THE ROVER BOYS ON THE FARM
LAST DAYS AT PUTNAM HALL
BY ARTHUR M. WINFIELD (Edward Stratemeyer)
AUTHOR OF THE ROVER BOYS AT SCHOOL. THE ROVER BOYS ON THE OCEAN, THE PUTNAM HALL SERIES, Etc.
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Made in the United States of America
MY DEAR BOYS: With this I present to you "The Rover Boys on the Farm," the twelfth volume in the "Rover Boys Series for Young Americans."
It is a large number of volumes to write about one set of characters, isn't it? When I started the series, many years ago, I had in mind, as I have told you before, to pen three books, possibly four. But as soon as I had written "The Rover Boys at School," "The Rover Boys on the Ocean," and "The Rover Boys in the Jungle," there was a cry for more, and so I wrote "The Rover Boys Out West," "On the Great Lakes," "In the Mountains," "On Land and Sea," "In Camp," "On the River," "On the Plains," and then "In Southern Waters," where we last left our heroes.
In the present story, as promised in the last volume, the scene is shifted back to the farm and to dear old Putnam Hall, with their many pleasant associations. As before, Sam, Tom and Dick are to the front, along with several of their friends, and there are a number of adventures, some comical and some strange and mystifying. At the school the rivalries are as keen as ever, but the Rover boys are on their mettle, and prove their worth on more than one occasion.
Again I thank my numerous readers for all the kind words they have spoken about my stories. I hope the present volume will please them in every way.
Affectionately and sincerely yours,
I. SOMETHING ABOUT THE ROVER BOYS
II. WHAT HAPPENED ON THE MOUNTAIN
III. A MYSTERIOUS CAVE
IV. AT THE FARM
V. RANDOLPH ROVER'S STORY
VI. WAITING FOR NEWS
VII. A STRANGE LETTER BOX
VIII. LAST DAYS ON THE FARM
IX. AT THE WILD WEST SHOW
X. JOLLY OLD SCHOOLMATES
XI. WILLIAM PHILANDER TUBBS
XII. WHAT HAPPENED ON THE STAIRS
XIII. DORA, GRACE AND NELLIE
XIV. AT THE ICE-CREAM ESTABLISHMENT
XV. AN ASTONISHING GIFT
XVI. THE HUNT FOR A SNAKE
XVII. A STIRRING SCENE IN THE SCHOOLROOM
XVIII. IN WHICH TAD SOBBER DISAPPEARS
XIX. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PARTY
XX. DICK AND DORA
XXI. A BOB SLED RACE
XXII. PELEG SNUGGERS' QUEER RIDE
XXIII. HOLIDAYS AT THE FARM
XXIV. A CAPTURE AND A SURPRISE
XXV. CHRISTMAS AT THE FARM
XXVI. THE SKATING RACE
XXVII. ON THE LAKE
XXVIII. AT THE OLD HOUSE
XXIX. A WRECK AND A CAPTURE
XXX. GOOD-BYE TO PUTNAM HALL
THE ROVER BOYS ON THE FARM
SOMETHING ABOUT THE ROVER BOYS
"Sam, this isn't the path."
"I know it, Tom."
"We've missed our way," went on Tom Rover, with a serious look on his usually sunny face.
"It looks that way to me," answered Sam Rover, his younger brother. "I think we made a wrong turn after we slid down the cliff."
"What is keeping Dick?"
"I don't know."
"Let's call to him," went on Tom, and set up a loud cry, in which his brother joined. The pair listened intently, but no answer came back.
"I don't like this," said Sam, an anxious look in his clear eyes. "Maybe Dick is in trouble."
"Perhaps so," answered Tom Rover.
The two boys were far up on a mountainside, and all around them were tall trees, thick brushwood, and immense ridges of rocks. It had been a clear, sunshiny day, but now the sky was overcast, and it looked like rain.
"We've got to go back for Dick," said Tom, after a painful pause. "No use of going on without him."
"I hope he hasn't fallen over some cliff and hurt himself," returned his younger brother.
"I don't see why he doesn't answer us, if he's all right," was the unsatisfactory reply. "Come on, or the storm will overtake us before we get down from the mountain and we'll be soaked by the time we reach home."
Side by side the brothers retraced their steps—a hard task, for it is much easier to climb down a steep mountainside than to climb up.
To those who have read the previous volumes in this "Rover Boys Series," the two brothers just mentioned will need no special introduction. The Rover boys were three in number, Dick being the oldest, fun-loving Tom coming next, and Sam bringing up the rear. All were bright, lively, up-to-date lads, and honest and manly to the core. They lived on a farm called Valley Brook, in New York state,—a beautiful spot owned by their uncle, Randolph Rover, and his wife, Martha. Their father, Anderson Rover, also lived at the farm when at home, but he was away a great deal on business.
From the farm the boys had been sent, some years before, to Putnam Hall, an ideal place of learning, of which we shall learn more as our tale proceeds. What the lads did there on their arrival has already been related in "The Rover Boys at School," the first volume of this series.
A short term at Putnam Hall was followed by a trip on the ocean, and then a long journey to the jungles of Africa, in search of Anderson Rover, who had disappeared. Then came a grand outing out west, and another outing on the great lakes, followed by some stirring adventures in the mountains of New York state.
Coming from the mountains, the three youths had expected to go back to Putnam Hall at once, but fate ordained otherwise and they were cast away in the Pacific Ocean, as related in "The Rover Boys on Land and Sea." They had a hard task of it getting home, and then returned to the school and had some splendid times while in camp with the other cadets.
When vacation was once more at hand the boys soon solved the problem of what to do. Their Uncle Randolph had taken a houseboat for debt. The craft was located on the Ohio River, and it was resolved to make a trip down the Mississippi.
"It will be the best ever!" Tom declared, and they started with much enthusiasm, taking with them "Songbird" Powell, a school chum addicted to the making of doggerel which he called poetry, Fred Garrison, a plucky boy who had stood by them through thick and thin, and Hans Mueller, a German youth who was still struggling with the mysteries of the English tongue. With the boys went an old friend, Mrs. Stanhope, and her sister, Mrs. Laning. With Mrs. Stanhope was her only daughter Dora, whom Dick Rover considered the sweetest girl in the whole world, and Mrs. Laning had with her two daughters, Grace and Nellie, especial friends of Sam and Dick.
The trip on the houseboat proved a long and eventful one, and during that time the boys and their company fell in with Dan Baxter, Lew Flapp and several other enemies. On the Mississippi the craft was damaged, and while it was being repaired the party took a trip inland, as related in "The Rover Boys on the Plains." Then the houseboat was stolen, and what this led to has been related in detail in "The Rover Boys in Southern Waters." In that volume they brought to book several of the rascals who had annoyed them, and they caused Dan Baxter to feel so ashamed of himself that the bully made up his mind to reform.
Tired out from their long trip, the Rover boys were glad enough to get back home again. For nearly a week their friends remained with them at Valley Brook farm and then they departed, the Stanhopes and Lanings for their homes and Fred, Hans and Songbird for Putnam Hall.
"Of course you're coming back to the Hall?" Fred had said on leaving.
"Coming back?" had been Tom's answer. "Why, you couldn't keep us away with a Gatling gun!"
"To be sure we'll be back," answered Dick Rover.
"And we'll have the greatest times ever," chimed in Sam. "I am fairly aching to see the dear old school again."
"And Captain Putnam, and all the rest," continued Tom.
"And have some fun, eh, Tom?" and Sam poked his fun-loving brother in the ribs.
"Well, when we go back we've got to do some studying," Dick had put in. "Do you know what father said yesterday?"
"No, what?" came simultaneously from his brothers.
"He said we were getting too old to go to Putnam Hall—that we ought to be thinking of going to college, or of getting into business."
"Hum!" murmured Tom, and he became suddenly thoughtful.
"I know why he said that," said Sam, with a wink at his big brother. "He knows how sweet Dick is on Dora, and——"
"Hi! you let up!" cried Dick, his face reddening. "It wasn't that at all. We are getting pretty old for Putnam Hall, and you know it."
"It seems I'd never want to leave the dear old school," murmured Tom. "Why, it's like a second home to us. Think of all the jolly times we've had there—and the host of friends we've made."
"And the enemies," added Sam. "Don't forget them, or they may feel slighted."
"Dan Baxter was our worst enemy in that school, and he is going to reform, Sam."
"Perhaps. I won't feel sure of it until I really see it," answered the youngest Rover.
"By the way, I got a postal from Dan to-day," said Dick. "He is in Philadelphia, and working for a carpet manufacturer."
"Well, if he's gone to work, that's a good sign," said Tom.
On their arrival at the farm the boys had been met by their father, but now Anderson Rover had gone away on a business trip which was to last for several days. As usual, he left the lads in charge of his brother and the boys' aunt.
"Now just take it easy for awhile," was Mr. Rover's advice, on leaving. "Rest up all you can, and then, when you go back to the school, you'll feel as bright as a dollar."
"Silver or paper, dad?" asked Tom, mischievously.
"Oh, I know what you mean, dad, and I'll be as quiet as a mule with a sandbag tied to his tail," answered the fun-loving offspring.
The day after Anderson Rover's departure from the farm was quiet enough, but on the morning following the boys' uncle received a letter in the mail which seemed to trouble him not a little.
"I must attend to this matter without delay," said Randolph Rover to his wife.
"What is wrong, Randolph?"
"I don't think I can explain to you, Martha. It's about those traction company bonds I purchased a few months ago."
"Those you paid ten thousand dollars for?"
"What about them?"
"As I said before, I can't explain—it is rather a complicated affair."
"They are yours, aren't they, Randolph?"
"Oh, yes. But——"
"Aren't they worth what you gave for them?"
"I hope so."
"Can't you find out and make sure?"
"That is what I am going to do," replied Randolph Rover, and heaved a deep sigh. As my old readers know, he was a very retired individual, given to scientific research, especially in regard to farming, and knew little about business.
"If you've been swindled in any way, you must go after the men who sold you the bonds," said Mrs. Rover. "We cannot afford to lose so much money."
"I don't believe I've been swindled—at least, if I have, I think the party who sold me the bonds will make them good, Martha. I'll know all about it to-morrow," answered Randolph Rover, and there the conversation came to an end.
WHAT HAPPENED ON THE MOUNTAIN
It was on the day that Randolph Rover was to go to the town of Carwell, fifteen miles away, to see about the bonds, that the three Rover boys planned for a day's outing.
"Let us go to the top of Chase Mountain," suggested Sam. "I haven't been up there for three years."
"Second the suggestion," replied Tom. "We can take a lunch along and make a day of it," and so it was arranged.
Chase Mountain was about three miles away, on the other side of Humpback Falls, where Sam had once had such a stirring adventure, as told in detail in "The Rover Boys at School." It was a ragged eminence, and from the top a view could be had of the country for many miles around.
The day seemed to be a perfect one when the three youths started, and when they reached the top of the mountain they enjoyed the vast panorama spread before them. They likewise enjoyed the substantial lunch their Aunt Martha had provided, and ate until Tom was ready to "bust his buttons," as he expressed it.
"Let us try a new path down," said Sam, when it came time to go home, and he and Tom led the way, over a series of rocky ridges and cliffs anything but easy to traverse. In some places they had to drop ten and fifteen feet, and once Tom came down on his ankle in a manner that made him cry with pain.
"You look out for yourself," warned Dick. "If you sprain an ankle up here we'll have a job of it getting you home."
"No sprained ankle for mine, thank you," replied Tom. And he was more careful after that.
As Dick came after his brothers he saw something peculiar at one side of the path he was pursuing. It appeared to be a tin lunch box suspended from a tree limb by a bit of wire. The box was painted red and seemed to be new.
"That's strange," said the eldest Rover boy to himself. "Who would leave such a thing as that in that position? I'll have to investigate."
Without telling Sam and Tom what he was going to do, Dick left the path and plunged into the bushes which grew between himself and the tree from which the tin box was suspended. Among the bushes the footing was uncertain, and hardly had he taken a dozen steps when he felt himself sinking.
"Hi! this won't do!" he cried in alarm, and then plunged down into a big hole, some bushes, moss and dead leaves coming down on top of him.
In the meantime, Sam and Tom had gone on. Coming to where the path appeared to divide, they turned to the right, only to find, five minutes later, that they had made a mistake.
"Where in the world can Dick be?" murmured Sam, after he and his brother had called again. "I thought he was right behind us."
"So did I, Sam. It's mighty queer what's become of him. If he fell over a cliff——" Tom did not finish, but heaved a deep sigh.
With anxious hearts the two boys endeavored to retrace their steps up the mountainside. They had to climb up one of the cliffs, and just as this was accomplished it began to rain.
"More bad luck," grumbled Sam. "If this keeps on we'll soon be soaked."
"Spit, spat, spo! Where did that mountain path go!" cried Tom, repeating a doggerel often used by children. "Dick! Dick!" he yelled, at the top of his lungs. Then Sam joined in the call once again. But as before, there was no answer.
It must be confessed that the two Rover boys were now thoroughly alarmed. As they had climbed up the mountainside they knew they must be close to the spot where they had last seen Dick. What had become of their big brother?
"Tom, do you think he could have fallen over some cliff and rolled to the bottom of the mountain?" questioned Sam, anxiously.
"How could he roll to the bottom with the trees so thick? He would have plenty of chance to catch hold of one of them."
"Not if he was knocked unconscious."
"Well, where can he be?"
"I don't know."
It was now raining steadily, and to protect themselves the two boys pulled their caps well down over their heads and turned up their coat collars. They came to a halt under the wide-spreading branches of a hemlock tree.
"It beats the nation, that's what it does," declared Tom. "Maybe the earth opened and swallowed him up!"
"Tom, this is no joke."
"And I'm not joking, Sam. I can't understand it at all."
"Is that the path over yonder?" continued the youngest Rover, pointing to a spot beyond the opposite side of the hemlock tree.
"It looks a little like it," was Tom's reply. "Might as well go over and make sure."
Leaving the shelter of the tree, they made their way through the bushes, which were now beginning to drip from the rain. As they progressed Sam pushed a big branch from him and let it swing back suddenly, thereby catching Tom full in the face.
"Wow!" spluttered the fun-loving Rover, as he staggered back. "Hi! Sam, do you think I need a shower bath? I'm wet enough already." And Tom commenced to brush the water from his face.
"I didn't mean to let it slip," answered Sam. "But say——"
What Sam was going to say further will never be known, for just then he felt himself slipping down into some sort of a hole. He tried to leap back, and made a clutch at Tom's legs, and the next instant both rolled over and over and shot downward, out of the daylight into utter darkness.
They were taken so completely by surprise that neither said a word. Over and over they went, a shower of dirt, sticks and dead leaves coming after them. Then they brought up on a big pile of decayed leaves and lay there, the breath all but knocked out of them.
"Wha—what—where are we?" gasped Sam, when he felt able to speak.
"Say, is thi—this a ne—new shoot-the—the—chutes?" asked Tom who was bound to have his fun no matter what occurred.
"Are you hurt?"
"I don't think I am, but I reckon my liver turned over about ten times. How about you?"
"Shook up, that's all," answered Sam, after rising to his feet. "Say, we came down in a hurry, didn't we?"
"Yes, and got no return ticket either." Tom looked upward. "Gracious! the top of this hole is about fifty feet away! We are lucky that we didn't break our necks!"
"Now we are down here, the question is, How do we get out, Tom?"
"Don't ask me any conundrums."
"We've got to get out somehow."
"Unless we want to stay here and save the expense of a cemetery lot."
"Oh, I know it's no joke, Sam. But what is there to do? Here's a hole at least fifty feet deep and the sides are almost perpendicular. Do you think we can climb up? I am afraid, if we try it, we'll end by breaking our necks."
"It certainly is steep," answered the youngest brother, looking upward. "Say!" he added, suddenly, "do you suppose Dick went down in some such hole as this?"
"Perhaps; where there is one hole there may be more. If he went down let us hope he didn't get killed."
As well as they were able, the two boys gazed around them. The hole was irregular in form, but about fifteen feet in diameter. One side was of rough rocks and the other dirt and tree roots. At the top the treacherous bushes overhung all sides of the opening, partly concealing the yawning pit below.
"The rain is coming in pretty lively," was Sam's comment, presently. "I wonder if there is any danger of this hole filling up with water."
"I don't think so, but if it does we can swim out."
"Or get drowned."
"Now who is getting blue?" demanded Tom.
To keep out of the worst of the rain Sam leaned against one of the sides of the hole. He felt it give beneath his weight and before he could save himself he went down into another hole, and Tom came after him.
The boys were scared and both cried out lustily. They did not fall far, however—in fact, they rather rolled, for the second opening was on a slant of forty-five degrees. They brought up against something soft, but this time it was not a bank of decayed leaves.
"Sam! And Tom!"
"Where did you come from?"
"How did you get here?"
"Are you hurt?"
"No, are you?"
These were some of the questions asked and answered as the three Rover boys stared at each other. Other questions quickly followed, and Dick told how he had started to get the tin box and gone down so unexpectedly.
"You want to be careful," he cautioned. "This mountainside is full of holes and pitfalls. I came down one hole and then shot right into another."
"And we did the same thing!" cried Tom. "Thank heaven none of us have broken bones!"
"Didn't you hear us call to you?" asked the youngest Rover.
"I thought I heard something—but I was not sure. I called back."
"We didn't hear you," answered Tom.
Dick had been trying to get out of the hole into which he had tumbled, but without success. Now the sides were growing slippery from the rain, so the ascent became more difficult than ever.
"We're in a pickle," sighed Sam.
"Oh, we've got to get out somehow," answered his big brother. "We can't stay here forever."
The opening was almost square, with three sides of rough rock. In trying to climb up some of the rocks Tom gave one a shove and it slid from sight, revealing an opening beyond.
"Hullo! another hole!" cried the youth, leaping back in consternation. "Why, the old mountain is fairly honeycombed with them."
"I was never on this side of the mountain before," said Dick. "They used to tell some queer stories about this side."
"Didn't they say some parts were haunted?" asked Sam.
"Yes, and it was said that, years ago, many travelers coming this way disappeared."
"Well, why shouldn't they, with so many holes around?" came from Tom. "If we get out alive we'll be lucky."
With great care they got down on their hands and knees and examined the opening beyond the rocks.
"I believe it's a big cave," announced Dick a few minutes later. "And if it is, I'm rather inclined to look around inside. Perhaps it will lead to some opening on the mountainside where we can get out."
A MYSTERIOUS CAVE
At first Sam and Tom demurred to entering the cave—which looked dark and forbidding. But Dick insisted that he was going ahead, and rather than be left behind they went along.
"We'll light some kind of a torch," said the eldest Rover. "Got some matches?"
"Yes, I brought along a pocketful," answered Sam. "Didn't know but what we'd want to build a campfire this noon."
"We'll want one now—to dry our clothing by," said Tom. "Let us pick up the driest of the sticks."
This they did, and having entered the cave, they made a good-sized blaze. This sent a ruddy glow around the cavern, and as the boys moved about fantastic shadows went dancing on the rocky walls, adding to the weirdness of the scene.
From the fire each of the youths provided himself with a torch, and thus equipped they moved around the cave with care, taking precautions not to fall into any more holes. They soon found the opening on the mountainside long and narrow and running downward.
"We don't want to get lost," cautioned Sam.
"Oh, we can always go back to the fire," answered Dick.
"Unless it goes out on us."
"It won't burn itself out for an hour—I saw to that before we left it."
As the boys advanced into the cave they came across a heap of bones. Dick examined them carefully.
"Skeletons?" queried Sam, and his voice trembled slightly.
"Yes—of lambs and pigs," was the dry answer. "Somebody has been making this a rendezvous and living on the fat of the land."
"Maybe that accounts for Jerry Burden's losses," suggested Tom. "He said he lost a lamb last spring, and two pigs."
"Yes, and old Richard Feltham lost a pig and some chickens," added Dick. "Maybe this has been a hangout for tramps."
"Do you think they are here still?" questioned Sam. "We don't want to have any trouble."
"I am sure I don't know, Sam. But this proves one thing."
"That we can get out of the cave?"
"Exactly. See, here is an old coat and a pair of old shoes. Somebody has been in the habit of coming here—and he wasn't in the habit of getting in the way we got in."
They moved on, and soon reached a larger opening. Here they found a bit of old harness and, further on, where the ground was soft, the tracks of wagon wheels.
"Somebody has been in the habit of driving right in here!" exclaimed Tom. "We are sure to get out!" and his face showed his relief.
"Hark! what's that?" cried Sam, and shrank back as a strange rumbling was heard. "Is it an earthquake, or a landslide?"
"It's thunder, that's all," said Dick, a minute later, as they listened.
"To be sure—the storm was on us when we fell into the first hole," answered the youngest Rover.
"Perhaps we can be glad we are under shelter—if the storm is going to be a bad one," came from Tom. "But, come on, I want to see daylight again."
He moved on and then gave a cry of astonishment.
His brothers did so. On one side of the cave were piled thirty or forty packing cases. The majority of them were empty, but three, directed to one Jackson Dwight, Carwell, were full and nailed up.
"Well, I never!" murmured Sam. "Dick——"
"The freight thieves!" ejaculated the eldest Rover. "Don't you remember what was in the paper before we went south, and what was in again only yesterday? They have been missing freight from Carwell and Boxton and half a dozen other stations for over a year. The thieves must have brought their stuff here and then taken some of it from the packing cases and carted it away again."
"It certainly looks like it," answered Tom. "Only three full cases left. I wonder when these were taken?"
"Most likely only a short time ago," said Dick. "The cases look new."
"Do you suppose any of the freight thieves are around? If they are we want to keep out of their way—if they are desperate characters."
They moved on, and then Dick called a sudden halt.
"I can see daylight ahead," he said. "And somebody is moving around. Let us put out the torches."
His suggestion was speedily followed, and the three Rover boys advanced with caution. At its outer end the cave became broader while the roof was only about ten feet high.
"Hullo, here's another surprise," whispered Dick, as they came closer to the opening. "Look at that!"
He pointed to one side of the cave and there the others saw an automobile runabout standing and on the seat two men dressed for a tour. They were talking to a third man, who was lounging against a front wheel, smoking a brier-root pipe.
"Maybe they are the freight thieves," whispered Tom. "Let us get out of sight and listen to what they have to say."
It was an easy matter to keep out of sight, for the walls of the cave were very uneven at this point. They got behind a projection, and by crawling up a rocky ledge managed to reach a point above and to one side of the runabout and not over a dozen feet from it.
"Then you weren't going to stop here, Merrick?" asked the man leaning against the wheel.
"Not now, Dangler," was the reply of the man with the pipe. "The storm drove us in here."
"When do you expect to meet this Randolph Rover?"
"He ought to be easy—he is so simple minded."
"Oh, I think we can work him right enough," put in the third man, who was tall and thin-cheeked.
"Well, if you do, don't forget that I get my share, Pike," said the man called Dangler.
"Haven't you always gotten your share?" demanded Pike.
"I suppose I have."
"And haven't we given you the information whenever any valuable freight was coming this way?" put in the man called Merrick.
"Yes, and got your full share of the proceeds, while I ran the risk," growled Dangler. "It's getting dangerous—I'm going to quit—after the next big haul," went on the man with the pipe.
"All right—as you wish," answered Merrick. "I wish this storm would let up. The road will be something fierce for our runabout."
"And bad for my wagon," growled Dangler in return.
The boys listened to the conversation with deep interest. The reference to their uncle amazed them, and they wondered what the two men in the runabout had in mind to do. By their talk it was evident they meant to accomplish something unlawful.
"They are going to play Uncle Randolph some trick," whispered Sam. "We must get home and warn him."
"What we ought to do is to have the whole crowd arrested," answered Tom. "They are all implicated in the theft of freight."
"That's the talk," said Dick. "The question is, How can we do it? We are no match for those three men, and more than likely they are armed."
After this the three men conversed in such a low tone the boys could not hear a quarter of what was said. But they learned enough to know that Merrick and Pike were going to meet their uncle and play him false in some way, and they heard the words "traction bonds" and "coupons" several times.
"Uncle Randolph had ten thousand dollars' worth of traction company bonds," said Dick. "He bought them only a short while ago. They pay five and a half per cent. interest and he thought them a first-class investment."
"Oh, we'll have to warn him," said Sam. "He is so open-hearted he would trust most anybody."
Merrick had descended from the runabout and gone out of the cave. Now he came back, said something to the others, and started up the auto. In another moment he had the machine turned around. Then it spun out of the cave and down a fairly good road in the direction of Carwell. The man named Dangler followed the runabout to the road and watched it disappear around a turn bordered by trees. The storm was now rolling away to the westward and the rain had ceased.
"They have gone!" cried Tom. "Where to?"
"Perhaps to our farm—to see Uncle Randolph," answered Sam. "We ought to follow them as quickly as we can."
"I think we had better capture the fellow left behind," said Dick. "We ought to be able to do it."
"That's the talk," said Tom. "Sure we can do it, being three to one."
Dangler watched the runabout and then gazed up and down the mountain for several minutes. Then of a sudden he started in a direction opposite to that taken by the machine.
"He is going away!" cried Sam.
"Come on after him!" called his big brother, and ran from the cave with the others at his heels. Just as he did this Dangler glanced back and saw them.
"Hey, you!" he cried in consternation.
"Stop!" called out Dick. "We want you."
At this command Dangler was more amazed than ever. But of a sudden he appeared to realize something of what had happened and commenced to run.
"Stop!" cried Tom and Sam, but at this the man only ran the faster.
"Come on—we've got to catch that rascal!" exclaimed Dick, and started to sprint. The others followed as quickly as they could, and a rapid chase along the mountain road ensued. But if the boys could run so could the freight robber, and he made the best possible use of his legs until he gained a side trail. Then he darted into this, and when the Rover boys came up he had disappeared.
"Where is he?" panted Sam.
"He took to this path, but he isn't in sight," answered Dick. He was almost winded himself.
"Come on, he must be somewhere around," put in Tom, and ran down the path several hundred feet. Then he tripped over a fallen log and went headlong in the bushes and wet grass. He got up looking tired out and cross.
"We've missed him," announced Dick, rather dismally. "It's a pity, too. He deserves to be put under arrest."
"I think we had better get home and warn Uncle Randolph," returned Sam. "If we don't there is no telling what that fellow Merrick and that Pike may do."
AT THE FARM
The others considered Sam's advice good, and after another look around for Dangler, they turned in the direction of home. They were a good three miles from the farm and had to cross the river above the falls, thus adding half a mile more to the journey. It was wet and muddy walking and they had not covered over a mile when Tom called a halt.
"I am about fagged out," he announced. "Wonder if we can't hire a buggy at the next farmhouse."
"We can try anyway," answered Dick.
Directly after crossing the river they came to a small farmhouse, and walked around to the kitchen, where they saw an old woman shelling peas.
"We can't let you have any carriage," she said. "The men folks are to town and they've got the horses."
The boys were about to turn away when Dick thought of something.
"By the way, do you know a man named Dangler?" he asked.
"Sure, I do," was the answer.
"Does he live around here?"
"I guess he lives where he pleases. He is an old bachelor and comes and goes as he likes. He used to have a cottage down the pike, but it burnt down last winter."
"Then you haven't any idea where he is stopping now?"
"Do you know a man named Merrick and another man named Pike?" went on the eldest Rover boy.
At this the old woman shook her head.
"Never heard tell of them," she said.
"Has this Dangler any relatives around here?" asked Tom.
"None that I know of."
"Do you know what kind of man he is?" asked Sam.
"I never talk about my neighbors," answered the old woman, and drew up her thin lips and went on shelling peas.
Feeling it would be useless to ask any more questions, the three boys journeyed wearily on to the next farmhouse. This belonged to a fat German named Gus Schmidt, who knew the Rovers fairly well.
"Yah, I let you haf a carriage alretty," said Gus Schmidt. "Put you must pring him back to-morrow, hey?"
"We will," answered Dick.
"I vos hear some putty goot stories apout you Rofer poys," went on Mr. Schmidt, while he was hooking up his horse. "You vos on der Mississippi Rifer, hey?"
"We were," answered Sam.
"Und you vos go owid on der blains und catch some counterfeiters, hey?"
"Yes, we had something to do with it," came from Tom.
"Und den you vos go py der Gulluf of Mexico alretty und find a steampoat vos has nopotty got on it," pursued Gus Schmidt. "Ach, it vos vonderful vot vos habben to somepody, ain't it?"
"Didn't you ever have anything happen to you, Mr. Schmidt?" asked Sam.
"Only vonce, und dot vos enough. I peen in New York, und der poys call me names. Den I run after dem, und da vos go py a cellar full of vater. I vos run on a poard, und der poys turn dot poard——"
"And you fell into the water," finished Tom.
"Not much! I chumped back to der sidevalk," answered Gus Schmidt, and then laughed heartily at his little joke.
The three Rover boys were soon in the carriage and on the way to the farm. The horse that had been loaned to them was a speedy animal and they made good time despite the muddiness of the road. The brief storm had been a severe one, and in one spot the roadbed was considerably washed out.
The boys took the carriage around to the barn and left it in charge of Jack Ness, the man of all work. Then they hurried to the house.
"Oh, boys, I am so glad that you are back!" exclaimed Mrs. Rover, on seeing them. "I suppose you are wet through. Better dry your clothing at once, or change them, and I'll get you some hot tea to drink."
"We are all right, Aunt Martha," answered Dick. "We were under shelter during the worst of the storm. Is Uncle Randolph around?"
"No, he went to Carwell on business. I am worried about him, for I am afraid he got caught in the storm, for he drove over."
"What did he go for?" questioned Tom, quickly.
"Oh, it was a private matter."
"About some traction company bonds?" asked Sam, who could not hold back his curiosity.
"Yes. But how do you happen to know about it?" demanded his aunt, in astonishment.
"We found something out to-day, aunty," said Dick. "It's a queer piece of business. Do you know where Uncle Randolph was going?"
"You mean in Carwell?"
"I think to the hotel."
"Hum," mused the eldest of the Rover boys. "Wonder if I can get him on the telephone?" For a telephone line had been put up from Oak Run to the farm.
"Why, Dick, is there anything wrong?" demanded Mrs. Rover, turning pale.
"I hope not, Aunt Martha. We'll soon know. Don't worry, please."
"Your uncle was very much disturbed when he went away."
"I am going to try to telephone to him at once," said Dick.
The telephone was on a landing of the stairs, where the bell could readily be heard upstairs and down, and Dick lost no time in taking down the receiver and calling up the office at Oak Run.
"I want to get the hotel at Carwell," he told the operator. "This is 685 W," he added.
"I cannot give you Carwell," was the answer.
"The lightning struck down some of our poles and the line is out of commission."
This was dismaying news and for the moment Dick was nonplussed. Then he spoke to the operator again.
"Can you reach Farleytown?"
"Yes, but the line from Farleytown to Carwell is down, too," came over the wire.
"Can you reach Deeming's Corners?"
"No. Can't get to Carwell in any way at all," was the decided answer, and Dick hung up the receiver much crestfallen.
"The storm has knocked the telephone service into a cocked hat," he explained to the others. "The only way for us to reach Carwell is to drive there."
"Then let us do that, and right away!" cried Tom, who had been talking to his aunt. "Uncle Randolph took those ten thousand dollars worth of traction company bonds with him, and Aunt Martha says the bonds were unregistered, so anybody could use them."
"Do you think somebody is going to steal the bonds?" asked the aunt.
"Two men are up to some game,—that is as much as we know," said Dick, thinking it unwise to keep his aunt in the dark any longer. "And we know the men are rascals," he added.
"Oh, will they—they attack your uncle?"
"I don't think they are that kind," said Sam. "I think they'll try to get the bonds away by some slick game."
The aunt hated to see the boys go on a mission of possible peril and yet she wanted to have her husband warned. The lads ran down to the barn and had Jack Ness hitch up a fresh team to a buckboard. It was now growing dark.
"Take good care of yourselves," cried Mrs. Rover, as they drove off. "If the telephone and telegraph poles are down on the road see that you do not run into any of them."
They were driving to the gateway of the big farm when they saw Alexander Pop running after them, flourishing something in his hand. Aleck was a colored man who had once worked at Putnam Hall, but who was now attached to the Rover household.
"I was jess a-thinkin' that maybe yo' boys wasn't armed," he said. "If yo' ain't, don't yo' want dis pistol?" And he held up a weapon he had purchased while on the river trip with them.
"I didn't think there would be any shooting," answered Dick. "But now you've brought it, I might as well take the pistol along," and he placed the weapon in his pocket.
"Perhaps yo' would like to hab dis chicken along?" went on the colored man. He delighted to be with the Rover boys on every possible occasion.
"No, the buckboard is crowded now," answered Dick. "You do what you can to quiet Mrs. Rover."
"Yes, tell her not to worry about us," added Tom.
"And don't mention the pistol," called Sam, as the turnout moved on again.
After leaving the vicinity of the farm, the boys had a distance of thirteen miles to cover. Part of the road lay through the valley which had given the farm its name, but then it ran up and over a series of hills, and through several patches of woods. Under the trees it was dark, and they had to slacken their speed for fear of accident.
"Danger ahead!" cried Sam presently, and Dick, who was driving, brought the team to a halt. Across the road lay an uprooted tree.
"Can't drive around that," announced Sam, after an inspection. "And it will be hard work dragging it out of the way."
"We'll drive over it," announced Dick. "Hold tight, if you don't want to be bounced off."
He called to the horses, and the team moved forward slowly. They had not been out of the stable for several days and were inclined to dance and prance. They stepped in among the tree branches and then one animal reared and tried to back.
"Get up there, Dan!" cried Dick. "None of that tomfoolery! Get up, I say!"
The other horse wanted to go ahead, and he dragged his mate deeper into the tree limbs. Then, without warning, the balky animal made a leap, cleared the tree, and started down the road at breakneck speed.
"Look out, the team is running away!" yelled Sam, and then stopped short, for he as well as the others were in danger of being thrown from the buckboard.
RANDOLPH ROVER'S STORY
It was a time of peril, and all of the Rover boys realized this fully. The buckboard was a strong one, but the road had been washed out so much by the storm that it was very uneven, and the jouncing threatened each moment to land one lad or another out on his head.
"Whoa! whoa!" yelled Dick, and did his best to rein in the team. But, as mentioned before, they had not been out for several days and were consequently fresh and inclined to keep on. Each had the bit in his teeth, so pulling on the lines was of little avail.
"If we don't stop soon something is going to happen," was Tom's comment, and scarcely had he spoken when they went down into a rut and Sam was flung up and over a wheel into some brushwood. Then the team went on as before.
The woods left behind, they came to a large open field, where the ground was rather soft.
"Turn in here, Dick, if you can," cried Tom.
"That is what I am trying to do," answered the eldest Rover boy, pulling on one rein with might and main.
At first the horses refused to leave the road, but at last the strain on the one rein told and Dan swerved to the right, dragging his mate with him. As the wheels of the buckboard sank into the soft soil of the field the pulling became harder, and at last the horses dropped into a walk and were then brought to a stop with ease.
"Wonder if Sam was hurt?" were Dick's first words, as he leaped to the ground and ran to the heads of the team to quiet them.
"He went out in a hurry, that's sure," was Tom's answer. "Can you hold them now?"
"Yes—the fire is all out of them."
"Then I'll run back and see to Sam." And Tom set off on a dog trot toward the spot where the mishap to his younger brother had occurred. He found Sam sitting on a rock rubbing his left wrist.
"Hurt?" he sang out, anxiously.
"This wrist is a little lame, and my knee is skinned," was the answer. "Did they get away and throw you out?"
"No, Dick managed to stop them by turning into a soft field. It is lucky you didn't break your neck."
"I might have if I hadn't tumbled into the bushes, Tom. Gracious, how the buckboard did jounce up and down!"
Limping a little on account of the bruised knee, Sam followed his brother down the road. They found Dick had led the team from the field. He, too, was glad to learn Sam was not seriously injured.
"What's to do now?" asked Tom. "I don't like to trust that team much."
"Oh, they're tamed down now," asserted Dick. "I am sure they won't want to run away again."
"We want to get to Carwell as soon as possible, but we don't want to do it by breaking our necks," went on the fun-loving Rover.
Once more the three youths got on the buckboard and Dick started the team. The fire was now all out of them, and they went along at their regular gait. It had grown so dark the boys had to light a lantern they had brought along.
"Listen!" said Sam presently, and held up his hand. From out of the darkness they heard the steady chug-chug of an automobile. It seemed to be coming toward them.
"Maybe it's the runabout with those two men!" cried Tom.
"If it is, let us try to stop them," answered Dick.
They brought the team to a halt and listened. For a few seconds the chug-chug came closer, then it died away in the distance on their left.
"The machine must have taken to a side road," was Dick's comment.
"Yes, and we may as well go on," answered Tom.
Once more they proceeded on their way. Less than a hundred yards were covered when they reached the side road. In the muddy roadway the tracks of the rubber tires of the automobile were plainly to be seen.
"If we were sure they were the men we might go after them," said Sam.
"We'd not catch them with the horses," answered Dick.
"And it might be another machine," added Tom. "There are plenty of them in Carwell."
They were now within two miles of the town and the farmhouses were becoming more numerous. Just as they struck a paved street, Tom uttered an exclamation:
"Here comes Uncle Randolph now!"
He pointed ahead to where a street light fell on a horse and buggy. On the seat of the latter sat Randolph Rover, driving along contentedly.
"Hullo, Uncle Randolph!" sang out Dick, and brought the buckboard to a halt.
"Why, Dick!" exclaimed the uncle, staring at the three boys in surprise. "What brings you here this time of night?"
"We came to find you, Uncle Randolph," said Tom, and added: "Are your traction company bonds safe?"
"My bonds? What do you know of my bonds?" And now the buggy halted beside the buckboard.
"We know two men are after them," said Sam.
"Oh, I thought that was a secret," answered Mr. Rover.
"But did you see the men?" asked Dick, impatiently.
"Oh, yes, and I have had a narrow escape from being swindled," answered the uncle, calmly.
"Oh, then you escaped," said Dick, and he and his brothers breathed a sigh of relief.
"Yes, I escaped," answered Randolph Rover. "It was very kind of Mr. Jardell to come to me as he did," he went on.
"Mr. Jardell?" asked Tom. "Who is he?"
"Why, the treasurer of the traction company."
"Then you haven't seen a man named Merrick and another named Pike?" asked Sam.
"Why, no. Who are they?"
"Two rascals who were up to some game. We think they were after your traction company bonds."
"Ha! perhaps—But no, that couldn't be," murmured Mr. Rover, wiping off the spectacles he wore. "I—er—I really do not understand this, boys."
"Tell us what you've been doing, uncle, and then we'll tell what we know," said Dick.
"Um! Well, you know that some time ago I invested in ten thousand dollars worth of traction company bonds—got them through an agent in New York."
"Well, about a week ago I received a private letter from Mr. Jardell, of the traction company, stating that there was something wrong with the bonds. Some plates had been stolen and counterfeit bonds printed."
"I was asked to keep quiet about the matter, for if the facts became generally known the public would become frightened and the bonds would go down in the stock market. Mr. Jardell said he would meet me at Carwell and have the printer look at my bonds and find out if they were genuine or not."
"And what did you do then?" asked Dick, who began to smell a mouse, as the saying goes.
"I sent Mr. Jardell word I would meet him at the Carwell hotel to-day. We met, and he and his printer, a man named Grimes, said the bonds I possessed were counterfeits."
"And then what?"
"Of course I was very much distressed," went on Randolph Rover, calmly. "I did not know what to do. But Mr. Jardell was very nice about it. He said he would take the bonds and get the company to issue good ones in their place. He gave me a receipt for them, and I am to have the good bonds next week."
"Why should he give you good bonds for bad ones?" said Tom, who, like Dick, was almost certain something was wrong.
"I asked that question, too, Thomas, but he said the reputation of his company was at stake. He did not want the public at large to know that bogus bonds were on the market."
"Uncle Randolph, do you know this Mr. Jardell personally?" asked Dick.
"Why—er—not exactly. But his letters——"
"How did he look?"
As well as he was able Mr. Rover described the man and also his companion. The boys exchanged glances.
"Merrick and Pike," muttered Tom.
"What is that you say, Thomas?"
"We think those men were swindlers," said Sam.
"Swindlers! Oh, my dear Samuel, impossible!" cried Randolph Rover aghast. "Why, they were very nice gentlemen, very nice. They asked me how my scientific farming was getting along, and both had read my article in the Review on the grafting of grape vines, and——"
"But we know these chaps," said Dick, "and they are called Merrick and Pike."
"And they talked about getting the best of you," added Tom. "That is why we followed you to Carwell. Where are the men now?"
"They have gone away. But——"
"Were they in a green runabout—an auto runabout?"
"They had a runabout, yes. I do not remember what color it was."
"The same fellows!" cried Dick. "Uncle Randolph, unless we are very much mistaken, you have been tricked, swindled! They have robbed you of the ten thousand dollars worth of bonds!"
WAITING FOR NEWS
It took Randolph Rover several minutes to comprehend the various statements made by the boys. That he had really been swindled by such nicely-spoken men as he had met at the Carwell hotel seemed extraordinary to him.
"I understand the bonds were not registered," said Dick.
"That is true," groaned his uncle.
"Then anybody could use them."
"Yes, although I have the numbers,—on a sheet in my desk at home."
"Well, that will make it more difficult for the rascals to dispose of them," said Sam.
"I'd like to catch that Merrick and that Pike, and punch their heads for them," commented Tom. It angered him exceedingly to see how readily his open-minded relative had fallen into the swindlers' trap.
"But there may be some mistake," said Randolph Rover, in a forlorn tone. "Would that Merrick dare to impersonate Mr. Jardell?"
"Swindlers will do anything," answered Sam.
"We can make sure of that point by sending word to the traction company offices," answered Dick. "You are sure Mr. Jardell is the treasurer?"
"Yes—Mr. Andrew D. Jardell."
"Let us go back to town and see if we can catch him by long distance 'phone or by telegraph."
Shaking his head sadly, Randolph Rover turned his buggy around and followed the boys to the central office of the telephone company. Here all was activity on account of the broken-down wires, but communications were being gradually resumed. They looked into the telephone book, and at last got a connection which, a few minutes later, put them into communication with Andrew D. Jardell's private residence in the city.
"Is Mr. Jardell at home?" asked Dick, who was doing the telephoning.
"Mr. Jardell is away," was the answer.
"Is he at or near Carwell, New York state?"
"No, he is in Paris, and has been for two weeks."
"You are sure of this?"
"Who are you?"
"I am Mrs. Jardell. Who are you?"
"My name is Richard Rover. My uncle, Randolph Rover, has been swindled out of some traction company bonds by a man who said he was Mr. Jardell."
"Mercy me! You don't say so! Well, my husband had nothing to do with it, you may be sure. He went to London first and then to Paris, and in a day or two he is to start for Switzerland. His health is very poor and the doctor said he needed the trip."
Some more talk followed, and Mrs. Jardell advised Dick to communicate with the traction company at once, and he said he would do so.
"It wasn't Mr. Jardell at all, Uncle Randolph," said the youth, as he hung up the receiver. "The whole thing was a cleverly-planned swindle, and unless you can get the bonds back you'll be out the money."
At this announcement Mr. Rover nearly collapsed—for he was rather a retired man, and had had little to do in a business way since his trip to Africa with the boys, as related in "The Rover Boys in the Jungle." He did not know what to do, and stood rubbing his hands nervously.
"The swindlers!" he murmured. "Really, it is getting so that nobody can be trusted!"
"The best thing we can do is to send word to the various towns to stop the runabout with the two men in it on sight and have the rascals held by the authorities," said Dick, who felt he must take charge of affairs.
"That's the talk!" cried Tom, "and the sooner we get at it the better."
"Let us find out where that side road leads to," added Sam, "I mean the road on which we heard the auto."
Inside of an hour various messages had been sent by telephone and telegraph. It was now growing late and the Rovers hardly knew what to do next. From their uncle the boys got the whole tale concerning the bonds, but the new light shed on the subject did not help matters.
They also told the authorities about the cave and the boxes stored there, and some men were at once sent off to investigate and take possession of whatever could be found.
"I think some of us ought to go home," said Sam. "Aunt Martha won't go to bed until we get back, and she will be greatly worried."
It was finally decided that Tom and Dick should remain at the Carwell hotel over night and Sam and his uncle should go home in the buggy. The team was put up at the hotel barn, and then all hands went to the dining room for a late supper.
"I'm as hungry as two bears," announced Tom.
"Well, I shan't say no to a good feed," answered Sam.
Randolph Rover could eat but little. Now that he realized what had occurred, he upbraided himself bitterly for having been so deluded.
"They talked about scientific farming just to get me into good humor," he said, bitterly. "I see it all! Oh, if I can only get my hands on them!"
After Mr. Rover and Sam had departed, Dick and Tom wandered around the hotel and the vicinity for three hours. They anxiously awaited some message regarding the two swindlers, but nothing came. Then, worn out by the strenuous day they had put in, they went to bed and slept soundly until morning.
Before having breakfast they asked for messages. There was one from a village called Bahan, saying a green runabout with two men had passed through there about midnight. But the men had not been captured, and it was not known what had become of them.
At noon the telephone line between Oak Run and Carwell was in working order once more, and the boys sent word home. Then they left directions at the hotel, so that any messages coming in might be transmitted to the Rover farm.
"Well, I never!" cried Dick, suddenly.
"What now?" asked his brother.
"That freight thief, and that stuff in the cave——"
"Humph! it slipped my mind entirely. I was thinking only of Uncle Randolph's bonds."
"Let us find out if anything has been done."
At the local police headquarters they found that a wagon had just come in, loaded with the three full boxes of goods located at the cave. A search was still in progress for Dangler, but so far he had not been located.
"This clears up the mystery of the freight thefts," said an officer to the boys. "I only hope we can get our hands on Bill Dangler."
"You know him?" asked Dick.
"Oh, yes. Years ago he used to work for the freight division of the railroad."
"Do you know anything of this Merrick and the fellow called Pike?"
"No, but our idea is that the three men were in the deal together. Probably this Merrick and this Pike pulled off this affair of the traction company bonds as a side issue."
"Have the freight robberies been large?" asked Sam.
"Not so large at one time, but they have been going on for months, and the total from four different stations along the line foots up to a good many thousand dollars."
"Well, I hope we catch all three of the men—and any others who may be in league with them," said Dick, and then he and Tom walked off. A little later they were on the buckboard and bound for home.
When they arrived at the farm they found that their uncle had sent a long letter to the officers of the traction company, relating in full what had occurred. In return the officials of the concern said they would put a private detective on the case, and this was done. But weeks went by and nothing was seen or heard of Merrick and Pike, and what had become of the missing bonds remained a mystery.
"I am anxious to take a look at that cave where the stolen freight was stored," said Sam one day. "Supposing we drive to it?"
"That will suit me," answered Dick. "I want to learn about something else—that red tin box I saw hanging from a tree."
"Oh, yes, I had forgotten about that," put in Tom. "Well, shall we walk or drive over?"
It was decided to drive as far as the cave, and not knowing how long they would be gone, the boys took a lunch along.
"Now, take care of yourselves," warned Randolph Rover. "Don't fall into any more holes."
"We'll try to watch out!" sang out Tom.
Then Dick cracked the whip, and off the team started at a good pace, the eldest Rover, however, holding them well under control. It was a clear and beautiful day. The boys did not dream of the odd adventure in store for them.
A STRANGE LETTER BOX
"It won't be long now before we'll have to get back to Putnam Hall," observed Sam, as they drove along. "Dear old school! How I love it!"
"It's too bad that we are getting too old to go there," said Tom. "But we can't be boys always."
"I shall be glad to see the other fellows again," came from Dick.
"Do you know what I think?" declared Tom. "I think the Putnam Hall cadets are the finest lot of boys in the world!"
"Throwing bouquets at yourself, Tom?" said Sam, with a laugh.
"Well, don't you agree with me?"
"I certainly do, Sam, and Captain Putnam is the best teacher in the world. My, but won't we have fun when we get back!"
"We'll have to have a feast in honor of our return," said Dick, and smiled that quiet smile of his which meant so much.
The distance to the cave was soon covered, and the boys tied their team to a tree in that vicinity. They went inside and found that everything, even to the empty boxes, had been taken away. The place had been explored by a number of curiosity seekers.
"It is queer that this cave wasn't discovered before," was Dick's comment, after they had spent half an hour in walking around.
"Perhaps the opening to the road wasn't so large formerly," suggested Tom. "Dangler may have enlarged it, so he could drive in."
"That is true. Well, it will be a regular picnic place after this. Its fame will spread for miles around." And Dick was right, and the cave is a well-known spot in that portion of New York state to this day.
The boys had brought with them two electric pocket lights, as they are called—lights they had purchased while on their river outing—and with these turned on they walked to the extreme rear of the cave and along the various passageways running up the mountainside.
"Here is where we dropped in," said Dick, pointing out the spot.
"I wish we could drop out—and land up on the mountain outside," returned his youngest brother. "Then, maybe, you could locate that tin lunch box, or whatever it was."
"I'd get up, Very soon If I had, A big balloon!"
sang out Tom, merrily. "But as there doesn't seem to be a balloon handy, what's the matter with trying to climb up?" he added.
"And pull down several tons of dirt and rock on your head," said Dick. "Better go slow. We already know how treacherous these holes are. You'll get out of one by getting into another that's worse."
"I brought a lariat along," said Sam.
"A lariat?" queried the others.
"Sure,—the one I bought when we were out west. I thought we might use it for climbing purposes. It is light but strong, and we can lasso a tree or stump up there with it."
"Hurrah! Sam has solved the problem of how the Rover boys shall rise in the world!" exclaimed Tom, gaily. "Sam, try your skill by all means."
"Show me the tree or stump and I will," answered his brother readily.
As well as they were able, they crawled from one part of the hole to a spot that was somewhat higher. Then they found a projecting rock above them and Sam threw the noose of his lariat over this.
"Will it hold?" queried Dick. "You don't want to try to climb up and fall."
With caution Sam pulled on the lariat. It held, and he went up hand over hand, for he was a fair athlete. Then his brothers followed. They now stood on a ledge of rock, and the top of the hole was still twelve feet above them.
"There is a small tree, Sam," said Tom, looking upward. "If you can lasso that I think we'll be all right."
Once more the youngest Rover started to use the lariat. As it swung upward it missed the tree and swished out of sight over the edge of the hole.
"Ouch!" came the unexpected cry from above. "Oh, my eye!"
"Hullo! you've lashed somebody!" ejaculated Dick.
"I didn't know there was anybody up there," answered Sam, as the noose of the lasso slipped downward.
The three Rover boys looked upward. They heard a hasty movement in the bushes and caught a brief glimpse of a man's face. On the instant the man disappeared, muttering something to himself.
"It was Dangler!" ejaculated Dick.
"Are you sure?" asked both of the others, in a breath.
Dick had scarcely spoken the last words when down into the hole came a shower of dirt and stones, shoved over the edge above. The boys were struck by the stones and got some of the dirt in their eyes. Then down came a second mass of the same sort.
"Sto—stop that!" spluttered Tom, when he could speak. "Do you want to kill us?"
There was no answer, but down came more dirt and stones, until the boys were almost covered. What to do they did not know, until Dick suggested they drop from the ledge and seek safety in the cave. As they went down, a fair-sized rock followed, scraping Tom's shoulder and causing him to utter a sharp cry of pain.
"Are you hurt, Tom?" asked his two brothers.
"Oh, it isn't much," panted Tom. "But I wish I could get my hands on that rascal, that's all!"
"I am sure now that it must be Dangler," said Dick. "Nobody else around here would try to injure us. He is mad because we have exposed him. He must know the officers of the law are looking for him."
"I wish we could catch the rascal," muttered Tom.
"Supposing we climb the mountain from the outside?" suggested Sam. "It is a perfectly clear day and is early yet. We'll know enough to look out for pitfalls. If we can catch this Dangler the three of us ought to be able to manage him."
"If we are going to try anything like that we want to hurry," returned Dick. "He won't remain in this locality long—now he knows he is discovered."
"Maybe he thinks we didn't see him," came from Tom.
"Well, that will be in our favor. But he'll know somebody will be after him, for throwing down the dirt and stones."
Having eaten a hasty lunch and washed it down with water from a nearby spring, the three lads began the ascent of the mountain. This was hard work and caused them to perspire freely.
"I'm glad I'm not fat," said Tom. "If I was I'd be winded sure."
"I think we'd better keep quiet as soon as we reach the vicinity of the holes," cautioned Dick.
Half an hour of hard climbing brought the boys to the vicinity where they had first fallen into the holes leading to the cave, and then they advanced cautiously and in almost absolute silence. They stopped to listen several times, but heard nothing but the calls of some birds and the trickling of water over the rocks.
Arriving at the top of the hole from where the dirt and stones had been thrown, they gazed around with interest. Where the soil was soft they could see the footprints of shoes much larger than those they themselves wore.
"Here is his trail, going away," said Dick, after a close examination.
"There is your tin box!" cried Sam, pointing to the object, still dangling from a distant tree.
"Wait till I see what is in it," answered his big brother. "It won't take but a minute or two."
"Beware of holes!" cautioned Tom.
Feeling his way through the brushwood, Dick approached the dangling tin box. It was a small affair and now hung open. He felt certain in his mind that when he had seen it before it had been closed.
The box proved to be empty and Dick was, somehow, disappointed. He glanced on the ground and saw a number of bits of paper, some old looking and some new. He picked up some of the bits and saw they had been written on in pencil, but the words or parts of words were undecipherable.
"Well, what do you make of it?" questioned Sam, as he and Tom came up.
"I think I know what this is," answered Dick.
"A sort of a private post-office. Somebody was in the habit of leaving messages here, and Dangler or somebody else got the messages from time to time."
LAST DAYS ON THE FARM
"I believe you are right," said Tom, after he, too, had looked over some of the bits of paper strewn around. "Here is the word 'box' and here is the word 'Saturday.'"
"Yes, and here are the words, 'fast freight,'" added Sam. "This was nothing more than a letter box for the freight thieves."
"But why was it placed here?" questioned Dick. "It's a very out-of-the-way place and hard to get to."
"Maybe somebody had to come this way," answered Tom. "See, here is something of a trail."
"Yes, and here are those same big footprints!" exclaimed Sam. "For all we know they may lead to some house or hut on the mountainside."
Having picked up the majority of the bits of paper and put them in their pockets for future examination, the three Rover boys followed the path or trail they had discovered. It led along the mountainside to where there was a small clearing, backed up by a series of rocks from which a spring gushed forth, sparkling brightly in the sunshine.
"I'd like to get another drink," said Sam; "I am terribly thirsty to-day."
"Wait!" warned Dick, and caught his youngest brother by the arm.
"What's up, Dick?"
"I see a log cabin—over yonder, among the trees."
"Yes, and I see Dangler!" yelled Tom, suddenly. "There he goes, with a big bundle over his shoulder!" And he pointed to the rear of the log cabin. A man was just disappearing behind a fringe of brushwood. The bundle he carried appeared to be tied up in a horse blanket. He was running as hard as he could.
For a moment the boys did not know what to do. Then they ran to the cabin and entered. It contained but one room, and this they soon discovered was deserted. In the chimney a fire was smouldering, and the remains of a meal lay scattered over a box that did duty as a table.
"This must have been Dangler's hangout," was Dick's comment. "He must have come back for his things."
"Yes, and this explains why the queer letter box was stationed back there," said Tom.
"Aren't you going to try to catch him?" asked Sam, impatiently.
"To be sure," answered Dick, and rushed out, and the others after him.
"Keep back there!" they heard Dangler cry, as they appeared on the trail back of the log cabin. "Keep back, or it will be the worse for you!"
"Stop!" called Dick. "You might as well give up Dangler; you are bound to be caught some time."
"Not much! I am armed and I warn you to keep back," answered the freight thief, and then a bend of the trail hid him from view.
"Do you think he'd dare to shoot?" asked Tom.
"There is no telling what a desperate man will do," replied Dick. "We had better be cautious."
After that they advanced with care. Presently the trail came out on a mountain road and this passed over some rocks and crossed two other roads. They saw no more of Dangler, and the footprints had disappeared.
"He has slipped us," said Tom, coming to a halt and resting on a fallen tree. "Hang the luck anyway!"
"He came back to the cabin for his things," mused Sam. "I guess he is going to leave the neighborhood, and maybe for good."
Chagrined over their failure to catch the freight thief, the boys looked around that neighborhood for awhile and then retraced their steps to the log cabin. Here they found several old articles of wearing apparel and a few newspapers.
"Here is an envelope," said Sam, fishing the object out from behind the box that had done duty as a table. "It is addressed to William Dangler. Must have been some letter he got."
"Anything in it?"
"What is the postmark?"
"It is almost blurred out," said Sam. He took the envelope to the light. "Well, I declare! Ithaca!"
"Ithaca!" cried Tom.
"Why, that's the city we stop at to take the boat for Putnam Hall," exclaimed Dick.
"I know it."
"This is interesting, to say the least," was the comment of the oldest Rover boy. "Wonder if Dangler has friends or confederates in Ithaca?"
"We must notify the police of this," said Tom. "And the sooner the better."
Satisfied that they could learn nothing more by remaining around the log cabin, the boys departed, and inside of an hour were on their buckboard and bound for the farm. From that place they called up the authorities and informed them of what they had learned. Another search was at once instituted for Bill Dangler, but the rascal was not captured.
The next day Mr. Anderson Rover came home, and the boys and Randolph Rover had to acquaint him with all that had taken place. He shook his head when he heard of the unregistered bonds.
"I am afraid you will never see them again, Randolph," he said to his brother.
"I am afraid so myself," was the mournful reply.
Anderson Rover had come home to see his boys off to school.
"I want you to make the most of your opportunities while at Putnam Hall this term," he said, "for it is to be your last."
"Yes, I know that," answered Tom. "But after that, what?"
"We will talk that over later, Tom. You must either go to college or get ready to go into business."
"I'd like to go to college!" put in Dick.
"So would I—if I knew what kind of a place it was," added Tom.
"If it was as fine a place as Putnam Hall I'd jump at it," came from Sam.
The next few days flew by quickly. During that time Dick received a letter from Dan Baxter, the former bully of Putnam Hall, which interested him not a little. This letter ran, in part, as follows:
"I am glad to say that I am now doing fairly well. I tried several positions and am now a traveling salesman for a large carpet house. I get fifteen dollars per week, all my expenses, and a commission on sales, so I consider myself lucky.
"When I look back on what I once was, Dick, I can scarcely realize what a change has come. But I feel happier than I ever was, and I am in hopes that I shall live to make a man of myself yet. I am trying to give up all my bad habits, and I haven't smoked, or drank a glass of liquor, since I left you in the south."
* * * * *
"That's the kind of a letter I like to get," said Dick, as he let his brothers peruse the communication. "It does a fellow's heart good, doesn't it?"
"I am glad we let him have that hundred dollars," said Sam. "Do you think he'll pay it back?"
"Here is a postscript in which he says he will send a money order next week."
"He certainly means to pull himself together," said Tom. "Well, now he has turned over a new leaf, I wish him the best of luck."
Almost before they knew it, it was time to leave the farm and journey to Putnam Hall. Everybody was sorry to see them go.
"I can't abide yo' boys being away nohow!" wailed Aleck Pop. "It jess don't seem natural to have yo' gone, dat's wot it don't!"
"Oh, we'll be back some day, Aleck," answered Dick. "And if we go off on some trip later, maybe we'll take you along."
"I most wish I was a waiter ag'in at de Hall," sighed the colored man.
"They can't spare you from here," said Sam.
"Oh, I know dat, Sam."
The boys' trunks had been packed and sent on ahead, so all they carried with them were their dress-suit cases. Their father drove them to the railroad station at Oak Run, and their aunt and uncle and the others around the farm came out on the piazza to see them off.
"Now be good boys," admonished their Aunt Martha. "And take care and don't get sick."
"And be sure and study all you can," said their Uncle Randolph. "Remember nothing is quite so grand as learning in this world."
"Yo' keep out ob mischief!" cried Aleck Pop, shaking a warning finger at Tom, who grinned broadly.
And then the carriage started off, and the journey to Putnam Hall was begun.
AT THE WILD WEST SHOW
As my old readers know, Putnam Hall was located not far from the village of Cedarville on Cayuga Lake. To get to the school the boys had to take a train to Ithaca and then board a little lake steamer stopping at Cedarville and various other points along the shore.
"It seems a long time since we were at the Hall," observed Dick, as they settled down in the train.
"And what a lot of things have happened since then!" exclaimed Sam. "I can tell you what, we'll have a story to tell to the others, won't we?"
"I guess Songbird, Fred, and Hans Mueller have already told everything," returned Tom. "More than likely Songbird has concocted some verses about it."
The run to Ithaca took several hours, and they lunched at noon in the dining car. It was a beautiful day, and the boys enjoyed the scenery as much as if they had never seen it before.
"I hope we can make a good connection for Cedarville," said Sam as they left the train and started for the dock from which the Golden Star made her trips on the lake. But they were doomed to disappointment, the steamboat had had a break-down and would be delayed two hours or more.
As there was nothing to do but to wait, the boys checked their dress-suit cases and then started for a stroll through the city. They soon learned that a wild west show was giving an exhibition there and consequently the place was crowded with folks from the surrounding districts.
"I shouldn't mind going to the wild west show," observed Tom. "Do you think we have time?"
"We could spend an hour there anyway," answered Sam.
"It depends on where the show is to be held," came from Dick.
They soon ascertained that the show grounds were not far off, and made their way thither. The exhibition had already started, and they got inside the big tent-like enclosure as speedily as possible.
The show was a fairly good one, and the boys thoroughly enjoyed the trick riding by cowboys, and the fancy rifle shooting. Then came some wild riding by real Indians.
"Almost makes a fellow feel as if he'd like to be on a horse himself," said Tom. He liked horseback riding very well.
"Say, I want you to look over there," said Sam, pointing to the seats some distance away. "Do you see that man sitting near the bottom—right beside that boy with the basket of peanuts?"
Tom and Dick looked in the direction pointed out, and the eldest Rover gave a start.
"Sam, do you think it is the fellow called Merrick?" he exclaimed.
"Doesn't he look like it?"
"He certainly does—now you speak of it," came from Tom. "And, by the way, don't you remember about that envelope picked up in the log cabin? It was postmarked Ithaca."
"So it was! Perhaps this Merrick lives here."
"Let us go over and get a closer look at him," said Dick, and left his seat, followed by the others.
There was a large crowd, so they had some difficulty in making their way to where the man was located. In his haste, Dick bumped against a waiter selling lemonade and spilled the contents of two glasses on the ground.
"Excuse me," he said.
"Hi! you've got to pay for the lemonade," roared the waiter, angrily. "You pay up, you clumsy clown!"
"See here, my man, I'll pay you, but I want you to understand you can't call me a clown," said Dick, angrily.
"Ah! go on wid yer! Pay up, see?"
"Here's your money," and Dick held out ten cents. "Now, am I a clown or not?"
"Am I or not?" And the eldest Rover boy doubled up his fists. He knew he must "take the bull by the horns" with such an individual as that before him.
"Excuse me," mumbled the fellow and moved away. "I—er—suppose yer couldn't help it."
Sam and Tom had gone ahead and they were now close to the man they took to be Merrick.
"No mistake here!" declared Sam, as he got a good, square look at the fellow's face.
"He sees us!" exclaimed Tom, a second later. "He is trying to get away."
The boy was right, Merrick had seen them. He was greatly amazed, for he had not dreamed of their being in that vicinity. He left his seat in a hurry, and, elbowing his way through the crowd, started for the entrance to the big tent-like enclosure.
By this time Dick was coming up and Sam and Tom quickly acquainted him with what was going on. All three of the Rovers pushed through the big crowd after Merrick, but, before they could draw near, the rascal was outside and running between a number of carriages and wagons standing in that vicinity.
"Come on after him!" cried Tom. "We must capture him if we can!"
They set off on a smart run, but Merrick could run also, and fear now lent speed to his flying feet. On and on went the swindler, with the Rover boys less than a square behind him. Then, as they came to a number of tall buildings, Merrick darted around a corner and out of sight.
When the Rover boys reached the corner they looked in every direction for the man. Only a few people were about, the majority of the town folks being at the show.
"Wonder if he went straight on, or took to some side street?" mused Dick.
"I'll go straight on," said Sam. "Dick, you can take one side street and Tom can take the other," and away went the youngest Rover, at a fresh burst of speed.
Sam's advice was considered good, and soon all of the boys had scattered. The street Tom followed was lined with tall tenements and ended in little more than an alleyway.
Coming to another corner, Tom paused and gazed in all directions. As he turned his head he saw a man look out from a tenement doorway. Then the head was drawn back quickly.
"Merrick!" muttered Tom to himself, and turned back to the tenement, which was a building four stories high. On one side was something of an alleyway and beyond were other tenements, and the rear of a big building used for a factory and offices.
Tom found the front door of the tenement wide open and he did not hesitate to go in. Nobody was in sight, but he heard hasty footsteps on the floor above.
"Merrick! you might as well give up!" he called out. "Come down here!"
"Go on about your business, young fellow!" came the reply. "If you try to follow me you'll get the worst of it."
Undaunted by this threat, Tom mounted the stairs two steps at a time. As he did so he heard Merrick go up a second flight and then a third.
"Must think he can hide on the roof," thought Tom. "Well, I'll corner him if I can."
As Tom ran through the hallway on the third floor a door opened and an old woman confronted him.
"What do yez want here?" she demanded, in strong Irish accents.
"I am after a thief," answered Tom.
"A thafe! Sure an' there's no thafe in this house."
"He just ran in here from the street."
"Bedad, is that true now? Where did he go to?"
"I don't know. How do you get to the roof?"
"Be the laddher at the back av the hall."
The old woman pointed in the direction, and Tom sped on. Soon he reached a common wooden ladder leading to a scuttle, which was wide open. As the youth mounted the ladder the scuttle was banged shut, almost hitting him on the top of the head. Then he heard hasty footsteps across the roof.
"Maybe he thinks he can jump to one of the other buildings," said Tom to himself. "Well, if he can do it, so can I."
He pushed the scuttle up with difficulty, for it was heavy. Then with caution, for he did not want to receive a kick in the head, he gazed around the roof of the tenement. Nobody was in sight.
With caution Tom stepped out on the roof. A number of chimneys were not far off, and he wondered if Merrick was concealed behind them.
"I wish I had a club or something," he thought. "I'd have a tough time of it up here, if it came to a hand-to-hand struggle."
With eyes on the alert, Tom made his way to one chimney and then another. The swindler was not there, nor was he on the adjoining roof. Then the youth got down on his hands and knees and looked over the edge of the tenement, on the alleyway side. Here was an iron fire escape, running from the fourth story to the second. On the fire escape he saw Merrick, descending to the bottom with all possible rapidity.
JOLLY OLD SCHOOLMATES
Evidently the swindler had dropped from the roof to the upper landing of the fire escape. He was now almost to the bottom.
"Stop!" cried Tom, but he knew the command was a useless one. At the sound of his voice Merrick looked up and muttered something the boy could not catch. Then he swung himself from the bottom landing of the fire escape and dropped to the ground.
"If he can get down that way, so can I," thought Tom, and in another moment he was descending the escape in the same fashion as the swindler had done. As he reached the second landing of the escape he saw Merrick turn the corner of the alleyway and disappear on the street beyond.
When Tom came out on the street he almost ran into the arms of two burly men who had come out of the tenement. Both caught him by the arms.
"What does this mean, young fellow?" asked one, savagely. "Doing the sneak-thief act?"
"I am after a thief," was the answer. "Did you see a man running away?"
"No, and we don't think there was a man," answered one of the tenement dwellers.
"Well, there was a man," said Tom. "Come, if you will help me catch him I will reward you well."
"What did he steal?"
"Some bonds worth ten thousand dollars—they belonged to my uncle," explained Tom, hastily.
The promise of a reward made the men attentive and they soon agreed to assist Tom as much as possible. Then Dick and Sam came in sight, and had to be told of what had happened.
The two men knew the tenement and factory district well, and they led in a hunt lasting over half an hour, and a policeman was likewise called into service.
"I've heard of that bond case," said the policeman. "I'd like to lay my hands on Merrick."
But the hunt was a useless one, for Merrick could not be found. For their trouble Tom gave the two men from the tenement a dollar each, with which they had to be satisfied. The policeman promised to report the matter at headquarters, and as there seemed to be nothing else to do, the three Rover boys walked down to the steamboat dock, first, however, sending a telegram to Randolph Rover, relating briefly what had occurred.
"It's a great pity we didn't catch this Merrick," sighed Tom, when they were steaming along the lake shore. "Perhaps we'll never see or hear of him again."
"Well, we don't want Merrick as much as we want Uncle Randolph's traction company bonds," answered Dick. "If he has disposed of the bonds it won't do much good to catch him,—unless, of course, he can get the bonds back."
"And he may not have had the bonds," put in Sam. "That fellow Pike may have handled them."
"That is true, too,—although I somehow think Merrick is the prime mover in this swindle."
"I think that, too," said Tom.
The Golden Star was a trim little side-wheeler with a fair-sized deck fore and aft. The boys sat on the forward deck, and as the boat ran along the shore of the lake they pointed out many localities known to them.
"There is where we went on the paper chase," said Sam.
"Yes, and that is where we went on one of the encampments," added Tom.
"We came fishing down here once," put in Dick. "One of the boys went overboard."
"It was John Fenwick, the fellow we used to call Mumps," said Tom. "By the way, I wonder what has become of him?"
"Went west, I think," answered Sam. "One of the boys said he was in the insurance business with some relative."
"He was a great toady to Dan Baxter."
"So he was, but he had some good points, too."
So the talk ran on, until Cedarville was reached. On account of the delay it was dark, and the boys wondered if they would find any conveyance to take them to the Hall.
"Hullo, here is Peleg Snuggers with the carryall!" cried Sam, as the general utility man of the school appeared. "How are you, Peleg?"
"Fust rate," replied the man, grinning. "Been waiting a long time for you."
"Sorry, but we couldn't make the captain hurry the boat," answered Dick.
"Peleg, you're a sight for tired optics," said Tom, giving the man's hand a squeeze that made him wince. "How's your grandmother?"
"Why, Master Tom, I ain't——"
"And your great-granduncle? Is he over the shingles yet?"
"Why, Master Tom, I ain't got no——"
"And your second cousin by your first wife's sister? Did she get over the heart failure she had when the canary took a fit?"
"Now, see here, Master Tom, don't you go for to joking an old man——"
"Joking, Peleg?" returned Tom, solemnly. "Why, you know I never joke." And he took on an injured look.
"Don't joke, eh? Well, if you ain't the greatest joker Putnam Hall ever see then I'll eat my hat," declared Peleg. "Jump in an' don't ask me about no grandfathers, or wife's sisters, nor nuthing. Ain't you hungry?"
"Hungry? I could eat a brickbat fried in lemon oil."
"Then, unless you hurry, you won't get no supper."
"Oh, Mrs. Green will get something for us, never fear," said Dick, mentioning the matron of Putnam Hall, who was a warm-hearted and generous woman, even though a little bit "peppery" at times.
"All the other boys here now?" asked Dick, as they drove off in the direction of Putnam Hall.
"I reckon the most of 'em are, Master Dick. So many coming an' going I can hardly keep track of 'em."
"Fred Garrison, Songbird Powell and Hans Mueller back?" asked Sam.
"Yes, an' they told me some wonderful stories of your doings down south."
"Are Larry Colby and George Granbury here?" questioned Dick.
"I'll be glad to meet Larry and George again," went on Dick. "I suppose they'll have something to tell of what they did during vacation."
"Every time I come to the Hall I think of the first time I came," said Tom. "Do you remember how I set off that giant firecracker?"
"Yes, and how old Josiah Crabtree put you under arrest for it," added Sam. "Wonder where old Crabtree is now?"
"He is out of prison," answered Peleg Snuggers. "I got that from a man in Cedarville. The man said as how Crabtree went to Canada."
"Hope he stays there and never attempts to bother Mrs. Stanhope again," was Dick's comment.
About half the distance to the Hall had been covered when there came a shout on the road and Peleg Snuggers had to rein in his team. Then several boys appeared, dressed in cadet uniforms, for Putnam Hall was a military academy.
"Whoop! here they are, fellows! Hurrah for the Rovers!"
"Rovers by name and rovers by nature!"
"Say, Tom, how do you like being adrift on the Gulf of Mexico?"
"Sam, don't you want to become a regular cowboy?"
"Dick, when I buy a houseboat I'm going to engage you as captain."
And then the students in the road clambered into the carryall and tumbled all over the Rovers, hugging them and trying to shake hands at the same time.
"Larry, glad to see you, but please don't smother me."
"I'll love you, George, if only you won't put your elbow through my ribs."
"I knew Fred would meet us."
"You gif me der honor of dis," came from Hans Mueller. "I tole dem fellers to come along alretty."
"Good for you, Hansy, old boy!" cried Sam, and gave the German cadet a tight squeeze.
"Songbird, why don't you turn on the poetry pipe line and let her flow?" queried Larry Colby, who, even though an officer of one of the companies, was as jolly as the rest of the students.
"Yes, give us something by all means," said Tom. "Something about 'stilly night,' 'fond recollections,' 'starved cats,' and the like."
"Humph! 'stilly night' and 'starved cats'!" snorted Songbird Powell. "You must think I'm running a hash mill instead of——"
"By no means, Songbird, dear!" piped Tom. "We all know you're the sole owner of the largest poem factory in New York state. Let her flow by all means."
"If you don't recite, we'll sing," said Dick.
"No, don't do that—yet," pleaded Songbird. "I've got a verse or two all ready," and he began, in slow, measured tones:
"Back to dear old Putnam Hall! Back to the days of yore! Back to the good old times we had! May we have many more! Back to our lessons and our books, And to the teachers, too, Back to the drills and hours off——"
"And to the mutton stew!"
finished Tom. "Don't forget to put in Mrs. Green's wonderful mutton stews."
"No mutton stews in this!" snorted Songbird. "The last line was, 'When days were bright and blue,'" and then he continued:
"We love to gather here again, And talk of times to come, And plot and plan, and plan and plot—— And plan and plot——and plot and plot—— And plan——and plan——and plan——"
"Songbird, you've plotted and planned too much," interrupted Dick, as the would-be poet hesitated. "Let's sing a song."
"That's the talk!" cried Fred Garrison, and started up the song well known to all of them:
"Putnam Hall's the place for me! Tra la lee! Tra la lee! Putnam Hall's the place for me! The best old school I know!"
And then, as the carryall swung up to the campus, they set up the school yell, which brought out a score of students to witness the arrival of the Rover boys.
WILLIAM PHILANDER TUBBS
As my old readers know, Putnam Hall was a handsome structure of brick and stone standing in the center of a large plot of ground, bounded on two sides by cedar woods. To the front was the campus and the wagon road and beyond this a slope leading to the lake. To the rear were rich farm lands, cultivated solely for the benefit of the institution. Besides the school, there were a building fitted up as a gymnasium, and also several barns and carriage houses. The Hall was built in the form of the letter E, and was three stories high. It contained numerous classrooms, a private office, a large mess hall, or dining room, and both large and small dormitories.
The master of the school was Captain Victor Putnam, who was a bachelor, and as kind as he was strict. Captain Putnam was a West Point graduate, and had modeled his school somewhat after that famous government institution. When the school was first organized the Rover boys did not go there, but a number of other bright and lively lads did, and what these cadets accomplished has already been related in a line of stories called "The Putnam Hall Series," starting with "The Putnam Hall Cadets." These lads had some awful quarrels with the head assistant, Josiah Crabtree, and they were glad when the Rovers appeared and made it so hot for Crabtree that he had to leave. George Strong was now first assistant in place of Crabtree, and the cadets found him a teacher after their own heart.
"Hurrah! here are the Rovers!" was the cry from the campus. "Welcome back!"
"Boys, I am glad to see you again," came from Captain Putnam, as he appeared at the front door and shook hands. "From what I have heard you have had rather strenuous times during the past vacation."
"That is true, Captain," answered Dick. "I am glad to get back here."
"So am I glad," came from Tom and Sam, and all shook hands. Then the boys were told to go to the mess hall, where a hot supper awaited them. Here Mrs. Green met them with her round, ruddy and smiling face.
"It's wonderful stories I've heard of you," said the matron. "I declare, you'll have to go into a museum!"
"Not until after supper anyhow," answered Tom, dryly. And then everybody present laughed.
The supper over, the boys went up to their dormitory, and here as many of the cadets as could crowded in, to talk over the doings of the past vacation. Larry Colby had spent the time on the coast of Maine, and George Granbury had been to the Thousand Islands and to Montreal.
"Yes, Crabtree is in Canada," said George. "I met him in Montreal, and I can tell you, he looked seedy enough."
"Well, he deserves to be seedy," was Dick's comment. He could not forget how the former teacher had endeavored to hypnotize the widow Stanhope into marrying him, so that he could gain possession of the money she was holding in trust for Dora.
Of course all the boys wanted to know about Dan Baxter, for he had been a leading character at the Hall for many years. Some shook their heads at the idea of the former bully reforming.
"It will be the greatest surprise I ever heard of," was Larry's comment.
"He'll do it—mark my words," said Dick.
"Let us hope so," said George.
"Well, it would seem that Putnam Hall is not to suffer for the want of a bully," came from Fred. "We've got a new one here who is as bad as Dan Baxter ever was."
"Who is he?" questioned Dick, with interest.
"A chap named Tad Sobber. He is a big, overbearing fellow with hardly any education, and he wants to rule everybody. I can't understand how Captain Putnam took him as a pupil."
"He came well recommended, that's why," answered Songbird. "But I guess the captain has found out that the recommendation was false."
"He shan't rule me," said Tom, decidedly.
"We want no bullies here," put in Dick. "The day for all such is past."
"So say we all of us!" cried several cadets.
At that moment came a knock on the door, and a tall youth, wearing an unusually high collar and very large cuffs, came in.
"Well, if it isn't our old chum, William Philander Tubbs!" cried Dick, running forward and grasping the hand of the dude student.
"Hullo, Tubbsey, old man!" said Tom, gaily. "What's the price of the best cologne now?"
"Very—ah—glad to meet you again," drawled Tubbs. "But—er—please don't call me Tubbsey, because it isn't my name, don't you know."
"To be sure, Buttertub—I mean Washtub," answered Tom. "Had your hair crimped lately?"
"Now, Tom, I never crimp my hair—it hurts the color, don't you know," explained William Philander. "I use——"
"Glue with an egg beater," finished Tom with a wink at his friends. "By the way, Tubblets, do you know what I heard some girls say last week? They said they thought you were a regular fashion plate."
"Now did they really?" gushed the dude, much pleased. "Who—er—said it?"
"Two girls living not many miles from here."
"You—ah—don't happen to know their names?"
"No. But I can tell you all about them."
"Ah! Then please do, Tom," said the dude eagerly. To have any young ladies think of him pleased him immensely.
"Well, these are a couple of young ladies who work in a laundry. Maybe they wash your shirts. They are colored, and——"
"Colored!" gasped the dude, and then a shout of laughter went up, in the midst of which William Philander started to leave the room.
"Don't go away mad, Billy," cried Tom. "Isn't it nice even to have two dusky damsels think of you?"
"No, it is not—it is—is horrid!" answered William Philander. "I think you are—er—poking fun at me."
"Never did such a thing in my life, my dear fellow—it's against my internal regulations. But how have you been since the week before next month?"
"I had a delightful vacation."
"Took the girls out to ice-cream sociables and yellow teas every day you wasn't playing golf or hop-scotch, I suppose."
"I—er—took the young ladies out some—we had glorious times, don't you know. One moonlight night on Lake George I shall never forget, don't you know. We were out in a tiny rowboat and the moon was sparkling over the water, and Geraldine and I——"
"Lucky Geraldine!" sighed Tom. "And thrice lucky Philander Willander—I mean William Philander!"
"Can't you make up a poem about Geraldine, Songbird?" asked Sam.
"And don't forget to put in the moonlight," came from Dick.
"And the silvery waves, and murmuring breeze," added Fred.
"How much older than you is Geraldine, any how?" quizzed Tom.
"You haven't got to tell her age if she is over thirty, Billy," said Larry. "Her age is sacred after that, you know."
"And don't tell us even if she has false teeth," came from Sam.
"And it doesn't make any real difference whether her hair is her own or not."
"It's hers if it is paid for," said Tom. "You don't suppose a girl that Billy would fall in love with would wear tresses that were stolen?"
"And to think she may be fat!" sighed Sam. "I hope she doesn't weigh over two hundred, Willy."
"Oh dear me!" cried the dude, in desperation. "I want you to remember——"
"That she is yours and yours only," finished Tom. "Yes, nobody shall walk in your corn patch, Bill—not over my dead body. But tell us—secretly if you must—does she wear a number eight shoe or a twelve?"
"If you don't stop your fooling——" gasped the dude.
"He is going to keep his dreadful secrets to himself," cried Tom, mournfully. "Alack! and too bad! But never mind, we'll all come to the wedding, Tubblets, and bring lemons if you say so?"
"Who said I was going to get married?"
"Is it to be a church affair or just a little private home gathering?" went on Tom, seriously. "If it's to be in a church, and you want us all for rushers—I mean ushers, why——"
"We'll all be on the job," finished Dick. "Wouldn't miss the chance for a farm with a blind mule thrown in."