.
There had never been much house-moving in Tipton, and nobody in the village was equipped to undertake even the simple task of conveying the Dobbins dwelling uphill and then down again. A house-moving firm from Pentonville, however, had engaged to perform the work. They had jacked up the house on screws, chained it securely to a log frame, and, setting a portable windlass at the top of the hill, operated this by horse power.
An immense rope cable, thick as a man's arm, ran to a pulley under the house. It was a novelty to the school youngsters to watch the horse go round and round the windlass, and to see the house come up the hill a slow inch at a time.
Work on the moving had been suspended for the day, but the boys hung around the spot. They raced through the house, clambered over the moving frame, and knocked with the workmen's mallets on the rollers to make the hollow echo that was new to them and sounded like music.
The house movers had set the windlass locked, and the strain on the rope brought it taut. The house was anchored about half way up the hill, straining at the giant cable dangerously and on a sharp tilt.
A little urchin was trying to "walk the tightrope," as he called it, as Frank came up, shaping a willow stick with his pocket knife.
"Say, Frank Jordan," cried the lad, "won't you make me a whistle?"
"Of course I will," replied Frank accommodatingly, and got astride a moving timber and set at work. Only a few of the large boys were about the spot. Frank noticed that Gill Mace, the nephew of the village jeweler, was among their number.
Frank soon turned out a first-class whistle for the applicant, who went away tooting at a happy rate. A second urchin preferred a modest request, and Frank had just completed the second whistle when the boy he had sent away contented came back sniveling.
"Why, what's the matter?" inquired Frank sympathizingly.
Between sobs the little fellow related his troubles. Gill Mace had forcibly taken the whistle away from him, and when he had got through testing its merits had pocketed it and sent its owner away with a cuff on the ear.
"I'll give Gill Mace a piece of my mind, just now," declared Frank, hastily getting to the ground. The jeweler's nephew was up to just such mean, unmanly tricks all of the time. Frank felt that he deserved a lesson. Besides, at just the present moment he had no great love for the whole Mace family.
Frank hurried around to the side of the house, to come upon Gill and his companions, who were engaged in leaping across a puddle near a pit in the hillside. He marched right up to the culprit, the little fellow he had befriended trailing after him.
"See here, Gill Mace," cried Frank promptly, "can't you find a little better employment of your time than bullying little children?"
Gill flushed up, but put on a braggart air.
"Any of your business?" he demanded blusteringly.
"I'm making it my business—it ought to be the business of any decent, fair-minded fellow," asserted Frank staunchly.
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" demanded Gill, doubling up his fists."
"I'm going to give you just twenty seconds to give that whistle back to that boy, or I'm going to take it out of your hide," declared Frank steadily.
"Oho! you are, eh?" snorted Gill, swelling up and glaring wickedly at Frank. "Well, you won't get the whistle, for it's there in the mud."
"I've a good mind to make you go after it," began Frank, when Gill, making a sudden jump, landed up against him, and dealt him a quick, foul blow below the waist.
"I don't care about dirtying my hands with a thief," answered Gill, "but—"
"What's that?" cried Frank, all the pride and anger in his nature coming to the front.
"I said it," replied Gill, keeping up his doubled fists, but edging away, for the look in the eyes of his adversary warned and cowed him.
"You call me a thief, do you?" demanded Frank.
"Yes; you stole a diamond bracelet from my uncle's store this morning."
"It's a falsehood!" shouted Frank—"a falsehood as foul and dirty as the muck in that pool! That for you!"
Frank's arm shot out like a piston-rod, and into the mud-puddle, head over heels, went Gill Mace with a frightened howl.
THE RUINED HOUSE
"Well, it's been a pretty lively day for me, and every move I make I seem to be getting deeper and deeper into trouble."
This was the sentiment expressed by Frank as he retired to rest at the end of the most eventful day in his young life. The hours had indeed been full of incidents. He reviewed them all as he lay, his head on his pillow.
Frank smiled to himself as he remembered Gill Mace. The boy who had called Frank a thief was unable to repeat the vile accusation when he emerged from the puddle into which Frank had pushed him. His mouth was full of mud, his hair was a dripping mop, his clothes were plastered with it. Frank had waited to respond to any later move that Gill might decide on. The jeweler's nephew, however, made none. As he emerged from the puddle three schoolgirls, arms linked in friendly companionship, passed the spot. They noticed Gill and tittered, and Gill sneaked away without so much as even glancing at Frank again.
"I always thought you three fellows a pretty good lot," Frank spoke to the companions of Gill. "I'd hate to change my opinion by thinking you believe what Gill Mace said about my being a thief."
Frank looked so manly and earnest as he spoke these words that his hearers were impressed. One of them stepped up and shook hands with him. Another remarked that he believed no story until he had evidence of its truthfulness, and a third half intimated that he would have served Gill Mace just as Frank had done if he made an untrue accusation.
When Frank got home he discovered that his pocket knife was missing. He tried to remember what had become of it, and finally decided that he must have left it on the log frame or dropped it to the ground when he had started out to meet Gill Mace. Frank valued the knife as a pleasant reminder of Ned Foreman, and planned to get up extra early the next morning and make a search for it.
He was pretty well satisfied as he closed his eyes in sleep that the jeweler would not dare to have him arrested for the theft of the diamond bracelet.
Nothing would probably come of the ridiculous charge, except that the underhanded public insinuations of Mace would damage Frank's character. Now that he had taught Gill Mace a needed lesson, of course his family would be more bitter against Frank than ever.
"The thing will die down," decided Frank. "If they get too rampant, I'll— yes, I'll actually sue them for slander."
It must have been about midnight when Frank awoke with a shock. The echo of a frightful rumble and crash deafened his ears, and he fancied that the bed was vibrating. A scream inside the house made him sit up and listen. He was startled and bewildered.
"Frank! Frank!" quavered the terror-filled tones of his aunt, as she knocked sharply at the door of his bedroom, "get up at once!"
"What has happened?" inquired Frank quickly.
"I don't know—something dreadful, I am sure!" gasped the affrighted spinster. "It felt like an earthquake. It shook the whole town. It must have been an explosion."
"Humph! Good thing you know I'm in the house," observed Frank, as he jumped to the floor and hustled into his clothes.
"Why is that, Frank?"
"Because it may have been a dynamite explosion blowing up somebody's safe, and of course Mace would say I did it."
"Don't jest, Frank," pleaded his aunt. "I'm chilled through and shaking all over. Get outside and see if you cannot learn what it all means."
"I think myself it was probably an accidental blast at the quarry down the river," said Frank; "but I'll soon find out."
He did not dress fully, and let himself out on the porch in his slippers. As he walked down to the gate Frank noticed lights appear in many houses nearer the village, as if their inmates had been suddenly aroused from sleep.
Then distant voices, a rumbling wagon, people talking in loud tones, boyish shouts and a vague chorus of sounds unusual for the midnight hour, were drifted to Frank's hearing. From all this, however, he could think out no coherent idea as to what might be going on nearer town.
"It's not a fire, for there's no glare," he decided. "There's some kind of a commotion over near the schoolhouse, it seems. Reckon I'll dress fully and investigate."
There was a certain attraction for Frank in the distant bustle and turmoil. He went back into the house to find his aunt seated in the front hall. She was wrapped up in a shawl, pale and shivering.
"Oh, Frank, what is it?" she chattered.
"I didn't find out, but I'm going to," he announced, as he hurried on to his room.
"Is—is it coming here?"
"Is what coming here?"
"The—the—whatever it is."
"It hasn't hurt us any, has it? And I don't think it will."
Frank got back to the road ten minutes later and started on a run toward the town. Taking the middle of the road, he nearly bumped into a man where the highway turned.
"Hi, there!" challenged the latter.
"Hello!" responded Frank, recognizing a truck gardner who lived just beyond the Jordan place. "What's happened, Daley?"
"Old Dobbins' house."
"What, the one they're moving?"
"Yes. It broke loose from its bearings and has rolled right back to where it stood."
"You don't say so?" exclaimed Frank, with something of a shock.
"Yes, it has," asserted Daley, "only it's the greatest wreck of bricks and plaster now you ever saw."
"No one hurt, I hope?"
"No, except old Dobbins' feelings. He's capering around at a great rate, saying that the town, or the county, or the government, will have to pay him for the damage."
"The movers couldn't have understood their business very well to have such a thing happen." said Frank.
"Looks that way," acceded Daley, and they parted at the gateway of the Jordan home.
Frank advised his aunt of the state of affairs and went back to bed. Naturally he was curious to have a view of the wrecked house. He got up early before breakfast and took a stroll over to the scene of the disaster. The lad, too, thought of his lost knife and bore that fact in mind.
He gave up all hopes of recovering the knife, however, as he reached the spot where he believed he had lost it the afternoon previous. Where the Dobbins house had been anchored on the hillside the ground was torn up and disturbed as though a cyclone had passed over the place. At the bottom of the hill, jammed half way through the rickety old stable, was what was left of the dismantled house.
Miss Brown made Frank stay in the house and study from eight until ten every morning. With all the exciting thoughts that were passing through his mind, Frank found it difficult to fix his attention on his books that morning. He was glad to get out of the house when ten o'clock came. His pet pigeons were his first care. Then he started for the post-office, hoping that he would find a letter from his father.
"Hi, Frank," a voice hailed him as he made a short cut through a little grove at the rear of the house, and a familiar form emerged from some bushes.
"Why, it's Mr. Dobbins!" exclaimed Frank in some surprise. He had expected to find the miserly old fellow in the depths of despair over the loss of his house, but Dobbins was grinning and chuckling at a great rate.
"So 'tis Frank," he bobbed with a broad smile. "Was looking for you."
"What for, Mr. Dobbins?"
The old man blinked. Then he laughed in a pleased, crafty way and put his hand in his pocket.
"See here," he cried, and Frank noticed that he held three coins in his palm. There was a twenty, a ten and a five-dollar gold piece.
"Um-m," observed Dobbins. "Double eagle a good deal of money, isn't it now, Frank?"
"Why, yes," assented Frank wonderingly, and the old fellow picked out the twenty-dollar gold piece with his free hand and put it in his vest pocket.
"It would be extravagant for a boy to squander even as much as ten dollars, hey?"
Frank did not answer, for he could not surmise what the old fellow was getting at.
"So, if you'll consider this five-dollar gold piece the right thing," resumed Dobbins, "you're mightily welcome to it, and say, Frank—you're a bully boy!"
"How's that?" inquired Frank.
"Oh, you know," asserted Dobbins. "Take it quick, before I change my mind."
"Take the five dollars, you mean?" questioned Frank.
"Why should I do that? You don't owe me anything."
"Don't?" cried Dobbins. "Why, boy, I owe you everything. No nonsense between friends, you see."
"I don't see—" began Frank.
Old Dobbins placed a finger beside his nose in a crafty, expressive way. He winked blandly at Frank, with the mysterious words:
"That's all right, Frank, boy. No need of going into particulars, but—you know right enough. Mum's the word. Take the five dollars."
AN ASTONISHING CLUE
"But I don't know," declared Frank forcibly, "and as I have not earned any five dollars, of course I can't take it."
"Sho!" chuckled old Dobbins, dancing about Frank, as spry as a schoolboy and poking him playfully in the ribs. Frank had to smile.
"See here, Mr. Dobbins," he observed, "it appears to me that you feel pretty lively for a man who has just had his house all smashed to pieces."
"That's just it—that's just it," retorted Dobbins in a tone almost jubilant. "Where would I be if it hadn't happened? Why, boy, when I think of what you've done, I—I almost would adopt you—that is, if you weren't too big an eater."
There was some mystery under all this, Frank discerned. He wanted to get at the plain facts of the case.
"I'm afraid I don't entirely understand," he began when his eccentric visitor interrupted him.
"Ho! ho!" he guffawed. "You will be sharp, you young blade, won't you? Got some temper—hey? True as steel—hi! When the rope gave out you cut for it—ho! ho! ho!" and the speaker went into spasms of merriment over his own wit.
"'Blade, temper, steel,'" quoted Frank. "Are you getting off a pun, Mr. Dobbins?"
"Put it that way if you like," returned Dobbins cheerfully. "There was a knife. That's the long and short of it, don't you see? A boy's pocket knife. It sawed the big moving cable. Snap! Bang! Away went the house. Whose knife? Aha! Dear me—who can tell? Sly, hey—Frank, boy? We ain't going to tell. No need of it. Artful dodgers—ho! ho! ho! Take the five dollars."
Frank gave a vivid start. He was partly enlightened now. He had mislaid his knife near the house that had been anchored on the hill side. Somebody had found it and had cut the cable with it.
"What you are getting at, then," said Frank, "is that a knife cut the rope loose?"
"Ah, just that."
"And my knife?"
"Oh, yes, it was your knife, Frank—no doubt about that at all."
"How do you know it was my knife?" asked Frank.
"Because it had your name on it. Of course I didn't see the knife used, but Judge Roseberry found it the next morning right under the windlass."
"Who?" fairly shouted Frank.
"Judge Roseberry. The knife fitted to the cut. Judge Roseberry came to me with it. 'Dobbins,' says he to me, 'business is business. I have made a discovery. The person who smashed your house is Frank Jordan, and I can prove it.' Then he told me the rest."
"And what did you say?" cried the astonished Frank.
"Well, feeling pretty perk over a discovery I had just made, I listened to the crafty old varmint."
"And what did he say?"
"He told me that you had stolen a diamond bracelet from Mace, the jeweler."
"Which was a falsehood," asserted Frank with vehemence.
"Yes, I can believe that," nodded Dobbins, "seeing that Roseberry said so. He then began to tell me how they were trying to have you give up that bracelet. He said that if I would have you arrested for smashing the house, it would break you down and make you confess about the bracelet. Anyhow, it would look so bad for you that your father would settle all the damage."
"The villain!" commented Frank.
"Them's my sentiments, too, Frank. Mebbe, if things hadn't turned out as they did, I might have acted mean and measly, too, but I was so tickled over the way they did come out that I just laughed at your boyish mischief of letting the old shack slide downhill."
"But I had no hand in anything of the sort," declared Frank stoutly.
"Let it pass, Frank, let it pass," chuckled Dobbins unbelievingly. "You see, when I came to look over the old ruins I come to where the old storeroom wall had busted out. You know it's always been a mystery to me what had become of my wife Sairey's scrapings and earnings?"
"I've heard you tell so—yes," nodded Frank.
"There they were, boy!" cried old Dobbins in a sort of ecstasy. "She'd hidden them in a hole in the wall. The wall broke out in the crash. Confidentially," and the narrator looked around cautiously and lowered his voice to a mysterious whisper, "I found in gold and silver a heap of money amounting to nigh three thousand dollars."
"Well!" ejaculated Frank.
"So, you see, it was a lucky day for me when you cut that rope."
"Which I never did," replied Frank vigorously. "If you will come over to the house, Mr. Dobbins, my aunt will assure you that I was in bed hours before and after the crash happened."
"Well, anyway, it was your knife."
"Yes," assented Frank, and explained about it being mislaid. Apparently Dobbins was convinced. He was thoughtful for a moment or two, exchanged the coin in hand for another in his pocket, and extended this to Frank with the words:
"I guess it's worth ten dollars, then."
"No, Mr. Dobbins," said Frank positively, "I can't take your money. I'll tell you, though, if you really feel kindly toward me."
"I do, for a fact, Frank."
"And want to do me a favor?"
"Try me, Frank."
"I want you to come up to the house and satisfy yourself that I have told you the truth about being home last night, and then I want you to go to town with me."
"Why, Frank, I don't doubt your word."
"No; but others may, and I want to settle this affair."
"All right, Frank, though I'd feel better if you took the money."
Miss Brown looked rather curious and perplexed when confronted by Frank and Dobbins, but satisfactorily answered the questions put by her nephew.
"Oh, Frank," she said, as he and his companion left the place, "if you are going to town I wish you would stop at the post-office."
"I will," replied Frank. "I hope there will be a letter from the folks. I shall not take much of your time, Mr. Dobbins," he explained to his companion as they started for the village.
Frank ran into the post-office as they reached it. The postmistress handed out a paper from the Jordan letter-box. Frank stuck it in his pocket a little disappointedly, for he had expected a letter from his father.
He led Dobbins from the post-office to the village tavern. As he had expected, Judge Roseberry was lounging on the bench outside, spouting politics to some loafer companions.
"Keep right with me, Mr. Dobbins," directed Frank. "I shall need your services."
"Drat me, if I can understand what you're getting at, lad," said Dobbins desperately, "but I'll stick, if I can be of any use to you."
Frank marched straight up to the crowd in front of the tavern.
"Judge Roseberry," he said calmly, but with an impressive seriousness, "I will thank you to return my pocket knife."
"Hey—h'm!" spluttered the judge, taken off his balance. "Your knife?"
"Precisely," insisted Frank.
"Why—how—who says I've got your knife?" stammered the judge, growing redder in the face than usual.
"Mr. Dobbins, here, informs me that he does," replied Frank.
"That's so," echoed Dobbins; "inasmuch as you showed it to me this morning."
"Well, if I have," observed the judge, bracing up a little, "I hold it as evidence of a crime. As an emissary of the law—"
"That's the right word, judge," grinned Dobbins—"'emissary' fits. It don't go in this instance, though. The evidence is all on Frank's side, as I have found out. He was in bed when that smash-up took place, so I reckon I won't go into any plot to ruin the character of an honest boy, this time."
Judge Roseberry gave up the knife reluctantly and felt pretty sheepish in the act, for his cronies were winking and chuckling over his discomfiture.
"I thank you very much for what you have done for me, Mr. Dobbins," said Frank as they left the spot.
"That's all right, boy," replied Dobbins heartily; "and if these varmints make you any more threats, just sue them and I'll stand the costs—that is, if they aren't too heavy."
Frank felt quite lighthearted as he left old Dobbins and started homeward. He entered the house whistling, and threw the newspaper he had just got at the post-office into his aunt's lap. As he went outside and was passing the open window of the sitting-room, a cry brought him to a halt.
"What is the matter, Aunt Tib?" he inquired quickly.
Miss Brown held an open letter in her hand and looked fluttering and excited.
"It was inside the paper, Frank," she explained.
"Is it from the folks?" inquired Frank eagerly.
"It is," assented his aunt
"Father is well?" asked Frank breathlessly.
"He is getting better every day. But, Frank," and his aunt looked profoundly grave and important, "the serious duties of life are grave. A false step may change the whole course of a young life. There is a tide in the affairs of men——"
"Yes, yes," interrupted Frank. "I know all about that; but what are you getting at?"
Miss Brown did not fancy being interrupted in one of her famous homilies, and she answered tart and terse:
"Your father has made arrangements to send you to Bellwood School, and you are to start at once."
Frank fairly staggered at the glad news. He was so overcome that he could not speak. He just bobbed his head and smiled.
The instant the youth got out of range of the house, however, a riotous, echoing yell rang from his lips as he turned a mad, capering somersault:
THE CONFIDENCE MAN
Frank fancied that he had never listened to a more cheery command than this given as the Western Express rolled out of the depot at Tipton.
It was beautiful weather, a glorious day that would put life and sunshine into an invalid, let alone a lively, happy boy escaping from what he considered thralldom, believing that all the joys of life were awaiting him at the end of his trip.
Frank's aunt actually smiled and waved the lad a gracious adieu from the depot platform. She had been quite gentle and kind to him the few hours preceding his departure. She had put up a generous lunch for him, and had even unbent so far as to declare that she had believed from the first that he knew nothing about the missing diamond bracelet. All this, however, had been the preface to a dozen brief lectures on thorny ways and the dark pitfalls of life. Frank was genuinely glad to escape from the gloomy influence Miss Brown cast on everything bright and happy about her.
At another part of the platform was Mace, the jeweler. He had a sullen frown on his face, and he fixed his glance on Frank as though his eyes were boring him through and through to discover the missing diamond bracelet.
The wrecking of old Dobbins' house had remained a mystery. Some thought the rope had been cut, while others were of the opinion that it had broken because of the heavy strain put upon it.
"Good—we're off!" jubilated Frank, as he waved a last adieu to his aunt through the open car window, and Tipton faded away in the distance. Then he settled down in his comfortable seat to enjoy the all-day ride to Bellwood.
Miss Brown had doled out twenty-five cents at the depot news-stand for a book full of jokes and funny pictures. Frank soon exhausted this literary fund. Then he bought some oranges from the train boy and had a lively chat with him. He bought a daily paper and read it through and through, and by noon the trip began to get a trifle monotonous.
It was about one o'clock when the train arrived at a junction, where there was a stop for half an hour. Frank was glad to walk about and stretch his limbs. When leaving time came and he returned to the train he became interested in studying two passengers.
A husky, farmer-looking man had entered the coach, followed by a stocky- built lad about the age of Frank. The latter bore the appearance of a boy sullen and unhappy over some circumstance. Frank thought he had never seen a more dissatisfied face than that of this lad. He shuffled along after the farmer in an ungracious fashion, and taking the first empty seat flopped into it unceremoniously.
"All right," said his companion. "You're probably better by yourself when you're in one of your tantrums. Just see if you can't get some of your natural meanness out of you while looking at the beauties of nature along the route."
The boy hunched up his shoulders contemptuously without saying a word in reply, while the farmer selected a seat across the aisle and directly in front of Frank. He occupied himself looking over a weekly farm paper. After a while Frank crossed over to the seat occupied by the boy who had accompanied the farmer.
"Going far?" inquired Frank in a friendly tone.
The lad did not move to make room for him in the seat. He turned a sullen face on Frank. There was dark suspicion and open animosity in his eyes.
"Far enough," he muttered.
"It's pleasant weather, isn't it?" propounded Frank, bound to be companionable.
"Say," said the boy, staring pugnaciously at our hero, "trying to pick on me, are you?"
"Why," answered the astonished Frank, "I never dreamed of such a thing."
"Yes, you did! Lemme alone!"
"All right," returned Frank pleasantly. "Only here's an orange and a funny book I want you to enjoy," and he placed the articles in question beside the boy and stepped back to his own seat.
As he did so he met the big round face of the farmer on a broad grin. The latter turned around and accosted him.
"Not very sociable, hey?" he remarked.
"Oh, I probably seem strange to him," observed Frank.
"He's that way all along," declared the farmer. "If he is my son, I say it."
"You are his father, then?"
"The only one he's got," replied the farmer. "You see, I married his mother. She's dead, now. That boy always was a sulky, ugly varmint. Why, he'd ought to be the happiest critter in Christendom. He's got eight step- brothers and step-sisters. Won't jibe, though. He's just unnateral, that fellow is. No living at home with him, so I'm taking his to a boarding- school."
"Maybe he doesn't feel well all the time," suggested Frank gently.
"What, that big, husky boy? Why, he's strong as an ox. No, sir-ree, nateral depravity, I say. I tried to whip it out of him. It did him no good."
"I shouldn't think it would," decided Frank mentally, and then the conversation dropped and the man returned to his paper.
Frank felt sorry for the grumpy, sad-looking boy across the aisle. His own loveless experience with his aunt at Tipton gave him some reason for this. The boy was worse off than he was, though, for Frank had kind-hearted, affectionate parents, while the farmer boy was motherless. The latter had eaten half of the orange and was quite engrossed in the book given him. Frank was about to start another effort to make friends, when the train came to a station and a passenger came aboard who diverted his interest.
The newcomer was a tall, dark man of middle age. He had a very solemn face and wore a black tie and choker and clothes that suggested mourning.
There were plenty of vacant seats, but after a sharp look about the coach this new passenger came to where the farmer sat.
"Seat engaged, sir?" he inquired in a polite, ingratiating way.
"No, sure not," responded the farmer heartily. "Sit down. Glad to have company."
"I fear I shall not be very good company," observed the new passenger with a dismal sigh.
"How's that, sir?" questioned the farmer curiously.
"I'm going to a funeral."
"Ah! Nigh relative?"
"Yes; a brother."
"Too bad," commiserated the farmer. "Lost my own brother last year. Bill was a hustling chap. Missed him dreadfully last plowing season."
"My brother lives at Jayville," explained the man, naming a station two stops ahead.
"Jayville, eh?" repeated the farmer. "Been there. Went to the bank there once to sell a mortgage."
"Indeed. An uncle of mine is an official of the bank."
"Is that so, now?" said the farmer. "There's the mayor, there, too; sort of a distant relative of my first wife. Don't know him, do you?"
Frank interestedly watched the stranger deftly draw from a side pocket a book. It seemed to be some kind of a country directory. Without attracting the attention of his companion, the stranger glanced over its pages, meantime suspending conversation by pretending to have a violent fit of coughing.
"The mayor," he said finally. "You mean Mr. David Norris?"
"That's him!" exclaimed the farmer.
"Oh, yes, I know him. He is a cousin of mine."
"Is that so? Shake!" said the farmer. "Why, we're quite acquainted, hain't we? Almost relatives, hey?"
"Well!" muttered Frank under his breath. "This is getting interesting. Sure as sugar, that fellow is a confidence man."
NIPPED IN THE BUD
Frank had traveled some in his young career, had read considerable, and had thought a good deal. The talk of the melancholy man in the white choker had led up to a point where Frank felt pretty sure he was up to some trick or other. While pretending to be interested in the newspaper he had read over and over, our hero kept eyes and ears wide open.
The stranger talked of things in general now. He asked the farmer concerning his crops, and particularly about the wife who must be a distant relative of his. Finally he observed:
"It's a pretty bad prospect for the family of my dead brother."
"How's that, neighbor?" asked the farmer.
"Left them without much of anything—that is, in the way of ready money. In fact, I must bear all the burden of the funeral expenses. I'm short myself, and it's going to cramp me to get hold of ready cash. I've got to make something of a sacrifice, and it's worrying me."
"Hope you don't have to sacrifice your homestead, or anything like that," observed the farmer sympathetically.
"I won't, just the same," declared the stranger with some force. "I promised my father I'd never let the old home go."
"That's the right sentiment, friend."
"I was offered ten thousand for it, and refused it. Then fifteen thousand— I would not listen to it. I may have to borrow on it, but it will be a small amount. I'm trying to avoid even that. Let me show you something. See those documents?" and the speaker showed a neat little package of papers secured with a rubber band. He selected the outside one and spread it open. It was a certificate of stock, printed in green and red on fine parchment paper. Its blanks were filled in with writing in great flourishes, and there was an immense gold seal in one corner.
"What's that, now?" inquired the farmer with bulging eyes. "Government bond?"
"Better than a government bond, my friend," assured the stranger. "A government bond brings a man only four per cent. a year. This stock paid me ten per cent. in January, twenty per cent. in March, and I was offered double its face value last week."
"A hundred dollars," said the farmer musingly, noting the handsome medallion figure at the top of the stock certificate.
"Yes, and worth two hundred, as I tell you. I wouldn't sell it at any price, but I'm short of ready cash, and I'll pay eight per cent. interest and give the next dividend as a bonus, for a loan of seventy-five dollars for thirty days. I'm proud and particular about my business, and I dislike to ask my friends for the loan."
"Say," observed the farmer, dazzled at the sight of the pretty document, "you mean you'll give all that security and interest for a loan of seventy- five dollars?"
"To an honest man who won't run away with the security, yes."
"I can show you letters telling you who I am," declared the farmer, perking up with pride. "Straight business with me, neighbor. I reckon I can dig up seventy-five dollars on any occasion."
"Look over the certificate, friend. You'll find the signatures all right. D. Burlingame Gould, president—you've heard of the Goulds?"
"In the paper, certainly."
"He's one of them. Robert Winstanley Astorbilt, secretary, prominent New York banker. Excuse me, I've got to get a drink of water. You won't find better security in this country than a share of stock of the Little Wonder Bonanza Mining & Milling Company of Montana."
"Hello!" said Frank to himself with a start "The Little Wonder—why, where did I see that name? I've got it! There's an item in the very newspaper I've been reading about it."
The stranger had proceeded to the water tank. He purposely left the farmer dazzled with his proposition to think over it. The latter sat in a sort of trance of avarice, staring at the enticing stock certificate.
A plan to confuse and outwit the swindler occurred to our hero. He was intent on locating the brief item he remembered having seen in the newspaper. He wanted to act on his plan before the stranger returned. Frank's eye ran over column after column, page after page.
"Got it," he breathed at last, and neatly tore out of place an item near the bottom of a page. It told of a swindle astoundingly perpetrated by a gang of confidence men in the city where the paper was published. The scheme was to induce greenhorns to invest in or loan money on mining stock of some companies that had no existence except on paper. The Little Wonder Bonanza Mining & Milling Company of Arizona headed the list of the worthless concerns.
"Quick—before the man comes back, read that," said Frank, leaning over the seat in front of him and placing the clipping in the hands of the former.
"And then give it to him to read," added Frank with a chuckle.
"Hemlock and asparagus!" ejaculated the farmer as his glance ran over the item. "A bunko man, eh? And I was nearly gulled!"
"Well, friend," spoke the swindler suavely, returning down the aisle, "how about that little loan? You'll have to decide quick, for this is my station they're coming to."
"I see 'tis," responded the farmer, arising with a grim face that should have warned the man, who had taken him for an easy victim. "Say, you measly, flaggerbusted scrub, read that!"
The farmer did not wait to have the swindler read the newspaper item. He only thrust it near enough to his discomfited face to allow the fellow to get an inkling of its meaning. Then his sinewy hand closed on the collar of the swindler's coat.
The train was slowing up just then, and a brake-man threw open the door of the coach with the announcement:
"I'm going to introduce you to the town," grinned the farmer. "Bolt, you varmint!"
He ran the fellow down the car, the other passengers arising from their seats in excitement. Straight through the open doorway he rushed the swindler, and out upon the platform. Arrived there, the farmer changed his mind. The depot was about two hundred feet ahead. Just where the coach was running was a deep ditch.
Frank saw the stalwart farmer lift his prisoner bodily, he heard a yell and then a splash, and saw the baffled swindler land waist-deep in the ditch, deluged, silk hat, white choker and dress coat, in a cascade of murky mud.
"My wife's cousin, the banker, and his friend, the mayor of the town, can help him out of that fix if they want to," chuckled the farmer, coming back into the car and rubbing his hands as if to wash the dirt from them.
A BOY GUARDIAN
The conductor grinned and the passengers roared with laughter when the farmer explained the incident. Even the glum-faced stepson of the narrator roused up into some interest.
"Thankee, neighbor," spoke the farmer, effusively grasping Frank's hand. "You're the right sort, sure enough—eyes wide open and up to snuff. Guess I'd better keep close to home after this. I ain't to be trusted along with them gold-brick fellows."
The old man took a great fancy to Frank and became quite confidential with him. He piled candy and peanuts on him from the train boy's supply, invited him to the farm, and wanted to know Frank's name so he could tell the folks about him.
"I am Frank Jordan, live at Tipton, and am bound for school at Bellwood," said Frank.
"Hey! how—what?" exclaimed the farmer explosively. "You don't mean to say that you're traveling to school, too?"
"Yes," replied Frank. "But who else do you mean?"
"Why, my son, Robert, over there—Robert Upton. Now, isn't it funny—he's going right to the very school you are?"
"That's the name—Bellwood is the place," assented Mr. Upton. "Wish you'd tell me what you know about it."
"I don't know anything about it, except what I've read and what I've heard from friends who went there," said Frank. But it seemed he had enough information to quite interest the farmer. Then the latter told him about his stepson.
"Robert's been no good at home," he said. "You can see what a sulky, unsociable fellow he is. No interest in nothing—thinks everybody hates him, and won't make up to anybody. He says he'll run away if I put him in school. If he does, I certainly will put him in the reformatory until he's of age."
Frank stole a rather pitying glance at the lad. The latter was hunched down in his seat, his hands rammed into his pockets, looking bored and miserable. Frank wondered what kind of a queer make-up his nature could be, to mope and scowl that bright, beautiful day, with the prospect of the useful chance for study and the gay life of schoolboy sport.
"Why, say," suddenly ejaculated Farmer Upton, starting under the spur of some exciting idea, "why can't Robert go with you to Bellwood?"
"He is doing so, isn't he?" said Frank with a smile.
"I mean why can't you sort of take charge of him and introduce him around, and save me the time and the expense. You see, if I go with him I can't get home until to-morrow. I can get off the train at Chester, and not buy any ticket to Bellwood, but go right back home. I've made all the arrangements for him by letter at Bellwood. The only reason I was going with him was to deliver him into the hands of the teachers and give them an inkling of what a troublesome fellow he is."
"Doesn't it strike you that that would hurt his chances with them and discourage him?" suggested Frank.
"I never thought of that."
"Excuse me, Mr. Upton," said Frank, "but maybe you're too hard on your stepson. It's hard to understand people, and a boy is a queer make-up. I will be glad to have him come with me to Bellwood, and I'll put myself out to make it agreeable for him."
"But he won't be agreeable; that's the trouble, you see," declared the farmer. "When he gets in one of them tantrums of his, you simply can't reason with him."
"Well, I'll take charge of him, if you don't wish to make the long journey, Mr. Upton."
"I'll never know how to thank you, if you will," said the farmer gratefully. "Hi, there, Robert."
"Me?" droned the boy in the seat across the aisle.
"Who else do you suppose?" snapped his stepfather testily. "Come, rout out there, or I'll unhitch a strap somewhere and make you step lively."
Frank made up his mind that he would interest himself in the drifting waif of a fellow. As he thought of the big, husky farmer and his houseful of grown sons and daughters, he wondered if in their rough, unthinking way they had not quite broken the spirit of the motherless lad in their midst.
"Sit down here," ordered the farmer, turning the seat so it faced Frank. "This boy is going to Bellwood, Robert. He's agreed to take you along with him, and I'm going back home."
Robert shot a glance of dislike and suspicion at Frank, as if he was a link in a chain of jailers waiting for him along the line of life.
"You behave yourself along with him down at the academy, or I'll put you in the reform school," threatened the farmer harshly.
"Oh, give Bob something to think of that's pleasant," put in Frank cheerily. "It's a scary thing for a fellow, first time he goes among strangers. I'm bracing up myself to meet the rollicking, mischief-making crowd at Bellwood, who will just be lying in wait to guy us and haze us. We'll stand together, Bob, hey? and give them good as they send," and Frank slapped the lad on the shoulder, with a ringing laugh.
"They won't haze me," muttered Bob.
"Yes, they will, and then you and I will lay around to haze the new fellows who came after us," cried Frank. "Ha! ha! you'll see some fun down at Bellwood, Bob. They're a capital set of fellows, I'm told. We'll make the best of them, anyhow, and the best of ourselves. Come, friend Bob, we'll stick together and get all the fun out of life we can. Chums, is it?"
Frank was irresistible in his cheery, open-hearted good nature. Bob was ashamed to refuse his hand, but the set, glum look on his face did not lighten.
They had to change cars at a place called Chester. The farmer gave Frank minute instructions as to his charge. He went over his "perky meanness" in all its details, and he said to his stepson at parting:
"Now, then, you've got your chance to make a man of yourself. Any tantrums, and you'll hear from me quick, and hot and heavy."
This was his parental farewell, and Frank felt truly sorry for poor Bob, who, with all his sullenness, seemed entitled to a little better treatment.
After Farmer Upton had left them, Frank tried to break in on his stepson's sulky reserve, but failed utterly. Bob drew within himself. He made ungracious replies to questions put to him when Frank tried to interest him, and about two o'clock went over to a vacant seat and curled up in it and went fast asleep.
It was about six o'clock when the train pulled into Bellwood. Frank found it to be a quaint, pretty town with delightful country surrounding it.
"Come on, Bob," he spoke as they stepped to the depot platform; "we must arrange to have our trunks sent up to the academy."
"You've got my check," said Bob. "You can attend to all that; I'll wait here."
"Oh, no," replied Frank lightly, "we'll stick together until we get landed."
He was determined to afford his companion no opportunity to stray off. There was a look in Bob Upton's eye that recalled the oft-repeated injunction of his stepfather to watch out for "tantrums."
Frank arranged for the delivery of the trunks, and then made an inquiry of a truckman as to the location of Bellwood School. The man pointed out its towers about half a mile away.
They passed through the business part of the little town. At the village post-office several boys were waiting for their mail. They looked the newcomers over, but did not address them, and in a few minutes Frank and Bob found themselves pursuing a path following the windings of a little stream.
"We'll soon be there," announced Frank as they came to where on a slight rise of landscape the academy buildings stood pretty plainly in view. "What's the matter, Bob?"
The latter had halted in a peculiar, positive way. He backed slightly. His eye was defiant and determined now, instead of sullen.
"The matter is this," he announced bluntly. "I don't intend to go to that school."
AN OBSTINATE REBEL
"What's that?" demanded Frank, looking Bob over in a quiet but resolute way.
"I said it," observed Bob Upton obstinately. "I don't go to that school."
"Nonsense!" retorted Frank simply with a laugh.
He understood that a crisis had come. He read in the face of his companion a set purpose, and he prepared to meet the dilemma squarely.
"I think all the more of you, Bob," he observed, "for speaking your mind right out, but you'll have to change it this time."
"Why will I?" demanded Bob.
"Because I'm going to convince you that your scheme won't work at all."
"We'll see," muttered Bob.
"We will," declared Frank. "In the first place, you're thinking things out wrong. In the second place, I've promised your stepfather to take you to the academy."
"What of it? I didn't agree."
"No; but I never break my word. I'm going to fill my contract, if I have to carry you to Bellwood School."
"You'll have to do it, then," retorted Bob Upton. "I shan't budge an inch."
"I won't argue with you, Bob," said Frank evenly. "I'll give you some advice——"
"Don't want none," flared up Bob.
"Then I'll give you two minutes to resume the tramp."
Frank took out his watch and held it in his hand, surveying his opponent with a pleasant smile. Bob Upton with scowling brows dug his shoes into the ground for sixty seconds, and then began to back away.
"It won't do," said Frank, stepping after him and seizing his arm firmly. "Come, now, be a good fellow."
"You let me alone."
There was a vigorous struggle. Bob was stoutly built, but he was no match for Frank. The latter laughed at his threatening struggles.
"Give me a chance to fix my shoe, will you?" growled Bob as he gave up the fight and Frank released him. Then he stood patiently awaiting his pleasure, while his companion fumbled at his feet.
Bob's back was to Frank, but the latter suspected no trick. Of a sudden, however, Bob whipped off both shoes, flinging them into the creek, his cap after them, stripped his coat from place and tossed it also into the water. Then he flopped flat to the ground.
"I won't go another foot," he declared. "I'll rip every stitch of clothes on me to tatters and I'll fight like a wildcat before I'll make another step."
Frank's eyes flashed. His settled will showed in his resolute face.
"All right," he said quietly. "If you want to be handled like a wildcat, I can give you the treatment."
Quick as a flash Frank sprang to a plank reaching a few feet out into the stream. It appeared to have been a landing place for small boats. Lying across it was a piece of rope, evidently used in securing some water craft. Seizing this, Frank made a leap back to his stubborn companion, jumped squarely astride of him, and snatching his knife from his pocket, cut the rope in two. In a jiffy he had bound the struggling hands of Bob. He performed the same function for his feet. Then, arising, he looked down steadily at his helpless captive.
"I can carry you easily that way," he observed.
Frank went along the banks of the stream until he found a long branch. There was little current to the rivulet, and he soon fished out the floating coat and cap. One of the shoes had sunk, but it was in shallow water, and he managed to rescue this also.
"You're making a good deal of trouble, Bob," he remarked, "but you'll think better of it when you get cooled down."
All the stubborn resistance began to fade from the face of the wretched lad. He realized that he had found his master. The mute misery and helplessness in his eyes appealed more strongly to Frank's sympathies than had his former unpleasant mood.
"See here, Bob," said Frank, sitting down beside his companion, "while these articles are drying, better listen a bit to reason from a fellow who wants to be your friend. Will you?"
Bob turned his face away, his laps puckering.
"Oh, leave me alone," he sobbed. "I've got no friends. I never had any. I wish I could die and be out of everybody's way, that's what I wish."
"See here, Bob," said Frank, "that's downright wicked, if you mean it. I'd like to know what's the matter with you? Can't you see any sunshine in life?"
"Sunshine!" retorted Bob hotly. "Oh, yes, lots of it. Blazing, blistering sunshine in the harvest fields, where those big, selfish louts my stepfather told you about were loafing. Many a night I've crawled up to bed so tired and sore I could hardly get there, to have those fellows torment me or kick and cuff me because I wouldn't sneak down into the cellar and steal cider or preserves for them. I tell you, my stepfather has treated me wrong. I tell you, that heartless family of his had made my life so dark, I'm just discouraged."
Bob Upton broke down and cried bitterly. Frank felt very sorry for him.
"Bob," he said, "I'm glad you told me all of this. I begin to understand now. They haven't given you a fair chance; I see that. They've cowed you down and have nearly broken your spirit. All right. Show them that you're going to make something of yourself, all the same. We all have our troubles," and Frank told something of his own irksome, unpleasant life with his fault-finding aunt.
It was by slow degrees that Bob Upton livened up and then braced up. No one could help liking Frank Jordan.
"You're a cracking good fellow," said the farmer boy at last. "I hope it isn't like the spurts Jeff Upton used to have one day, and wallop me like thunder the next."
"I'll see to it that no one wallops you or jumps on you," promised Frank. "You keep right with me till you learn the ropes and unlearn all the bitterness those relations of yours have put into you. I'm going to have you and me paired off for the same room, if I can."
"Say," choked up Bob at this, "any fellow who would do that, after seeing how measly mean I can be, is a brick. Just wait. When the time comes that I can show you what I think of you, I'll be there, true as steel."
"I believe you will," said Frank heartily. "You've been a good deal of a martyr, Bob Upton, and—there's your chance to be a hero! Quick, for mercy's sake, stop that runaway!"
Frank shouted the words excitedly. He had removed the ropes from Bob's wrists and ankles, and they had been standing near the coat spread out on the grass while they conversed. A clatter and wild shouts had suddenly pierced the air, and whirling about Frank saw coming down a steep roadway toward the river a spirited team of horses attached to a light carriage.
It had two seats, but the front one held no driver. In the rear seat, clinging frantically to one another and swung dangerously about by the swaying vehicle, were two affrighted children.
Frank was speedy, but Bob Upton was quicker. It amazed and gratified Frank to see his companion dart off like a shot. He himself ran to where the road curved down to the river to obstruct the runaway's progress when it reached that point. Bob, however, who knew all about horses from his farm experience, had made a rush on a short cut to intercept the runaway horses before they reached a spot where the descent was sharp, and where deep ravines showed on either side of the winding roadway.
Frank ran with all his might up the road, but Bob Upton by his short cut reached the point where it narrowed in an incredibly brief space of time. He had to catch at saplings and bushes to make the ascent. He was so far in advance of our hero that, while Frank continued running, he foresaw that he could not be first on the scene, and he watched Bob's progress with admiration and suspense.
Bob Upton did a risky thing. He seemed to think only of diverting or stopping the runaway team—anything to keep the spirited horses from reaching the dangerous point where the road narrowed.
Frank saw him pick up a great tree branch lying on the incline. Bearing this before him, Bob ran at the fast approaching horses with a loud shout.
Squarely into their foam-flecked faces the farm boy drove the branch, dropped hold of it, and let it rest on the carriage pole. The horses reared and tried to turn. Quick as lightning Bob grabbed a bit strap in either hand, gave them a jerk, then grasped the nose of each horse, and brought them to a panting standstill.
A man, the driver, pale and breathless, came running up from behind as Frank reached the spot.
"Oh, you've saved them! Oh, I'll never leave them unhitched again! Boy, you shall have my month's wages—all I've got—for this!" shouted the man hysterically.
"Get the lines," directed Bob. "The horses are restive yet. Hold them till I see what the matter is."
His practiced eye had noticed one of the horses acting queerly with one foot. As the driver gained the front seat and held the team under control, Bob picked up the off foot of one of the animals.
"This is what started them," he explained, holding up a sharp, long thorn.
"Say, who are you—what's your name? I want to see you again about this."
"Nothing to see me about," responded Bob. "Glad I was on hand, that's all. If you loosened that check rein your horses will go a great deal easier."
"He's Robert Upton," spoke Frank, determined to give his valorous comrade all the distinction he deserved. "Bob," he added, as the restive team proceeded on their way, "you have been something of a martyr—now you are a positive hero."
"Pshaw! that little thing!" observed Bob carelessly, but his face flushed at Frank's honest compliment. "I've had a wild stallion drag me all around a forty-foot lot, and never got a scratch."
"You've made a fine beginning in the new life, Bob; you can't deny that," said Frank. "Come, get on your duds and let's travel."
Half an hour later, within the classic precincts of the big hall of learning on the hill, Frank Jordan and Robert Upton were duly registered as students of Bellwood School.
TURNING THE TABLES
"Frank, we are marked men!" declared Bob Upton tragically.
"Ha!" retorted Frank with a laugh. "The deadly enemy approaches!"
"No nonsense!" declared Bob, quite earnestly now. "We're in for a course of sprouts; it's to come off this very night, and the savage horde which is to begin the hazing operations is that gang of ten who occupy the big dormitory room next to us."
"How did you find all this out, Bob?"
"I overheard them plotting."
"I'm going to spike their guns and turn the laugh on them."
"That's telling. You'd object, so I'm going to keep my own counsel. There are four degrees of initiation. If a fellow consents to all the tests with a good-natured grin he passes muster. If he doesn't, he's tabooed."
"Well, then, let's stand muster cheerfully."
"Not I," retorted Bob grimly. "We'll turn the tables; then they'll think all the more of us. Ever hear of the Chevaliers of the Bath? Or the Knights of the Garter?"
"They are new to me—some school rigmarole, I suppose."
"Yes. Then there's Scouts of the Gauntlet."
"Worse and worse."
"And finally the Guides of Mystery."
"To be a free and accepted Chevalier of the Bath a fellow has to be a water-proof rat. To be a Knight of the Garter he must consent to wake up at midnight to find a rope tackle around one ankle, and be dragged out of bed and down the hall."
"Well, we'll have to take our medicine, I suppose," said Frank lightly.
"To be a Scout of the Gauntlet," went on Bob, "is to be sent in the dark down the stairs on a fool errand, and come back to face a pillow shower. A genuine Guide of Mystery must have the grit to be left blindfolded in the village graveyard at midnight, barefooted, and with a skeleton stolen from the museum hitched to one arm."
"That's the program, is it, Bob?"
"Exactly," assented Frank's new chum. "The show begins to-night, as I say. Stick close to me and you won't lose any rest."
Frank looked blandly and admiringly at his comrade, and was rather proud of him.
There had never come so marked and agreeable a change over a boy as that manifested in the instance of Bob Upton within three days.
There was still under the surface with Bob, when he met strangers, a certain suspicious element that had been engrafted in him. The least hint that any one was guying him or imposing upon him would bring the old look back to his face, but Frank watched him closely, and coming to Bellwood School had indeed been the beginning of a new life for Bob.
An incident had occurred the morning after their arrival that, outside of Frank's friendly effort in behalf of Bob, had been the means of lifting the farmer boy to a new level.
The fellows at Bellwood School were of the average class in such institutions, a mixture of jolly and gruff, good and bad. Like attracts like, and the very first morning stroll on the campus Frank found himself attracted to some boys who took him into their ranks as naturally as if he had come recommended to them by special testimonials. Of course Bob went where Frank went, and loyally followed his leader.
Frank soon found out that there were two cliques in the so-called "freshman" crowd. A boy named Dean Ritchie lead the coterie that had accepted Frank and Bob as new recruits. Frank liked him from the first. He was a keen-witted, sharp-tongued fellow, out for fun most of the time and never still for a minute.
At any time the appearance of a lad named Nat Banbury or any of his cohorts was a signal for repartee, challenges, sometimes a sortie. Advances were made by Banbury toward the enlistment of the two new recruits in his ranks, but Frank had already made his choice.
"Oh, come on, he isn't worth wasting breath on," spoke up a big, uncouth fellow named Porter, when Frank had politely announced to Banbury that Dean Ritchie was a friend of some old friends of his at Tipton. "Ta, ta, Bob- up!" rallied Porter maliciously to Frank's chum. "Keep close to brother!"
Bob flushed and his eyes sparkled. His fists clenched.
"Easy, Bob," warned Frank in an undertone.
"Say, Banbury Cross," observed Bob, "there was a fellow of your name chased out of our county for sheep stealing, and another kept the dog pound. You snarl just exactly like some of the curs he keeps there."
"Banbury, cranberry, bow, wow, wow!" derided Ritchie. "Good for you, Upton —you hit the nail on the head that time."
"Upton—Robert Upton!" bellowed the old janitor, Scroggins, appearing on the campus just then.
"That's me," acknowledged Bob.
"President Elliott wishes to see you in the library," said Scroggins.
"Aha!" snorted Banbury. "Called down already! Look out, Bob-up, you're in for a quake in the shoes."
"No; the president is going to consult him on how to raise squashes," sneered a crony of Banbury.
"Say, Frank," whispered Bob, quite in a quake, "I'm going to get it for something. What can it be?"
"Don't worry," replied Frank. "Face the music. I fancy you won't be hit very hard."
Bob went away with the old, worried look on his face. He came back radiant, and seemed to walk on air, and he never even heard the jeers of the Banbury crowd as he passed them. He made a beckoning motion to Frank, and the two strolled away together.
"Frank," said Bob, choking up, "I believe I'm some good in the world, after all."
"I told you so, didn't I?"
"I'm glad you made me come here," went on Bob. "Oh, so awfully glad! I declare——" and there Bob broke down and turned his face away for a moment or two.
"Say, Frank," he continued, "so is the president glad I came, too. He told me so. What do you think? The two children in that runaway belong to his family."
"Well! well!" commented Frank.
"I almost sunk through the floor when the good old man, with tears in his eyes, thanked me for saving them, as he called it. He said he was proud of me, and that he predicted that the academy would be proud of me, too. I tell you, Frank, it stirred me up. Strike me blue, if I don't try to behave myself."
"Good for you, Bob!"
"Strike me scarlet red and sky blue, if I don't try to deserve his kind words."
Nothing seemed to ruffle Bob after that. He simply laughed at the snubs and jeers of the Banbury crowd. He seemed to lose his old-time unsociability, and went right in with the jolly crowd that composed the stanch following of Dean Ritchie.
It was just after the nine o'clock bell had rung that evening when Bob so mysteriously disclosed his suspicions of the initiation plots of the occupants of the adjoining room.
"They're all Banbury's crowd," he explained to Frank. "Get into bed and take in the fun. They're waiting for us to quiet down. Don't speak above a whisper. Just stay awake long enough to see the program out."
Bob turned out the light and both snuggled down on the pillows luxuriously after a strenuous day of sport and study.
"Act first," whispered Bob. "Soon as the Banbury crowd think we're fast asleep, you'll hear them come stealthily out into the corridor. They've fixed the transom over our door so it will swing open without a jar. One fellow will stand on a chair. The others will hand him up the nozzle of a hose running to the faucet in their room."
"And we'll be Knights of the Bath—I see," observed Frank.
"Yes, without having to take any of the medicine. Hist—they're coming."
Frank could readily guess what the enemy had in view—the old school trick of dousing them in their sleep. He relied on the mysterious promises of his chum, and lay still and listened intently.
There was a vast whispering in the next room, a rustling about, and then more than one person could be heard just outside in the corridor.
A stool seemed to be placed near to the door. The slightest creaking in the world told that the transom had been pushed ajar.
"Hand up the hose," whispered a cautious voice.
"Here you are."
There was a fumbling sound at the transom. Then came the impatient words:
"It don't work."
"Turn on the screw."
"I have. The water can't be on."
"Yes, it is. I turned it."
"I tell you it won't work," was whispered from the stool. "Go back to the room and turn on the faucet, I tell you."
Hurried footsteps retreated from the door. Some one could be heard entering the next room. Then some one rushed out of it again.
"Say," spoke an excited voice, "we're flooded! The hose has burst, and we are deluged, and——"
"Boys, a light—the monitor's coming," interrupted a warning voice.
"Cut for it! Something's wrong! We're caught!"
There was heedless rush now from the next room. Frank could hear the hose dragged along the corridor. The door of the adjoining room was hurriedly closed.
"Off with your clothes—hustle into bed," ordered some one in that apartment.
Shoes were kicked off, beds creaked, and then came odd cries.
Tap—tap—tap! came a knock at the door.
"What's going on here?" asked the sharp, stern voice of the dormitory watchman.
"Oh, my back!"
"I'm scratched to pieces!" So ran the cries, and half a dozen persons seemed to bound from beds to the floor.
Bob Upton was shaking with suppressed laughter, stuffing the end of the pillow into his mouth to keep from yelling outright.
"Bob," whispered Frank, "what have you been up to?"
"Drove a plug into their hose ten feet from the faucet, slit the rubber full of holes—and filled the beds with cockle burrs," replied Bob, and, quaking with inward mirth, he rolled out on the floor.
"Gentlemen of Dormitory 4, report at the office in the morning with an explanation," droned the severe tones of the monitor out in the corridor.
A STRANGE HAPPENING
"Bob, this is worse than the Banbury crowd could devise," remarked Frank.
"Yes. The only thing is that in this case it's friends who are responsible for it. Ugh! I'm sunk to the knees in water."
"I'm in to the waist," said Frank. "They've gone—the vandals! Off with the blindfolds. Well, this is a pretty fix!"