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THE ROVER BOYS ON THE OCEAN OR A CHASE FOR A FORTUNE
BY Arthur M. Winfield (Edward Stratemeyer)
My dear Boys: "The Rover Boys on the Ocean" is a complete tale in itself, but forms a companion volume to "The Rover Boys at School," which preceded it.
In the former volume I tried to give my young readers a glimpse of life as it actually is in one of our famous military boarding schools, with its brightness and shadows, its trials and triumphs, its little plots and counterplots, its mental and physical contests, and all that goes to make up such an existence; in the present tale I have given a little more of this, and also related the particulars of an ocean trip, which, from a small and unpretentious beginning, developed into something entirely unlooked for an outing calculated to test the nerves of the bravest of American youths. How Dick, Tom, and Sam, and their friends stood it, and how they triumphed over their enemies, I will leave for the story itself to explain. This volume will be followed by another, to be entitled, "The Rover Boys in the jungle," telling of curious adventures in the heart of Africa.
As the first volume of the series was so I well received, my one wish is that the present tale may find equal favor at your hands.
Affectionately and sincerely yours,
September 20, 1899
THE ROVER BOYS ON THE OCEAN
SOMETHING ABOUT THE ROVER BOYS
"Luff up a little, Sam, or the Spray will run on the rocks."
"All right, Dick. I haven't got sailing down quite as fine as you yet. How far do you suppose we are from Albany?"
"Not over eight or nine miles. If this wind holds out we'll make that city by six o'clock. I'll tell you what, sailing on the Hudson suits me first-rate."
"And it suits me, too," put in Tom Rover, addressing both of his brothers. "I like it ten times better than staying on Uncle Randolph's farm."
"But I can't say that I like it better than life at Putnam Hall," smiled Sam Rover, as he threw over the tiller of the little yacht. "I'm quite anxious to meet Captain Putnam and Fred, Frank, and Larry again."
"Oh, so am I," answered Tom Rover. "But an outing on the Hudson is just the best of a vacation. By the way, I wonder if all of our old friends will be back?"
"Most of them will be."
"And our enemies?"
"Dan Baxter won't come back," answered Dick seriously. "He ran away to Chicago with two hundred dollars belonging to his father, and I guess that's the end of him—so far as Putnam Hall and we are concerned. What a bully he was!"
"I feel it in my bones, Dick, that we'll meet Dan Baxter again," came from Sam Rover.
"Don't you remember that in that note he left when he ran away he said he would take pains to get square with us some day?"
"He was a big blower, Sam," put in Tom. "I am not afraid of him. An his chum, Mumps, was a regular sneak coward. I hope Putnam Hall will be free from all such fellows during the next term. But we—Hold hard, Sam—there is another yacht bearing down upon us!"
Tom Rover leaped to his feet and so did Dick. Tom was right; another craft, considerably larger than their own, was headed directly for them.
"Throw her over to starboard!" sang out, Dick Rover. "And be quick about it—or we'll have a smash-up sure!" And he leaped to his brother's, assistance, while Tom did the same.
The Rover brothers were three in number—Dick, the oldest and most studious; Tom next, is full of fun as an egg is full of meat, and Sam the youngest.
In a former volume of this series, entitled, "The Rover Boys at School," I related how the three youths had been sent by their uncle, Randolph Rover, to Putnam Hall, a military boarding school, situated upon Cayuga Lake, in New York State.
Whether the three boys were orphans or not was a question that could not be answered. Their father, Anderson Rover, had been a geological expert and rich mine owner, and, returning from the West, had set sail for Africa, with the intention of exploring the central region of that country in the hope of locating some valuable gold mines. The boys and their uncle knew that he had journeyed from the western coast toward the interior with a number of natives, and that was all they did know, although they had made numerous inquiries, and hoped for the best. The lads' mother was dead; and all these things had happened years before they had been sent to boarding school.
Randolph Rover was an eccentric but kind hearted man, given over entirely to scientific farming, of which, so far, sad to relate, he had made a rather costly failure. He spent all of his time over his agricultural books and in the fields, and was glad enough to get the boys off his hands by sending them to the military school.
When vacation came he wondered what he should do with them during the summer, but the problem was solved by the boys, who hated to think of remaining on the farm, and who proposed a trip up and down the Hudson River and through Long Island Sound, providing their guardian would furnish the boat and bear the expense of the outing. The outcome was the chartering of the yacht Spray, and all of the boys took lessons in sailing from an old tar who knew exactly how such a craft should be handled.
At Putnam Hall the boys had made a number of friends, and also several enemies, and had had several surprising adventures, as my old readers already know. Who their friends and their enemies were, and what further adventures were in store for the three brothers, I will leave for the pages following to reveal. At present let us turn our attention to the boat which seemed on the point of running down the Spray.
Like their own craft, the other boat carried but a single mast. But the stick was at least ten feet longer than the mast of the Spray, and the boat was correspondingly larger in every respect. As she came nearer the Rover boys saw that she contained two occupants, a boy and a somewhat elderly man.
"Sheer off there!" cried Dick, at the top of his lungs. "Do you want to run us down?"
"Get out of the way yourself!" came back the answer from the boy in the other boat.
"We can't get out—we are almost on the rocks now!" yelled Tom. Then he gave a start of surprise. "Why, it's Mumps!"
"By jinks, it is John Fenwick!" muttered Dick. "I remember now that he came from the Hudson River and that his folks owned a boat." He raised his voice, "Are you going to sheer off or not?"
By this time the two boats were nearly bowsprit to bowsprit, and Sam Rover's heart almost stopped beating. But now Mumps spoke to the man with him, and his craft, called the Falcon, sheered to port, scraping the Spray's side as she did so.
"Mumps, what do you mean by such work?" demanded Dick, when the immediate danger was past.
"Ha! ha! I thought I would give you a scare," laughed the former sneak of Putnam Hall.
"You needn't be afraid but what I and old Bill Goss here know how to keep the Falcon out of danger."
"It was foolishness to run so close," said Tom.
"Don't you talk to me, Tom Rover. I've had enough of you, mind that."
"And I want you to mind and keep off next time, Mumps. If you don't—"
"What will you do?"
"I'll be tempted to come aboard the Falcon and give you a thrashing."
"You'll never set foot on my boat, and I'm not afraid of you," roared Mumps. "You think you got the best of me at Putnam Hall, but you didn't, and I want you to know it."
"How is your friend, Dan Baxter?" cried Sam. "Has he landed in jail yet?"
"Never mind Dan Baxter," growled Mumps, growing red in the face; and then the two yachts moved so far apart that further talk was impossible.
"Well, I didn't expect to meet him," muttered Dick, after the three brothers had cooled down a bit. "He must have known we were in this boat."
"I saw his craft last night, down near Catskill," said Tom. "I'll wager he has been following us up."
"He wouldn't do that unless he had some reason for it."
"I believe he would sink us if he could," put in Sam. "To my mind he is almost as bad as Baxter."
"Hardly, Sam; Dan Baxter is a thief and the son of a thief," came from Tom. "By the way, I wonder if Arnold Baxter is still in the hospital at Ithaca."
"More than likely, since he was so badly hurt by that fall from the train. If we—Look, Mumps has turned around and is following us!"
Sam pointed to the Falcon, and his brothers saw that he was right. Soon the larger craft was again within hailing distance.
"Hi, Mumps, what are you following us for?" demanded, Dick, as he stepped up on the stern seat.
"Didn't know I was following you," was the sour rejoinder. "I have a right to sail where I please."
"If you have any game in mind I advise you not to try it on."
"What game would I have, Dick Rover?"
"Some game to get yourself into trouble."
"I know my own business."
"Alright, you can go about your business. But don't try to step on our toes—or you'll get the worst of it."
"So you're going to play the part of a bully?"
"No; I'm only giving you fair warning. If you let us alone we'll let you alone."
"You have been watching the movements of the Falcon since day before yesterday," went on Mumps, slowly and distinctly, as though he expected his words to have a great effect.
"Watching your boat—" began Dick and Tom simultaneously.
"Yes, watching my boat—and I don't like it," answered Fenwick, and his face grew dark.
"Why should we watch your boat?" demanded Sam.
"Never mind why. You've been watching her, and that's enough."
"And why should we put ourselves out to that extent—when we are merely out for pleasure," said Dick. "There is no fun in watching a fellow like you, I'm sure."
"John is right; ye have been a-watchin' this boat," growled the old sailor named Bill Goss, who, it may be as well to state here, was thoroughly under his younger master's thumb for reasons best known to himself. "If I had my way I'd wollop the lot on ye!" And he shook his fist at the occupants of the Spray.
"You keep your oar out!" cried Dick sternly. "You are entirely mistaken in your suspicions. We are not spying on you or anybody, and if you—"
Dick was permitted to go no further. While Bill Goss was speaking the Spray had been caught by a sudden puff of wind and sent over to starboard. Now the Falcon came on swiftly, and in an instant her sharp bow crashed into the Rover boy's boat. The shock of the collision caused the Spray to shiver from stem to stern, and then, with a jagged hole in her side, she began to slowly sink.
THE ENCOUNTER ON THE RIVER
For the instant after the collision occurred none of the Rover boys uttered a word. Tom and Sam stared in amazement at Mumps, while Dick gazed helplessly at the damage done.
"Pull her away, quick, Bill!" cried Mumps in a low voice to the old sailor, who at once sprang forward and shoved the two yachts apart with a long boathook. Then the rudder of the Falcon was put hard a port, and she swung, away for a distance of half a dozen yards.
"We are sinking!" gasped Tom, who was the first of the three brothers to find his voice.
"Mumps, you rascal, what do you mean by this work?" demanded Dick. And then, without waiting for an answer, he turned to Sam. "Steer for the shore and beach her—if you can."
"I don't believe we can make it, Dick. But we can try."
"We'll have you locked up for this, Mumps," shouted Tom.
"I couldn't help it—it was an accident," returned the former sneak of Putnam Hall glibly. "You should have kept out of the way."
"We'll see about that later on."
"Maybe you want us to help you."
"We shan't ask you for the favor," burst out Sam. "I'd rather drown first." But Sam did not exactly mean this. He and his brothers could all swim, and he felt certain that they were in no immediate danger of their lives.
"You had better not ask any favors. I wouldn't pick you up for a barrel of money."
"I think we'll have to settle this in court, Mumps," said Dick, as quietly as he could.
"You can't prove I ran you down."
"Don't you dare to have us hauled up," put in Bill Goss. "It was an accident, jest as John says. I reckon as how it will teach ye a lesson not to follow us ag'in."
By this time the two yachts were once more so far apart that talking from one to the other became difficult. Besides this, the Rover boys felt that they must turn their whole attention to the Spray, so no more was said.
The yacht had been struck just at the water line and the hole made in her side was all of six inches in diameter. Through this the water was pouring into the hold at a lively rate.
"We're going down as sure as guns," groaned Tom. "Steer her right for the shore, Sam." This was done, and just as the Spray began to settle they ran upon a muddy and rocky flat about thirty feet from the river bank proper.
"There, we can't go down now," said Dick, with something of a sigh of relief. "Let us lower the mainsail and jib before the wind sends us over on our beam ends."
The others understood the value of the advice, and soon the mainsail of the yacht came down with a bang, and the jib followed. The Spray seemed inclined to list to port, but stopped settling when her deck line touched the surface of the river.
"That settles yachting for the present," said Dick in deep disgust.
"And the worst of it is, we haven't even a small boat to go ashore in," added Sam. "What's to do?"
"There is a rowboat putting out from the shore now," cried Tom. "Hullo, there!" he shouted, and waved his hand.
The shout was returned, and the rowboat was headed, in their direction. As it came closer they saw that its occupant was a middle-aged man of pleasant appearance.
"So you had a smash-up, eh?" shouted the man, as soon as he came near. "Anybody hurt?"
"Our boat is hurt," answered Tom dryly.
"Much of a hole?"
"Big enough to put us on the bottom."
"So I see. Want me to take you ashore?"
"Yes," put in Dick, "if you will be kind enough to do it."
"Certainly; always willing to aid anybody in distress. That other craft run you down in short order, didn't she?"
"Did you see it?" burst out Sam eagerly.
"To be sure I did."
"Then you know it was her fault."
"I do. She had no right to follow you up as she did."
"I'm glad you saw the mix-up, Mr..."
"Martin Harris is my name. I'm an old boatman around here—keep boats to hire, and the like. And who is this I'm to take ashore?"
"My name is Sam Rover. These are my two brothers, Dick and Tom."
"Do you know who it was ran into you?"
"It was the Falcon, a yacht owned by a Mr. Fenwick. His son and a man he called Bill Goss were aboard."
At this Martin Harris drew down his mouth. "A bad set, those. I know 'em well."
"And we know, Fenwick, too," put in Dick, "He's a regular sneak."
"That's right—takes after his father, who did his best to defraud me in a boat deal. And that Bill Goss is a sneak, too, and worse," and Martin Harris shook his head decidedly.
"Well, we can't talk about those people now," said Dick. "We're in a mess and must get out of it the best way we can. As you are an old boatman, what would you advise us to do?"
"Come ashore with me and then get Dan Haskett to take your boat in charge and fix her up. He can stop that leak somehow and pump her out and have her all right inside of twenty-four hours."
"Where can we find this Haskett?"
"Come into my boat and I'll take you to him."
The rowboat was now close at hand, and one after another the Rover boys stowed themselves away in the craft. Then Martin Harris took up the oars and started for the river bank. He turned down the stream a bit and landed them at an old dock over which hung the sign: "Daniel Haskett, Boat Builder and Repairer jobs Promptly Attended to—Charges Small."
Dan Haskett proved to be an elderly man, who was somewhat deaf, and it took the boys some time to make him understand the situation.
"We've had a smash-up," began Dick.
"Cash up?" said the deaf man. "Cash up for what?"
"We've had a smash-up!" repeated the boy in a louder tone. "We want our boat mended."
"What's ended?" asked the boat builder. "Your boat?"
"Almost ended," roared Tom. "We—want—you—to—fix—up—our—boat," he yelled.
"Oh, all right. Where is she?"
Dick pointed with his finger, and at once the boat builder understood. "There's a hole in her side," bawled the boy. "We want it patched up."
"All right; I can do that."
"Can we have her by tomorrow?"
"How's that?" And Dan Haskett placed his hand to his ear.
"Can—we—have—her—by—tomorrow?" yelled Dick.
"I guess so. I'll have to see how badly she is damaged first."
Haskett got out a small boat of his own and, taking Dick with him, rowed over to the wreck. He pronounced the injury small and said the boys could have their boat by noon the next day. The charges would be twelve or fifteen dollars.
"We'll be getting off cheaper than I thought," said Tom, on Dick's return. "Ought to come out of Mumps' pocket."
"That's so," added Sam. "By the way, I wonder what he meant by saying we were dogging him?"
"I can't say," replied Dick. "But I've been thinking that he can't be up to any good, or he wouldn't be so suspicious."
"Just exactly my idea!" burst out Tom. "Do you know what I half imagine?"
"That Mumps is cruising around waiting for Dan Baxter to join him."
"But Baxter went to Chicago."
"He won't stay there—not as long as his father is in the East. He will be back before long, if he isn't back already."
"But he took that money belonging to his father."
"What of that? His father can't do anything against him, for he himself is worse than his son, as we all know. Besides, his father is most likely still in the hospital."
"If you young gentlemen want to sail around until tomorrow noon, I can take you out in one of my boats," remarked Martin Harris. "I've got a first-class yacht, the Searchlight, that I can let you have reasonably."
"Thanks, but I would just as lief stay on shore until our boat is mended," answered Dick. "But I want to pay you for what you did for us," he added.
"Oh, that's all right."
But the boys thought otherwise, and in the end gave Martin Harris two dollars, with which the boatman was highly pleased.
"Remember, I saw that accident," he said, on parting. "I can prove it was the Falcon's fault."
"We'll remember that," answered Dick.
From time to time they had watched the Falcon's course until the yacht had disappeared down the river.
After a short debate the brothers decided to put up at a hotel which stood not far away, on a high cliff overlooking the noble Hudson.
"We've been on the water for nearly two weeks now," said Dick, "and to sleep in a real bed will be something of a novelty."
As it was in the height of the summer season the hotel was crowded; but some guests were just departing, and they managed to get a fairly good room on the second floor. This had a double bed, and a cot was added, to accommodate Sam; Dick and Tom sleeping together, as usual.
It was supper time when the boys arrived, and as soon as they had registered and washed up and combed their hair, they descended to the spacious dining room, where fully a score of tables were set.
"This way, please," said the head waiter, and showed them to a table at one side, overlooking one of the wide verandas of the hotel.
"I'm as hungry as a bear!" exclaimed Tom. "You can't serve us any too quick," he added, to the waiter who came up to take their orders.
"Yes, sah, do the best I can, sah," grinned the colored man. "What kind of soup, please?"
"I'll have ox-tail—" began Tom, when he happened to glance out of the window. As his gaze fell upon a man sitting in an easy chair on the veranda he uttered a low whistle. "By jinks, boys, look! Josiah Crabtree, as sure as you're born!" he whispered.
JOSIAH CRABTREE FREES HIS MIND
The individual to whom Tom referred had been a former master at Putnam Hall, but his disagreeable ways had led to his dismissal by Captain Putnam.
Josiah Crabtree was a tall, slim individual, with a sharp face and a very long nose. During the past term at Putnam Hall he had been very dictatorial to the Rover boys, and it must be confessed that they had made life anything but a bed of roses for him. Crabtree had been very desirous of marrying a certain widow by the name of Stanhope, but the marriage was opposed by Dora, the widow's daughter, and as Dick was rather sweet on Dora, he had done all he could to aid the girl in breaking off the match, even going so far as to send Crabtree a bogus letter which had taken the teacher out to Chicago on a hunt for a position in a private college that had never existed. Dick knew that Crabtree was comparatively poor and wished to marry the widow so that he could get his hands on the fortune which the lady held in trust for her only child.
"It is Crabtree," said Dick, as he gave a look.
"I wonder how he liked his trip to Chicago?" laughed Sam. "Perhaps the Mid-West National College didn't suit his lofty ideas."
"Hush! don't let him hear you talk of that," returned Dick. "He might get us into trouble."
"What kind of soup, sah?" interrupted the waiter, and then they broke off to give their order, and the waiter hurried off to fill it.
"I'd like to know if he has been around the Stanhope cottage again," mused Dick, as he sipped his soup.
"Dick can't bear to think of anybody around Dora," laughed Tom.
"I don't want him around," retorted the elder Rover, growing red in the face. "He wants the Stanhopes' money and that's all he does want. I don't believe he really loves Mrs. Stanhope."
"But why does she encourage him?" came from Sam. "Why don't she send him about his business?"
"Oh, she is sickly, as you know, and he seems to have a peculiar hypnotic influence over her, at least that's what Dora thinks."
"What are you laughing at, Tom?"
"I—I was thinking of the time we put the crabs in old Crabtree's bed," answered the younger brother.
"No, you, weren't—"
"Well?" demanded Tom, as Dick paused.
"You were laughing because I mentioned Dora, and—"
"'Pon my honor I wasn't," smiled Tom, but his look belied his words.
"You were. If I mention her cousins, Grace and Nellie Laning, I guess the laugh will be on you and Sam—"
"We'll call it quits," answered Tom hurriedly.
"They're all nice girls, eh, Sam?"
"To be sure. But, I say, hadn't we best keep out of old Crabtree's way?"
"I don't know as it's necessary," said Dick.
"I'm not afraid of him, I'm sure."
"Oh, neither am I, if you are going to put it that way," answered the youngest Rover.
"If he's stopping here I'm going to have some fun with him," grinned Tom.
The evening meal was soon finished, and the boys took a stroll around the grounds. They were just on the point of retiring when Dick drew his brothers' attention to a figure that was stealing through a nearby grove of trees.
"There goes Crabtree."
"I wonder where he is going," mused Sam. "Where does that path lead to?"
"Down to the river," came from Tom. And then he added suddenly: "Come, let us follow him."
"What's the good," grumbled Dick. "I'm tired out."
"There may be some chance for fun. Come on," and thus urged Dick and Sam followed their fun-loving brother.
The path through the grove ran directly to the cliff overlooking the Hudson, at a point where a series of stone steps led up from the water's edge. As they gained a spot where they could look down upon the river, Dick uttered a short cry.
"Look, boys, a yacht!" he said, pointing through the moonlight. "I'll wager it is the Falcon!"
"And Mumps is coming to meet Josiah Crabtree," put in Sam.
"But what would he want to see Crabtree about?" demanded Tom.
"That remains to be seen. Remember at Putnam Hall the only friends Josiah Crabtree had were Dan Baxter and Mumps."
"That is true, Dick. See, Crabtree has his handkerchief out and is waving it as a signal."
"And here comes somebody up the steps. Mumps, sure enough," whispered Sam.
"Let us get behind the trees and learn what is going on," came from Dick, and the three brothers lost no time in secreting themselves in the immediate vicinity.
"Well, John, I've been waiting for you," said Josiah Crabtree, as Mumps came forward and the two shook hands.
"So have I been waiting for you," returned the former sneak of Putnam Hall. "Why didn't you come yesterday?"
"It was impossible to do so, my lad. Is that the Falcon down there?"
"Who is in charge of her?"
"A sailor named Bill Goss."
"Is he a—ahem—a man to be trusted?"
"I guess I can trust him," snickered Mumps. "If he dared to give me away, I could send him to jail."
"You mean that you—er—have him—ahem—in your power?"
"That's it, Mr. Crabtree."
"Very good. And is be, a good sailor?"
"As good as any on the river."
"Then he can sail the yacht down the river without mishap?"
"He can take her to Florida, if you wish to go that far."
"No, I don't want to go that far—at least, not at present."
"Don't you think you ought to let me in on your little game," went on Mumps earnestly. "So far I'm in the dark."
"You will know all very soon, John—and you shall be well paid for what you do."
"That's all right. But if it isn't lawful—"
"I will protect you, never fear."
"Where is Dan Baxter?"
"Hush! It will be best not to mention his name, my lad."
"'But where is he?"
"I cannot say exactly."
"Is he around Lake Cayuga?"
"Well—ahem—more than likely he is. To tell the truth, he is very anxious to see his father."
"To bone him for some more money?"
"I think not. Daniel thinks a great deal of his parent, and when Mr. Baxter was so seriously injured—"
"Dan didn't care much for that. He isn't that kind."
"Daniel is a better boy than you think, John. He loves his parent, and when that imp of a Rover got Mr. Baxter into trouble Daniel was very much exercised over it."
"Gracious, but that's rich," murmured Dick. "I got him into trouble. I guess the rascal did that for himself."
"Well, we won't talk about that, professor," went on Mumps. "You didn't stay in Chicago long."
"No, I—ahem—the position offered to me did not suit my views, so I declined it."
"Gee-christopher!" came from Tom, and each of the Rovers could scarcely keep from laughing.
"I think those Rover boys put up a job on you," said Mumps. "At least, I got an inkling that way."
"Indeed. I would like to wring their necks, the imps!" burst out Josiah Crabtree. "Oh, what have I not suffered at their hands! At one hotel where I stopped they placed live crabs—But let that pass, the subject is too painful. To come back to the point. I can have the Falcon at any time that I may need her?"
"And you will promise to say nothing to a soul about what is done on the trip I propose?"
"Very good, You see, this is a—er—a delicate matter."
"Are you going to marry Mrs. Stanhope and use the yacht for your honeymoon?" said Mumps somewhat slyly.
"Hardly—although that would not be a bad idea, my lad. But now I have a different deal on hand—something very much different. If you do not object I'll take a look at your yacht and interview this sailor you mention."
"All right, come ahead."
Mumps led the way down the rocky steps and Josiah Crabtree followed, moving slowly that he might not fall. Creeping to the edge of the cliff, the Rover boys saw the pair reach the Falcon and go on board.
"Now what is in the wind?" said Dick, as soon as the pair were out of hearing.
"That's a conundrum," replied Tom. "I'll wager one thing though—old Crabtree is up to no good."
"I believe you are right. I wish we could hear the rest of what is going on."
"Can't we get close to the yacht?" suggested Sam. "See, the sky is clouding over. I don't believe they will see us going down the stairs."
They talked the plan over for a moment, then began to descend the steps, keeping as low down as possible and close to some brush which grew up in the crevices of the stones. Soon the river bank was gained at a point not over fifty feet from where the yacht lay.
They halted behind a large stone close to the water's edge. By straining their eyes in the darkness they saw Mumps, Crabtree, and Bill Goss in earnest conversation in the stern of the vessel. A low murmur came to their ears, but not a word could be understood.
"We must get closer," was Dick's comment, when to the surprise of all they saw the sailor hoist the mainsail of the Falcon. A gentle breeze was blowing, and soon the yacht was leaving the shore. They watched the craft until the gathering darkness hid her entirely from view.
THE DISASTROUS RESULT OF A TRICK
"Yes; and I wonder where to, Tom?"
"I don't believe the yacht will go very far," said Sam. "Maybe old Crabtree merely wants to see what sort of a sailing craft she is."
"We can watch here for a while," returned Dick.
They sat down on a rock and waited, in the meantime discussing the strange situation. They could reach no conclusion but that Josiah Crabtree had some plot he wanted to put into execution. "And it's something underhand, too," was Dick's comment.
At last they grew tired of waiting and almost fell asleep. This being the case they returned to the hotel and made their way to the bed chamber. Soon each was sleeping soundly.
When they awoke the sun was shining brightly—and it was half-past seven o'clock. "All up!" shouted Tom, and dragged Sam out by the foot. Soon they were dressed and made their way to the dining room.
They had scarcely seated themselves when Josiah Crabtree came in and was shown to a seat directly opposite the boys. He did not notice them at first and began to eat a dish of oatmeal silently and rapidly.
Tom nudged Sam, and the younger Rover nudged his oldest brother, and a snicker went up. At this Josiah Crabtree glanced at them carelessly. Then he started back in amazement.
"Why—er—why—ahem—so it is you!" he stammered. "I—er—where did you come from?"
"We came from our bedroom," answered Tom promptly. "Where did you come from, Mr. Crabtree?"
"Why—er—don't be impertinent, Rover. I might say that I came from my bedroom too."
"I thought you came from the river," remarked Dick carelessly.
"From the river?
"You are—ahem, mistaken, my lad. I have not been near the river—at least, not since I came up from New York on the boat."
"Stopping here for the summer?" put in Sam.
"I do not know as that is any of your business, Samuel. I am no longer a master at Putnam Hall and when I left that place I washed my hands of all those connected with that place."
"A good thing for the Hall, sir," came from Tom.
"Don't be insulting, Rover. You go your way and I'll go mine."
"As you please, sir. You spoke to us first."
"I'll take good care and not do it again. But this looks as if you were following me up."
"That's what Mumps said," cried Sam, before he had stopped to think twice.
"Ha! So you have met Mum—I mean John Fenwick?"
"We met him on the river."
"And he said you had been following him?"
"Never mind, Mr. Crabtree, we won't talk any more," put in Dick, with a warning glance at Sam. He turned to the waiter. "Some fish, please, trout; and see that the biscuits are warm."
"Yes, sah," grinned the negro.
Tom at once took the cue. "It's going to be a warm day," he said to Dick.
"I wonder how sailing was last night," put in Sam slyly.
At this Josiah Crabtree looked as black as a thundercloud.
"You boys have been playing the sneak on me!" he cried. "Take my advice and beware of what you do in the future."
"I wasn't talking to you," retorted Sam. "Kindly keep your remarks to yourself."
By this time others were coming to the table, consequently the cross-fire of words had to come to an end. Josiah Crabtree finished his repast as speedily as possible and strode out of the dining room in high but suppressed anger.
"He's a corker," remarked Tom. "I believe he'd half kill us if he dared."
"I guess he hasn't forgotten how I stopped him from maltreating Dora Stanhope," said Dick. "I wish I knew if he had been around their place since he came back from the West."
"Of course he has been back," said Tom. "And he'll marry Mrs. Stanhope yet—see if he don't."
"Not if I can help Dora prevent it," said his elder brother firmly.
Breakfast finished they walked out to learn what had become of Crabtree. They were just in time to see him leaving the hotel, valise in hand.
"He's off," said Tom. "I wonder where he is bound?"
"Let us follow him and find out," returned Dick,
This did not prove to be an easy matter, for at the foot of the hotel grounds Josiah Crabtree jumped into a stage which was in waiting, bound for the depot.
"He's off on the train, I guess," said Sam, and the others were inclined to agree with him.
Down at the river shore nothing could be seen of the Falcon, and they concluded that Mumps had also taken himself off.
The morning was spent around the hotel, in reading the newspapers and taking it easy out on the beautiful lawn.
"Hullo, here's a novelty!" cried Tom presently, and pointed to an Italian who was coming up to the hotel. The fellow had a small hand organ and a trained bear and two monkeys. The monkeys were dressed in red, white, and blue, and sat on the bear's back as he trotted along.
"He's going to give us a performance," said Sam, as the Italian came to a halt in the center of the grounds.
"There they go!"
The music started, and at once the bear reared himself on his hind legs and began to dance. In the meantime the monkeys climbed to the bear's head and began a little dance of their own.
"Now for a little sport," whispered Tom, and started for the hotel.
"Be careful of yourself!" warned Dick; "That bear looks as if he wasn't to be trifled with."
But Tom did not heed him, his whole mind being bent on having a laugh at the expense of the Italian and his animals. Going around to the kitchen of the hotel, he procured a couple of sugar cakes, pierced them with pinholes, and filled them up with pepper.
When he returned he found that a crowd had gathered and the Italian was passing around the hat. While Sam and Dick contributed several cents, Tom gave the bear one bun and divided the other between the two monkeys.
"Cheep! cheep!" went the monkeys, as if highly pleased.
"You're right, they are cheap," grinned Tom. "Hope you like the flavor."
The monkeys began to eat ravenously, for they were nearly starved. But they had not swallowed many mouthfuls before they noticed something wrong. Then one threw his bun at Tom in a rage. A second later the other monkey leaped back on the bear's head and began to dance and scratch wildly, in the meanwhile scattering the bun crumbs in all directions.
"Hi! hi! whata you do to de monks?" demanded the Italian. "You letta de monks alone!"
"I'm not touching the monks," replied Tom, and slipped out of sight in the crowd.
By this time the bear had swallowed the larger portion of the bun given to him. It was the more peppery of the two, and it brought tears to the beast's eyes. With a roar of rage he, turned and shook the monkey from his head and leaped away from his keeper, dragging his chain after him.
The monkeys were evidently not used to seeing the bear in an ugly mood, and at once they sought safety by getting out of his reach. One leaped into a tree and ran like a cat to the top, while the second pounced on the shoulder of an elderly damsel, who looked exactly what she was, a hot-tempered old maid.
"Oh, dear!" screamed the elderly damsel. "Take the horrid thing off! Take it off this minute!"
"Come here, Jocko!" roared the Italian. "Come, Jocko!" and he held out his hands.
But Jocko had no intention of coming. Instead he clung the closer, his two forefeet in the lady's hair. The hair was largely false, and all of a sudden a long switch came loose and fell to the ground.
At this the damsel screeched at the top of her lungs and, caught at the hair. The monkey cried, too, in concert, and then a young man rushed in to the rescue. But Jocko's blood was up, and, leaping to the young man's shoulder, he tore off his straw hat and began to pull it to bits. Then, with the hat still in his possession, he made a leap to the tree and joined his brother at the top.
By this time the uproar was general, and it seemed to anger the bear still more. He had been rushing over the lawn, upsetting easy chairs and benches, but now he charged straight for the crowd.
"Look out for the bear!"
"The beast is going mad and will chew somebody up!"
"Shoot him, somebody, before we are all killed!"
Such were some of the cries which rang out. The Italian turned pale with anger and alarm.
"No shootta Marcus!" he cried. "No shootta heem. He de goodda bear!"
"Then catch him!" put in the proprietor of the hotel. "Catch him and tie him up."
But this the Italian could not do, and when the bear headed for him he ran as hard as anybody present. Around and around the grounds fled the people, some rushing for the hotel and the others to the stables and to a large summer house. The bear made first for one and then another, but at last halted in front of the stable, which now contained the Rover boys, two ladies and an elderly man, and two colored hostlers.
"Shut the doors!" cried Dick, but his words were unnecessary, for the colored men were already closing them. The bar had scarcely been dropped into place when the bear hurled himself with all force against the barrier.
"He is going to break in the door!" cried one of the ladies.
"Let us go upstairs," said the elderly gentleman, and lost no time in leading the way.
There was a back door to close, and one of the negroes started for this. But just as he got close to the door he saw the bear coming, and, uttering a wild yell, he too made for the stairs.
Tom was close at hand, and it must be confessed that he felt thoroughly sorry over what he had done. "I'm responsible for all of it," he groaned. Then, as the bear stepped close to the back door, he got behind the barrier and tried to shove it shut.
The result was a surprise for both boy and bear, for as the beast made a leap the edge of the door caught him, and in a twinkle the animal was held fast by the neck between the door and its frame.
A NEVER-TO-BE-FORGOTTEN SWIM
"I've got him fast! Help! Help!"
"Tom's caught the bear!" shouted Sam. "Can you hold him, Tom?"
"I guess I can if some of you will help me!" panted the youth. "Hurry up!"
Sam and Dick were on the stairs, but now both ran to their brother's assistance, and all three pushed upon the door with all of their strength.
The barrier groaned and creaked and it looked as if at any instant it would burst from its hinges.
"Gracious, we can't hold him very long!" gasped Sam. "Can't somebody hit the animal with a club?"
"I reckon I can do dat!" shouted one of the hostlers, and caught up an ax-handle which stood in one corner. As he approached the bear, the beast uttered a roar of commingled rage and fear, and this was so terrorizing to the colored man that he dropped the ax-handle and ran for his very life.
"Come back here!" cried Tom.
"Can't do it, boss; he's gwine ter chew me up!" howled the hostler.
"Hold the door—I'll hit him," put in Sam and he picked up the ax-handle. Stepping forward, struck out heavily, and the bear dropped in a heap, completely dazed and more than half choked to death.
By this time the Italian was again at hand. In one pocket he carried a thin but strong line, in a twinkle he had tied one fore and one hind leg together, so that the bear, when he got up again, could do little but hobble along. Then from another pocket he drew a leather muzzle, which he buckled over the beast's head. But the bear had had all of the ugliness knocked out him and was once more as docile as ever.
"Tom," whispered Dick. "I guess the best we can do is to get out of this place. If folks discover the trick you played, they'll mob you."
"I guess you're right. But who'll settle our bill?"
"I'll do that," said Sam. "They know I wasn't near the bear when the rumpus started."
So it was agreed, and while Tom and Dick left the hotel grounds. Sam strolled into the office to pay their bill. It was some time before the clerk came to wait on him.
"Say, I believe, your brother started this kick-up," observed the clerk.
"What?" demanded Sam, in pretended astonishment.
"I say, I think he started this kick-up."
"The one with the bear, of course."
"Why, my brothers helped to catch the beast."
"I know that; but one of 'em started it. What do you want?"
"I want to pay our bill. How much is it?"
"Going to leave?"
"Think you had better, eh?"
"We only hired our room until this noon." Sam drew himself up. "If you want your pay you be civil."
"Yes, but—" The clerk broke off short. "That will be six dollars, please."
"All right, there you are," and Sam shoved the bills over. "Now don't say we created a muss or I'll report you to the proprietor."
"Yes, but see here—"
"I've not got my glasses just now. Good-by, and—"
"That man hasn't got his monkeys yet, and—"
"What's that to you? Are you afraid the proprietor will put one of 'em in here in your place?" And before the clerk could say another word Sam ran off and joined his brothers at the river bank.
Soon the three reached the dock where the Spray lay undergoing repairs. The deaf man was just finishing his work.
"She'll be about as good as ever," he said, in reply to Dick's question. "She's a fine boat."
"I guess he says that of every boat that brings him in a job," murmured Sam. "Come on."
He went aboard and the others followed. Dan Haskett was paid off, the mainsail was hoisted, and once more they stood up the river in the direction of the State capital. It was their intention to spend two days in Albany and then return to New York with the yacht. This would wind up their vacation, for Putnam Hall was to open on the following Monday.
The day proved an ideal one, but the wind was light and the yacht scarcely moved even with the mainsail and jib set to their fullest. This being so, the boys got out their fishing lines and spent an hour in trolling, and succeeded in catching several fair-sized fish.
"We'll have to cook our own dinner," remarked Dick. "Tom, since you did us out of our meal at the hotel I reckon you are the one to fall in for this work."
At this Tom cut a wry face, but still, seeing the justice of his elder brother's remark, he went at the dinner-getting with a will. The yacht boasted a kerosene stove, and over this he set fish to frying and a pot of potatoes to boiling. As the river was calm and the yacht steady the little stove worked very well.
They were still out of sight of Albany when the midday meal was pronounced ready. In addition to the articles already mentioned, they had coffee, bread and butter, and what was left of a cocoanut pie purchased the day previous. The boys were all hearty eaters, and the food disappeared as if by magic.
After dinner the breeze died out utterly, and Sam proposed that they cast anchor close to shore and take a swim. The others were willing, and soon they had disrobed and donned their bathing trunks and were sporting in the water to their hearts' content.
The water was somewhat colder than they had anticipated, and the effect upon Sam was disastrous. The youngest Rover had eaten more heartily than either of his brothers and this made him sick at the stomach. However, as he did not wish to alarm Dick and Tom and so spoil their fun, he said nothing about his condition.
"Let us race each other," suggested Tom, and started off up the shore, with Dick close beside him. Sam brought up in the rear, but soon gave up the contest.
"Help!" The single cry reached the ears of Tom and Dick when they were fully a hundred feet from the Spray. Both turned just in time to behold Sam throw up his arms and sink from view.
"Great Caesar!" burst out Dick. "What can that mean?"
"Maybe he is only fooling," replied Tom. "Yet I wouldn't think he would be so foolish."
"I don't think Sam is fooling," said Dick seriously, and at once struck out to where the youngest Rover had gone down. Of course Tom went with him.
To reach the spot was not an easy matter, and they were still some distance away when they saw Sam come up again. Then there was a wild circling of arms and the boy disappeared once more.
"He is drowning!" gasped Dick hoarsely.
"Come, we must save him, Tom!"
"Yes, yes," was the puffing answer, for Tom was swimming as never before, and for a brief instant he remembered that awful adventure Sam had had at Humpback Falls, the summer previous. At that time the youngest Rover had nearly lost his life in the water.
It was Dick who gained the spot first, just as Sam came up and went down again—totally unconscious. Diving, the elder Rover caught his brother around the chest, under the arms.
"Sam, Sam, what is it?" he questioned, and as no reply came back his heart almost stopped beating. What if his brother was dead? The agony of the thought was terrible beyond description.
"Can I help you?" The question came from Tom, who was now at the side of the others.
"Catch hold of one arm, if you will," answered Dick. "He's a dead weight."
"Oh!" The moan came so unexpectedly that both Tom and Dick were amazed. Then of a sudden Sam opened his eyes and clutched Dick by the throat. "Save me!"
Clearly the youngest Rover was out of his mind or he would not have taken such a hold. As it was, Dick was nearly strangled and had to unlock the fingers by sheer force. Then Sam grabbed him again, and it looked as if both would go down to a watery grave.
But now Tom came to the rescue. Swimming up from behind, he caught Sam first under one arm—and then under the other, in a back-to-back fashion. Then he bent forward and began to tread water, thus holding his brother's head well out of water.
"Push us ashore, Dick!" he panted, and understanding the movement perfectly, the elder brother did as desired. Soon all three gained a point from which Tom could wade to the river bank with ease.
It was an anxious pair that bent over Sam, who rested on his back with his eyes closed. But the youngest Rover was not allowed to remain long in that position. Tom and Dick knew something of how to handle a person who is nearly drowned, and they now made use of this knowledge with all speed. Sam was rolled and hoisted up by the ankles, and thus he got rid of a large quantity of the water he had swallowed.
Yet even when he came to his senses he was too weak to walk, and Tom had to bring the Spray close to shore, and the sufferer had to be carried on board, his brothers wading up to their waists for that purpose.
"The first cramp I got was in the stomach," said Sam, when he could talk. "Then it went all over me like an electric shock, and I felt I was going to drown. What happened after that was like some awful dream!" And he shuddered. It was a long while before any of them got over that adventure.
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING
As just related, the boys had brought the Spray as closely inshore as possible. All were now in the cabin, Dick and Tom attending to Sam's wants; and consequently no one noticed the passage of one of the palatial steamers that make daily trips between New York and the capital of the State.
These steamers, in running so fast, cast out long rollers on both sides that go tumbling shoreward one after another. The rollers now caught the Spray and sent her dancing up and down like a cork.
"Hullo, we're in danger!" shouted Tom, and rushed for the deck, with Dick almost at his heels. The anchor was dragging, and unless pushed off the yacht would soon be pounding on the rocks.
"I'll put up the sail!" roared Dick. "You bring up the anchor!"
"I guess you had better pole her off," replied Tom. Nevertheless, he did as Dick requested, working like a beaver.
The wind was still faint, and when the mainsail was hoisted it failed to fill. Seeing this, Dick seized a pole and Tom did the same. They speedily found that they could not send the yacht out any distance. But, with a pole at the bow and another at the stern, they managed to keep her off the rocks until the rollers began to go down. Then they shoved off with ease and moved slowly up the river.
"I'll tell you what, in handling a boat you have got to have your weather eye open all the time," observed Tom.
"Yes, and you want to have it open on all sides of you," smiled Dick. "If you don't, you'll catch it before you are aware."
Sam lay on one of the tiny berths with which the Spray was provided. His face was deathly white, and, to use his own words, he felt "as weak as a rag."
"I'm just beginning to realize how close to death I was," he whispered to Tom. "It was awfully good of you and Dick to do what you did."
"Pooh! you would do just as much for us, Sam," answered the fun-loving brother. But, just the same, he gave Sam's hand a tight squeeze on the quiet.
"What was that thumping, Tom?" asked the younger brother a bit later.
"The rollers from a big steamer nearly put us on the rocks."
"Gracious, more perils! Don't you think we had better give up our outing on the water?"
"It will come to an end in a few days, Sam. We'll make the trip to Albany, and that will be the last of it."
It was nightfall by the time they came up to the capital city. Getting the necessary permission to tie up at one of the private wharves, they locked up the cabin of the Spray and went ashore.
"Tom Rover, as I live! And Dick and Sam, too!"
The cry came from up the street, and soon a boy of Dick's age was running to meet them. It was Frank Harrington, their old school chum and room-mate of Dormitory No. 6.
"Frank!" came from the three, and a general handshaking followed.
"What brings you here?" asked Dick.
"Why, don't you know, my folks moved up to Albany from New York—father's in the State Senate now, you know," returned Frank, with pride.
"Oh, that's so—and you are a senator's son," put in Tom. "I guess we'll have to tip our hats to you after this and call you Mr. Harrington."
"Stow it, Tom, and keep your jokes until school opens," interrupted Frank. "Yes, we live here, and I thought you knew all about it. I sent you a letter."
"We've been away from home for several weeks," explained Dick, and told of their outing on the water.
"It must be jolly. My father owns a boat, but we seldom use it. So you are going to stay in Albany over tomorrow? If that's the case you must come up to our house. I won't hear of your going to a hotel."
"Will that arrangement suit your folks?" questioned Dick.
"Oh, yes! The girls are all away—down to Asbury Park—and so is mother; and father and I and the servants have the whole mansion to ourselves. I can tell you, it's just a bit lonely at times, and I'm real glad you came," concluded Frank.
"If your father is a senator perhaps you can get us a pass through the Capitol building," put in Sam.
"You won't need a pass. I'll go with you. But, Sam, you look sick."
Sam's tale had to be told to Frank, who, meanwhile, led the way to a street car. Boarding this, the boys soon reached the Harrington mansion, located on one of Albany's finest thoroughfares. Here they met Senator Harrington and were speedily introduced.
"I've heard of you before," smiled the senator. He was a pleasant-looking man of forty-five. "Frank says the Rover boys were the whole school—or something like that."
At this there was a laugh. "I guess he must have been one of the Rovers, then," rejoined Tom; "he was just as good as any of us." And then there was another laugh, and the newcomers felt perfectly at home.
There was a concert company in town, and, receiving permission from his father to do so, Frank took his friends to see the performance. The singing was very good; and, despite the fact that it was still warm weather, the concert hall was packed.
The program was a long one, and, with the numerous encores, did not come to an end until nearly eleven o'clock.
"That was immense," remarked Tom, when they were coming out. "I wish I could sing like that tenor."
"We ought to get up a quartet at the Hall," put in Frank. "I understand they had a singing club year before last."
"We're going to have a banjo club," said Dick.
"Larry Colby wrote to me about it. He has a new banjo that cost fifteen dollars, and he—"
Dick broke off short as a slouchy-looking man brushed against him. The eyes of the man and the boy met, and then the man disappeared in the crowd as if by magic.
"Well, I never!"
"What's the matter, Dick?" came from all the others.
"Didn't you see him?"
"Buddy Girk, the tramp thief, the fellow who used to train with Dan Baxter's father."
"What, the fellow who stole your watch and broke jail at Rootville?" came from Tom.
"Where is he now?" questioned Sam.
"I don't know. The instant he saw me he skipped."
"I'll wager he wasn't in the crowd for any good purpose," went on Dick, as he remembered how he had suffered the loss of his timepiece at Buddy Girk's hands. Dick had had a good deal of trouble in recovering the article.
"He ought to be pointed out to the police," put in Frank. "It's not safe to have such men at large."
"I wish I could collar him and make him talk about father's affairs," grumbled Tom.
"Why, did he know anything of your father's affairs?" exclaimed Frank Harrington, in astonishment.
"I think so. You see, Arnold Baxter tried to defraud my father out of some western mining property, and this Buddy Girk was mixed up in the affair—how, I don't exactly know."
"I see. By the way, Tom, have you heard anything of your father yet?"
"Not a word," and Tom's face grew sober. "It does beat all what has become of him, doesn't it?" he added.
"I should think you would want to go and hunt him up."
"We've talked about that already, but Uncle Randolph, who is our guardian, thinks it would prove a wild-goose chase. He says the interior of Africa is a big place to hunt any man in."
"He's right there. But still I would want to hunt for him, even if I had to go into the very jungles to do it."
"We'll go some day—unless father turns up," put in Dick decidedly. "If Uncle Randolph won't go, we'll go alone. But I would like to meet this Buddy Girk," he continued, after a brief pause.
The boys had to walk to the corner of the block to get aboard of a street car, and while waiting there, somewhat in the shadow, Sam pulled Dick by the coat sleeve.
"There he goes!"
"Buddy Girk. See him sneaking along the buildings over there?" and the youngest Rover pointed with his hand.
All saw the figure, and Tom at once proposed that they follow the fellow. Frank was willing, and away they went across the street and also into the gloom.
Buddy Girk was making good time past a number of business buildings which at this hour of the night were locked and barred up and practically deserted.
"I wonder if he saw us start to follow him?" whispered Dick, after several blocks had been passed.
"I don't think so. If he had, it's more than likely that he would have legged it to get away. He—hullo, he's going into that alleyway!"
As Tom spoke he pointed to an opening between two tall office buildings. Reaching the spot they saw, at the foot of the alleyway, a couple of tenement houses. Buddy Girk was ascending the steps of one of the houses, and presently he disappeared within the dark hall.
"He must be stopping here," remarked Sam.
"That is something worth knowing—if we want to put the police on his track."
"I might have him arrested at once," suggested Dick. "He may not be here in the morning."
"Why don't you go and have a talk with him?" came from Frank. "He may get scared and tell you all you want to know about that mining business."
"By jinks, there is something in that!" cried Dick.
"Don't you get into trouble," warned Tom. "He may prove an ugly customer if you corner him."
"Let's all go in," said Sam. "He won't dare to do much with four against him."
The subject was discussed for a few minutes, and they resolved to follow Sam's advice, Dick to lead the way and learn just how the land lay.
Then all walked down the alleyway and toward the tenement, little dreaming of the surprise in store for them.
DICK IS MADE A PRISONER
The hallway of the tenement was pitch-dark, the door standing open for a foot or more. From a rear room came a thin stream of light under a door and a low murmur of voices.
"I guess he went to the rear," whispered Dick. "You wait around the corner till I see."
Noiselessly he entered the hallway and walked to the door of the rear room. Listening, he heard an Irishman and his wife talking over some factory work the man had been promised.
"Girk can't be there," he thought, when he heard an upper door open.
"Hullo, Buddy, back again!" muttered a strangely familiar voice, and then the upper door was closed and locked.
Wondering where he had heard that voice before, Dick came forward again and ascended the rickety stairs. They creaked dismally, and he fully expected to see somebody come out and demand what was going on. But nobody came, and soon the upper hall was gained, and he reached the door which he rightfully guessed had just been opened and closed.
"Yes, everything is all okay," were the first words to reach his ears. "But I had a sweet job to find Mooney. He's cracked on music, it seems, and had gone to a concert instead of attending to business."
"But he won't fail us tomorrow morning?" came in a second voice, and now Dick recognized the speaker as Arnold Baxter, his father's worst enemy, who had been left at the hospital in Ithaca with a broken limb and several smashed ribs. Baxter had tackled Dick while the two were on a moving train, and, while trying to throw the boy off, had gotten the worst of the encounter by tumbling off himself.
"Arnold Baxter! is it possible!" muttered Dick to himself. "He must have a constitution like iron to get around so soon."
"No, Mooney won't fail us," said Buddy Girk. "I gave him a mighty good talkin' to, I did."
"I can't afford to have him go back on us," growled Arnold Baxter. "I'm not well enough yet to do this job alone."
"How does your chest feel?"
"Oh, the ribs seem to be all right. But my leg isn't. I shouldn't wonder but what I'll have to limp more or less for the rest of my life."
"That puts me in mind. Whom do you reckon I clapped eyes on down at the concert hall tonight?"
"I'm sure I don't know. Any of our enemies?"
"Those three Rover boys."
"What!" Arnold Baxter pushed back his chair in amazement. "Can they be—be following me?" he gasped.
"No. I saw 'em by accident. They had been to the concert."
"But they don't belong here. They live on a farm called Valley Brook, near the village of Dexter's Corners."
"They were with another boy—a well-dressed chap. Maybe they are paying him a visit."
Arnold Baxter shook his head. "I don't like this. If they have got wind of anything..."
"But how could they get wind?" persisted Buddy Girk.
"That would remain to be found out. You must remember, Buddy, that they are down on me because of that row I once had with their father over that gold mine."
"I know it. And, by the way, I never got nothin' out of that deal neither," growled Buddy Girk.
"Didn't I tell you that some papers were missing? I half believe Anderson Rover took them with him when he set out for Africa."
"Then they are gone for good."
"Not if he comes back, Buddy. That man is like his boys—bound to turn up when you least expect it. That gold mine was—What's that?"
Arnold Baxter stopped short and leaped to his feet. A wrangle in the hallway just outside of the door had interrupted him.
"Vot vos you doin' here, hey?" came in a heavy German voice. "I dink me you vos up to no goot, hey?"
"Let me go!" came from Dick. "I have done no harm."
"I dink you vos von sneak thief alretty! Stand still bis I find owit."
"It's Dutch Jake!" cried Buddy Girk. "He has collared somebody in the hall. I'll see who it is."
He threw open the door and allowed the light of a lamp to fall on Dick and the burly man who had captured the youth.
"Great smoke! It's one of dem Rover boys!" he cried, dropping into his old-time manner of speech. "Wot are you doin' here?"
"You know dot young feller?" demanded the man who had been mentioned as Dutch Jake.
"Yes, I do, and he's up to no good here," replied Buddy Girk.
"Den maybe I best kick him owit kvick, hey?"
"Yes—no—wait a minute." Girk turned to Arnold Baxter. "Here is that oldest Rover boy spying on us."
"Ha! I told you they were regular rats for that sort of work," fumed Arnold Baxter.
"Don't let him go."
"He may know too much. Bring him in here till I question him."
"Not much!" burst out Dick. "Help! Help!"
His cries came to a sudden ending as Buddy Girk clapped a large and somewhat dirty hand over his mouth.
"Run him in here, Jake," said the former tramp. "He is a fellow we have an account to settle with."
"Is dot so? Vell, I ton't vont me no troubles," answered the German doubtfully.
"It's all right—he—he stole some of our money. That's right, in with him," and Dick was run into the room, after which Dutch Jake retired as suddenly as he had appeared. He was an elderly man, of a queer turn of mind, and, all by himself, occupied a garret room of the tenement.
As soon as the door was locked Arnold Baxter faced Dick. "Now will you keep quiet, or shall I knock you over with this?" he demanded, and raised a heavy cane he had grown into the habit of carrying since he had escaped from the hospital, on the very day that the authorities were going to transfer him to the jail at Ithaca.
"Don't you dare to touch me, Arnold Baxter!" cried the boy boldly.
"Will you keep quiet?"
"That depends. What do you want of me?"
"You followed Girk to this place and were spying on us."
"I think I had a right to follow Girk. He is wanted by the authorities, as you know."
"You heard us planning to do something."
"Perhaps I did."
"I know you did."
"All right, then; don't ask me about it."
"You think that you are a smart boy," growled Baxter uneasily.
"Thank you for nothing."
"Don't get impudent."
"That is what old Crabtree used to say."
"The Rovers always were too important for their own good, young man."
"We know how to do the fair thing by others—and that is more than you!"
"Shut up; I'm in no humor to listen to your preaching."
"Then open the door and let me go."
"Not just yet. I want to know how much you overheard of my talk with Buddy Girk."
"I reckon he heard all of it," growled the fool.
"If I was you, Baxter, I wouldn't let him go at all."
"You would keep him a prisoner?"
Buddy Girk nodded.
"But we can't guard him, Buddy."
"We won't want to guard him. Just bind him hands and feet, and stuff a gag in his mouth, and there you are."
"Would you leave him in this room?"
"I don't know." Girk scratched his tangled head of hair. "No, I wouldn't. I'll tell you where to take him."
He finished by whispering into Arnold Baxter's ear. At once the rascal's face brightened, and he nodded. "Just the thing!" he muttered.
"It will serve him right."
"Are you going to let me go?" demanded Dick uneasily, for he saw that the two were plotting to do him injury.
"No," came from both.
Without another word Dick leaped for the door. The key was in the lock, but ere he could turn it Buddy Girk hauled him back. A scuffle followed, which came to a sudden termination when Arnold Baxter raised his heavy cane and struck the boy, on the back of the head. With a million stars dancing before his eyes, poor Dick went down completely dazed.
Girk lost no time in following up the advantage thus gained, and by the time Dick felt like rising he found his hands bound behind him and a gag of knotted cloth stuffed into his mouth. Then his feet were fastened together, and he was rolled up in an old blanket much the worse for wear and the want of washing.
"Now, come on, before anybody else spots us!" exclaimed Baxter. "If you can lift him alone I'll bring the light. I'm no good on the carry yet."
"All right, light the way," answered Buddy Girk, and took up the form of the boy.
Taking up the smoky lamp, Arnold Baxter led the way out of a rear door to a side hallway. Here two flights of stairs led to a low and ill ventilated cellar. The underground apartment had never been used for anything but old rubbish, and this was piled high on all sides.
"Here we are," said Baxter, as he paused in front of what had once been a stone coal bin. "Dump him in there and shut the door on him. I don't believe he'll get out in any hurry."
Dick's form was dropped on a heap of dirty newspapers and straw. Then Girk and Baxter left the bin. There was a heavy door to the place, and this they closed and shoved the rusty bolt into the socket. In a second more they were on their way upstairs again, and Dick was left to his fate.
THE SEARCH FOR DICK
"Dick is taking his time, that's certain."
The remark came from Sam, after the boys who had been left in the alleyway had waited the best part of half an hour for the elder Rover's reappearance.
"Perhaps he has found something of interest," suggested Frank.
"And perhaps he has fallen into a trap," put In Tom. "I've a good mind to hunt him up."
"If you go I'll go with you," said Sam.
"I don't want to be left out here alone," said Frank. "Let us wait a little longer."
The best part of an hour passed, but of course nothing was seen or heard of Dick.
"I shan't wait any longer," began Tom, when they saw the front door of the tenement opened and two men hurried forth. Both had their hats pulled far down over their eyes and had their coat collars turned up, even though the night was warm.
"Out of sight!" cried Sam in a low voice, and they dropped down behind the stoop of the second tenement.
"One of those men was Buddy Girk!" ejaculated Tom, when the pair had passed up the alleyway.
"And don't you know who the other was?" demanded Sam. "It was Dan Baxter's father!"
"Impossible, Sam. Arnold Baxter is in the hospital, and—"
"It was Dan Baxter's father, as true as I'm born, Tom. No wonder he walked with a cane! Am I not right, Frank?"
"I don't know, I'm sure I don't remember Dan's father. But that was Buddy Girk, beyond a doubt."
All of the boys were considerably excited and wondered if it would be best to follow up the vanishing pair.
"I'd do it if I was certain Dick was safe!" cried Tom. "I'm going to hunt for him," he added, and before the others could stop him he entered the tenement. He stumbled around the lower hallway for several minutes and then called out softly:
"Dick! Dick! Where are you?"
No answer came back, and he continued his search. Then, lighting a match, he mounted the rickety stairs and called out again.
"Phat are ye a-raisin' such a row about?" demanded an Irish voice suddenly, and a front room door was thrown open. "Can't ye let a dasent family slape?"
"I'm looking for my brother," replied Tom. "Sorry to disturb you. Have you seen anything of him?"
"Sure an' I don't know yer brother from the side av sole leather, b'y. Go 'long an' let me an' me family slape," replied the Irishman.
"I've got to find my brother, sir. I'm afraid he has met with foul play. He came to see the men who just went out."
"Oh, is that so now? Foul play, is it? I thought them newcomers was up to no good. I heard 'em carryin' on in their room a while ago."
"Which room is it, please?"
"There ye are—the wan on the lift. Is the dure open?"
Tom tried the door. "No, it's locked—the two men just went out." He raised his voice. "Dick! Where are you? Dick!"
"If yez call like that yez will have the wholt tiniment aroused," said the Irishman. "An' it's' a bad crowd on the nixt flure, I kin tell ye that."
"I can't help it—I am bound to find my brother," replied Tom desperately.
Disappearing for a moment, the Irishman came out half dressed and with a lighted candle in his hand. By this time Sam and Frank had followed Tom to the upper floor. Soon several men and women put in an appearance, including Dutch Jake.
"Who vos dot poy you vos look for?" asked the aged German. "Vos he der von vot was standin' by dis door apout an hour ago?"
"I guess so," said Tom.
"Dem mans vot got dis room open der door und took him inside."
"Took him inside!" burst out Sam and Tom simultaneously.
"Yah," replied Dutch Jake, but failed to add that he had had anything to do with the capture.
"Von of dem say dot poy vos stole some money alretty."
"It was a cock-and-bull story to make him a prisoner," said Tom. "I'm going to find him if I can," and he threw himself on the door with all of his strength.
At first the barrier refused to budge, but when Sam and Frank also pushed, it gave way with a bang, hurling the trio to the floor inside.
By this time the excitement had been communicated to the next tenement in which lived Caleb Yates, the landlord of the two buildings. Yates, a sour-minded old man, lost no time dressing and coming over, armed with a nightstick.
"What does this disturbance mean?" he demanded in a high-pitched voice. "Who broke this door in?"
"We did," replied Tom boldly. "We want to find my brother," and he related how Dick had disappeared.
"I know nothing of your trouble with my tenants," said Caleb Yates. "But I won't have my property destroyed."
"I'm going to find my brother if I have to turn the house upside down."
"And I am going to find him, too," put in Sam.
"Do you know that the men who have this room are thieves, and that one of them broke jail at Rootville?"
"I don't believe your yarn, boy—they looked like very respectable gentlemen, both of them. You had better go about your business—after you have paid me for breaking down the door. You shan't ransack their property."
"If you stop us, I'll call in the police and have you arrested," came promptly from Tom.
This threat nearly took away Caleb Yates' breath. "Arrested!" he gasped.
"Yes, arrested. My brother came in here, and is missing. Those two men are our enemies. If you want to keep out of trouble you will help us to hunt up my brother."
"That is just what you had better do, sir," added Frank.
"And who are you?" demanded the irate landlord.
"I am Frank Harrington, son of Senator Harrington."
At this unexpected announcement the jaw of the landlord dropped perceptibly. "Why—er—I didn't know you were Senator Harrington's son," he stammered.
"I think if you wish to keep out of trouble you had best aid us all you can. The young man we are after came in here a short while ago and has utterly disappeared. I am afraid he has met with foul play."
"But Mr. Arson and Mr. Noble are gone."
"Is that the names they were known under?"
"Their right names are Girk and Baxter. They left the building just before we came up."
"What was your brother doing here?" asked Caleb Yates in a calmer tone.
"He was not my brother, but my warmest friend. He was tracking the short man, the fellow whose name is Girk. Girk once robbed him of his watch."
"I see. And you are sure of your men? If you are, search away, for I want no shady characters in these houses."
The search began immediately, several of the inmates of the tenements taking part. Everything in the room Girk and Baxter had occupied was turned topsy-turvy, but no trace of Dick was brought to light until Tom looked under the table.
"Here's his pocket-knife!" he cried, and held the article up. "This proves that he came in here beyond a doubt."
"Yes; but where is he now?" put in Sam.
"They couldn't have spirited him away."
"He can't be far off," said Frank.
Again was the search renewed. The men had had one large room and one small apartment, where were located a dilapidated bed and a small writing table. On the table lay some writing material and several scraps of paper, but they were of no value.
The search through the rooms and hallways of the tenement lasted fully an hour. By this time the tenants who had gathered began to grow sleepy again, and one after another went back to their apartments.
"I don't think you are going to find anything," remarked Caleb Yates. "To my way of thinking, that boy must have followed the two men when they left."
"He couldn't do that without our seeing him," said Sam.
"And why not? Here's a back door, remember, and it's pretty dark outside."
"That may be so," returned Tom, shaking his curly head in perplexity. "It's too bad we didn't follow Girk and Baxter up—at least as far as the street."
"Perhaps Dick is at our house waiting for us to come back," put in Frank. "Let us go home and see. We can come back early in the morning." He looked at his watch. "Do you know that it is after two o'clock? I'm afraid my father will worry about me."
They talked the matter over and decided to return to Frank's home without further delay.
It was a silent trio that walked the streets, which were now practically deserted. Tom and Sam were much worried and Frank hardly less so, for the senator's son and Dick had been warm friends for years.
When they reached the mansion they found Senator Harrington pacing the library nervously.
"Well, here you are at last!" he cried. "I was wondering what had become of you."
He listened to their tale with close attention.
"No, Dick has not come in," he said, "at least, I think not. Run up to the bedrooms, Frank, and see."
Frank did as requested, and soon returned.
"No, he isn't about," he said disappointedly,
"It's mighty queer what became of him."
A LOSS OF IMPORTANCE
Half stunned Dick lay for a long time on the newspapers and musty straw in the disused coal bin of the tenement cellar.
"This is what I call tough luck," he muttered to himself, and tried to force the somewhat loose gag from his mouth. But it would not come.
As soon as he felt strong enough he began to work on the rope which bound his hands together. But the rascals who had placed him in the cellar had done their work well, and the cord refused to budge.
With difficulty he managed to stand erect. The bin was not only pitch-dark, but full of cobwebs and the latter brushed over his face whenever he moved. Then a spider crawled on his neck, greatly adding to his discomfort.
Hour after hour went by, and poor Dick was wondering what the end of the adventure would be when he heard a footstep overhead and then came the indistinct murmur of voice.
"Somebody is in the room overhead," he thought, and tried to make himself heard. But before he could do this the footsteps moved off and he heard the slamming of a door. Then all became as quiet as before.
An hour more went by, and the youth began to grow desperate. He was thirsty and his mouth and nose were filled with dust and dirt, rendering him far from comfortable.
In moving around his foot came in contact with an empty tomato can and this gave him an idea. He knelt down, and with the can between his heels, tried to saw apart the rope which bound his hands behind him.
The position was an awkward one and the job long and tiring, but at last the rope gave way and he found his hands free. He lost no further time in ridding himself of the gag and the rope which bound his feet.
He was now free so far as his bodily movements went, but he soon discovered that the coal bin was without any opening but a long, narrow chute covered with an iron plate, and that the heavy door was securely bolted. With all force he threw himself against the door, but it refused to budge.
Presently he remembered that he had several loose matches in his vest pocket, and, taking out one of these, he lit it and then set fire to a thick shaving that was handy and which, being damp, burnt slowly.
"Hullo, here's something of a trap-door!" he exclaimed, as he gazed at the flooring above head. "I wonder if I can get out that way?"
He dropped the lighted shaving in a safe spot and put up his hands. The cut-out spot in the flooring went up with ease and Dick saw a fairly well furnished room beyond. Through one of the windows of the room he saw that daybreak was at hand.
"Great Caesar! I've been down here all night!" he ejaculated, and, putting out the light, leaped up and drew himself through the opening. Once in the room he put the trap down again and rearranged the rag carpet he had shoved out of place.
The door to the room was locked, so the boy hurried to the window. Throwing open the blinds, he was about to leap out into the tenement alley when a woman suddenly confronted him. She was tall and heavy and had a red, disagreeable face.
"What are you doing in my rooms, young fellow?" she demanded.
"I'm trying to get out of this house!"
"What are you—a thief?"
"No. I was locked up in the cellar by a couple of bad men and got out by coming through a trap-door in your floor."
"A likely story!" sneered the woman, who had been away during the night and had heard nothing of the search for Dick. "You look like a sneak-thief. Anyway, you haven't any right in my rooms."
She came closer, and, as Dick leaped to the ground, clutched him by the arm.
"Let me go, madam."
"I won't. I'm going to hand you over to the police."
"I don't think you will!" retorted Dick, and with a twist he wrenched himself loose and started off on a run. The woman attempted to follow him, but soon gave up the chase.
Dick did not stop running until he was several blocks away. Then he dropped into a walk and looked about to see, if his brothers or Frank were anywhere in sight.
"I suppose they couldn't make it out and went home," he mused. "I had, better get to Frank's house without delay."
Dick was still a block away from Senator Harrington's residence when he espied Tom, Sam, and Frank coming toward him.
"My gracious, where have you been?" burst out Tom, as he rushed forward. "You look as if you'd been rolling around a dirty cellar."
"And that is just about what I have been doing," answered Dick with a sickly laugh. "Do you know anything of Buddy Girk?" he added quickly.
"He ran away from the tenement, and Arnold Baxter was with him," replied Sam.
"Did you follow them?"
"No; we tried to find out what had become of you."
Each had to tell his story, and then Dick was led into the house. He lost no time in brushing up and washing himself, and by that time breakfast was ready in the dining room.
"It's a curious adventure, truly," said Senator Harrington, as he sat down with the boys. "I am glad you got out of it so well. The next time you see anything of those rascals you had better lose no time in informing the police."
The senator was one of that class of busy men who eat breakfast and read their morning newspaper at the same time. Having listened to what Dick had to say, he unfolded his paper and propped it up against a fruit dish before him.
"Excuse me, but I am in a hurry," he remarked apologetically. "I want to catch a train for New York at eight-thirty-five, and—hullo, what's this! Rush & Wilder, Brokers and Bankers, Robbed! Thieves enter the office and loot the safe! This is news certainly."
"Rush & Wilder!" cried Frank. "Is that the firm you do business with?"
"Yes, Frank. They have lost over sixty-five thousand dollars, besides a lot of unregistered bonds. That's a big loss."
"Will you suffer?"
"I don't know but what I shall. I'll have to let that trip to New York go and look into this." And Senator Harrington settled back to read the account of the robbery in full.
"They haven't any trace of the thieves, have they?" asked Tom.
"No. It says a rear window was broken open and the iron bars unscrewed. The safe door was found closed but unlocked."
"Then the thieves had the combination," put in Sam.
"More than likely."
"I wonder if Baxter and Girk committed that crime?" came from Dick. "I think they would be equal to it. They were up to some game."
"It might be," returned Senator Harrington, with interest. "But how would those men obtain the combination of Rush & Wilder's safe?"
"I'm sure I don't know, but—yes, they mentioned a man named Mooney who was to assist them. Perhaps he is known around the bankers' offices."
"We can soon find out. What were you boys going to do this morning?"
"I was going back to the tenements to see if I couldn't have Baxter and Girk arrested," said Dick.
"If they learn you have escaped, they will probably clear out."
"I suppose that's so. But I might go down and see."
"Yes, I'd do that. Later on you can come over to Rush & Wilder's offices."
This was agreed to, and as soon as breakfast was over Dick and the other boys hurried off to where Yates' tenements were located.
Caleb Yates was on hand, and all visited the apartment Baxter and Buddy Girk had occupied. It was found that the men had not returned, and it did not look as if they intended to come back.
"They have skipped for good, take my word on it," muttered Tom, and the others agreed with him.
Thinking it would be useless to remain around the alleyway any longer, the four boys left the vicinity, and, boarding a street car, made their way to the thoroughfare upon which were located the offices of the bankers and brokers who had been robbed.
A crowd was collected about the place and two policemen were keeping those outside in check.
"I want my money!" one old man was shouting. "This is a game of Charley Rush to do us out of our cash. I don't believe the office was robbed at all."
"You keep quiet, or I'll run you in," replied, one of the policemen, and the old man lost no time in slinking out of sight.
"Can we go in?" asked Frank, and told who he was.
"I'll send in word and see," answered the policeman at the door.
"Oh, Frank!" came from the main office, and Senator Harrington beckoned to his son; and all four of the boys went in.
They found half a dozen men present, including the members of the firm, a detective, and the bookkeeper, a young man named Fredericks.
"You are the only one who had the combination besides ourselves, Fredericks," Charles Rush was saying to the bookkeeper. "I hate to suspect you, but—"
"Mr. Rush, you can't think I took that money and those securities!" gasped the bookkeeper, and fell back as if about to faint.
"I don't know what to think."
"I can give you my word I was not near the offices from four o'clock yesterday afternoon until I came this morning, after you."
"Have you spoken of the safe combination to anybody?"
"Did you put the combination down in writing?" asked Mr. Wilder.
"No, I never did anything of that sort. The combination was an unusually easy one, as you know."
"Yes, far too easy for our good," groaned Mr. Rush. Then he gazed at the four boys curiously.
"What brought you here?" he asked.
"We thought we might know something of this affair," said Dick, and told his story.
"There may be something in that," said the detective. "Especially if those men fail to turn up at that tenement again."
"Did you mention a man named Mooney?" cried Fredericks.
"Do you know this Mooney?" put in Mr. Wilder to the bookkeeper.
"Subrug, the janitor, has a brother-in-law named Mooney—a wild kind of a chap who used to hang around more or less."
"We'll call Subrug in and find out where this Mooney is now," said Charles Rush.
The janitor proved to be a very nervous old man. "I don't know where Mooney is," he said. "He's been a constant worry to me. He used to borrow money, but lately I wouldn't give him any more, and so he stopped coming around."
"Was he ever in here?"
The janitor thought for a moment. "I think he was, sir—about a month ago. He started to help me clean the windows, but he was too clumsy and I made him give it up."
"I remember him!" cried the bookkeeper. "He was at the window, Mr. Rush, while you were at the safe. He must have watched you work the combination."
TOM, SAM, AND FARMER FOX
For an instant there was a dead silence in the bankers' offices. Charles Rush looked blankly at his bookkeeper.
"I believe Fredericks is right," said Mr. Wilder, the first to break the awkward pause. "I remember the fellow very well. I thought at the time that he was watching Mr. Rush rather closely."
"You had no business to bring in a man that was not to be trusted," growled Charles Rush, turning to the janitor.
"Do you think he stole the stuff?" ejaculated Subrug. "Sure Mooney wasn't smart enough for such a game."
"Perhaps not, but he got others to help him," said Dick. "He got Buddy Girk and Arnold Baxter, I feel positive of it."
"The whole thing fits together pretty well," said the detective. "If only we, can lay hands on these men the boy mentions, we'll be all right."
A long conversation followed, and then Dick and the others went to the police station.
The rooms at Yates' tenement were thoroughly searched once more, and a watch was set for Girk and Arnold Baxter.
But the rascals had flown and the watch proved useless.
In the meantime two detectives tried to trace what had become of Mooney, but this work also amounted to nothing, and it may be as well to add here that Mooney was never heard of again, having sailed for South America.
Upon an accounting it was learned that Rush & Wilder were by no means in a good financial condition and that Senator Harrington would lose a good sum of money should they fail.
"I'd give a thousand dollars to collar those thieves," said the senator dismally.
"If Arnold Baxter and Girk got that money they'll live in high clover for a while," remarked Dick, when the excitement was over and they had returned to Frank's home. "My! what a villain that Baxter is proving to be! No wonder Dan was bad! It must run in the blood."
The robbery kept the boys in Albany several days, and this being so, it was decided to abandon the trip on the river to New York.
"I'll send the Spray down by somebody," said Dick, "and then we can take a train from here direct to Oak Run," and so it was arranged.
The trip to Oak Run proved to be uneventful. And at the railroad station they were met by Jack Ness, the Rovers' hired man, who had driven over with the carryall to take them home.
"Glad to see you all looking so well," grinned the hired man. "Getting fat as butter, Master Tom."
"Thanks, Jack, I'm feeling fine. Any news?"
"No, sir, none exceptin' that your uncle has had a row with Joel Fox, who has the farm next to ours."
"What was the row about?" questioned Dick.
"All about some fruit, sir. We had a tree hangin' over Fox's fence—finest pear tree on the place, that was. Fox strips the tree at night, sir—saw him with my own eyes."
"Oh, what cheek!" burst out Sam. "What did uncle do?"
"Tried to talk to him, and Fox told him to mind his own business, that he could have what fruit hung over his fence. So he could, but not half of it hung that way, and he took every blessed pear."
"Fox always was a mean man," murmured Tom. "I'd like to square accounts with him before I go back to Putnam Hall."
"I reckoned as how you might be up to something like that," said Ness, with another grin. "But you want to be careful. Only yesterday Fox shot off his gun at some boys who were after his apples."
"Did he hit the boys?"
"I don't think he did."
"Who were they?"
"I don't know. And I reckon he don't either."
"Humph!" Tom mused for a moment.
"I'd like to scare the mean fellow by making him think one of the boys was killed."
"That's an idea!" cried Sam, and winked at his brother. "Let's do it!"
They were soon bowling over Swift River and along the road leading to Valley Brook farm. At the farmhouse their Uncle Randolph and Aunt Martha stood in the dooryard to greet them.
"Back again, safe and sound!" cried Randolph Rover. "I suppose you feel like regular sailors."
"Well, we do feel a little that way," laughed Sam, and returned the warm kiss his aunt bestowed upon him. "It's nice to be home once more."
"Would you rather stay here than go back to Putnam Hall?" asked his aunt quickly.
"Oh, no, I can't say that, Aunt Martha. But it's awfully nice here, nevertheless."
A hot supper was awaiting them, and while they ate they told of all that had happened since they had been away. Randolph Rover shuddered over the way Dick had been treated.
"Be careful, my boy," he said. "Remember, even your father could not bring this Arnold Baxter to justice. He is evidently a thorough-paced scoundrel, and his companion is probably just as bad."
"And how goes the scientific farming, Uncle Randolph?" asked Tom, who knew how to touch his uncle in the right spot.
"Splendidly, my boy, splendidly! I am now working on a new rotation of crops. It will, I am certain, prove a revelation to the entire agricultural world."
"Did you make much money this season?" asked Sam dryly.
"Well—er—no; in fact, we ran a little behind. But we will do finely next year—I am certain of it. I will have some strawberries and celery which shall astonish our State agricultural committee," answered Randolph Rover. He was always enthusiastic, in spite of almost constant failure. Thus far his hobby had netted him a loss of several thousand dollars.
It was Friday, and Saturday was to be given over to packing up for school. Yet on Saturday morning Tom managed to call Sam aside.
"We'll go over to Fox's," said he. "Are you ready?"
"I am, Tom," answered the younger brother. "And be sure and pile it on."
"Trust me for that," and Tom winked in a fashion that set Sam to roaring.
They found Joel Fox at work along the roadside, mending a part of a stone wall which had tumbled down. Fox was a Yankee, and miserly and sour to the very core.
"Well, what do you want?" he demanded, as the boys came to a halt in front of him.
"Why, Mr. Fox, I thought you had skipped out!" cried Tom in pretended surprise.
"Why should I skip out, boy?"
"On account of Harry Smith."
"Harry Smith? Who is he?"
"Harry Smith of Oak Run—the boy who was shot the other day. Didn't you hear he was dead?"
At these words Joel Fox dropped the tools he was using and turned pale.
"Is—er—is the boy—er—" He could not finish.
"It was a wicked thing to do," put in Sam. "Any man that would shoot a boy ought to be lynched."
"Perhaps that crowd of men were coming up here," went on Tom. "Didn't they have a rope with them?"
"To be sure they had a rope, Tom. And one of 'em said something about hanging."
"What crowd are you talking about?" stammered Joel Fox, growing paler and paler.
"The crowd at the depot. Did you shoot him, Mr. Fox? I can't hardly believe it true, although I know you were mean enough to take my uncle's pears."
"I—er—the pears were on my property. I er—I didn't shoot at any boy. I—er—I shot at some crows in my cornfield," stammered Joel Fox. "Did you say a crowd of men were coming over here with a rope?"
"You'll see fast enough, you bad man!" cried Tom, and ran off, followed by Sam. In vain Fox tried to call them back.
The boys went as far as a turn in the road, then hid behind some bushes. Soon they saw Fox pick up his tools and make for his barn. Then he came out and hurried for his house.
"I guess he's pretty well rattled," laughed Tom. "Won't he be mad when he learns how he has been fooled!"
They waited for a while, but as Fox did not reappear they hurried back home by another road, that the man might not see them.
Tom was right when he said that the miserly old farmer was "rattled," as it is commonly called.
All day long the coward remained in the house, as nervous as a cat and afraid that a crowd of men would appear at any minute to lynch him.
His wife did not know what to make of such actions and finally demanded an explanation, and when it was not forthcoming threatened him with the broom, which she had used as a weapon of offense several times previously.
"They say he's dead!" finally burst out Joel. "They are goin' ter lynch me for it. Hide me, Mandy, hide me!"
"Who is dead, Joel Fox?"
"The boy I shot at fer stealin' them apples. Oh, they'll lynch me; I feel it in my bones!" groaned the old man.
"Who was it?"
"Harry Smith of Oak Run."
"And he is dead?"
"So they say. But I didn't calkerlate I hit him at all," whined Joel.
"No more you did, for I saw him run away, and he went clear out o' sight up the road. Who told you this?" demanded Mrs. Fox.
"Those Rover boys, Tom an' Sam."
"Those young imps! Joel, they are fooling you."
"Do you really think so, Mandy?" asked the man hopefully.
"I do. If I was you I'd go over to Oak Run and find out."
"No, no—if it's true they'll lynch me, I know they will!"
"Then I'll go over. I know Mrs. Smith. If he's dead there will be crape on the door an' I won't go in," concluded Mrs. Fox.
And getting out a horse and buckboard, she drove over to Oak Run and to the Smiths' place. She found no crape on the door. Harry Smith sat on the porch, his arm in a sling. Plucking up courage she drew rein, dismounted, and walked up to the boy, who was one of the Rover brothers friends.
"How is your arm, Harry?" she began softly.
"It's pretty fair," answered the boy politely. "Won't you come in, Mrs. Fox?"
"Well, I guess not. Harry, I'm sorry for this."
"So am I sorry, Mrs. Fox."
"I didn't think you would do it. Why didn't you come up to the house an' ask for them apples?"
The boy looked puzzled, for the simple reason that he was puzzled. "I don't understand you. What apples?"
"The ones you tried to steal."
"I didn't try to steal any apples, Mrs. Fox. What makes you think that?"
"Didn't you try to git in our orchard when Joel fired on you?" cried Mrs. Fox.
"Why, I haven't been anywhere near your orchard!"
"So?" Mrs. Fox looked bewildered. "Then—then how did you get hurt?" she faltered.
"Why, Mr. Wicks and I were cleaning out pa's old shotgun when it went off accidentally, and I got a couple of the shot in my forearm," answered Harry Smith promptly.
The answer took away Mrs. Fox's breath.
"Drat them boys—I knowed it!" she muttered, and drove away without another word. Harry Smith was much puzzled, but letters which soon after passed between him and Tom cleared up the mystery.
But the boys never heard of how Joel Fox fared when his wife got home. The lady arrived "as mad as a hornet," to use a popular saying. "You're the worst old fool ever was, Joel Fox!" were her first words, and a bitter quarrel followed that ended only when the man was driven out of the house with the ever-trustworthy broom. Joel Fox wanted to go over to the Rover farm, to have it out with Tom and Sam, but somehow he could not pluck up the courage to make the move.
FUN AT PUTNAM HALL
"Back to Putnam Hall at last!"
"Yes, boys, back at last! Hurrah for the dear old school, and all the boys in it!"
Peleg Snuggers, the general utility man of the Hall, had just brought the boys up from Cedarville, to which place they had journeyed from Ithaca on the regular afternoon boat running up Cayuga Lake. With the Rovers had come Fred Garrison, Larry Colby, and several others of their old school chums.
(For the doings of the Putnam Hall students previous to the arrival at that institution of the Rover boys, see The Putnam Hall Series, the first volume of which is entitled, "The Putnam Hall Cadets."—PUBLISHERS)
"Glad to welcome you back, boys!" exclaimed Captain Victor Putnam, a pleasant smile on his face. He shook hands all around. "Did you have a nice trip?"
"Splendid, sir," said Tom. "Oh, how do you do, Mr. Strong?" and he ran to meet the head teacher. He could not help but think of how different things were now to when he had first arrived at Putnam Hall the year previous, and Josiah Crabtree had locked him up in the guardroom for exploding a big firecracker in honor of the occasion.
"Well, Thomas, I hope you have left all your pranks behind," observed George Strong. "How about it?" And his eyes twinkled.
"Oh, I'm going in for study this session," answered Tom demurely. And then he winked at Larry on the sly. But his words did not deceive George Strong, who understood only too well Tom's propensity for mischief.
It was the first day of the term, but as the cadets kept on arriving with every train and boat, no lessons were given out, and the boys were allowed to do pretty much as they pleased. They visited every nook and corner, including the classrooms, the dormitories, the stables, and the gymnasium and boathouse, and nearly bothered the life out of Peleg Snuggers, Mrs. Green, the housekeeper, and Alexander Pop, the colored waiter of the mess hall.