THE ROVER BOYS IN THE JUNGLE
Stirring Adventures in Africa
By Arthur M. Winfield (Edward Stratemeyer)
My dear boys:
This volume, "The Rover Boys in the jungle," is the third story of the "Rover Boys Series," and while a complete tale in itself, forms a companion story to "The Rover Boys at School" and "The Rover Boys on the Ocean," which preceded it.
In the former volumes I told you much of the doings of Dick, Tom, and Sam at Putnam Hall and during a remarkable chase on the Atlantic Ocean. In the present story the scene is shifted from the military academy, where the boys are cadets, to the wilds of Africa, whither the lads with their uncle have gone to look for Anderson Rover, the boys' father, who had disappeared many years before. A remarkable message from the sea causes the party to leave this country, and they journey to Africa, little dreaming of all the stirring adventures which await them in the heart of the Dark Continent. How they battle against their many perils, and what the outcome of their remarkable search is, I will leave for the pages that follow to explain.
In conclusion, let me state that I am extremely grateful for the kind favor given the previous volumes of this series, and I sincerely trust that the present tale merits a continuance of your support.
Affectionately and sincerely yours,
EDWARD STRATEMEYER November 10, 1899
THE ROVER BOYS IN THE JUNGLE
"Back to Putnam Hall again, boys! Hurrah!"
"Yes, back again, Tom, and glad of it," returned Dick Rover. "I can tell you, the academy is getting to be a regular second home."
"Right you are, Dick," came from Sam Rover, the youngest of the three brothers. "I'd rather be here than up to the farm, even if Uncle Randolph and Aunt Martha are kind and considerate. The farm is so slow -"
"While here we have our full share of adventures and more," finished Tom. "I wonder what will happen to us this term? The other terms kept us mighty busy, didn't they?"
"I'm not looking for any more outside adventures," said Dick, with a serious shake of his head. "Our enemies have been disposed of, and I don't want, to hear of or see them again."
"Nor I — but we'll hear of them, nevertheless, mark my words. The Baxters won't leave us rest. They are a hard crowd, and Buddy Girk is just as bad," finished Tom.
It was the opening of the spring term at Putnam Hall Military Academy, and the three Rover boys had just come up from Cedarville in the carryall, driven by Peleg Snuggers, the general-utility man of the place. Their old chums, Frank Harrington, Fred Garrison, Larry Colby, and a number of others, had already arrived, so the boys did not lack for company. As they entered the spacious building genial Captain Putnam greeted each with a hearty handshake, and a pleasant word also came to them from George Strong, the head assistant.
For the benefit of those who have not read the other books of this series, entitled "The Rover Boys at School" and "The Rover Boys on the Ocean," I would state that the Rover boys were three in number, Dick being the oldest, Tom next, and Sam the youngest, as already mentioned. Whether the boys were orphans or not was a question which could not be answered. Upon the death of their mother, their father, a rich mine owner and geological expert, had left the boys in the care of his brother, Randolph Rover, an eccentric gentleman who devoted his entire time to scientific farming. Mr. Anderson Rover had then journeyed to the western coast of Africa, hoping to locate some valuable gold mines in the heart of the Dark Continent. He had plunged into the interior with a number of natives, and that was the last heard of him, although Mr. Randolph Rover had made diligent inquiries concerning his whereabouts.
All of the boys were bright, fun-loving fellows, and to keep them out of mischief Randolph Rover had sent them off to Putnam Hall, a first class school, located some distance from Cedarville, a pretty town on Lake Cayuga, in New York State. Here the lads had made numerous friends and incidentally a number of enemies.
Of the friends several have already been named, and others will come to the front as our story proceeds. Of the enemies the principal ones were Arnold Baxter, a man who had tried, years before, to defraud the boys' father out of a gold mine in the West, and his son Dan, who had once been the bully of Putnam Hall. Arnold Baxter's tool was a good-for-nothing scamp named Buddy Girk, who had once robbed Dick of his watch. Both of these men were now in jail charged with an important robbery in Albany, and the Rover boys had aided in bringing the men to justice. Dan, the bully, was also under arrest, charged with the abduction of Dom Stanhope. Dom, who was Dick Rover's dearest friend, had been carried off by the directions of Josiah Crabtree, a former teacher of Putnam Hall, who wished to marry Mrs. Stanhope and thus get his hands on the money the widow held in trust for her daughter, but the abduction had been nipped in the bud and Josiah Crabtree had fled, leaving Dan Baxter to shoulder the blame of the transaction. How Dora was restored to her mother and what happened afterward, old readers already know.
A winter had passed since the events narrated above, and before and after the holidays the Rover boys had studied diligently, to make up for the time lost on that never-to-be-forgotten ocean chase. Their efforts had not been in vain, and each lad had been promoted to the next higher class, much to Randolph Rover's satisfaction and the joy of their tender-hearted Aunt Martha.
"The boys are all right, even if they do love to play pranks," was Randolph Rover's comment, when he heard of the promotions. "I trust they improve their time during the term to come."
"They are good boys, Randolph," returned Mr. Rover. "They would not be real boys if they did not cut up once in a while. As to their daring — why, they simply take after their father. Poor man. If only we knew, what had become of him."
"Yes, a great weight would be lifted from our shoulders, Martha, if we knew that. But we do not know, and there seems to be no way of finding out. I have written to the authorities at various places in Africa until I know not whom to address next."
"He must be dead, otherwise he would write or come home, Randolph. He was not one to keep us in the dark so long."
"I cannot believe my brother dead, and the boys will not believe it either. Do you know what Dick said to me before he left for school? He said, that if we didn't get word he was going to Africa some day to hunt his father up."
"To Africa! What will that boy do in such a jungle, and among such fierce natives? He will be killed!"
"Perhaps not. The boy is uncommonly shrewd, when it comes to dealing with his enemies. Just look how nicely he and Tom and Sam served Arnold Baxter and those others. It was wonderful doings — for, boys."
"Yes, but they may not be so successful always, Randolph. I should hate to see them run into any more, danger."
"So should I, my dear. But they will take care of themselves, I feel that more and more every day," concluded Randolph Rover; and there, for the time being, the subject was dropped.
"I wonder what has become of old Josiah Crabtree?" remarked Dick Rover, as he and his brothers walked around the parade ground to inspect several improvement which Captain Putnam had caused to be made.
"I'm sure I can't guess," answered Tom.
"Like as not he became scared to death. I suppose you'll be satisfied if he keeps away from Dora and her mother in the future?"
"Yes; I never want to set eyes on him again, Tom. He worried the widow half to death with his strange ways."
"I wonder how the Baxters feel to be locked up?" put in Sam. "I know Arnold Baxter is used to it, but it's a new experience for Dan."
"Dan is as bad as his father," broke in Larry Colby, who had joined the brothers. "I was glad to hear that Mumps had turned over a new leaf and cut the bully dead."
"Oh, so were all of us!" said Tom. "By the way, do you know where Mumps is now? In the mining business, out West, acting as some sort of a clerk."
"A spell in the West will take the nonsense out of him," came from Dick. "It was a great pity he ever got under Dan Baxter's influence I wonder how Arnold Baxter is getting along? He was quite severely wounded, you know, during that tussle on the yachts."
"He's about over that, so Frank Harrington says," replied Larry. "I'll wager he is mighty bitter against you fellows for having put him where he is."
"It was his own, fault, Larry. If a person is going to do wrong he must take the consequences. Mr. Baxter might today be a fairly well-to-do mine owner of the West and Dan might be a leading cadet here. But instead they both threw themselves away — and now they must take what comes."
"My father used to say it took all kind of people to make a world," went on Larry. "But I reckon we could do without the Baxter and the Buddy Girk kind."
"And the Josiah Crabtree kind," added Sam. "Don't forget that miserable sneak."
"Perhaps Crabtree has reformed, like Mumps."
"It wasn't in him to reform, Larry," came from Tom. "Oh, how I detested him, with his slick, oily tongue! I wish they had caught him and placed him where he deserved to be, with the Baxters."
"Yes, and then we could -" began Sam, when he stopped. "Hullo, Frank, what are, you running so fast about?" he cried.
"Just got a letter from my father!" burst out Frank Harrington, as he came up out of breath. "I knew you would want to hear the news. Dan Baxter has escaped from jail and the authorities don't know where to look for him."
NEWCOMERS AT THE ACADEMY
"Dan Baxter has escaped!" repeated Dick. "That is news indeed. Does your father give my particulars?"
"He says it is reported that the jailer was sick and unable to stop Dan."
"Humph! Then they must have had some sort of a row," put in Tom. "Well, it does beat the nation how the Baxters do it. Don't you remember how Arnold Baxter escaped from the hospital authorities last year?"
"Those Baxters are as slick as you can make them," said Frank. "I've been thinking if Dan would dare to show himself around Putnam Hall."
"Not he!" cried Larry. "He'll travel as far can and as fast as he can."
"Perhaps not," mused Dick. "I rather he will hang around and try to help his father out of prison."
"That won't help him, for the authorities will be on strict guard now. You know the stable door is always locked after the horse is stolen."
At this there was a general laugh, and when it ended a loud roll of a drum made the young cadets hurry to the front of the parade ground.
"Fall in, Companies A and B!" came the command from the major of the battalion, and the boys fell in. Dick was now a first lieutenant, while Tom and Sam were first and second sergeants respectively.
As soon as the companies were formed they were marched around the Hall and to the messroom. Here they were kept standing in a long fine while George Strong came to the front with half a dozen new pupils.
"Young gentlemen, I will introduce to you several who will join your ranks for this season," said the head assistant. Then he began to name the half dozen. Among others they included a round-faced German youth named Hans Mueller, and a tall, lank, red-haired boy, of Irish descent who rejoiced in the name of Jim Caven.
"I'll wager the Dutch boy is full of fun," whispered Sam to Tom. "You can see it in his eyes."
"I don't like the looks of that Jim Caven," returned Tom. "He looks like a worse sneak than Mumps ever was."
"I agree there. Perhaps we had better keep, our eyes open for him."
Despite this talk, however, the newcomers were welcomed cordially, and to the credit of the students be it said that each old cadet did all in his power to make the new boys feel perfectly at home.
"Mine fadder vos von soldier py der Cherman army," said Hans Mueller. "Dot's vy he sent me py a military academy ven we come py dis country."
"Glad to know you intend to help us fight the Indians," answered Tom innocently.
"Me fight der Indians? Vot you means py dot?" demanded Hans, his light-blue eyes wide open with interest.
"Why, don't you know that we are here to learn how to fight Indians?" went on Tom, with a side wink at those around him.
"No; I dink me dis vos von school only."
"So it is — a school to learn how to shoot and scalp."
"Schalp! Vot's dot?"
"Cut an Indian's top-knot off with a knife, this way," and Tom made an imaginary slash at Hans' golden locks.
"Ton't do dot!" stammered the German boy, falling back. "No, I ton't vant to learn to schalp, noputty."
"But you are willing to fight the Indians, are you not?" put in Sam. "We are all going to do that, you know."
"I ton't like dem Indians," sighed Hans. "I see me some of dem vonde by a show in Chermany, und I vos afraid."
At this a laugh went up. How much further the joke would have been carried it is impossible to say, but just then a bell rang and the boys had to go into the classroom. But Tom remembered about the Indians, as the others found out about a week later.
As the majority of the scholars had been to the Hall before, it did not take long for matters to become settled, and in a few days all of the boys felt thoroughly at home, that is, all but Jim Caven, who went around with that same sneaking look on his face that Tom had first noticed. He made but few friends, and those only among the smaller boys who had plenty of pocket money to spend. Caven rarely showed any money of his own.
With the coming of spring the cadets formed, as of old, several football teams, and played several notches, including one with their old rivals, the pupils of Pornell Academy. This game they lost, by a score of four to five, which made the Pornellites feel much better, they having lost every game in the past. (For the doings of the Putnam Hall students previous to the arrival at that institution of the Rover boys see, "The Putnam Hall Series," the first volume of which is entitled, "The Putnam Hall Cadets." - Publisher)
"Well, we can't expect to beat always," said Tom, who played quarterback on the Putnam team. "We gave them a close brush."
"Yes, and we might have won if Larry hadn't slipped and sprained his ankle," put in Sam. "Well, never mind; better luck next time. We'll play them again next fall." Sam was right so far as a game between the rival academies was concerned, but none of the Rover boys were on hand to take part in the contest — for reasons which the chapter to follow will disclose.
With the football came kite-flying, and wonderful indeed were some of the kites which the boys manufactured.
"I can tell you, if a fellow had time he could reduce kite-flying to a regular science," said Dick.
"Oh, Dick, don't give us any more science!" cried Sam. "We get enough of science from, Uncle Randolph, with his scientific farming, fowl-raising, and the like. I would just as lief fly an old-fashioned kite as anything."
"Dick is right, though," put in Fred Garrison. "Now you have a big flat-kite there, three times larger than mine. Yet I'll wager my little box kite will fly higher than your kite."
"Done!" cried Sam. "What shall the wager be?"
"Ice cream for the boys of our dormitory," answered Fred.
"All right, but how is a fellow to get the cream if he loses?"
"That's for him to find out, Sam. If I lose I'll sneak off to Cedarville, as Dick did once, and buy what I need."
"Ice cream for our room it is," said. Frank.
"And mum's the word about the wager, or Captain Putnam will spoil the whole affair if he gets wind of it."
"Make me stakeholder," grinned Tom. I'd just like to lay hands on about two quarts of chocolate cream."
"There won't be any stakeholder," said Dick.
"But when is this kite-flying contest to come off?"
The matter was talked over, and it was decided to wait until the next Saturday, which would be, as usual, a half-holiday. In the meantime some of the other boys heard there was going to be a contest, although they knew nothing of the wager made, and half a dozen other matches were arranged.
Saturday proved to be cool and clear with a stiff breeze blowing directly from the west. This being so, it was decided, in order to get clear of the woods in front of the Hall, to hold the contests on Baker's Plain, a level patch of ground some distance to the westward.
The cadets were soon on the way, shouting and laughing merrily over the sport promised. Only a few remained behind, including Jim Caven, who gave as his excuse that he had a headache.
"I'm glad he is not with us," said Dick. "I declare, for some reason, I can't bear to have him around."
"Nor I," returned Frank. "It's queer, but he gives me the shivers whenever he comes near me."
"It's a wonder he came here at all. He doesn't belong in our style of a crowd."
To reach Baker's Plain the cadets had to make a detour around a high cliff which overlooked a rocky watercourse which flowed into Cayuga Lake. They moved slowly, as nobody wished to damage his kite, and it was after two o'clock before all hands were ready for the first trial at kite-flying.
"Gracious, but it is blowing!" cried Tom.
"Sam, have you a good strong cord on your kite?"
"The strongest I could get," answered the youngest Rover. "I guess it is stronger than what Fred has."
"My kite won't pull like yours," said Fred Garrison. "All ready?"
"Then up they go — and may the best kite win!"
Soon a dozen kites of various kinds were soaring in the air, some quite steadily and others darting angrily from side to side. One went up with a swoop, to come down with a bang on the rocks, thus knocking itself into a hundred pieces.
"Mine cracious, look at dot!" burst out Hans Mueller. "Mine Gretchen kite vos busted up — und I spent me feefteen cents on him alreety!" and a roar went up.
"Never mind, Hans," said Dick. "You can help sail the Katydid. She will pull strong enough for two, I am sure."
The Katydid was a wonderful affair of silver and gold which Dick had constructed on ideas entirely his own. It went up slowly but surely and proved to be as good a kite as the majority.
A number of girls living in the neighborhood, bad heard of the kite-flying contests, and now they came up, Dora Stanhope with the rest, accompanied by her two cousins, Grace and Nellie Laning. As my old readers may guess, Dick was very attentive to Dora, and his brothers were scarcely less so to the two Laning sisters.
"And how is your mother?" Dick asked of Dom, during the course of their conversation.
"She is much better," replied Dora, "although she is still weak from her sickness."
"Does she ever mention Josiah Crabtree?"
"She mentioned him once. She said that she had dreamed of him and of you, Nick."
"Me? And what was the dream?"
"Oh - it was only a silly affair, Dick, not worth mentioning."
"But I would like to know what it was."
"Well, then, she dreamed that both of you were in a big forest and he was about to attack you with a gun or a club, she couldn't tell which. She awoke screaming and I ran to her side, and that is how she told me of the dream."
AN OLD ENEMY TURNS UP
"That was certainly an odd dream," said Dick, after a short pause. "I am sure I never want to meet Josiah Crabtree under such circumstances."
"It was silly, Dick — I'd forget it if I was you."
"And she never mentioned the man at any other time?"
"No. But I am certain she is glad he has left for parts unknown. I never, never, want to see him again," and the girl shivered.
"Don't be alarmed, Dora; I don't think he will dare to show himself," answered Dick, and on the sly gave her hand a tight squeeze. They were warmer friends than ever since Dick had rescued her from those who had abducted her.
The kite-flying was now in "full blast," as Sam expressed it, and the boys had all they could do to keep the various lines from becoming tangled up. His own kite and Fred's were side by side and for a long time it looked as if neither would mount above the other.
"Run her up, Fred! You can win if you try!" cried several of the cadets.
"Play out a bit more, Sam; you haven't given your kite all the slack she wants," said others. So the talk ran on, while each contestant did the best to make his kite mount higher. In the meantime the wind kept increasing in violence, making each kite pull harder than ever.
"It's a dandy for flying," panted Tom, who was holding his kite with all the strength he possessed. "Something must give way soon," and something did give way. It was the string he was holding, and as it snapped he went over on his back in such a comical fashion that all, even to the girls, had to laugh.
"Torn! Tom! What a sight!" burst out Nellie Laning. "You should have brought a stronger cord."
"If I had I'd a-gone up in the clouds," answered Tom ruefully. "That's the last of that kite, I suppose; if I -"
"The string has caught on Sam's kite!" interrupted Grace Laning. "Oh, my! See both of them going up!"
"Now you can win, Sam!" laughed Dora. "Fred, your flying is nowhere now."
"He didn't calculate to fly one kite against two," answered Fred. "Hold on, Sam, where are you going? The cliff is over in that direction!" he yelled suddenly.
"I — I know it!" came back the alarming answer. "But I can't stop myself!"
"He can't stop himself!" repeated Dora.
"Oh, stop him somebody, before he goes over the cliff!"
"Let go of the line!" shouted Dick. "Don't go any closer to the cliff!"
"I — I can't let go! The line is fast around my wrist!" gasped poor Sam. "Oh, dear, it's cutting me like a knife!"
"He's in a mess," came from Frank. "If he isn't careful he'll go over the cliff, as sure as he's born!"
"Throw yourself down!" went on Dick, and, leaving his kite in Hans Mueller's care, he ran after his brother.
By this time Sam had gained a few bushes which grew but a dozen feet away from the edge of the cliff, that at this point was nearly forty feet in height. With his right hand held a painful prisoner, he clutched at the bushes with his left.
"I've got the bushes, but I can't hold on long!" he panted, as Dick came close. "Help me, quick!"
Scarcely had the words left his mouth when the bushes came up by the roots and poor Sam fell over on his side. Then came another strong puff of wind, and he was dragged to the very edge of the rocky ledge!
"I'm going!" he screamed, when, making a mighty leap, Dick caught him by the foot.
"Catch the rock — anything!" cried the older brother. "If you don't you'll be killed!"
"Save me!" was all poor Sam could say. "Oh, Dick, don't let me go over!"
"I'll do my best, Sam," was Dick's answer, and he held on like grim death.
By this time half a dozen boys were running to the scene. Dora Stanhope followed, and as she came up she pulled a tiny penknife from her pocket.
"Can't I cut the line with this?" she asked, timidly, as she pushed her way to Dick's side.
"Yes, Yes; cut it!" moaned Sam. "Oh, my wrist is almost cut in two!"
Stooping low, Dora sawed away at the kite line, which was as taut as a string on a bass fiddle. Suddenly there was a loud snap and the cord parted. Sam and Dick fell back from the edge of the cliff, while the entangled kites soared away for parts unknown.
"Thank Heaven you cut the line, Dora!" said Dick, who was the first to recover from the excitement of the situation. He saw that Dom was trembling like a leaf, and he hastened to her support, but she pushed him away and pointed to Sam.
"Don't mind me — I am all right, Dick," she said. "Go care for poor Sam. See how his wrist is bleeding! Oh, how dreadful!"
"Here is my handkerchief; he had better bind it up with that," said Grace Laning, as she offered the article.
"We'll wash the wound first," put in Frank, and raced off for some water. Soon he returned with his stiff hat full, and the cut on Sam's wrist was tenderly washed by the Laning girls, who then bound it up with the skill of a hospital surgeon.
The kite-flying continued for the balance of the afternoon. But Sam and Dick had had enough of it, and, along with Tom, they took a stroll along the lake front with Dora Stanhope and Grace and Nellie. Of course both boys and girls talked a whole lot of nonsense, yet all enjoyed the walk very much.
"This is the spot where they abducted me," shivered Dora, as they came to the old boathouse. "Oh, what a dreadful time that was, to be sure!"
"I don't believe our enemies will bother you any more, Dora," said Dick. "It's not likely that old Crabtree Will try the same game twice; and Mumps has really turned over a new leaf and gone to work for a living."
"Yes, I was glad to hear that, for I don't believe he was such a bad fellow at heart. He was under Dan Baxter's influence, just as - as —"
"As Josiah Crabtree tried to influence your mother," whispered Dick, and Dora nodded slowly. "Well, let us forget it, and — My gracious!"
Dick stopped short, to stare in open-mouthed wonder at a small boat shooting down the lake at a distance of several hundred yards from the shore.
"What's up?" came simultaneously from Tom and Sam.
"Don't you see that fellow in the boat?" demanded Dick, in increased wonder.
"Of course we see him," answered Tom.
"Don't you recognize him?"
"No; he's too far off," came from Sam..
"It's Dan Baxter!"
"Baxter!" cried Dora. "Oh, Dick!"
"Nonsense!" said Tom. "How could he be am here?"
"It does look a little like Baxter," was Sam's slow comment. "Yet it seems impossible that he could be here, as Tom says."
"I say it's Baxter," affirmed Dick stoutly, "I'll hail him and make sure."
"Oh, don't bring him over here!" interposed Dora, becoming alarmed.
"Don't be alarmed — he shan't hurt anybody, Dora." Dick raised his voice. "Hi there, Baxter! What are you doing here?"
At first there was no reply, and the boy in the rowboat kept on pulling. But as Dick repeated his call, the rower threw up his oars.
"You mind your own business," he growled. "Guess I can row on the lake if I want to."
"It is Baxter, sure enough!" ejaculated Tom.
"The rascal! We ought to recapture him."
"That's the talk," added Sam. "I wish my wrist wasn't so sore — I'd go after him."
"There's a boat below here," said Dick.
"Let's put out in that."
"He may — may shoot at you," faltered Dora. "You know how wicked he can be at times."
"Indeed I do know," answered Dick. "But he ought to be handed over to the authorities. It is a crime to let him go free."
"Hi, Baxter. Come over here; we want to talk to you!" yelled Tom.
"Not much!" growled the former bully of Putnam Hall.
"You had better come," said Sam. "If you don't come we'll bring you."
"Hush, Sam, or you'll make a mess of things!" cried Dick softly, but the warning came too late.
"Will you bring me back?" roared the bully. "Just try it on and see how I'll fix you."
"Come on for the boat," said Tom. "We'll show him he can't scare us."
He started off and Dick came after him. Sam was also about to follow, when his elder brother stopped him.
"You can't do much with that sore wrist, Sam," he said. "Better stay with the girls until we come back. You can watch events from the shore, and run for assistance, if it's necessary."
Sam demurred at first, but soon saw the wisdom of Dick's reasoning and consented to remain behind.
By this time Tom had shoved out the rowboat Dick had mentioned — a neat craft belonging to a farmer living near. A pair of oars lay in a locker on the lake bank; and, securing these, Tom leaped on board of the craft, and soon Dick came after.
Dan Baxter had watched their movement with interest, which speedily gave way to arm when he saw the other boat come out, and beheld Dick and Tom each take up an oar and begin to pull for all they could.
"I was a clam to come up here, when there is no real need for it," he muttered. "Two to one, eh? Well, I reckon I can put up a pretty stiff fight if it comes to the worst." Then he caught up his oars once more, and began to row down Cayuga Lake with all possible speed.
THE CHASE ON THE LAKE
"He means to give us as much of a chase as possible," remarked Tom, as he glanced over his shoulder. "If I remember rightly, Baxter was always a pretty fair oarsman."
"Yes, that was the one thing he could do well," returned Dick. "But we ought to be able to catch him, Tom."
"We could if we had two pairs of oars. One pair can do just about so much and no more."
"Nonsense! Now, both together, and put all your muscle into it," and Dick set a stiff stroke that his brother followed with difficulty.
Baxter had been rowing down the lake, but as soon as he saw that he was being pursued he changed his course for the east shore. He was settled to his work, and for several minutes it was hard to tell whether he was holding his own or losing.
"Hurrah! we are catching up!" cried Dick, after pulling for five minutes. "Keep at it, Tom, and we'll have him before he is half over."
"Gosh, but it's hot work!" came with a pant from Tom Rover. "He must be almost exhausted to row like that."
"He knows what he has at stake. He sees the prison cell staring him in the face again. You'd do your best, too, if you were in his place."
"I'm doing my best now, Dick. On we go!" and Tom renewed his exertions. Dick set a faster stroke than ever, having caught his second wind, and the rowboat flew over the calm surface of the lake like a thing of life.
"Keep off!" The cry came from Baxter, while he was still a hundred yards from the eastern shore. "Keep off, or it will be the worse for you!"
"We are not afraid of you, Baxter, and you ought to know it by this time," answered Dick. "You may as well give in now as later on."
"Give in! You must be crazy!"
"We are two to one, and you know what we have been able to do in the past."
"Humph! I don't intend to go to jug again, and that is all there is to it."
"Maybe you can't help yourself."
"We'll see about that. Are you - going to keep off or not?
"Don't ask foolish a question."
"You won't keep off?"
"If you don't I — I'll shoot you."
As Dan Baxter spoke he stopped rowing and brought from a hip pocket a highly polished nickel-plated revolver.
"Do you see this?" he demanded, as he pointed the weapon toward the Rover boys.
Both Dick and Tom were taken aback at the sight of the weapon. But they had seen such arms before, and had faced them, consequently they were not as greatly alarmed as they right otherwise have been. They knew, too, that Dan Baxter was a notoriously bad shot.
"Put that up, Baxter," said Dick calmly. "It may only get you into deeper trouble."
"I don't care!" said the bully recklessly. "I'm not going back to jail and that is all there, is to it!"
"You won't dare to shoot at us, and you know it," put in Tom, as the two boats drifted closer together.
"I will, and don't you fool yourself on it."
"Drop those oars or I'll fire, as sure as my name is Dan Baxter," and the revolver, which had been partly lowered, was raised a second time.
It must be confessed that Dick and Tom were much disconcerted. The two rowboats were now less than fifty feet apart, and any kind of a shot from the weapon was likely to prove more or less dangerous. Baxter's eyes gleamed with the hatred of an angry snake ready to strike.
"You think you are smart, you Rover boys," said the bully, after an awkward pause all around. "You think you did a big thing in rescuing Dom Stanhope and in putting me and my father and Buddy Girk in prison. But let me tell you that this game hasn't come to an end yet, and some day we intend to square accounts."
"There is no use in wasting breath in this fashion, Baxter," returned Dick, as calmly as he could. "We are two to one, and the best thing to do is for you to submit. If you fire on us, we may do a little shooting on our own account."
"Humph! Do you imagine you can scare me in that fashion? You haven't any pistol, and I know it. If you had you would have drawn the weapon long ago."
At this Dick bit his lip. "Don't be too sure," he said steadily, as the boats drifted still closer together. "The minute I heard you had escaped from jail I went and bought a pistol in Cedarville." This was the strict truth, but Dick did not add that the weapon lay at that moment safe in the bottom of his trunk at the Hall.
"Got afraid I'd come around, eh?"
"I knew there was nothing like becoming prepared. Now will you -"
Dick did not have time to finish, for, lowering the front end of the pistol, Dan Baxter pulled the trigger twice and two reports rang out in quick succession. One bullet buried itself in the seat beside Tom, while the second plowed its way through the bottom, near the stern.
"You villain!" cried Dick, and in his excitement hurled his oar at Dan Baxter, hitting the fellow across the fact with such force that the bully's nose began to bleed. The shock made Baxter lose his hold on the pistol and it went over the side of his craft and sank immediately to the bottom of the lake.
"My, but that was a close shave!" muttered Tom, as he gazed at the hole through the seat. "A little closer and I would have got it in the stomach."
A yell now came from Sam, and a shriek from the girls, all of whom had heard the pistol shots. They were too far away to see the result of the shooting and feared both Tom and Dick had been killed or wounded.
As quickly as he could recover from the blow of the oar, Dan Baxter picked up his own blades, and without paying attention to the blood which was flowing from his nose, began once again to pull for the shore.
"Come on, his pistol is gone!" shouted Dick, and then his face fell. "Confound it, I've thrown away my oar! There it goes!" And he pointed some distance to their left.
"That isn't the worst of it!" groaned Tom. "Look at that hole in the bottom, made by that pistol shot. The water is coming in just as fast as it can."
There was small need to call attention to it, for the water in the bottom of the boat was already an inch deep. Dick started in perplexity, then, struck by a sudden idea, drew a lead pencil from his pocket and rammed it into the opening. It fitted very well, and the water ceased, to come in.
"Now we'll have to bail out and pick up that other oar," said Tom. "It was foolish to throw it away, Dick."
"I don't know about that. It deprived Baxter of his pistol. Paddle over, and I'll pick it up." Tom did so, and the blade was speedily recovered.
But Dan Baxter had made good use of the precious moments lost by the Rover boys, and hardly were the latter into shape for rowing once more than they saw the bully beach his craft and leap out on the shore. "Good-by to you!" he cried mockingly. "I told you that you couldn't catch me. The next time we meet I'll make you sorry that you ever followed me," and he started to run off with all possible speed.
Tom and Dick were too chagrined to answer him, and pulled forward to the shore in silence. They ran the craft into some bushes and tied up, and then started after Baxter, who was now making for the woods south of the village of Nelson.
When the highway skirting this portion of Cayuga Lake was gained Dan Baxter was a good five hundred feet ahead of them. A turn in the road soon hid him from view. Gaining the bend they discovered that he had disappeared from view altogether.
"He has taken to the woods," sighed Dick.
"If that is so we may as well give the hunt up," answered his brother. "It would be worse than looking for a pin in a haystack, for we wouldn't know what direction he had taken."
"I wish I had a bloodhound with which to trail him. He ought to be run down, Tom."
"Well, let us notify some of the people living near and see what can be done."
They ran on to the spot where they supposed Baxter had left the highway. On both sides were dense thickets of cedars with heavy underbrush. All in all, the locality formed an ideal hiding place.
Night was coming on by the time they gained the nearest farmhouse. Here they found three men, to whom they explained the situation. All of the men smiled grimly.
"If he went into the woods it would be a hard job to trail him," was the comment from Farmer Mason. "If he ain't careful he'll lose himself so completely he'll never git out, b'gosh!"
"Well, I don't know but what that would suit me," responded Tom dryly.
The search was begun, and several others joined in. It lasted until night was fairly upon the party and was then given up in disgust.
"It's no use," said Dick. "He has slipped us!"
"But we ought to notify the authorities," said Tom. "They will probably put a detective on his track."
"Yes; but a detective can't do any more than we can, up in this wild locality."
"He won't remain in the woods forever. He'll starve to death."
"Well, we can send the police a telegram from Cedarville."
This was done, and the Rover boys returned to Putnam Hall by way of the side road leaving past the homes of the Stanhopes and the Lanings. They found Sam and the girls very anxious concerning their welfare.
"We were afraid you had been shot," said Dora. "I am thankful that you escaped."
"So am I," put in Sam. "But it's too bad that Baxter got away. I wonder where he will turn up next."
They all wondered, but could not even venture an answer. Soon the boys left the girls and hurried to the academy, where their story, had to be told over again. Captain Putnam looked exceedingly grave over the narrative.
"You must be careful in the future, lads," he said. "Remember, you are in my care here. I do not know what your uncle would say if anything should happen to you."
"We will be on our guard in the future," answered Dick. "But I am awfully sorry we didn't catch him."
"So am I. But perhaps the authorities will have better luck," and there the talk came to an end, and the boys retired for the night.
FUN AND AN EXPLOSION
Several days slipped by, and the boys waited anxiously for some news from the authorities. But none came, and they rightfully surmised that, for the time being, Dan Baxter had made good his escape.
On account of the disastrous ending to the kite-flying match, many had supposed that the feast in Dormitory No. 6 was not to come off, but Sam, Tom, Frank, and several others got their heads together and prepared for a "layout" for the following Wednesday, which would be Dick's birthday.
"We'll give him a surprise," said Sam, and so it was agreed. Passing around the hat netted exactly three dollars and a quarter, and Tom, Sam, and Fred Garrison were delegated to purchase the candies, cake, and ice cream which were to constitute the spread.
"We'll do the thing up brown," said Sam.
"We must strike higher than that feast we had, last year."
"Right you are!" came from Tom, "Oh dear, do you remember how we served Mumps that night!" and he set up a roar over the remembrance of the scene.
Hans Mueller had become one of the occupants of the dormitory, and he was as much, interested as anybody in the preparations for the spread. "Dot vill pe fine!" he said. "I like to have von feast twist a veek, ha I ha!
"He's a jolly dog," said Tom to Frank.
"But, say, I've been thinking of having some fun with him before this spread comes off."
"Let me in on the ground floor," pleaded Frank, who always wok a great interest in Tom's jokes.
"I will, on one condition, Frank."
"And what is that?"
"That you loan me that masquerade suit you have in your trunk. The one you used at that New Year's dance at home."
"You mean that Indian rig?"
"Hullo, I reckon I smell a mouse!" laughed the senator's son. "I heard you giving Hans that yarn about us training to fight Indians."'
"Did you indeed."
"I did indeed; and I heard Hans say that he wanted nothing to do with the Indians."
"Well, he's going to have something to do with at least one Indian," grinned Tom. "What do you say I get the suit?"
"Yes; if you'll fix it so that I can see the sport."
"All of the crowd can see it, if they don't leak about it," returned the fun-loving Rover.
Tom soon had the masquerade suit in his possession and also, some face paints which Frank had saved from the New Year's dance mentioned. Shortly afterward Tom joined the crowd in the gymnasium, where Hans Mueller was trying to do some vaulting over the bars.
"I dink I could chump dem sticks of I vos taller," the German youth was saying.
"Or the sticks were lower," replied Tom, with a wink at the crowd. "That's right, Hans, you had better learn how to jump now, and to run, too."
"The Indians have come," put in Frank.
"Indians?" repeated Hans Mueller. "Vere is da?"
"They say a band of them are in the woods around here," answered Tom. "If you go out you want to be careful or they may scalp you."
"Cracious, Rofer, ton't say dot!" cried Mueller in alarm. "Vot is dem Indians doing here annavay?"
"They came in East to hunt up some buffalo that got away. They had something like half a million in a corral, and about two thousand got away from them."
This preposterous announcement was taken by Hans Mueller in all seriousness, and he asked Tom all sorts of ridiculous questions about the savage red men, whom he supposed as wild and wily as those of generations ago.
"No, I ton't vonts to meet any of dem," he said at last. "Da vos von pad lot alretty!"
"That's right, Hans, you give them a wide berth," said Tom, and walked away.
Later on Tom persuaded Dick to ask Hans if he would not walk down to Cedarville for him, to buy him a baseball. Eager to be accommodating, the German youth received the necessary permission to leave the academy acres and hurried off at the full speed of his sturdy legs.
"Now for some fun!" cried Tom, and ran off for the Indian suit and the face paints. These he took down to the bam and set to work to transform himself into a wild-looking red man.
"You're a lively one!" grinned Peleg Snuggers, who stood watching him. "We never had such a lad as you before Master Thomas."
"Thanks, Peleg, and perhaps you'll never have one like me again — and then you'll be dreadfully sorry."
"Or glad," murmured Peleg.
"Mum's the word, old man."
"Oh, I never say nuthin, Master Thomas; you know that," returned the man-of-all-work.
A number of the other pupils had been let into the secret, and, led by Dick, they ran off to the woods lining the Cedarville road. Tom came after them, skulking along that nobody driving by might catch sight of him.
Not quite an hour later Hans Mueller was heard coming back. The German boy was humming to himself and at the same time throwing up the new ball he had purchased for Dick.
"Burra! Burra!" thundered out Tom, as he leaped from behind a big tree. "Dutcha boy heap big scalp-me take um! Burra!" And he danced up to Hans, flourishing a big tin knife as he did so. The masquerade was a perfect one, and he looked like an Indian who had just stepped forth from some Wild West show.
"Ach du!" screamed Hans, as he stopped short and grew white. "It's dem Indians come to take mine hair! Oh, please, Mister Indian, ton't vos touch me!"
"Dutcha boy heap nice hair," continued Tom, drawing nearer. "Maka nice door-mat for Big Wolf. Burra!"
"No, no; ton't vos touch mine hair-it vos all der hair I vos got!" howled Hans. "Please, Mister Indian mans, let me go!" And then he started to back away.
"White bay stop or Big Wolf shoot!" bellowed Tom, drawing forth a rusty pistol he had picked up in the barn. This rusty pistol had done lots of duty at fun-making before.
"No, no; ton't shoot!" screamed Hans. Then he fell on his knees in despair.
Tom could scarcely keep from laughing at the sight, and a snicker or two could be heard coming from where Frank, Dick, and the others were concealed behind the bushes. But the German youth was too terrorized to notice anything but that awful red man before him, with his hideous war-paint of blue and yellow.
"Dutcha boy dance for Big Wolf," went on Tom. "Dance! Dance or Big Wolf shoot!" And the fun-loving Rover set the pace in a mad, caper that would have done credit to a Zulu.
"I can't vos dance!" faltered Hans, and then, thinking he might appease the wrath of his unexpected enemy he began to caper about in a clumsy fashion which was comical in the extreme.
"Hoopla! keep it up!" roared Tom. "Dutcha boy take the cake for flingin' hees boots. Faster, faster, or Big Wolf shoot, bang!"
"No, no; I vos dance so hard as I can!" panted Hans, and renewed his exertions until Tom could keep in no longer, and set up such a laugh as had not been heard around the Hall for many a day. It is needless to add that the other boys joined in, still, however, keeping out of sight.
"You're a corker, Hans!" cried Tom in his natural voice. "You ought to join the buck-and-wing dancers in a minstrel company."
"Vot — vot — ?" began the German boy in bewilderment. "Ain't you no Indian?"
"To be sure I am; I'm Big Wolf, the Head Dancing Master of the Tuscaroras, Hans, dear boy. Don't you think I'm a stunner."
"You vos Tom Rofer, made up," growled Hans in sudden and deep disgust. "Vot for you vos blay me such a drick as dis, hey?"
"Just to wake you up, Hans."
"I ton't vos been asleep, not me!"
"I mean to stir up your ideas — put something new into your head."
"Mine head vos all right, Tom."
"To be sure it is."
"Den vot you say you vos put somedings new py him, hey?"
"I mean to make you sharper-put you on your mettle."
"I ton't understand," stammered the German youth hopelessly.
"That's so, and you won't in a thousand years, Hans. But you are the right sort, any way."
"I dink I blay me Indian mineselluf some tay," mused Hans. "Dot vos lots of fun to make me tance, vosn't it? Vere you got dot bistol?"
"Down in the barn. Look out, or it may go off," added Tom, as he held out the weapons, thinking Hans would draw back in alarm.
Instead, however, the German boy took the pistol and of a sudden pointed it at Tom's head.
"Now you tance!" he cried abruptly. "Tance, or I vos shoot you full of holes!"
"Hi, Tom; he's got the best of you now!" cried Frank from behind the bushes.
"You can't make me dance, Hans," returned Tom. "That old rusty iron hasn't been loaded for years."
"It ton't vos no goot? No. Maybe you vos only fool me."
"Pull the trigger and see," answered Tom coolly.
He had scarcely spoken when Hans Mueller did as advised. A tremendous report followed, and when the smoke cleared away the boys in the bushes were horrified to see that the rusty pistol had been shattered into a thousand pieces and that both Tom and Hans lay on their backs in the road, their faces covered with blood.
THE STRANGE FIGURE IN THE HALLWAY
At the fearful outcome of the joke Tom had been perpetrating the boys concealed in the bushes were almost struck dumb, and for several seconds nobody could speak or move.
"Oh, Heavens, Tom is killed!" burst out Dick, who was the first to find his voice. He ran forth as speedily as possible, and one after another the other cadets followed.
Tom lay as quiet as death, with his eyes closed and the blood trickling over his temple and left cheek. Quickly Dick knelt by his side and felt of his heart.
"Tom, Tom, speak to me! Tell me you are not seriously hurt!" he faltered.
But no answer came back, and Sam raced off to get some water, which he brought in a tin can he had discovered lying handy. The water was dashed over Toni's face, and presently he gave a little gasp.
"Oh my! what struck me?" he murmured, and then tried to sit up, but for the minute the effort was a failure.
"The pistol exploded," said Frank. "A piece must have hit you on the head," and he pointed at a nasty scalp wound from which the flow of blood emanated.
As well as it could be done, Frank and Dick bound up Tom's head with a handkerchief, and presently the fun-loving lad declared himself about as well as ever, "Only a bit light-headed," as he added.
In the meantime the others had given their attention to Hans, who had been struck both in the scalp and in the shoulder. It was a good quarter of an hour before the German youth came around, and then he felt so weak that the boys had to assist him back to the academy.
"Honestly, I thought the pistol was empty," said Tom, on the return to the Hall. "Why, I think I've pulled that trigger a dozen times."
"Don't mention it," said Frank with a shiver. "Why, only last week I pointed the thing at Peleg Snuggers and played at firing it. Supposing it had gone off and killed somebody?"
And he shivered again.
"Dot vos almost as pad as von Indian's schalping," put in Hans faintly. "I dink, Tom, you vos play no more such dricks, hey?"
"No, I've had enough," replied Tom very soberly. "If you had been killed or seriously hurt I would never have forgiven myself." And it may be added here that for some time after this event fun-making and Tom were strangers to each other.
At the proper time the feast which had been planned came off, and proved to be an event not readily forgotten. It was no easy matter to obtain the good things required, and the boys ran the risk of being discovered by George Strong and punished; but by midnight everything was ready, and soon eating was "in full blast," to use Sam's way of expressing it.
A few of the boys from the other dormitories had been invited, and the boys took turns in standing out in the hall on guard.
"You see," explained Tom, "Mr. Strong may come in, and I won't be able to play nightmare again, as I did last year."
"Say, but that was a prime joke," laughed Frank.
"And Mumps!" cried Larry. "I'll never forget the orange flavored with kerosene," and a general laugh followed.
Somebody had spoken of inviting Jim Caven to the feast, but no one cared particularly for the fellow, and he had been left out.
"Perhaps he'll tell on us," suggested Larry, but Frank shook his head.
"He hasn't got backbone enough to do it. He's a worse coward than Mumps was."
Soon it came time for Sam to do his turn at guarding, and stuffing a big bit of candy in his mouth, the youngest Rover stepped out into the dimly lit hallway and sat down on a low stool which one of the guards had placed there.
For ten or fifteen minutes nothing occurred to disturb Sam, and he was just beginning to think that watching was all nonsense when he saw a dark figure creeping along the wall at the extreme lower end of the hallway, where it made a turn toward the back stairs.
"Hullo, who's that?" he muttered. "It doesn't look much like Mr. Strong."
He continued to watch the figure, and now saw that it was dressed in a black suit and had what looked like a shawl over its head.
"That's queer," went on the boy. "What can that man or boy be up to?"
Presently the figure turned and entered one of the lower dormitories, closing the door gently behind it. Then it came out again and made swiftly for the rear of the upper hallway. By this time Sam was more curious than ever, and as the figure disappeared around the bend by the back stairs he followed on tiptoes.
But as what light there was came from the front, the rear was very dark, and the youth could see little or nothing. He heard a door close and the lock click, but whether or not it was upstairs or down he could not tell.
For several minutes he remained in the rear hallway, and then he went back to his post. Soon Tom came out to relieve him, and Sam re-entered the dormitory and told his story to the others.
"That's certainly odd," was Dick's comment
"Was it a man or a boy, Sam?"
"I can't say exactly. If it wasn't a man it was a pretty big boy."
"Perhaps we ought to report the matter to Captain Putnam," suggested Frank. "That person may have been around the hallways for no good purpose."
"Oh, pshaw! perhaps it was somebody who was trying to spy on us," put in Fred. "If we tell the captain we will only be exposing ourselves, and I guess you all know what that means."
"It means half-holidays cut off for a month," said Dick.
"Besser you vait und see vot comes of dis," said Hans, and after a little more talk this idea prevailed, and then the boys went in to clear up what was left of the feast. Everything was gone but a little ice-cream, and it did not take long to dispose of this.
Sam was bound to have some fun, and instead of eating his last mouthful of cream he awaited a favorable opportunity and dropped it down inside of Fred's collar.
"Great Scott!" roared Fred Garrison. "Whow!" And he began to dance around. "Oh, my backbone! That's worse than a chunk of ice! Oh, but I'll be frozen stiff!"
"Go down and sit on the kitchen stove," suggested Dick.
"Sit on the stove? I'll sit on Sam's head if I get the chance!" roared Fred, and made a rush for Sam. A scuffle ensued, which came to a sudden end as both sent a washstand over with a loud crash.
"Wow you've done it!" cried Frank. "That's noise enough to wake the dead."
"Great Caesar, stop that row!" burst out Torn, opening the door. "Do you want to bring the captain down on us at the last minute?"
"Clear up that muss, both of you," said Dick to Sam and Fred. But the latter demurred. It was Sam's fault — he started the racket.
"I won't touch it." And Fred proceeded to go to bed.
"I reckon we had best dust," said one of the boys from another dormitory.
"So you had!" burst out Tom. "I hear somebody coming already," and in a twinkle the outsiders ran for their various quarters, leaving the occupants of Dormitory No. 6 to fix up matters as best they could.
It was no easy job to straighten out the washstand, clear up the general muss, and disrobe. But the boys were on their mettle, and in less than two minutes the light was out and all were under the covers, although, to be sure, Sam had his shoes still on and Tom was entirely clothed.
"Boys, what is the row up here?" The call came from Captain Putnam himself. He was ascending the front stairs, lamp in hand, and attired in a long dressing gown.
As no one answered, he paused in the upper hallway and asked the question again. Then he looked into one dormitory after another.
"All asleep, eh? Well, see that you don't wake up again as soon as my back is turned," he went on, and soon after walked below again, a faint smile on his features. He knew that boys were bound to be more or less mischievous, no matter how strict his regulations.
"I'll tell you what, the captain's a brick!" whispered Tom, as he began to disrobe noiselessly.
"So he is," answered Frank. "You wouldn't catch old Crabtree acting that way. He'd have bad every cadet out of bed and sent half a dozen of us down to the guard-room."
"I guess the captain remembers when he was a cadet himself," remarked Dick. "I've heard that they cut up some high pranks at West Point."
"George Strong would be just as kind," came from Tom. "But say, I am growing awfully tired."
"So am I," came from several others,
Then the good-night word was passed, and soon all of the cadets were sound asleep, never dreaming of the surprise which awaited them in the morning.
WHO WAS GUILTY?
"Boys, I've had my trunk looted!"
"And I've had my trousers' pockets picked!"
"And the half-dollar I left on the bureau is gone!"
Such were some of the excited exclamations which the Rover boys heard when they went downstairs the next morning. The speakers were the youths who occupied Dormitories Numbers 3 and 4, at the rear of the main upper hall. An inquiry among the lads elicited the information that everybody had suffered excepting one boy, who said he had not had any money on hand.
"I spent my last cent for the spread," he grinned. "I guess I'm the lucky one."
The news of the robberies created a profound sensation throughout Putnam Hall, and both Captain Putnam and George Strong were very much disturbed.
"We never had such a thing occur before," said the captain, and he ordered a strict investigation.
All told, something like thirty-two dollars were missing, and also a gold watch, a silver watch, and several shirt-studs of more or less value. Among the shirt-studs was one set with a ruby belonging to a cadet named Weeks.
The investigation revealed nothing of importance. The robbery had been committed during the night, while the owners of the money and the various articles slept.
"I must get at the bottom of this affair," said Captain Putnam. "The honor of the academy is at stake."
He talked to all of those who had lost anything and promised to make the matter good. Then he asked each if he had any suspicions regarding the thief or thieves. No one had, and for the time being it looked as if the case must fall to the ground.
Those who had been at the feast hardly knew what to say or to do. Should they tell the captain of the strange figure Sam had seen in the hallway?
"I'll tell him, and shoulder the blame, if you fellows are willing," said Sam, after a long discussion. "Fun is one thing, and shielding a thief is another."
"But what can you tell?" asked Fred. "You do not know that that person, was the thief."
"More than likely he was," came from Dick.
"And if he was, who was he?" went on Fred. "If you tell Captain Putnam you'll simply get us all into trouble."
"I vote that Sam makes a clean breast of it," said Frank, and Larry said the same. This was just before dinner, and immediately after the midday meal had been finished the youngest Rover went up to the master of the Hall and touched him on the arm.
"I would like to speak to you in private and at once, Captain Putnam," he said.
"Very well, Rover; come with me," was the reply, and Captain Putnam led the way to his private office.
"I suppose I should have spoken of this before," said Sam, when the two were seated. "But I didn't want to get the others into trouble. As it is, Captain Putnam, I want to take the entire blame on my own shoulders."
"The blame of what, Samuel?"
"Of what I am going to tell you about. We voted to tell you, but I don't want to be a tattle-tale and get the others into trouble along with me."
"I will hear what you have to say," returned the master of the Hall briefly.
"Well, sir, you know it was Dick's birthday yesterday, and we boys thought we would celebrate a bit. So we had a little blow-out in our room."
"Was that the noise I heard last night?"
"The noise you heard was from our room, yes. But that isn't what I was getting at," stammered Sam. "We set a guard out in the hallway to keep watch."
"I was out in the hall part of the time, and I saw a dark figure in the rear hallway prowling around in a most suspicious manner. It went into Dormitory No. 3 and then came out and disappeared toward the back stairs."
"This is interesting. Who was the party?"
"I couldn't make out."
"Was it a man or a woman?
"A man, sir, or else a big boy. He had something like a shawl over his shoulders and was dressed in black or dark-brown."
"You saw him go in and come out of one of the sleeping rooms?"
"And then he went down the back stairs?"
"He either went down the stairs or else into one of the back rooms. I walked back after a minute or two, but I didn't see anything more of him, although I heard a door close and heard a key turn in a lock."
"Was this before I came up or after?"
"Before, sir. We went to sleep right after you came up."
"Who was present at the feast?" And now Captain Putnam prepared to write down the names.
"Oh, sir; I hope you won't — won't —"
"I'll have to ask you for the names, Samuel. I want to know who was on foot last night as well as who was robbed."
"Surely you don't think any of us was guilty?" cried Sam in sudden horror.
"I don't know what to think. The names, please."
"I — I think I'll have to refuse to give them, Captain Putnam."
"Of course all the boys who sleep in your dormitory were present?"
"I said I would take this all on my own shoulders, Captain Putnam. Of course, you know I wouldn't have confessed at all; but I don't wish to give that thief any advantage."
"Perhaps the person wasn't a thief at all, only some other cadet spying upon you."
"We thought of that."
"You may as well give me the names. I shall find them out anyway."
Hardly knowing whether or not he was doing right, Sam mentioned all of the cadets who had taken part in the feast. This list Captain Putnam compared with another containing the names of those who had been robbed.
"Thirty-two pupils," he mused. "I'll have the whole, school in this before I finish."
He looked at Sam curiously. The youth wondered what was coming next, when there was a sudden knock on the door. "Come in," said Captain Putnam, and one of the little boys entered with a letter in his hand.
"Mr. Strong sent me with this," said the young cadet. "He just found it on the desk in the main recitation room."
"All right, Powers; thank you," answered the captain, and took the letter. "You can go," and Powers retired again.
The letter was encased in a dirty, envelope on which was printed in a big hand, in lead pencil:
"CAPT. VICTOR PUTNAM. Very Important. Deliver at Once."
Taking up a steel blade, the master of the Hall cut open the envelope and took out the slip of paper it contained. As he read the communication he started. Then he crushed the paper in his hand and looked sharply at Sam.
"Samuel, was the party you saw in the hall-way tall and slim?"
"Rather tall, yes, sir."
"Well, he wasn't fat."
"Did you see his face?"
"No; it was too dark for that, and, besides, he had that shawl, or whatever it was, pretty well up around him."
"Did you notice how he walked?"
"He moved on tiptoes."
"And you cannot imagine who it was?"
"By the way, you of course know Alexander Pop, our colored waiter."
"Why, to be sure! Everybody knows Aleck, and we have had lots of fun with him, at one time or another. But you surely don't suspect him, do you?"
"This letter says Pop is guilty."
"That letter? And who wrote it?"
"I do not know. It contains but two lines, and you can read it for yourself," and the captain handed over the communication, which ran as follows:
"Alexander Pop stole that money and the other things. ONE WHO KNOWS ALL."
"That's a mighty queer letter for anybody to write," murmured Sam, as he handed it back. "Why didn't the writer come to you, as I have done?"
"Perhaps he wanted to keep out of trouble."
"I don't believe the letter tells the truth, sir."
"And why not?"
"Because Aleck is too good-hearted a fellow to turn thief."
"Hum! That hardly covers the ground, Samuel."
"Well, why don't you have him searched?"
Without further ado Sam was dismissed, and Captain Putnam called George Strong to him and showed the strange letter.
"Why not look among Pop's effects?" suggested the assistant. "He may have hidden the money and jewelry in his trunk."
"We will go up to his apartment," replied Captain Putnam, and a few minutes later the pair ascended to the attic room which the colored waiter had used for several terms. They found Pop just fixing up for a trip to Cedarville.
He nodded pleasantly, and then looked at both questioningly.
"Pop, I am afraid I have a very unpleasant duty to perform," began Captain Putnam.
"Wot's dat, sah?" asked Aleck in surprise.
"You have heard of the robberies that have been committed?"
"'Deed I has, sah. But — but yo' don't go fo' to distrust me, do yo', cap'n?" went on the colored man anxiously.
"I would like to search your trunk and your clothing, Pop. If you are innocent you will not object."
"But, sah, I didn't steal nuffin, sah."
"Then you shouldn't object."
"It aint right nohow to 'spect an honest colored pusson, sah," said Aleck, growing angry.
"Do you object to the search?"
"I do, sah. I am not guilty, sah, an' dis am not treatin' me jest right, sah, 'deed it aint, sah."
"If you object, Pop, I will be under the painful necessity of having Snuggers place you under arrest. You know he is a special officer for the Hall."
At this announcement Aleck fell back completely dumfounded. "Well, dat's de wust yet!" he muttered, and sank back on a chair, not knowing what to do next.
IN WHICH ALEXANDER POP RUNS AWAY
"Will you submit to having your trunk examined or not?" demanded Captain Putnam, after a painful pause, during which Alexander Pop's eyes rolled wildly from one teacher to the other.
"Yo' kin examine it if yo' desire," said Aleck. "But it's an outrage, Cap'n Putnam, an' outrage, sah!"
Without more ado Captain Putnam approached the waiter's trunk, to find it locked.
"Where is the key, Pop?"
"Dare, sah, on de nail alongside ob yo' sah."
Soon the trunk was unlocked and the lid thrown back. The box contained a miscellaneous collection of wearing apparel, which the captain pushed to one side. Then he brought out a cigar box containing some cheap jewelry and other odds and ends, as well as two five dollar bills.
"Dat money am mine, sah," said Aleck. "Yo paid me dat las' Saturday, sall."
"That is true, but how did this get here, Pop?"
As Captain Putnam paused he held up a stud set with a ruby-the very stud the cadet Weeks had lost!
"Dat — dat stud — I never seen dat shirt-stud before, cap'n, 'deed I didn't," stammered the waiter.
"That is certainly Weeks' stud; I remember it well," put in George Strong. "He showed it to me one day, stating it was a gift from his aunt."
"And here is a cheap watch," added Captain Putnam, bringing forth the article. "Pop, is this your watch?"
"No, sah — I — I never seen dat watch before," answered Aleck nervously. "I dun reckon sumbuddy put up a job on dis poah coon, sah," he continued ruefully.
"I believe the job was put up by yourself," answered Captain Putnam sternly. "If you are guilty you had better confess."
A stormy war of words followed. Alexander Pop stoutly declared himself innocent, but in the face of the proofs discovered the master of the Hall would not listen to him.
"Peleg Snuggers shall take you in charge and drive down to the Cedarville lock-up," said the captain.
The news that some of the things had been found in Pop's trunk spread with great rapidity. Many were astonished to learn that he was thought guilty, but a few declared that "a coon wasn't to be trusted anyway."
"Niggers are all thieves," said Jim Caven, "never yet saw an honest one."
"I don't believe you!" burst out Tom. "Pop's a first-rate fellow, and the captain has got to have more proof against him before I'll believe him guilty."
"Oh, he's a bad egg!" growled the Irish boy.
"You only say that because he called you down last week," put in Frank. He referred to a tilt between the new pupil and the colored man. Jim Caven had tried to be "smart" and had gotten the worst of the encounter.
"Yes, I think he's as honest as you are!" burst out Tom, before he had stopped to think twice.
"What! do you call me a thief!" roared Jim Caven, and leaped upon Tom, with his face as white as the wall. "I'll make you smart for that!"
One blow landed on Tom's cheek and another was about to follow, when Tom dodged and came up under Caven's left arm. Then the two boys faced each other angrily.
"A fight! Fight!" cried a number of the cadets, and in a twinkle a ring was formed around the two contestants.
"I'm going to give you the worst thrashing you ever had," said Caven, but in rather a nervous tone.
"All right, Caven, go ahead and do it," cried Tom. "I will stand up for Aleck Pop, and there you are!"
Tom launched forth and caught Caven on the right cheek. The Irish lad also struck out, but the blow fell short. Then the two boys clinched.
"Break away there!" cried Frank. "Break away!"
"I'll break his head!" panted Caven. "How do you like that?" And he held Tom with one hand and hit him in the neck with the other.
The blow was a telling one, and for a brief instant Tom was dazed. But then he caught his second wind and threw Caven backward. Before the Irish lad could recover his balance, Tom struck him in the nose, and over rolled his opponent.
A shout went up. "Good for Tom Rover! That was a telling blow! I Keep it up!"
"I'll fix you!" gasped Jim Caven, as soon as he could speak. "I'll fix you!" and staggering to his feet, he glanced around for some weapon. Nothing met his view but a garden spade which Peleg Snuggers had been using, and catching this up he ran for Tom as if to lay him low forever.
"Caven, none of that! Fight fair!"
"He shan't call me a thief!" growled the Irish boy. "I'll show him!" And he aimed a tremendous blow for Tom's head.
Had the spade fallen as intended Tom's cranium might have been split in twain. But now both Dick and Frank caught the unreasonable youth and held him while Sam and several others took the spade away.
"Stop it — here comes Mr. Strong!" came the unexpected cry from some outsiders.
"Yes, give it up, Tom," whispered Sam.
"We're in hot water enough, on account of that feast."
"I'll give it up if Caven is willing," muttered
"I'll meet you another time," answered Caven, and walked rapidly away.
"What is the row here?" demanded George Strong, as he strode up.
"Nothing, sir," said one of the boy. "Some of the fellows were wrestling for possession of that spade."
"Oh, I was afraid there was a fight," and Mr. Strong sauntered off.
He was on his way to the barn, and presently the cadets saw him come forth with the man-of-fall-work and the light spring wagon.
"They are going to take poor Aleck to the Cedarville lock-up," announced Fred. "Poor chap, I never thought this of him!"
"Nor I," answered Dick. "To me this affair isn't very clear."
"I don't believe they will be able to convict him of the crime," put in Sam.
An hour later Peleg Snuggers started away from Putnam Hall with his prisoner. Aleck looked the picture of misery as he sat on a rear seat, his wrists bound together and one leg tied to the wagon seat with a rope.
"Dis am a mistake," he groaned. "I aint guilty nohow!"
Some of the boys wished to speak to him, but this was not permitted. Soon the turnout was out of sight.
"You may think I am hard with him," said Captain Putnam, later on, "but to tell the truth he does not come from a very good family and he has a step-brother already in prison."
"Aleck can't be held responsible for his stepbrother's doings," murmured Tom, but not loud enough for the master to hear him.
A diligent search had been made for the other stolen articles, but nothing more was brought to light. If Pop had taken the things he had either hidden them well or else disposed of them.
It was nearly nightfall when Peleg Snuggers drove back to the Hall. Dick and Tom met him just outside the gates and saw that the man-of-all-work looked much dejected.
"Well, Peleg, is he safe in jail?" called out Tom.
"No, he ain't," was the snappy reply.
"Why, what did you do with him?" questioned Dick quickly.
"Do? I didn't do nuthin — not me. It was him as did it all — cut that blessed rope and shoved me over the dashboard on to the hosses!" growled Snuggers.
"Do you mean to say he got away from you?" asked Tom.
"Yes, he did — got away like a streak o' fightnin', thet's wot he did, consarn him!" And without another word Peleg drove to the rear of the Hall, put his team in the barn, and went in to report to Captain Putnam.
Another row resulted, and this nearly cost the utility Man his position. But it appeared that he was not so much to blame that Alexander Pop had taken him unawares and finally he was sent away to his work with the caution to be more careful in the future. Before night and during the next day a hunt was made for the colored man, but he had left the vicinity entirely, gone to New York, and shipped on one of the outward-bound ocean vessels. The Rover boys fancied that they would never see him again, but in this they were mistaken.
THE ROVER BOYS ON WHEELS
"Say, fellows, but this is the greatest sport yet!"
"I feel like flying, Tom," said Dick Rover. "I never thought wheeling was so grand."
"Nor I," came from Sam Rover. "Where shall we go this afternoon?"
It was several weeks later, and the scholars were having a half-holiday. Just six days before, Randolph Rover had surprised his three nephews by sending each a handsome bicycle, and it had taken them hardly any time to learn how to handle the machines.
"Let us take a ride over to Chardale," said Dick. "I understand that the roads are very good in that direction."
"All right, I'm willing," answered Sam, and Tom said the same. Soon the three brothers were on the way, Dick leading and Tom and Sam coming behind, side by side.
It was an ideal day for cycling, cool and clear, and the road they had elected to take was inviting to the last degree, with its broad curves, its beautiful trees, and the mountainous views far to the north and west.
"It's a wonder we didn't get wheels before," observed Dick. "This beats skating or riding a to bits."
"Just you look out that you don't take a header!" warned Tom. "This road is all right, but a loose stone might do a pile of damage."
"I've got my eye on the road," answered his big brother. "For the matter of that, we'll all have to keep our eyes open."
To reach Chardale they had to cross several bridges and then descend a long hill, at the foot of which ran the railroad to several towns north and south.
"Come on!" cried Tom, and spurted ahead. With a laugh, Sam tried to catch up to him, but could not. "Now for a coast!" went on the fun-loving Rover, as the hill was gained, and on he started, his wheel flying faster and faster as yard after yard was covered.
"My gracious, Tom! look out or you'll be smashed up!" yelled Dick. "Put on your brake!"
"Can't," came back the answer. "I took it off entirely this morning."
This reply had scarcely reached Dick's ears when another sound came to him which disturbed him greatly.
Far away he heard the whistle of a locomotive as it came around the bottom of the hill. Looking in the direction, he saw the puff of smoke over the treetops.
He tried to cry out, but now the road was rather rough, and he had to pay strict attention 'to where he was riding.
"Tom's going to get into trouble," gasped Sam, as he ranged up alongside of his elder brother. "The road crosses the railroad tracks just below here."
"I know it, Sam. I wish we could make him come back."
As Dick finished he saw a chance to stop and at once dismounted. Then he yelled at the top of his lungs:
"Tom, stop! Stop, or you'll run into the railroad train!"
Sam also came to a halt and set up a shout. But Tom was now speeding along like the wind and did not hear them.
Nearer and nearer he shot to the railroad tracks. Then the whistle of the locomotive broke upon his ears and he turned pale.
"I don't want to run into that train," he muttered, and tried to bring his bicycle to a halt.
But the movement did not avail without a brake, and so he was compelled to seek for some side path into which he might guide his machine.
But, alas! the road was hemmed in with a heavy woods on one side and a field of rocks on the other. A sudden stop, therefore, would mean a bad spill, and Tom had no desire to break his bones by any such proceeding.
Nearer and nearer he drew to the railroad crossing. He could now hear the puffing of the engine quite plainly and caught a glimpse of the long train over the rocks to his left. On he bounded until the crossing itself came into view. He was less than a hundred yards from it — and the oncoming engine was about the same distance away!
There are some moments in one's life that seem hours, and the present fraction of time was of that sort to poor Tom. He had a vision of a terrific smash-up, and of Dick and Sam picking up his lifeless remains from the railroad tracks. "I'm a goner!" he muttered, and then, just before the tracks were reached, he made one wild, desperate leap in the direction of a number of bushes skirting the woods. He turned over and over, hit hard — and for several seconds knew no more.
When Dick and Sam came up they found Tom sitting in the very midst of the bushes. The bicycle lay among the rocks with the handle- bars and the spokes of the front wheel badly twisted.
"Are you much hurt, Tom?" asked his big brother sympathetically, yet glad to learn that Tom had not been ground to death under the train, which had now passed the crossing.
"I don't know if I'm hurt or not," was the 'slow answer, as Tom held his handkerchief to his nose, which was bleeding.
"I tried to plow up these bushes with my head, that's all. I guess my ankle is sprained, too."
"You can't ride that wheel any further," announced Sam.
"I don't want to ride. I've had enough, for a few days at least."
It was a good quarter of an hour before Tom felt like standing up. Then he found his ankle pained him so much that walking was out of the question.
"I'm sure I don't know what I am going to do," he said ruefully. "I can't walk and I can't ride, and I don't know as I can stay here."
"Perhaps Dick and I can carry you to Hopeton," said Sam, mentioning a, small town just beyond the railroad tracks.
"It will be a big job. If you — Here comes a wagon. Perhaps the driver of that will give me a lift."
As Tom finished a large farm wagon rattled into sight, drawn by a pair of bony horses and driven by a tall, lank farmer.
"Hullo, wot's the matter?" asked the farmer, as he drew rein. "Had a breakdown?"
"No, I've had a smash-up," answered Tom.
"My brother's ankle is sprained, and we would like to know if you can give him a lift to the next town," put in Dick. "We'll pay you for your trouble."
"That's all right — Seth Dickerson is allers ready to aid a fellow-bein' in distress," answered the farmer. "Can ye git in the wagon alone?"
Tom could not, and the farmer and Dick carried him forward and placed him on the seat. Then the damaged bicycle was placed in the rear of the turnout, and Seth Dickerson drove off, while Sam and Dick followed on their steeds of steel.
"I see you air dressed in cadet uniforms," remarked the farmer, as the party proceeded on its way. "Be you fellers from Pornell school?"
"No; we come from Putnam Hall," answered Tom.
"Oh, yes - 'bout the same thing, I take it. How is matters up to the school — larnin' a heap?"
"We are trying to learn all we have to."
"Had some trouble up thar, didn't ye? My wife's brother was a-tellin' me about it. A darkey stole some money an' watches, an' that like."
"They think he stole them," said Tom.
"We can hardly believe it."
"Why don't Captain Putnam hunt around them air pawnshops fer the watches?" went on Seth Dickerson, after a pause.
"The thief would most likely pawn 'em, to my way of thinkin'."
"He hasn't much of a chance to do that. But I presume the police will keep their eyes open."
"I was over to Auburn yesterday — had to go to see about a mortgage on our farm — and I stopped into one of them pawnbrokin' shops to buy a shot-gun, if I could git one cheap. While I was in there a big boy came in and pawned a gold watch an' two shirt studs."
"Is that so," returned Tom, with much interest. "What kind of a looking boy was it?"
"A tall, slim feller, with reddish hair. He had sech shifty eyes I couldn't help but think that maybe he had stolen them things jest to raise some spending money."
"Did he give his name?"
"He said Jack Smith, but I don't think thet vas correct, for he hesitated afore he gave it."
"A tall, slim fellow, with reddish hair and shifty eyes," mused Tom. "Do you remember how he was dressed?"
"He had on a rough suit of brownish-green and a derby hat with a hole knocked in one side."
"My gracious me!" burst out the boy. "Can it be possible!"
"Can wot be possible, lad?"
"That description fits one of our students exactly." Tom called to Dick and Sam. "Come up here, both of you!"
"What's up, Tom; do you feel worse?" asked Dick, as he wheeled as closely to the seat of the wagon as possible.
"No, I feel better. But I've made a big discovery — at least, I feel pretty certain that I have?"
"What discovery?" questioned Sam.
"I've discovered who stole that money and other stuff."
"And who was it?" came quickly from both brothers.
A STRANGE MESSAGE FROM THE SEA
"Jim Caven!" repeated Dick slowly, "What makes you believe that he is guilty?"
"From what Mr. Dickerson here says," answered Tom, and repeated what the farmer had told him.
"Gracious, that does look black for Caven!" said Dick, when he had finished. He turned to the farmer. "Would you recognize that boy again if you saw him?"
"I allow as how I would. His eyes was wot got me — never saw sech unsteady ones afore in my life."
"Yes, those eyes put me down on Caven the minute I saw him," answered Tom. "More than half of the boys at the Hall have put him down as a first-class sneak, although we can't exactly tell why."
"See here," said Dick. "I think it would be best if Mr. Dickerson would drive back to the Hall with us and tell Captain Putnam of what he knows."
"And see if he can identify Caven," finished Sam. "Are you willing to do that, Mr. Dickerson?"
"Well, to tell the truth, I've got some business to attend to now," was the slow reply.
"I am sure Captain Putnam will pay you for your trouble," went on Sam. "If he won't, we will."
"You seem mighty anxious to bring this Caven to justice," smiled the farmer.
"We are, for two reasons," said Tom. "The first is, because he isn't the nice sort to have around, and the second is, because one of the men working at the school, a colored waiter, whom we all liked, has been suspected of this crime and had to run away to avoid arrest."
"I see. Well —" The farmer mused for a moment. "All right, I'll go back with ye — and at once."
The team was turned around as well as the narrow confines of the hilly road permitted, and soon the Rover boys were on their way back to Putnam Hall, a proceeding which pleased Tom in more ways than one, since he would not have now to put up at a strange resort to have his ankle and his wheel cared for. They bowled along at a rapid gait, the horses having more speed in them than their appearance indicated. They were just turning into the road leading to Putnam Hall grounds when Dick espied several cadets approaching, bound for the lake shore.
"Here come Caven, Willets, and several others!" he cried. "Mr. Dickerson, do you recognize any of those boys?"
The farmer gave a searching glance, which lasted until the approaching cadets were beside the wagon. Then he pointed his hand at Jim Caven.
"Thet's the boy I seed over to Auburn, a-pawning thet watch an' them studs," he announced. "He's got his sodger uniform on, but I know him jest the same."
Jim Caven looked at the farmer in astonishment. Then when he heard Seth Dickerson's words he fell back and his face grew deathly white.
"I — I don't know you," he stammered.
"I seed you over to Auburn, in a pawnshop," repeated Dickerson.
"It — It isn't true!" gasped Caven. "I was never over to Auburn in my life. Why should I go there to a pawnshop?"
"I guess you know well enough, Caven," said Tom. "You bad better come back to the Hall with us and have a talk with Captain Putnam."
"I won't go with you. This is — is a — a plot against me," stammered the slim youth.
"You will go back!" cried Dick, and caught Caven by the arm. But with a jerk the seared boy freed himself and ran down the road at the top of his speed.
Sam and Dick pursued him on their bicycles, while some of the others came after on foot. Seeing this, Jim Caven took to the woods just as Dan Baxter had done, and the boys found it impossible to track him any further.
"I wonder if he'll come back tonight?" said Dick, as the party returned to where they had left Seth Dickerson and Tom.
"I don't think he will," answered Sam. "I declare, he must be almost as bad as the Baxters!"
The farm wagon soon reached the Hall, and Dick ushered Seth Dickerson into Captain Putnam's office. The captain looked surprised at the unexpected visitor, but listened with deep concern to all the farmer and the Rover boys had to say.
"This certainly looks black for Caven," he said at last. "I did not think I had such a bad boy here. And you say he got away from you?"
"It is a question if he will come back — providing he is really guilty. I will have his trunk and bag searched without delay. But if he is guilty how did that ruby stud and the watch come into Alexander Pop's possession?"
"He was down on Aleck," replied Tom, who had hobbled in after the others. "And, besides, he thought if Aleck was arrested the search for the criminal would go no further."
"Perhaps you are right, Thomas. It is a sad state of affairs at the best."
The party ascended to the dormitory which Jim Caven occupied with several smaller boy. His trunk was found locked, but Captain Putnam took upon himself the responsibility of hunting up a key to fit the box. Once open the trunk was found to contain, among other things, a bit of heavy cloth tied with a piece of strong cord.
"Here we are, sure enough!" cried the captain, as he undid the package and brought to light several of the missing watches and also some of the jewelry. "I guess it is a clear case against Caven, and Pop is innocent."
"I wish we could tell Pop of it," put in Dick.
"He must feel awfully bad."
"I will do what I can for the negro, Rover. I am very sorry indeed, now, that I suspected him," said Captain Putnam, with a slow shake of his head.
At the bottom of the trunk was a pocketbook containing nearly all of the money which had been stolen. A footing-up revealed the fact that two watches and three gold shirt studs were still missing.
"And those were pawned in Auburn," said Sam. "Just wait and see if I am not right."
A party was organized to hunt for Caven, and the captain himself went to Auburn that very evening. The hunt for the missing boy proved unsuccessful, and it may be added here that he never turned up at Putnam Hall again nor at his home in Middletown, having run away to the West.
When Captain Putnam came back he announced that he had recovered all but one watch. The various goods and the money were distributed among their rightful owners, and it must be confessed that a big sigh of relief went up from the cadets who had suffered. The single missing timepiece was made good to the boy who had lost it, by the captain buying a similar watch for the youth.
After this several weeks passed without anything of special interest occurring outside of a stirring baseball match with a club from Ithaca, which Putnam Hall won by a score of six to three. In this game Dick made a much-needed home run, thus covering himself with glory.
"The Rovers are out of sight!" was Larry's comment. "Whatever they do they do well."
"And they hang together like links of a chain," added Fred. "The friend of one is the friend of all, and the same can be said of an enemy."
One morning a telegraph messenger from Cedarville was seen approaching the Hall, just as the boys were forming for the roll-call.
"Here's a telegram for somebody," said Sam.
"I hope it's not bad news."
"A message for Richard Rover," announced George Strong, after receiving it, and handed over the yellow envelope.
Wondering what the message could contain and who had sent it, Dick tore open the envelope and read the brief communication. As his eyes met the words his head seemed to swim around, so bewildered was he by what was written there.
"What is it, Dick?" came from Tom and Sam.
"It's from Uncle Randolph. He wants us to come home at once. He says — but read it for yourselves," and the elder Rover handed over the message, which ran as follows:
"Have just received a strange message from the sea, supposed to be written by your father. Come home at once. RANDOLPH ROVER."
"My gracious! News from father!" gasped Tom.
"Is he really alive?" burst out Sam. "Oh, I pray Heaven the news is true!"
"A strange message from the sea," repeated Dick. "I wonder what he can mean?"
"Perhaps it's a message that was picked up by some steamer," suggested Sam. "Anyway, uncle wants us to come home at once."
"He doesn't say all of us. The message is addressed to me."
"But of course he wanted all of us to come," put in Tom. "Anyway, four horses couldn't hold me back!" he continued determinedly.
"Nor me," chimed in Sam. He drew a long breath. "If we hurry up we can catch the noon boat at Cedarville for Ithaca."
"Yes, and the evening train for Oak Run," finished Tom. "Hurry up, Dick!"
Dick was willing. To tell the truth, that message had fired him as he had never been fired before. He burst into the captain's office pell-mell, with Tom and Sam on his heels, to explain the situation. Ten minutes later — and even this time seemed an age to the brothers — they were hurrying into their ordinary clothing and packing, their satchels, while Peleg Snuggers was hitching up to take them to the landing at Cedarville.
"Good-by to you, and good luck!" shouted Frank, as they clambered into the wagon, and many other cadets set up a shout. Then the wagon rattled off. The Rover boys had turned their backs on dear old Putnam Hall for a long while to come.
THE ROVERS REACH A CONCLUSION
For the three Rover boys the Golden Star could not make the trip from Cedarville to Ithaca fast enough. They fretted over every delay, and continually wondered if there was any likelihood of their missing the train which was to take them to Oak Run, the nearest railroad station to Valley Brook farm, their uncle's home.
But the train was not missed; instead, they had to wait half an hour for it. During this time they procured dinner, although Dick felt so strange he could scarcely eat a mouthful.
"Uncle Randolph doesn't say much," he murmured to Tom. "He might have said more."
"We'll know everything before we go to bed, Dick," answered his brother. "I don't believe Uncle Randolph would telegraph unless the news was good."
They indulged in all sorts of speculation, as the train sped on its way to Oak Run. When the latter place was reached it was dark, and they found Jack Ness, the hired man, waiting for them with the carriage.
"There, I knowed it," grinned Jack. "Mr. Rover calculated that only Dick would come, but I said we'd have 'em all."
"And what is this news of my father?" questioned Dick.
"It's a message as was picked up off the coast of Africky," replied Ness. "Mr. Rover didn't explain very clearly to me. He's a good deal excited, and so is the missus."
"And so are we," remarked Sam. "Can it be that father is on his way home?"
"I calculate not, Master Sam. Leas'wise, your uncle didn't say so," concluded the hired man.
Never had the horses made better time than they did now, and yet the boys urged Ness continually to drive faster. Swift River was soon crossed — that stream where Sam had once had such a stirring adventure — and they bowled along past the Fox and other farms.
"Here we are!" shouted Dick at last.
"There is Uncle Randolph out on the porch to greet us!"
"And there is Aunt Martha!" added Sam. "I do believe they look happy, don't you, Tom?"
"They certainly don't look sad," was the noncommittal answer; and then the carriage swept up to the horse-block and the three boys alighted.
"All of you, eh?" were Randolph Rover's first words. "Well, perhaps it is just as well so."
"We simply couldn't stay behind, uncle," said Sam. "And we are dying to know what it all means."
"But you must have supper first," put in Aunt Martha, as she gave one and another a motherly kiss. "I know riding on the cars usually makes Tom tremendously hungry."