THE HILLTOP BOYS
A STORY OF SCHOOL LIFE
THE GOLDSMITH PUBLISHING CO. CLEVELAND MADE IN U. S. A.
PRESS OF THE COMMERCIAL BOOKBINDING CO. CLEVELAND
I THE BEGINNING OF THE TERM 13
II A HITCH IN JACK'S WELCOME 21
III SOME OF THE BOYS AND THEIR WAYS 29
IV ANOTHER ATTEMPTED HAZING 36
V THE HAZERS ARE HAZED 45
VI BILLY'S LITTLE JOKE 54
VII A TOUCH OF EXCITEMENT 63
VIII WHAT JACK FOUND IN THE RAVINE 71
IX ANOTHER OF JACK'S ACCOMPLISHMENTS 79
X AN INTERVIEW IN THE WOODS 88
XI A BIT OF SIGNAL WORK 94
XII THE TROUBLES OF AN EDITOR 102
XIII TRYING TO FIX THE BLAME 111
XIV "SUSPICION IS NOT PROOF" 117
XV FUN AND EXCITEMENT 125
XVI AN ANONYMOUS ACCUSATION 132
XVII THE MATTER SETTLED 138
XVIII AN EXPLORING TRIP THROUGH THE WOODS 144
XIX MORE THAN ONE WAY OUT 153
XX WHAT BILLY'S CAMERA REVEALED 160
XXI A PUZZLING AFFAIR 169
XXII LIGHT ON THE SUBJECT 175
XXIII ON THE WAY HOME 181
XXIV HOW IT ALL CAME OUT 185
THE HILLTOP BOYS
THE BEGINNING OF THE TERM
"I say, Art, let's take a run down to the train. There will be sure to be some of the old fellows on it and perhaps some new ones."
"Yes, for I heard the doctor tell Buck to have the coach and horses ready, as he expected several of the young gentlemen to come on the afternoon train. Why can't we go down with Buck instead of going alone?"
"Because Mr. Bucephalus, called Buck for short, objects to doing any more work than he is obliged to. We can ride back with him. That is vastly preferable to pedaling up the hill."
"So it is, Harry, but I don't mind coasting down. Come on, there is the train now, just leaving the station below."
Two bright looking boys of about fifteen, dressed in a half-military fashion, stood on a terrace in front of a rambling, two-story building overlooking the surrounding country, the Hudson River being seen in the distance at the foot of a mountain of considerable height, everything being most distinct in the clear Autumn air, the steamboats on the river, the roof of the little railroad station and the puff of smoke from the engine as it pulled out being seen very clearly.
The rambling, two-story building on the top of the hill was the Academy and the boys were two of the pupils who were here a little in advance of the rest to begin the new term, were, in fact, some of the Hilltop Boys as they were called by the people of the town on the river where the train on the branch road was now going at a fair speed, the incline increasing with the distance from the station.
Arthur Warren and Harry Dickson hurried off to the stables where the wheels of the boys were kept, selected their own, mounted quickly and set out along the Academy drive to the road leading to the station, this being a mile or more distant, although in a straight line it was much less.
From the river to the station nearest the Academy it was five miles, but on account of the grade and the numerous stops the two boys had plenty of time to reach the railroad before the train which they had seen leaving the river station could arrive.
"Did the Doctor say who was coming, Art?" asked Harry, as they reached the road, set their brakes and started down the hill. "Dick Percival generally comes at this time."
"Yes, I believe the black fellow said he expected Master Dick. He always likes to fetch Dick up and will go for him at any time, day or night."
"To be sure, for Dick always gives him a tip."
The hill down which the two boys were now gliding at a good rate was quite steep, there being a decided drop a few rods in advance and a number of sharp turns, the rounding of which required considerable dexterity and the coolest of heads.
They were two-thirds of the way down and had reached the steepest part of the hill when, in rounding a particularly sharp turn where they had to keep all their wits about them, they saw just ahead of them, in the middle of the road, a boy carrying a suitcase.
"Hi! get out of the road!" roared Harry, taking a tighter grip on his handle bars and apprehending trouble.
"Look out!" cried Arthur in shrill tones.
The boy in the middle of the road, not more than fifty feet distant at this moment, stood perfectly still and cried in a clear voice, sure to be heard above everything else:
"Swerve a bit to the side, both of you and there will be room enough."
Simultaneously, he made a quick signal to the right and to the left.
Arthur steered a little to the right while Harry went to the left, both whizzing past the boy in the middle of the road who held his suitcase in front of him and stood perfectly still.
Neither of the boys even grazed him but there was little room to spare and the wind of the two wheels caused his coat to flutter violently and almost took off his soft hat.
In a moment more both boys were speeding down the hill at a tremendous gait and in another were out of sight around another and less sharp turn.
"My word! but that was a close shave!" ejaculated Harry, with a sigh and a feeling of intense relief. "I made sure that we were going to get spilled, the three of us."
"Some cool head that!" returned Arthur. "Lots of fellows would have gone all to pieces. I came pretty near doing it myself."
"He knew just what to do and when to do it," Harry went on. "Only for that there would have been a bad mix-up."
"Well, there wasn't!" grunted Arthur, "so don't say any more about it. It gives me the creeps to think of it. That fellow has some nerve. Wonder what he was doing on our road? You can't get anywhere except to Hilltop Academy that way. If he's a new student why didn't he come with Bucephalus and the coach?"
"Can't tell you. Maybe he didn't know anything about it."
The boys reached the bottom of the hill without further incident and went on to the little railroad station, hearing the sound of the expected train as they dismounted and stacked their wheels.
The colored coachman of the Academy, who bore the high-sounding name of Bucephalus, but who was almost always called Buck by the boys and by the people of the town at the foot of the hill, sat on his box as if carved out of black marble and neither looked to the right nor the left, considering it beneath his dignity to converse with any one in the village while on duty and seeming to see no one.
"Did you meet a young fellow going up the hill as you were coming down, Buck?" asked Harry, stepping alongside the big coach. "A new fellow, do you think, Bucephalus?"
"Ah dunno, sah, Ah done paid no attention to anybody Ah met on de road, sah. Ah done had 'nuff to do to look aftah mah hosses witho't catechisin' or scrutinizin' strangers, sah."
The whistle of the train was heard again at that moment and in a short time it arrived and many of the passengers alighted, among them being two or three boys who were warmly welcomed by the two students.
"Hello, Dick, back again, eh? Glad of it. How are you, Billy, how do, Tom? Ready for work, of course?"
"And incidentally, a bit of fun," replied one of the newcomers. "Hope we will have a good crowd this term. Any new ones to put through their paces and make toe the mark?"
The boys chatted and laughed at a lively rate while their trunks and valises were being put on top and behind the coach and then all got inside, Bucephalus objecting when Harry and Arthur put their wheels on the rear rack and took their seats with the others.
"Yo' young ge'men am discommodin' de reg'lah passengers an' taking up mo' room dan Ah speckerlated on," he muttered. "Whyn't yo' go back de same way yo' come?"
"Walk and wheel our bikes?" cried Harry. "Not much. There's room for all of us and I want to talk with Dick."
"That's all right, Buck," said Dick Percival, one of the newcomers, a handsome boy of sixteen, strong, well built and sturdy, slyly passing something to the coachman. "Come up on the box, Harry. I have a lot to tell you. Come on, there's lots of room."
The two boys sat on the box alongside the coachman who set off up the hill for the Academy and Dick at once began to tell of an adventure which had happened to him during the vacation.
"I was taking a hike up in the fruit country," he began, "and in making my way across lots lost my bearings and came out in a peach orchard where I could not see the road nor a house nor anything. Two rough-looking fellows, fruit pickers, and they are not the best men to meet even if they are sober, and these were not, came up and looked rather hostile and threatening. I had considerable money with me and although I could have met either one of the men singly, did not feel like engaging both of them. It was either a case of run or be outmatched, and I was puzzled what to do."
"What did you do?" asked Harry, interested. "They must have been pretty husky fellows for you to decline meeting them."
"A young fellow in overalls and a rough shirt who was picking peaches in a tree, I had not seen him at first, suddenly appeared and ordered the men to get to work and then the boss happened up and sent them away. The boy went back to his picking and the man gave me directions how to reach the road. I suppose the boy was a picker just like the rest but at any rate he had some idea of fairness. He spoke well and I was astonished to see him with the rest but you can't always tell."
"Art and I had a close call this afternoon," said Harry. "We were coming down the Academy hill on our bikes when, at one of the worst places in it, we came upon a young fellow. It looked as if we would run him down but he stood stock still and with all the nerve in the world, whisked his arm first to the right and then to the left as a signal to us. We just flew past but did not hit him and it was a mercy we didn't. Only for his coolness there would have been a bad upset for the lot of us."
"It was very fortunate that there wasn't. Did you know him?"
"No, never saw him before."
"What was he doing on the Academy hill?"
"I'm sure I don't know. That's what bothered Art and me."
The coach went on up the hill and at last stopped in front of the Academy and the boys began to alight.
Dr. Theophilus Wise, the principal, was standing on the front veranda with a good-looking boy in a brown suit and soft hat.
"This is a new pupil, young gentlemen," said the doctor, coming forward with the strange boy. "Let me make you acquainted with John Sheldon. I trust that you will make him at home."
"Why, that's the boy that Art and I met on the road," whispered Harry to his companion as they were descending.
"It is? Why, that is the first picker I was telling you of."
"Oh!" said Harry in a tone of disappointment.
A HITCH IN JACK'S WELCOME
Dick Percival was the son of wealthy parents, was made much of at home and at school was admired and flattered by the boys of his own set and looked up to by the younger ones who took him as their model and regarded him as a hero.
He was the leading spirit in the school and, being high in his studies, and first in all the athletic sports indulged in by the boys, ranked well with both professors and students, so that whatever he did was considered to be about right.
What he did now was, therefore, a salve to the wounded pride of Harry Dickson, who resented having a mere berry picker enrolled among the students of the Academy and taking equal rank with boys of wealth and position.
As soon as he was down from the coach, Dick went straight to the new boy, extended his hand cordially and said in his most agreeable voice and with a smile on his handsome face:
"I am glad to see you again. Welcome to the ranks of the Hilltop boys. You remember me? You did me a great service a short time ago and I am not likely to forget either that or yourself. My name is Dick Percival. Shake hands, Jack, if you will let me call you so."
"I have no objection," said the other, taking the boy's hand with as much cordiality as it was offered. "I remember you now but what I did was nothing. You are very kind and I will endeavor to repay you in any way I can."
The other boys now pressed forward and Harry was as cordial as Dick himself in welcoming the new boy to the school.
"You saved us a bad accident, old chap," he said, shaking Jack Sheldon's hand. "If it had not been for your coolness I would have gone all to bits in a moment. I am obliged to you and if I can do anything for you at any time just let me know."
"It was a ticklish moment," answered Jack, "but you two boys sized up the situation as quickly as I did and acted just as you should have acted so that as much credit belongs to you as you are ready to give to me. I am glad that all came out so well."
Harry introduced Arthur and in a short time the new boy was acquainted with all the boys then at the Academy and apparently on good terms with all of them, Dick Percival's advances toward the newcomer having given the others their cue, so to speak.
More boys came that afternoon and in the early evening, some by train or boat and some in private conveyances, the greater part of those expected to enter upon the new term being on hand that night.
There were nearly a hundred of the Hilltop boys, the majority hailing from New York but many other states were represented, the Academy having a national reputation and being considered one of the best schools for boys to be found anywhere.
It was conducted under military rules and had besides a retired army officer to drill the boys, a corps of competent instructors in many branches, sending its graduates to the leading colleges and universities of the land.
As the boys' duties would not begin until the next day they were at liberty to do as they pleased that evening and after supper, which was had in the great dining hall, Jack took a stroll with Dick, Harry and one or two others of his new acquaintances.
"Dick told us how you helped him out of a scrape," said Harry, as they were entering a bit of woods in the rear of the Academy. "He took you for a berry picker. That was funny, wasn't——"
"But I was one," said Jack. "I picked all summer, strawberries, raspberries and currants and then peaches and some grapes. I made enough to pay my schooling for——"
"Yes, but you were not one of the regulars," broke in Harry. "They are nothing but a lot of tramps, I believe."
"There are tramps that do the work, of course, but the regulars, as you call them are not. They work up from the south and go as far as the western part of the state and into Pennsylvania before the season is over. Many of the boys and girls, too, in our part of the state earn money that way and I don't see that there is anything——"
"Wrong in it?" interrupted Dick, who noticed the prejudice of the other boys. "Of course there isn't. Be careful about this place, Jack. There is a ravine which is very steep and a fall would not be a pleasant adventure. Stick close to me and you will be all right."
Nothing more was said about the manner in which the new boy had earned money for his schooling but even a casual observer would have noticed that neither Harry nor Arthur were as cordial in their treatment of him after that and he and Dick did all the talking.
The greater part of the boys slept in big dormitories on the upper story of the Academy building, a few especially favored ones having rooms to themselves either there or in one of the cottages adjoining, Dick Percival being one of these.
Jack was assigned to one of the large dormitories and found himself associated with Harry Dickson and a number of boys whom he had seen very little of when it came time to go to bed at ten o'clock that night.
His suitcase had been brought up and one of a number of lockers was assigned to him in which he could keep his clothes, there being a small portable iron washstand in front of it at the head of his bed which was about ten feet distant from the next on either side.
There was a row of beds running along two sides of the room with a space of ten feet between the rows, so that there was plenty of room for every one and yet the boys were near enough to converse with each other if they chose before the lights were put out, this being done outside by one of the professors.
Jack saw four or five boys gathered in a knot while he was undressing and caught a few words of their conversation which was carried on in low tones, paying no attention to it, however, and not seeming to have heard it.
"We must give him a welcome to the Academy," said Harry.
"As soon as the lights go out, make a rush and be sure and get the water jug before he gets up," put in Arthur.
"Oh, we know where everything is, all right," muttered Billy Manners, a lively young fellow whom Jack had noticed at the supper table, who seemed to be always making jokes at something or other. "We have done this before, you know."
"It was just as well that I thought there might be something of this sort and got ready for it," thought Jack, but as far as any of the boys could see he was entirely unsuspicious of their pleasant intentions.
He undressed himself quietly, now and then saying something to one or another of the boys who addressed him, and then, just before he got into bed, quietly dropped something on the floor on each side of the bed without being noticed.
He had taken whatever it was from his suitcase and had not been observed, his motions being quick and with no appearance of stealth or a suspicion of the other boys' designs.
All the boys were in bed a few minutes before the electric lights were extinguished and talked among themselves on matters of little importance, Jack saying little, however, but calculating how long it would take the nearest boy to reach him and fixing the position of the water jug well in his mind without turning to look at it.
The lights were extinguished from a switch-board in the doctor's room as soon as the clock struck, so that it was not necessary to go up to the dormitories at all.
There would be no one in the hall outside, therefore, and so whatever noise the boys might make would not be heard by the doctor or any of the professors.
The clock struck ten and as the last stroke sounded the lights went out and in a moment all was dark in the dormitory.
Then there was a sudden rush and Jack sat up in bed, turned and reached for the water jug which was just behind him.
Swift but light footsteps were heard approaching the bed on three sides and then there was a sudden howl, or chorus of howls from all sides.
"Wow! what's that?"
"Ouch! who left tacks on the floor?"
"Gee whiz! stop that!"
Jack had strewn a few small tacks on the floor and the boys who had meant to give him a little hazing had stepped upon them in the dark.
One of the invaders fell against the bed and at once the water jug tumbled over upon him or at any rate that was what he supposed had happened in his confusion.
"What's the matter, boys?" asked Jack, quietly, and then a flash of light from a pocket searchlight shone from the bed.
"Tacks!" exclaimed one.
"Waterspouts!" ejaculated another, he who had been drenched by the contents of the jug.
"Do you often have these little affairs, boys?" asked Jack, with provoking coolness. "Do you enjoy them?"
Two of the boys were sitting on the edge of their beds taking tacks out of their feet while another was looking for a dry night shirt in his locker.
The others looked rather sheepish and no attempt was made to rush in upon Jack who said with the least suspicion of a laugh:
"Better go to bed, boys. Some one might have heard the noise and be coming up to investigate."
Then the light suddenly went out as steps were heard in the hall outside and all was still within.
Whoever was outside was evidently unsuspicious of what had happened within for the footsteps passed the door and went on down the hall and not a word was heard.
"I guess that was one on us," muttered Billy Manners when all was quiet again, "and we'd better let it go at that and score a point for the new fellow."
Evidently, his advice was taken for there was no more disturbance in the dormitory for the rest of the night and in the morning when the bell sounded for the boys to get up Jack was out of bed before any of his new companions.
SOME OF THE BOYS AND THEIR WAYS
The boys were awakened at six o'clock, went into chapel at half past six, had breakfast at seven, went through a drill from eight to nine and then went into the general schoolroom and were busy till noon, when they were dismissed to get ready for dinner.
Nothing was said about the event of the night before but several of the boys gave Jack sly winks and it was quite evident that there would be no repetition of the hazing.
When they went out to drill, Dick Percival said to Jack:
"Well, my boy, it seems to me as if you showed just as cool a head last night as you did in the afternoon when you stood in the road and directed the two fellows who were rushing down upon you on their bikes. I would have liked to seen the fun."
"If they had not talked about it I would not have known anything of it," replied Jack, "but how did you hear of it?"
"Oh, Billy Manners thought it was too good a joke to keep even if you did soak him with the contents of the water jug," laughed Dick. "I don't think he upset it as some of the boys think."
Jack said nothing and the subject was dropped for the time.
Later, Billy Manners himself came to Jack and said, good-naturedly:
"That was one on us, Sheldon, but I don't hold it up against you. I would like to know how you suspected us, however. Have you been to other schools where they practised this sort of thing?"
"No, I have never been away to school before but if fellows will talk of their plans they need not be astonished if somebody overhears."
"True enough!" rejoined Billy, with a chuckle. "I never thought of that. I supposed we were speaking low, however."
"You spoke in whispers and you can hear a whisper farther than you can hear a low tone."
"H'm! I never knew that. That's something to remember."
After dinner and before they went back to the school room several of the boys, Jack among the rest, were standing in front of the main building when Peter Herring, a big, brawny fellow with a disagreeable face and manner said brusquely to the new boy:
"I say, Sheldon, who are you anyhow? Who's your father?"
Jack flushed crimson and then turned pale and for a moment seemed greatly agitated but he quickly gained his composure and said quietly:
"My father is dead."
"Well, what was he then?" pursued the other in the same disagreeable tone he had before used.
"A gentleman," answered Jack, pointedly, and then turned away and spoke to Harry and Arthur.
"H'm! you got it that time, Pete!" roared Ernest Merritt, Herring's chum and a boy with a reputation for bullying and also of toadying to the richer boys and snubbing the poor ones. "That hit you. Did you hear how he said 'a gentleman,' my boy? Your father is something dif——"
"Mind your business!" snapped Herring, darting a look at Jack which boded no good for the latter and then walking away with a sulky air.
"Did you notice how Jack flushed when Herring asked him who his father was?" asked Harry of Arthur when Jack had left them. "There is some mystery there."
"I don't see it. Jack would naturally be angry when spoken to in that tone. Herring is a bully and no gentleman, as Jack indicated."
"That's true enough, but Jack turned red and then white and was evidently under a considerable agitation. There is some mystery, take my word for it."
"Well, suppose there is?" rejoined Arthur. "It is certainly no business of ours and I am not going to meddle with it."
"Well, neither am I," with a little snap, "but I can have my opinion, can't I?"
"Certainly," and there was nothing more said, the boys being good friends and though having little differences at times, never quarreled.
While Arthur and Harry were having this conversation Herring said angrily to Merritt:
"What did you want to say that for? My father is as good as yours. I'll give it to Sheldon for talking back to me."
"You started it," growled Merritt. "You're always picking on the new fellows."
"So are you," snapped Herring. "You're a regular bully. Never mind, though. There is something crooked about Sheldon or his family and I'm going to find it. I don't associate with tramp berry pickers and the rest of the boys won't when I find out things."
"Dick Percival goes with him," muttered Merritt, pointing to where the rich man's son and Jack Sheldon were walking together arm in arm. "Percival is a swell and his father is richer than yours and a lot more——"
"A lot more what?" snarled Herring, clenching his fist.
"Respectable!" snapped Merritt, hastily retreating.
"Don't mind what a fellow like Herring says, Jack," said Dick Percival, kindly, putting his arm in the new boy's. "No one of any account pays any attention to him. A fellow that can show the nerve you can has nothing to fear from Pete Herring."
"I am not afraid of him, Dick," Jack answered, "but——" and then he stopped and went on in silence.
"It's all right," said Dick, at length. "A boy that stands as high as you do in your classes need not be afraid of Pete Herring's condemnation. I believe I shall have to hustle or you will be up to me before I know it."
"That's what I'm here for, to get ahead as fast as I can," laughed the other, who in his examination that morning had showed that he was by no means a backward scholar.
The first day of the new term was spent mostly in getting things into shape for the days that were to come and the regular routine was not as strictly observed as it would be later, new boys being tried out, new methods experimented upon and everything being made ready for the fall and winter.
There were several new boys in addition to Jack Sheldon and one or two of these were as advanced as he was but the greater part went into the lower classes and would make the material of which the Academy would be composed at a later period, Dr. Wise taking them under his particular care and forming their characters for the future as he put it.
In the course of two or three days the machinery of the school was running as smoothly as if it had been in operation for a month, the boys knowing what was expected of them and the professors keeping them rigidly to their work and attending to their own duties with unflagging zeal.
Jack took an interest in his work and was stimulated by knowing that much was expected of him and that there were others who desired to overtake him in his studies, this very emulation helping him to do his best.
The greater part of the boys were his friends and he gave little attention to those who were not, keeping on good terms with them while not having much to do with them.
As far as he was concerned, however, the boys knew no more of him at the end of the week than they had known at the beginning and many of them decided that it was as well to let him remain a mystery until he chose to further enlighten them.
Without being churlish or obstinate, Jack was reserved and all they knew, which could have been obtained outside as well as from him was that he lived in another county, some ten miles distant, that he was the only child of a worthy widow and that he was paying for his schooling out of money that he had earned or would earn from his own efforts in one line or another.
"At any rate if he does have to earn the money to carry him through," said Billy Manners to a number of the boys one afternoon when school was over for the day, "he is not mean and contributes what he can to the legitimate fun of the Hilltops and does not waste his coin on foolish things. If he is poor he is not a miser and if he has to work for his schooling that is his business. If Dick Percival, the acknowledged head of the school in studies as well as in athletics, can associate with him and be proud of his company, the rest of us have nothing to say and I, for my part, certainly have not."
"Neither has any decent fellow among the Hilltops," added Harry, enthusiastically, and the majority echoed his sentiment, the few that remained silent and indulged in black looks being unobserved amid the general acceptance of the new scholar.
ANOTHER ATTEMPTED HAZING
Herring and Merritt and others like them were not satisfied to accept Jack Sheldon on the same footing as had Percival and the better class of boys at the Academy.
Herring had been used to doing about as he pleased with the new boys and any interference seemed like a curtailing of his rights as he looked at it, and he greatly resented it.
"We'll see if that new berry picking chap can get the best of us, Ern," he said to Merritt when he was alone with a few of his cronies after Harry Dickson's declaration that Jack was good enough for any of them to associate with.
"He won't do it, Pete," replied Merritt.
"There's no use in doing anything in the dormitories," remarked Zenas Holt, one of the party.
"No, that makes too much noise," muttered another of the party all being interested in the scheme which they knew Herring must be concocting to get the best of Jack.
"No, everybody hazes new fellows in the dormitories," growled Herring. "He'll be watching for us and then he has made a lot of new friends and they will go to his help."
"We want to catch him alone," suggested Merritt.
"That's the talk," added Holt.
"Just what I was thinking of," said Herring, "and if you fellows will stop talking so much, I'll tell you how we can fix it."
These boys were just the sort to attack another with the odds against him and never had a notion that there was anything cowardly in that way of accomplishing their ends.
As a matter of fact, Herring was afraid of Percival, who was his equal in size and strength as well as in athletic qualities and a good boxer to boot, and therefore did not wish to have the latter about when they set out to haze Jack.
"There are other ways of doing the thing besides getting up a row in the dormitories," he said.
"Sure!" added Merritt. "We don't want the profs. coming in on us to spoil the fun."
"Nor to have to lick Percival and a lot of other fools that have taken up with the new chap," observed Holt.
"H'm! you'd lick Dick Percival, I don't think!" sneered Merritt, who never lost a chance to jeer any one, his own associates included. "I'd like to see you do it."
"Shut up!" snarled Herring. "How can we talk the thing over if you're always putting in your oar?"
"You aren't wearing a lot of medals yourself for keeping your mouth shut, Pete," retorted Merritt.
"Who's getting this thing up?" snarled the other. "Me or you? Did you start it?"
"No, but you can't get along without me, all the same, so don't be so fresh and breezy."
"If you fellows are going to squabble there'll be nothing done at all," put in Holt impatiently.
"It ain't me that's squabbling, it's Ern Merritt," growled the leader of the bullies, angrily. "If he don't want to go into this thing he needn't, but there's no use in doing so much talking."
"Who's doing the most of it?" laughed Merritt.
"Shut up!" said the rest of the boys, who wanted to hear what Herring had to propose.
"There are other places besides the dormitories to work in," said Herring. "There's the woods and the road and a lot of other places. He won't be with the other fellows all the time."
"No, of course not."
"It'll be easy enough to send him a note and get him away from the buildings and then we can do just what we like."
"Give him a good scare and take the nonsense out of him."
"And he won't know us, neither, for we'll have masks on and we mustn't say a word."
"That'll be a hard thing for you," laughed Merritt, who could not resist the temptation to have another fling at Herring.
The latter paid no attention to him, however, knowing that one word would only lead to another.
"We'll watch him," he continued; "find out when he goes off by himself and then do the job up brown. If he don't go off alone, we'll fix it so he will, and that's easy."
"What'll you do with him?" asked Holt. "Steal his clothes and make him walk home at night?"
"Black him up with soot and send him back," suggested another, "That stuff is awful hard to get off."
"I'll make a good job, all right," muttered Herring. "Just you leave it to me."
Some of the better sort of boys were seen approaching at that moment, and Herring said in a low tone:
"Come on, let's get out. Go in different directions. Those fellows might get a notion that we were fixing up something."
The boys went off in different directions, and Harry, who was one of the other boys, said to Arthur:
"If Pete Herring and those sneaks are not plotting against the new fellow, I'll miss my guess."
"Well, it may not be against him," replied Arthur, "but it probably has to do with some of the new fellows or with the little ones. Herring and his crowd are always pestering them."
"If they try to make any trouble for Jack, they will get all that's coming to them," laughed Billy Manners.
"Yes, you found out that he could take care of himself, didn't you?" asked Arthur with a chuckle.
"There were others," replied Billy with a grin.
Herring and his accomplices found a chance to meet again later when there was no chance of being interrupted by any of Jack's friends, and the bully laid his plans before the rest.
"That's all right," said Merritt.
"Couldn't have fixed it up better myself," added Holt.
"That'll do the trick," said another.
Some time later, with still considerable time before supper, Jack happened to be passing the rear of the house where Bucephalus was at work on a wagon.
"Dey was a tullyphome message fo' yo', sah," said the man. "Yo' was to call up two-fo'-six as soon as conwenient."
"Where is the booth, Bucephalus?" asked Jack.
"Raght in bahn, sah. Dere am a switch fo' mah conwenience. Yo'll fin' it cluss to de do', sah."
"All right," and Jack went into the barn, where he saw a telephone receiver and transmitter on a little shelf near the door.
He took down the receiver and called up the number which Bucephalus had given him, waiting a moment for an answer.
"Hello, who is this?" he presently heard over the wire.
"John Sheldon. I was told to call you up. Who is this and what do you want of me?"
"This is Jones, down at the station. There is an express package for you here that has to be signed for. Better come after it."
"Can't you send it?" asked Jack, who thought that the voice sounded rather too near to come from the station below.
Furthermore, it seemed to him that it sounded suspiciously like that of Peter Herring, the leading bully of the Academy.
He had not had much conversation with the fellow, but what he had had was sufficient to make him remember the voice, and he had a good memory for all voices.
"No, I can't send it now. Haven't got any one to send. You can take a short cut through the woods as you leave the Academy and get here in a few minutes. It's shorter than by the road. Take the turn on the right after you get out of sight."
"Is there any hurry?"
"Yes, I gotter go to supper, but I'll wait for you. Hurry up!" and Jack heard the sound of the receiver being hung up on the other end.
He hung up his receiver and went out, finding Bucephalus still at work on the wagon.
"Did yo' catch him, sah?" asked the man. "Werry conwenient little instrament, dat tullyphome, ain't it? Werry myster'ous, too. Just think o' hearin' a man talkin' a mile or two away, an' yo' unnerstan' him as plain like he was right cluss up."
"Yes, there is a bit of mystery about it, Buck," laughed Jack, who had ideas of his own which he did not care to tell to any one else at the moment.
"There is a switch that those fellows have got on," he said to himself, "and I was not talking to the station any more than I was talking to the President of the United States. Well, there'll be a little fun in this, and I don't mind taking the risk."
Jack had gotten the idea that Herring was on another branch of the Academy telephone, and that the story of the express package was a fiction, meant to mislead him.
He knew enough of such characters as Herring's to satisfy himself that the bully would not rest at one attempt to make trouble, but would try again as soon as convenient.
"If that was not Herring on the wire, I never heard him speak," he said to himself as he ran off toward the house and then to the dormitories.
He was not upstairs more than a minute and then he appeared at the front of the Academy and set off down the road at a good pace.
When he had gone far enough to be out of sight of the building, he took a cut through the woods as directed by the supposed Jones at the little station below.
He walked with both hands in his side jacket pockets, and seemed absolutely carefree and happy, but he had his wits about him, nevertheless.
He suspected an ambush and was ready for it.
He had prepared himself for a hazing on his first night at Hilltop, and he now suspected that another was under way and was prepared for that as well.
Jack Sheldon had been to school before and knew the ways of boys, being one himself, although not of the sort that think it funny to play foolish tricks on others.
He knew many of these, however, and had remedies for nearly all of them, having put more than one hazing party to route by his thorough command of resources.
Although he hurried in through the woods in an apparently careless fashion and seemed to pay no attention to anything, he noticed everything, heard everything, and was ready for instant action.
He was well in the woods, which were quite thick as he went on, although there was a path through them, when his quick ear caught the sound of a sudden rustling in a clump of thick shrub oaks just in front of him, but he went on as if he had heard nothing, turning a little to one side as he reached the clump.
In a moment three or four masked figures suddenly sprang out upon him from two sides of the clump.
Then Jack took his hands out of his pockets.
THE HAZERS ARE HAZED
What Jack had in one pocket of his coat was an ammonia gun used by wheelmen to keep off the attacks of troublesome dogs who attempt to bar their progress on the road often at the risk of giving them an upset.
This, as most boys know, is shaped like a pistol and has a bulb at one end.
A slight pressure upon this bulb causes a stream of ammonia, or hot water, or whatever else one chooses to squirt in the faces of the annoying dogs and to put them to flight.
When Jack had gone up to the dormitories, after receiving the message which he had every reason to believe to be spurious, he had taken the little gun from his suitcase, where he had placed it, in anticipation of needing it in some such emergency as the present.
As the masked figures came rushing toward him from two sides, he quickly took account of stock, as one might say, and decided which one of the maskers was Herring.
Then he aimed his little gun at the fellow's face and gave the bulb a good squeeze.
There was a howl and a gasp and the boy in the mask and the old clothes suddenly sat down with more force than elegance.
Jack then turned his gun on one of the intruders from the other side of the clump.
"Ouch, stop that!" yelled the fellow, dropping a stout stick he held in his hand and beating a hasty retreat, half stifled by the fumes of the ammonia.
Jack then turned his attention to the other members of the party of hazers and discharged another gun at them, holding it in his left hand.
This was worse than the first, for it contained assafoetida instead of ammonia.
The stench was something dreadful, and two of the hazers got full doses of the stuff directly in their faces.
Jack was on the windward side of it or he could not have endured the horrible smell.
The victims simply fell on the ground and began to vomit in spite of themselves.
"Oh! Oh! Oh! I'm poisoned!" wailed Holt, who was one of the fellows dosed. "Oh! get me some water. Oh, dear! I shall die, I know I shall!"
"You need a good cleaning out," laughed Jack, who had no sympathy whatever for the sneak. "You are dirty enough inside and out to make it necessary. Turn yourself inside out. You need it."
The other victim was retching and gasping and groaning by turns and all at once, but Jack only laughed.
If one had been in pain and needed his help, no one could have been more sympathetic, but in this case the victim was simply getting his deserts, and the boy wasted no sympathy upon him.
"Oh! I am poisoned, I know I am!" howled Holt. "Go send for a doctor. I know I am going to die!"
"No danger of it, Holt," laughed Jack. "That's nothing but a cleaning out medicine that will be good for you. Take off that mask of yours and you will breathe better. If it had not been for that, you would have got a bigger dose, but it will do, I guess."
Jack had easily recognized Holt, but the other hazer was unknown to him, as he did not yet know all the boys at the Academy.
Holt retched, and coughed, and choked, and gasped, and was in a very uncomfortable state, but there was no danger of his dying and Jack knew it perfectly well.
"I know you, Holt," he said. "I don't know the other fellow, but he will know me after this, I guess. I haven't got through with you fellows yet, but first I want to see how Herring and Merritt are coming on. He is a pickled Herring now, I warrant," and Jack laughed heartily at the recollection of the bully's sudden retreat.
He hurried back the way he had come, and shortly found Herring bending over a spring and trying to wash the ammonia from his face and eyes.
He had laid aside his mask and the stick he had carried, and was totally unprepared for Jack's coming.
"What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the herring," laughed Jack as he came up behind the bully and suddenly sent him plunging headfirst into the spring.
Herring sputtered and gasped, and Jack gave him another ducking, and without the slightest compunction.
"I don't believe in taking a mean advantage of a fellow, as a rule," he laughed, "but that is the only thing that a fellow like you will understand. This is the two-four-six degree, Herring."
Then he gave the bully another ducking and finally left him to look for Merritt, who also deserved something more than he had received.
"I am going to give you a reward of Merritt, Ernest," he laughed, as he finally came upon the sneak sitting on a stone at the edge of the woods, looking very miserable.
"Get out of here, I haven't done nothing," snarled Merritt, too weak to get up. "It wasn't me, it was Pete Herring."
"What is that mask doing on the ground, Merritt?" asked Jack. "And you have your old clothes on also. How does that happen, if you were not in this plot the same as Herring?"
"I was going blackberrying and wore my old clothes so's they wouldn't get hurt. You gotter wear something over your face, too, to keep it from getting scratched."
"Well, here's something else," laughed Jack as he plunged his hand into a mudhole close by and brought it up fairly reeking with black ooze.
Then he gave a generous plaster of the stuff to the bully's face, and chuckled as he went away:
"They say that mud is a sure cure for a lot of things, Merritt, and maybe it will cure you of trying to haze a fellow unawares. Think it over. Thinking won't hurt you, anyhow. You don't do enough to injure you."
Herring had taken himself off by the time Jack went back to the spring, evidently fearing that he would get another dose, which in his weak state he had no desire for and the boy did not find him.
"Well, he has had enough to last him for a time, at any rate," he said with a grin, "and I am not resentful enough to further add to his troubles. I wonder how those others are doing?"
He found Holt sitting on the ground looking very wretched and said, wiping his muddy hand on the fellow's face:
"There's a plaster for you, Holt. You don't look very pretty, but it may do you good."
"Ouch! it stinks!" yelled Holt.
"So does your reputation," laughed Jack. "One will act as a counter irritant to the other. And like curses like, you know. That's the new school of medicine. Who got up this little scheme to waylay me?"
"Pete Herring," muttered Holt. "I had nothing to do with it. I was just going to catch rabbits."
"With a mask? H'm! you are ashamed to look a rabbit in the face, are you? Well, you are homely enough to give a young rabbit nervous prostration, so I can't blame you for that."
"I didn't have nothing to do with it," said Holt, trying to wipe the mud from his face and making it worse.
"How about the telephone?" asked Jack. "Where was Herring when I called him up?"
"On the switch. How did you know it was him?"
"There are some voices that are so disagreeable that you can actually smell them, Holt. Herring's is one. Then I did not get the station at all? I thought not."
"No, you didn't, but if you knew it was Herring, what did you want to come for? That was foolish."
"Oh, no, it was not. It was foolish for Herring to use the phone and try to disguise his voice. Why didn't he get some one I did not know at all? He was the foolish one. And then I thought I might give him a dose of his own medicine."
"Huh! did you give him as bad as you gave me?"
"Well, it was different," and Jack laughed.
"I don't treat all alike, you see. Have a little more of the mud cure?"
Then, without waiting for an answer, Jack plastered the bully's face and neck with the sticky mud and left him.
"This is hazing the hazers," he said. "They may not like it, but, then, that is merely the point of view. There is no reason why I should like it any better than they do."
The other bully was sneaking away when Jack found him and he let him go, having really had enough fun with the bullies to last him some time, and considering that he had punished them enough for one while.
"Four to one was pretty good odds," he laughed, "but I had the advantage of knowing what they were about. That was stupid of Herring to get on the wire himself. Why didn't he get some one else? Fellows like these always make some stupid mistake which betrays them."
Jack then returned to the house, where he found Bucephalus washing the wagon with warm water and soap.
"Give me a chance to wash my hands, Bucephalus," he said. "Honest Injun, now, did you know anything about a plan to haze me? That telephone message was all a hoax."
"Wha' yo' mean by dat, sah?" asked Bucephalus. "Wasn' dere no tullyphome message? I done heard it mahse'f, sah, an' Ah done give it to yo' same as Ah heard it m'se'f, sah."
"Then you did not know of any trick to get the best of me?"
"No, sah, 'deed Ah didn't, sah."
The man spoke so earnestly that Jack was convinced that he was telling the truth and believed him.
When he had finished washing his hands, he went to the doctor's study, where he found the principal himself, and asked permission to use the telephone.
Finding the number of the station below, which was not the one given to him, he called up Mr. Jones and asked if there was any package for him.
The agent said that there was not, and the boy then knew that the whole affair had been a hoax and that probably Bucephalus was as innocent of it as the station agent himself.
"They must have come in here when the doctor was out, switched the barn line on to this one, and taken my call without Jones knowing anything about it," he said as he hung up the receiver and went out. "It was a pretty good plot, but one little blunder will spoil the best of plots."
He said nothing to Percival nor any of his new friends about the matter, being satisfied to have gotten the best of his enemies without publishing it, and feeling that he would be safe from further annoyance for a time at least.
It was said at the supper table that Holt and Haddon were sick from eating too much, and that Merritt had fallen into the brook and taken cold, and Jack did not take the trouble to correct the rumors.
Herring was there, looking as well dressed and conceited as usual, and probably he had more ways of getting over his troubles than the others had, for he showed no effects of the hazing.
He glared at Jack in a manner that promised future trouble, but the boy paid no attention to it, and did not mention the affair to any of his friends, although he knew that they would have liked well enough to hear of it.
BILLY'S LITTLE JOKE
Billy Manners still had an idea of playing some sort of a joke upon Jack Sheldon, albeit a good-natured one, and not the kind that Herring and boys of that ilk would be likely to perpetrate.
Now Billy knew nothing of the hazing that Herring had intended to give Jack, for the latter had not mentioned it, and as a natural consequence Herring himself, in view of his failure, had said nothing about it to any one, not even his own cronies.
The bullies of the Academy never had much to say to the better class of boys in any event, and in this particular case Billy would not be apt to hear of the affair of the unsuccessful hazing, Herring and the rest naturally keeping their own counsel.
Consequently Billy knew nothing about it, but had an idea of his own and determined to work it entirely upon his own responsibility without taking any of the other boys into his confidence.
He was a pretty good hand at working a joke, and knew that sometimes, particularly in carrying out a practical joke, too many cooks spoil the broth, although there is another aphorism which declares that in a multitude of councillors there is wisdom.
However, Billy concluded to try the first old saw in working out his plans, and the reader can judge for himself by the sequel whether he took the wisest course or not.
After supper, when the boys were all supposed to be in the general schoolroom, Billy got a chance to go up to the dormitories in order to prepare for the little joke upon Jack.
The beds were all iron, with woven wire mattresses such as are used in hospitals and preferable as being much more sanitary than the ordinary wooden beds with slats of the same material.
Billy's idea was to loosen the side supports in such a manner that it would not be obvious that anything had been done to them, but that the bed would collapse as soon as any weight was put upon it and let the occupant down upon the floor in the most summary fashion.
What he did was to lift up the sides and then to fasten them to the head and foot pieces with very thin cord which was sufficient to hold them in place only as long as there was no weight put upon them.
The instant that any one got upon the bed the side pieces would drop to the floor and the occupant would go down with them, much to his astonishment and the delight of the other boys.
Having fixed up his little trap, Billy replaced the clothes in as neat a fashion as a chambermaid could have done, and there was apparently nothing the matter with Jack's bed.
"That will be one on Master Jack for the ducking I got the other night," he said, and then he moved the washstand near enough to the bed so that in the event of the latter's collapsing it would go down as well.
Satisfied with his work, he left the dormitory and returned to the big schoolroom, his absence having caused no comment apparently, and his presence and operations upstairs not having been noticed.
"There will be a nice little surprise party for some one at bedtime," he said to himself, but did not let his satisfaction show on his face, so that for all that appeared no one knew of the little trick.
He had had his own flashlight with him and had not had to turn up the lights in the dormitory, a proceeding that might have caused attention, and he was sure that no one had seen him at work, and indeed no one had.
When the boys went up to bed, Jack, still occupying the same dormitory as at first, Billy was ready to see the result of his little joke, but said nothing to any of the boys about it.
"Will you change beds with me to-night, Billy?" presently asked Jack, taking off his coat and hanging it on a hook. "Mine is a little too warm, but you don't mind that."
"Now I wonder if he has got onto it?" thought Billy. "He could not have been up here since."
"It will only be for to-night," Jack added.
"What's the use of changing?" asked Billy. "I don't like too warm a bed myself."
"Oh, this isn't too warm, just warm enough for you," laughed Jack.
"He has got onto something," thought Billy, "and wants to see me go down. Not much, I won't."
"Why can't you be obliging, Billy?" asked Arthur. "I'm sure I'd do a little thing like that if I was asked."
"I wonder if they are both in it?" thought the young joker.
"Oh, well, it doesn't matter," said Jack, taking off his waistcoat and hanging it up over his coat.
"You can have my bed if you want it, Jack," said Arthur. "I don't see why Billy is so disobliging."
"Well, I did not mean it for him," thought Billy, "but it will be his own fault if he makes the change."
"Billy's is better," laughed Jack, "but still I don't mind changing with you if you don't object."
"Not in the least," said Arthur. "You're an obliging fellow, Mr. William Manners."
"Very bad manners, I should say," laughed Harry.
"Oh, well, I am a bit particular, I suppose," said Billy, "but I get accustomed to a thing and don't like to change. It's the same with a seat at table or a desk in the schoolroom."
Billy had been in a hurry to get ready for bed in case the boys tried to persuade him to change his mind, and now he threw back the covers and plumped himself in without further delay.
In a moment there were several surprises.
First, the bed went all to pieces and let the rather stout young fellow down upon the floor in the most unceremonious fashion.
Then there was a loud report, as if a pistol had been set off, and a lot of smoke puffed up in Billy's face.
Next the washstand tipped over and Billy received a ducking much worse than he had got on the night that Jack's water pitcher had been overturned upon him.
"Hello! what's the matter with Billy?" asked several of the boys.
"Oh, you prefer that sort of bed, do you?" asked Arthur.
"Maybe that is why he did not want to let Jack have it," added Harry.
"Enjoy yourself, Billy," said Jack with a smile, sitting on his own bed.
Nothing happened, much to Billy's surprise and disappointment.
"How is this?" the joker asked as he got up. "Did I fix the wrong bed, after all?"
"No, that was all right, Billy, but I have been here since," laughed Jack, taking off his socks.
"Huh! And you found it out?"
"Quite so!" with another smile.
"How did you do it? Sit on it?"
"No, but you left the end of a string sticking out."
"How do you know I did it?" asked Billy.
"Because you are the only fellow that uses green cord in tying up parcels. I have noticed that, among other things."
"Billy is a bit green himself when it comes to playing jokes on observant boys," remarked Harry.
"But how did you happen to come up here ahead of time?" asked Billy, paying no attention to Harry's observation.
"Accident, that's all. I wanted something."
"But I did not see you leave the room," said Billy. "You did not see me at work?"
"No, but I saw you come in. Even then I did not suspect anything. I was about to go up when you came in."
"And then you fixed my bed?" with a grunt.
"Certainly. What is good enough for me is equally good for you, isn't it, my boy?"
"Yes, but, Jack, you offered to swap beds with him," chuckled Arthur.
"To be sure. I knew he would not take me up."
"And if he had?"
"Well, my side of the joke would have been off, but I would not have sat on the bed."
"Well, but what was the racket?" asked Billy.
"Giant torpedo under the bed," said Jack. "That was an improvement on your invention."
"Well, that's one on you!" said Harry with a broad grin.
"And it will be one on all of us if we don't get into bed before the lights are turned off," added Arthur.
"Yes, that's all right and very funny and I acknowledge that Jack has nicely got the best of me," said Billy somewhat dolefully, "but what am I going to do? I can't go to sleep in a wet bed."
"I have an extra set of blankets and things," said Jack. "I saved them out for you when I fixed your little joke to work backward. Here you are and now hurry and get fixed."
"H'm! I bet you never had a thought of Jack in that line," said a boy of the name of Sharpe. "Did you, now?"
"Well, no, I didn't," said Billy, making his bed with the dry blankets and sheets. "That's one on me. Still, no one offered me any dry things the other night."
"Nor me, either," said Jack. "I was to be put through the mill in fine shape, but the joke went on the wrong tack."
"And several of us got on more tacks than one," rejoined Arthur. "I did, at any rate."
"It just shows you that there is little use in trying to play tricks on Jack Sheldon," said Billy, "and I won't be such a chump again."
"Some one else thinks the same way," said Jack quietly to Arthur.
"What do you mean by that, Jack?" the other boy asked.
"I'll tell you to-morrow if you don't hear of it in the meantime," Jack answered, and then the lights went down as a warning that they would presently go out entirely, and the boys all made haste to get to bed.
The next day when the boys came down Arthur and Harry happened to come upon Herring and Merritt unexpectedly, the two bullies not seeing them, and heard Merritt say angrily:
"Huh! that was a pretty hazing scheme you got up on Jack Sheldon, Pete Herring. I got the worst of it."
"You didn't get it any worse than I did," snarled Herring, "but never mind, I'll get even with him yet."
"What are you two ruffians talking about now?" asked Arthur, and the two bullies quickly went away.
Later Arthur saw Jack, and said:
"Did Herring and those other sneaks try to haze you, Jack?"
"Yes," said Jack, smiling. "How did you hear of it?"
"They were talking it over when Hal and I came upon them unexpectedly. I imagine from what was said that it did not work very well."
"No, it did not and now that it has partly come out. I'll tell you about it, as I promised."
A TOUCH OF EXCITEMENT
One morning in the second week of school, Bucephalus, the coachman, assistant cook, head waiter, butler and general factotum of the Hilltop institution, quite astonished the boys by a bit of news he brought and gave them a touch of excitement they had never expected.
Bucephalus waited on the table at breakfast and then went to the station at the foot of the hill and brought back the mail, delivering it some little time before the morning session began.
This morning when the boys came to get their letters the general factotum said excitedly:
"I done pring de letters, what dey was of dem dis mo'nin' but ef dey was any come las' night yo' won' get 'em 'cause de post-office was buglariously entahed some time in de night an' letters an' stamps an' money done took o't."
"The post-office robbed?" cried the boys as Bucephalus began distributing the letters he had in his pouch.
"Yas'r an' de station an' de spress office an' mo' dan dat de post-office on de river was visited, too, in de same buglarious fashion an' a big lot o' pussonal property misappropriated by de nocturnal malefactors. Dey done said dat dey was abo't to call on de bank but got skeered off."
"So, they robbed the Riverton station and post-office as well, did they?" asked Harry. "Have they any notion as to who did it?"
"Wall, Ah reckon ef dey did dey would have apprehended dem by dis, Master Harry. All dey know is dat de malcomfactors done come in a auto an' went away in a hurry."
"Did the same fellows rob both places?"
"Ah reckon dey did and done went to de bigges' place fust. Down at dis station de postmaster and station agent, bein' one an' de same, as you' am aware, was woke up by hearin' de noise an' come a runnin' to stop de robbery. Dey was an exchange of compliments in de way of pistol shots an' de robbers took deir leave an' as much else as dey could get away wif an' struck fo' de nex' town below."
"Then the agent saw them go?"
"Yas'r an' dey took de wrong road at fus an' was headin' fo' de little creek what runs into de river o't'n de ravine jus' back o' here. De agent tried to catch 'em an' done telephoned to de river station but de wiahs was cut. Den de robbers done turn de oder way an' got off, goin' like de wind an' all."
The boys were naturally excited over this piece of news and during the day more was heard which greatly added to the touch of excitement they had already received.
After school Dick Percival, who had a little runabout which the doctor allowed him to keep in the barn, came to Jack and said:
"I am going down to the station to learn some more of this affair of last night. Will you come along? We won't be away more than an hour and I have already obtained permission to go."
"Certainly. I want to hear more about it myself and would enjoy the ride very much."
"All right then, I'll get it out and we'll go at once."
Jack went to the barn with Dick and showed great interest in the little car, so much so in fact, that Dick said:
"You seem to be interested. Do you know anything about cars?"
"Oh, yes," returned Jack, quietly.
"Would you like to run it down to the station?"
"Yes," and both boys got in and Jack ran it out of the shed and toward the road.
As they passed the school buildings they saw Peter Herring and some of his cronies standing together, Herring saying quite audibly:
"There's Percival and his chauffeur. I guess that's what he was before he came here and we gentlemen have to associate with him. H'm! just an auto driver mixing in with gentlemen! It's a shame."
Jack did not seem to have heard and gave all his attention to the car, managing it so well that Dick was astonished and said to himself:
"He handles the thing better than I can do it myself. It's a wonder how many things that boy can do. He may have driven a car, but what of that? That's no disgrace."
When they were out of sight of the buildings and going at a good speed down the hill Jack said quietly:
"I used to drive a motor truck with fruit to the railroad station and steamboat landing. Most shippers use horses but my man had a big motor truck and I used to drive it. That's how I know about cars."
"That's all right," laughed Dick. "You are a constant surprise to me. I am all the time finding out the things you can do. Don't mind that fellow Herring. Honestly, I feel safer with you at the wheel than if I were driving myself."
"I have had to do some pretty awkward driving. You know the Hudson River hills? We have some hard ones up my way and I have driven a car down them without an accident."
"There's where your cool head comes in. I wish I had it."
They whizzed around one sharp turn and another, down steep grades and along level stretches at a rapid pace, going smoothly, however, and with never a jar or a jolt and reached the little station in an incredibly short time, Percival being delighted at the masterly manner in which his companion had handled the car.
There was a knot of men and boys around the station and the agent was telling the story of the robbery of the night before for the fiftieth time.
"Anything new, Jones?" asked Percival.
"Not much. There's a lot of stamps missing and a package of registered mail what I hadn't opened. I can't tell what was in it. Maybe much and maybe little. The fellows went over the creek by the bridge and on, 'stead of coming back as folks said. Guess they knew where they was going. Smart fellows them."
"Did you see them plain enough to know them again?"
"Guess I did, one of 'em, anyhow. He had a big white mustache and black eyebrows and hair. Guess his mask must have dropped off."
"How many were there in the car?" and then Dick saw that Jack seemed greatly agitated about something and stopped short.
"Two, that's all. They got some money out of the drawer and dropped a package near the bridge. Guess they was in a hurry. Smart trick that, cutting the telephone wires. I couldn't get connection with no place, up or down. This morning, though, I heard that they broke into the office at Cedar Bush and got fifty dollars in stamps besides some money. Guess they was making a trip of it."
"Did they make a good haul at Riverton?"
"Guess they did and it was lucky they didn't get more. They got into the bank all right but was scared away before they got much."
"Buck said they got nothing from the bank."
"Well, they did but not all they might have. Folks don't want to say too much down there."
"I'd like to show you the country around here, Jack," said Dick. "Jump in. There are all sorts of stories about this affair and we won't get the truth of it for some time. I'll show you the creek and the bridge and you may get an idea of the risks these fellows ran unless they knew the region well, which I imagine they did."
They took the road for a quarter of a mile back from the station and then saw the banks of the creek ahead of them.
An eighth of a mile farther on the road turned sharply and ran along the creek but at a short distance from it, making a sudden turn again at the end of two or three hundred yards and crossing where the banks were steep and high and the creek itself quite tumultuous.
"This is the same creek that you reach from the ravine back of the Academy in the woods," said Percival. "The banks there are quite high and rough. There is a descent from here to the river and there the creek does not make much trouble. Here, however it is all the time roaring and tumbling. They tell a number of stories about it. During the American Revolution it had considerable fame I believe."
"It makes stir enough now to call attention to itself at any rate," laughed Jack. "It certainly is a noisy little stream. Here is where the robbers crossed over? I can see auto tracks close to the rail. They did go over and back, Dick, although the agent says they did not."
"The stories are greatly confused and you won't find out what really happened for some time, I don't think. That man with the white mustache and black hair ought to be readily recognized. If he is a professional some ought to know him."
"Yes, probably they will," and Dick once more noticed that his companion seemed agitated.
He asked Jack to turn and go back as he did not feel quite equal to the task, the road being a bad one so Jack took the wheel and got them back to the station with little trouble.
Stopping here a few minutes and listening to the talk but learning nothing new, they went through the little village, made a few trifling purchases and then returned to the Academy, Jack managing the car and quite exciting Dick's admiration by the cool manner in which he took the trying hills, sharp turns and steep ascents.
"I'd like to have you with me whenever I go to the station, Jack," Dick said. "I fancied I could run a car anywhere but you can beat me all to bits. Herring can say what he likes but a fellow that can run a car as steadily and coolly as you can is good enough to associate with the president himself."
"I am glad you like it," said Jack, smiling, "but long use has made me well accustomed to our Hudson valley hills and I really do not mind them nor think them so bad as a stranger would."
The story of the robbery was added to the next day and many conflicting accounts were related so that one could not readily find out what was true and what was not.
The man that Jones had seen was identified as a former prisoner in one of the State institutions but whether he had escaped or had served his term was very much in doubt.
On the second afternoon succeeding Jack's visit to the station he was taking a stroll through the woods in the rear of the Academy, expecting Percival to join him, the two often taking walks together.
He suddenly observed that he was quite near to the bank of the ravine and was about to turn when all at once a form flew out of the bushes close at hand, rushed violently against him and sent him in an instant off his feet and down the steep incline.
WHAT JACK FOUND IN THE RAVINE
Jack Sheldon uttered a startled cry as he found himself darting through space and then he struck on his back and went sliding down the bank toward the creek below unable to stop himself.
Many thoughts passed rapidly through his mind as he went on down the bank, narrowly missing great rocks, stumps of fallen trees and clumps of thorn bushes, feeling no pain but wondering where he would land.
What occurred to him with the most startling distinctness, however, was the fact that he had not lost his footing through his own carelessness but that some one had pushed him from the bank.
Speculation as to who this person might be seemed absolutely useless for he had not seen him and had not known of his presence until the very instant before he had fallen.
What might eventually happen to him did not occupy his thoughts so much as the identity of this person and it seemed as if he must have turned this thought over in his mind a thousand times during his descent of the bank.
His progress was so rapid that he could tell nothing of the objects he passed nor how long he was in descending, the only thing that was definite being the fact that the creek lay below and he might or might not be thrown into it.
At last when it seemed as if he must have slid a thousand feet or more, although it was much less than that distance, he was suddenly brought up sharply by his feet striking a great mass of moss, decayed wood and rich loam at the foot of a short stump almost on the brink of the roaring creek tumbling over the rocks in its bed.
He was thrown half across this stump by the violence of the contact but quickly realized that he was not hurt although nearly out of breath and with a rapidly beating heart.
His coat was about his neck, he had no hat, his shoes were badly scraped and his trousers had many holes in them but he was alive and evidently not seriously bruised or scratched by his rapid slide over the rough ground and coarse grass.
But for his having been stopped by the stump he would have gone into the water which at this point was right up to the bank.
Standing up and arranging his clothing as much as was possible at the moment, he took a deep breath or two and looked about him.
At a short distance there was a rude path along the water's edge wide enough for him to make his way, here and there obstructed by stones or bushes but wide enough for him to walk on.
There was clearly no use in trying to reach the top of the ravine by climbing and he might by following the path come to the bridge over which he and Dick had crossed two days before.
He had no idea how far it was to the station for he could see nothing but the woods and the ravine and the brook and he set off, therefore, with no idea how far he would have to go or what obstacles might be in his way.
Walking on along the tumbling brook, now having to descend at a considerable angle where the path was just wide enough for his feet, now having to make his way through tangled bushes, now scrambling over rough stones and occasionally being turned aside by great thickets of briar but still keeping the water in sight he at length came to a point whence he could see the bridge ahead of him.
He judged that he must have gone nearly half a mile although the difficulties of the way made it seem like five.
The bridge was still some little distance away and the path was no less easy for travel than at first although it was wider and evidently more traversed as if used now and then by fishermen or picknickers.
Coming near the bridge he was looking for a good place to leave the path and reach the road when he saw something half in the water and half on the ground that at once arrested his attention.
It seemed to be a rubber bag and was evidently heavy by its looks, the part on the ground being deep in the sand as if it had been thrown from the bridge.
At once it dawned upon him that here was an important discovery.
"I wonder if that is not some of the plunder stolen from the bank or from the station?" he thought to himself.
Some had advanced the theory that the robbers had not carried off all that they had stolen, some had said that the men had gone across the creek and then back and it at once occurred to Jack that they had not gone to the bridge for nothing and that here was something that they had gotten rid of at the time on account of the risk of being discovered with it and for which they meant to return at some convenient time.
Making his way down the bank, which at this point was quite steep, the boy rested on one knee, took hold of a stout sapling and tried to lift the bag half out of water.
It was quite heavy, as he had supposed and considerable of a tug was required to draw it out of the water and close to him.
This he accomplished, however, and then, using the sapling to aid him, he drew the bag farther up on the bank and then to the top where he put it down and started to open it.
There was a stout cord around the neck of the bag but this he loosened with some little trouble on account of its having been swollen and made tighter by the water.
Opening the bag he caught sight of a polished tin despatch or cash box, a bundle of letters, a package of bills and a thick envelope which probably contained postage stamps by its appearance.
Reaching in and taking out the cash box, the first thing that attracted his attention were the letters on the cover.
"Hello! Riverton National Bank!" he exclaimed. "Then they did get something from the bank after all. What is this? Bunch of registered mail for the little post-office down here. Well, it was lucky I was thrown down the bank after all."
Putting back the contents of the bag and securing it with the cord, Jack now made his way toward the end of the bridge, looking up and down and listening attentively.
"If I am seen with this in my possession some one will be sure to say that I stole it and yet I must get it either to the station or up to the Academy. It will be a considerable tug to get it up the hill and perhaps I had better hide it till I can come after it with a car or a wagon. That's the best thing to do."
He was looking for a place among the bushes or under the bridge to hide the bag when he heard the sound of a car coming toward him and got behind a tree so as not to be observed.
Then, peering out, he saw the car and recognized it as the little runabout belonging to Dick and saw young Percival himself at the wheel.
"Hello, Dick, come here, I want to see you," he called, stepping out and beginning to climb the bank.
"Hello! That's you, is it? And all right, of course? I was very much afraid that I would have——"
"To do what?" for Percival suddenly stopped.
"To carry your remains back to the Academy. They told me you had fallen down the bank and I scarcely expected to see you alive again. As quick as I could I got out the car and came down here to look for you."
"They told you that I had fallen down the bank?" asked Jack, in the greatest excitement.
"Yes, and you look it all right."
"Who told you that, Dick?"
"Pete Herring and Ernest Merritt. They said they had seen you fall and had tried to warn you but were too late."
"Where did you see them?"
"In the woods. I was going there to meet you as I had promised."
"How long before had it happened, did they tell you? Did you meet them in the woods?"
"Yes, and very soon after you fell, probably. I heard a scream and hurried on. Then I met them and they told me what had happened."
"Yes, but not how it happened. Dick, I was thrown down the bank. It was not an accident at all, it was a deliberate——"
"Do you know which of the two did it?" gasped Dick.
"No, but I am satisfied that one of them did it. However, never mind that now. Come here. I want to show you something."
Dick got out of his car and followed Jack.
The boy led his friend to where he had deposited the bag, uncovered it by throwing off the leaves he had thrown over it and said:
"That's what I found down here, a few paces away. What do you suppose is in it?"
"I have not the least idea. What is?"
"A cash box from the Riverton bank, a packet of registered letters for our office, some stamps, money and other things."
"And you found it here?"
"Yes, half on the bank and half in the water."
"How did it get there?"
"Thrown from the bridge by the robbers. They did not want to be found with it on them I suppose. Probably they meant to return for it at some convenient time."
"You have examined the contents?"
"Not all of them."
"What shall we do with it, Jack?"
"Take it up to the doctor. Later we can take it to the bank. I don't want to go there now, looking as I do."
"Well, you don't look just the thing to call on a bank president," laughed Dick, "but I am glad you are alive. Are you hurt any? No bones broken, no internal injuries, nothing the matter with you?"
"I don't think there is, Dick. I do feel a bit sore and bruised but I don't think there is anything serious the matter. A good hot bath will fix me up all right, I think."
"Come on then and get that bag up to the Academy. Here, don't you lift it. I can do it better. Can you run the car up, do you think?"
"Yes. Did you raise an alarm about my having fallen down the bank?"
"No. Herring said he would speak to the doctor. I came right away."
"All right. Let them think for the present that I did fall down."
"Very good, but as soon as I am certain which one of those fellows it was that pushed you down I will make it warm for him."
"I don't believe you ever will know, Dick."
ANOTHER OF JACK'S ACCOMPLISHMENTS
The two boys went up the hill to the Academy with the bag which one of them had found in the creek and had an interview with Dr. Wise.
The doctor looked his name in some respects and in others he did not.
He was a tall, spare man, dressing habitually in solemn black and a huge white choker, his face being clean shaven and showing the firmness of his chin and his square, well-set jaws.
He was very bald, however, and the big round spectacles which he always wore gave an owlish aspect to his face, the glasses being set in a heavy black frame which made his eyes look even deeper than they naturally were.
However, the doctor was of a most kindly nature and all the boys under his charge, with a few notable exceptions, were greatly attached to him and treated him with admiration as well as respect.
He listened attentively to Jack's story of falling down the ravine and finding the rubber bag and then examined the latter, saying:
"H'm, ha! yes, this is a most important discovery. I am not privileged to examine it closely, that will be the duty of the agent at the station and the officers of the bank, but I am very glad that the bag has been recovered. This packet doubtless contains registered letters for me. I was expecting them and their loss would have caused us all some trouble. One thing, however. Has no one told you of the danger of wandering through our woods, especially at night?"
Dick Percival was about to say something which Jack did not want him to say at the moment and he quickly interposed:
"Yes, sir, they have, and I will admit that I was careless. However, I will take better precautions in future."
"Do so. I should be very sorry if anything happened to you and I do not like to restrict the enjoyment of the young gentlemen under my care. They enjoy walking through the woods but all of them know the danger and I need not restrict them as long as they know where to go."
"Then these things had better be taken to the station and to the bank at Riverton?" asked Jack.
"Yes. To-morrow you and Percival may attend to it. Meanwhile, I will wire the bank officers that some of their property has been found. There will doubtless be a reward given for its recovery and I am very glad that this is so, for your sake."
"My finding it was quite accidental, however, Doctor."
"Even so, the reward has been offered and belongs to you. It is immaterial how the property was found as long as it was found. You must have had a thrilling adventure but I am glad that only your wearing apparel and not you suffered injury."
The bag was left with the doctor and the boys left him, Jack to get whole garments out of his meagre store and Dick to house his car.
Outside they came upon Herring, who turned pale when he saw Jack and muttered, half under his breath:
"Then you were not killed? I was afraid that——"
"No, he was not," said Dick, "little thanks, however, to——" but Jack gave him a sudden look and he stopped short.
Herring hurried away to join some of his companions at a little distance and Dick said:
"I was too much in a hurry, I see, and now it will be harder to discover the truth. Herring will be on his guard."
"And we don't know that he had anything to do with it."
"It lies between him and Merritt, I am certain, but I will keep still after this until I am certain."
Those of the boys who had heard of the accident to Jack were quick to assure him of their satisfaction that he was not seriously hurt and there the matter rested.
The next day Dick and Jack went in the runabout to the bank where they delivered the cash box and other things which evidently belonged to it, leaving the package of registered letters and the postage stamps at the station at the foot of the hill.
"I am authorized by the bank to pay you a reward of one hundred dollars for the recovery of this property," said the president, after he had thoroughly examined the contents of the bag. "Shall I pay it to you or put it to your credit in the bank? I will have a book made out if you prefer the latter."
"I think that will be satisfactory," the boy replied. "Then if I desire to draw against it or add to it I can do so."
"Very good, my dear sir. You show the proper spirit. Many young men would wish to spend the amount at once."
"I believe I have learned the value of money, sir," said Jack, quietly, while Dick laughed and said.
"H'm! I am afraid I would have done just what the president hints at. Perhaps I have not learned the value of money from having so much of it."
The money was left to the boy's credit and he was supplied with a bank book and blank checks, feeling quite proud at having so much money as it would give him an opportunity to help his mother as well as to pay his bills at the Academy.
"You did not expect to get this, did you, Jack?" asked Dick.
"No, but I am glad to get it just the same. It means a good deal to me, Dick, although I suppose you regard it as a mere trifle."
"Well, not so much after all," laughed Dick, "but, come on. I want to stop at the office of the Riverton News. I furnish them with school items now and then and this is the day before publication. You might tell the editor of your experience yesterday. I have no doubt that he will regard it as a bit of valuable news. He does not get much."
"I would like to see him at any rate," Jack returned. "I always did like to go into a newspaper office."
The newspaper office was down the street a short distance and on the opposite side from the bank and in a decidedly less pretentious building, being in a little two-story wooden affair which looked fully a hundred years old and as if it might fall down at any moment.
They found the editor in his office, sitting at his typewriter in his shirt sleeves and busy preparing an article for the paper, this being the eve of publication day.
He was a fat little man; the top of his head being very bald and shiny with a fringe of black hair all around it and two big tufts at his ears, his eyebrows being thick and shaggy and standing straight out from twin caverns.
He held his shoulders high and put his head forward and down, pecking savagely at the keys of the typewriter with the first fingers of both hands very much as a hen pecks at the worms or grain of corn in a dunghill and making the machine rattle at every stroke.
"Busy, Mr. Brooke?" asked Dick. "Want some items?"
"Yes, of course," said the other, never stopping at his savage attack on the typewriter. "I am doing something about the robbery. Nothing new, I suppose?"
"Why, yes, I think there is," laughed Dick. "Have you heard——"
"What?" asked the editor sharply, looking up at the two boys. "I've heard lots of things and it's hard to tell just what's true and what isn't. What have you got, Percival?"
"Why don't you use all your fingers on your machine?" asked Jack, before Dick could answer.
"What's that?" snapped the editor quickly, fixing his eyes on the questioner. "Why don't I use all my fingers? Because it's quicker to use two, that's why."
"Oh, no it is not," with a quiet smile. "Let me show you. What is this? Something about the robbery? Let me add a few lines. It is news."
Jack spoke with a quiet air that evidently had its effect on the nervous little man pecking away at the machine with two fat fingers and he moved his chair to one side a little so as to make room, but apparently unwilling to believe that he could be taught anything.
Jack shifted the paper a line or two and then, standing over the machine, set to work, operating rapidly and writing as he thought.
He not only used all his fingers but did the spacing with his thumbs and wrote so rapidly that Dick thought he was copying and not writing off-hand.
What he wrote was a brief account of the finding of the rubber bag containing the missing cash box near the bridge at the upper station, not mentioning himself by name, however, nor even saying that the property had been found by one of the Hilltop boys.
When he had finished the editor looked at the paper and muttered:
"H'm! not an error! Well, you are certainly an expert operator and have taught me something but I could never write like that. Force of habit, I suppose."
"Where did you ever learn to use a typewriter, Jack?" asked Dick in admiration. "Why, you show me some new accomplishment every day."
"Oh, I have used one for some time. I have done work for the lawyers in our town. I have made a good deal of money that way."
"He gets along faster with all his fingers than you do, playing a sort of crazy jig with your two first fingers, Mr. Brooke," laughed Dick, uproariously. "I have seen other fellows play the machine like that and thought it was the only way, but now I see that it is not."
"You have put it very concisely," said the editor. "By the way, who was the person who found the money?"
"That was Jack himself," said Dick. "I was there just afterward and took the thing up to the Academy in my car. Jack is a modest fellow and you could not get him to say anything about himself."
"Very well put," said the editor. "What do you think about the political situation? I want a leader on it but hardly feel equal to it."
"Write him an editorial, Jack," laughed Dick. "How much do you pay for good articles, Mr. Brooke?"
"H'm! the News is not equipped for paying very much for anything," replied the other, pecking at the machine, "but if I could get a really good article on the situation at present or anything, the farming outlook, for instance, I would be willing to pay something for it."
"I can tell you what I think," said Jack, quietly, "and furnish you with articles on different subjects. I would like to earn all the money I can as I am paying for my education out of my own pocket."
"H'm! very commendable spirit," snapped the other. "Is that your case, Mr. Percival?"
"No, I cannot say that it is. However, I am anxious to see how Jack makes out as a writer of editorials. Let Mr. John Sheldon have your desk for a few minutes, Mr. Brooke."
"It won't be long," said Jack, blushing. "Only a few sentences but it is just what I think."
He sat at the typewriter and wrote rapidly for a few minutes, during which time both Percival and Mr. Brooke remained perfectly quiet.
When he had finished, Jack took the paper from the machine and handed it to the editor, saying:
"There, that is my opinion of the situation. You may not agree with it but that is how I think."
The editor read over the article carefully and then said with more spirit than he had yet betrayed:
"It is the thing in a nutshell. It is tersely put and carries conviction with every sentence. If it had been any longer or any shorter it would have failed of its purpose. I could not express myself any better if I wrote a column. It will go in just as it is and whenever I want an editorial written I shall call upon you."
"May I read it?" asked Percival.
The editor passed the sheet over to the boy who read it most carefully and then said:
"Great, my boy! We have long wanted a good editor for our Academy paper and the position is yours. If I say so every boy in Hilltop will agree with me, so it is settled."
AN INTERVIEW IN THE WOODS
Dick Percival was as good as his word and lost no time in telling the Hilltop boys that he had found an ideal editor for the monthly magazine conducted in the interests of the Academy and contributed to by the brightest minds among them.
The majority agreed that Jack would make a better editor but there were some who opposed this choice, not openly but in a sneering, underhand way that was harder to combat than if they had put on an attitude of bold defiance.
"You don't want a mere clerk for an editor," said Peter Herring to a number of his cronies. "If we did we could hire a six-dollar-a-week typewriter girl to do the work. Any one can work a machine with a little practice but it takes brains to run a high-class magazine like ours."
"How much do you contribute to it, Pete?" asked Merritt, with a half laugh.
"Well, I contribute to the expense of the publication and I am not going to have my money wasted," retorted the other angrily.
"So do all the boys contribute. You don't have to pat yourself on the back for that."
"Well, do you want this upstart to be editor?" snarled Herring, annoyed at these interruptions and yet not wishing to pick a quarrel with one who was useful to him at times.
"No, of course I don't but you don't need to make a fool of yourself for all that. You are no better than the rest of us."
"I don't say I am and I don't make a fool of myself. What is the matter with you anyhow?"
"Never mind bickering, you two," said one of the group. "What we want to get at is to keep Sheldon out of the paper, isn't it?"
"Of course!" said all the rest.
"Then get to work and do it."
"Leave it to me," said Herring in a mysterious tone. "I'll fix it all right, never fear."
The preparation of the next number of the Hilltop Gazette was begun under the direction of Jack Sheldon, however, Dick, Harry and a few more assisting him in the selection and arrangement of articles and the opposition of Herring and his satellites seemed to have ceased.
Jack had made arrangements with the editor of the News to furnish him material for the weekly paper and to give him news as well if there happened to be any and he entered on his duties as contributor under a regular if not large salary.
Meanwhile, Herring took every opportunity to speak disparagingly of Jack, to sneer at everything he said or at every word of praise that was given him and to snub him whenever they met.
Jack cared nothing for this latter treatment and, indeed, seemed not to notice it and as far as snubbing went he never had anything to say to the bully and always passed him by without notice.
It was about ten days after the finding of the money in the creek and Jack was strolling in the woods half way down from the Academy, absorbed in thought and paying little attention to where he went or to the objects about him when he heard a sudden sharp hiss and then:
"Well? Do you like it here?"
He looked up suddenly and saw a man in a rough dark grey suit and wearing a thick black beard, standing close to a tree which had a great hollow on one side.
"You!" he exclaimed, stepping back a pace and straightening himself as if wishing to keep away from something defiling.
"Yes, me. So you are going to a high-class school, are you?"
"Why should I not if I pay for it?" asked Jack, coolly.
"And I need the money. Have you any with you?"
"Yes—and I mean to keep it with me," with a slight interruption.
"I can claim all you have. It is mine by right," said the other in a dogged tone. "Come closer. I want to talk to you. Perhaps I can make a business proposition."
There was a rustle among the leaves at a little distance and Jack looked around sharply but saw nothing, the stranger having evidently not taken note of anything.
"Come here," he said, resting his hand in the hollow of the tree. "Do you see this hole? You could put something in there and I would get it. I have used it for a post-office before. It has been very handy. So, you found the money in the creek, did you? I was coming after it in a day or so. What have you done with it?"
"Restored it to the bank, whose property it was," came the quiet answer. "You do not suppose I would keep it?"
"I worked for that money and only for my pals getting frightened I would have had more. We left the biggest part behind."
"It is not safe for you here since the police have your description and know your reputation," said Jack, quietly. "I would advise you to go away at once."
"Who would recognize me?" asked the other with a laugh, whisking off his beard and restoring it again in a flash but revealing for a brief moment a large white mustache. "Besides, no one would suppose that I would stay in this neighborhood."
"Why do you?"
"To get what I left behind," with a laugh. "They say lightning does not strike twice in the same place but I do and with profit. You know the bank, don't you? Give me a little idea of the location of things. I am a little hazy on some points. Of course I could fix that but time is an item with me. Where is the——"
"I shall tell you nothing!" said Jack, firmly, "and it is useless to prolong this interview."
"Ain't I your father, Mr. John Shelden, alias——"
"No, you are not!" said Jack, fiercely.
He was retreating when the man said with a laugh and a sneer:
"You won't get people to believe that. Help me and I will keep quiet; refuse and I will see that your term here is a very short one. Ha! I still use the old word. Familiar, of course."
"I care nothing for your threats," said Jack, hurrying away and looking around sharply, the sound he had before heard coming again to his ears.
"The fellow has some confederate hidden in the woods," he thought, and made his way as rapidly as possible to the road and then went on up the hill toward the Academy.
The strange man disappeared in the woods but Jack did not look back to see where he went but kept straight on to the Academy.
Reaching the building he went to the telephone which the boys were allowed to use on occasion and called up Mr. Brooke.
"Hello! Mr. Brooke? I may have news for you about something. I will communicate with you as previously arranged in case there is anything to tell you. Good-bye."
No one hearing this message could guess what it meant and Jack was purposely cautious and guarded, knowing that some of the operators in the exchange had told things which they had heard over the wires.
Having sent his message to the editor, he hung up the receiver and went to find Percival or some other of the boys.
A few minutes after the strange man with whom Jack had had his strange interview had disappeared in the woods, Peter Herring crept cautiously out of the bushes and whistled softly to some one.
In a moment he was joined by Merritt and the two hurried toward the road and took their way down hill.
"You heard the whole business?" asked Herring.
"Yes. That's a nice mix-up."
"I guess it is. Now we've got a hold on Sheldon. The son of a bank robber and he said his father was dead."
"I'll bet he was in the robbery himself," muttered Merritt.
"Anyhow, we can make it look so," snarled the other with an evil look.
A BIT OF SIGNAL WORK
Jack Sheldon said nothing to Dick Percival or any of his friends in the Academy of the singular interview he had had in the woods with the strange man, having kept his own counsel thus far and resolving to keep it still unless forced to take some one else into his confidence.
No one would have guessed, seeing him among the boys, light-hearted and gay, apparently, that he had anything on his mind and he took good care that no one should guess it.
There was a time during the evening that one might absent himself from the general assembly if he chose although none of the boys was supposed to leave the grounds.
There was a direct rule against this except in a case of necessity, but Jack considered that it was necessary for him to leave the place at that time and he accordingly made his way rapidly down the hill, taking care that no one should see him leave.
"I cannot explain," he muttered to himself as he hurried on in the darkness, "and yet I must see if those scoundrels are at work."
He met no one, saw no one and at length reached the old hollow tree where he had met the strange man that afternoon.
He had his pocket flashlight with him and now, as he reached the tree he turned a brilliant glare into the hollow, taking care that it went nowhere else.