THE ROVER BOYS OUT WEST
The Search for a Lost Mine
By Arthur M. Winfield
My Dear Boys: This book, "The Rover Boys Out West," forms the fourth volume of the "Rover Boys Series," a line of up-to-date stories for Young Americans. Like the other books of the series, this tale's complete in itself.
In "The Rover Boys at School" we were introduced to Dick, Tom, and Sam, and their amusing and thrilling adventures at Putnam Hall, a military academy for boys situated in the heart of Now York State; in "The Rover Boys on the Ocean" we followed our young heroes during a most daring rescue; and in "The Rover Boys in the jungle" we learn what true American courage can do, even in the heart of the Dark Continent.
In the present tale our young herm are taken at first back to dear old Putnam Hall, and then to the heart of the great mining district of Colorado.
All trace of a valuable mine has been lost, and the boys start out on a hunt for the property, little dreaming of the many perils which await them on their quest. How they overcome one obstacle after another, and get the best of their various enemies, will be found in the story itself.
The success of the first Rover Boys books has gratified me beyond measure, and my one hope is that my numerous readers will find this and future volumes of equal interest.
Affectionately and sincerely yours,
ARTHUR M. WINFIELD.
June 20, 1900
RETURNING FROM A GREAT GAME
"Zip! Boom! Ah!"
"Hurrah for Putnam Hall!"
"Let her go, Peleg, lively now, and mind you don't upset us, or we'll use you worse than we did the football."
"All right, young gents. All in? Hold fast, everybody, or I won't be responsible, nohow, if you drop off. Git along, Jack; up with ye, Sally!"
And with a crack of the whip, a tooting of tin horns, and it mad yelling and cheering from the students, the long Putnam Hall stage left the football enclosure attached to the Pornell Academy grounds and started along the lake road for Putnam Hall.
The stage was packed, inside and out, with as merry and light-hearted a crowd of boys as could be found anywhere; and why should they not be merry and light-hearted, seeing as they had just won a great football match by a score of 16 to 8? Tom Rover, who was on the top of the stage, actually danced a jig for joy.
"That's the third time we have done them up, fellows!" he cried. "My, but won't there be gloom around Pornell Academy to-night! It will be thick enough to cut with a knife."
"They were never in it from the start," piped up Sam Rover. "And they were all heavier than our team, too," he added, proudly.
"It was science, not weight, that won the match," said Frank Harrington.
"Yes, it was science," broke in Larry Colby. "And for that science we have to thank Dick Rover. Oh, but didn't that rush to the left fool them nicely!"
Dick Rover's handsome face flushed with pleasure. "We won because every player did his full duty," he said. "If we—" He broke off short. "Great Scott, what a racket on top! Who's that capering around?"
"It's me, thank you!" yelled Tom, with more force than good grammar. "I'm doing an Indian war dance in honor of the victory. Want to join in, anybody?"
"Stop it; you'll be coming through the roof. We had only one man hurt on the field; I don't want a dozen hurt on the ride home."
"Oh, it's safe enough, Dick. If I feel the roof giving way I'll jump and save myself," and Tom began a wilder caper than ever. But suddenly George Granbury, who sat nearby, caught him by the foot, and he came down with a thump that threatened to split the stage top from end to end.
"It won't do, nohow!" pleaded Peleg Snuggers, the general utility man attached to Putnam Hall Military Academy. "Them hosses is skittish, and—"
"Oh, stow it, Peleg," interrupted George. "You know those horses couldn't run away if they tried. You only want us to act as if we were a funeral procession coming—"
A wild blast of horns from below drowned out the remainder of his speech, and this finished, the football team and the other cadets began to sing, in voices more forceful than melodious:
"Putnam Hall! Putnam Hall! What is wrong with Putnam Hall? Nothing, boys! Nothing, boys! She's all RIGHT! Right! right! Right! Right! RIGHT!"
Through the woods and far across the clear waters of Cayuga Lake floated the words, followed by another blast from the horns and then continued cheering. And their cheering was answered by others who passed them, some in carriages and others oil bicycles. It was a clear, sunshiny day, and nearly all of the inhabitants of Cedarville, as well as of other villages along the lake, were out in honor of the occasion. It had been a general holiday both at Putnam Hall and at Pornell Academy, and the whole neighborhood had taken advantage of it.
"I believe Captain Putnam is as proud as any of us," remarked Dick Rover, when the excitement had calmed down a bit. "When Tom kicked that final goal I saw him rise up and nearly pound the life out of the railing with his gold-headed cane. I'll wager the cane is split into a dozen pieces."
"Oh, that's nothing," put in Harry Blossom slyly. "When Tom did his little act I saw Nellie Laning actually throw him a kiss from the grand stand. If she—"
"Hi, below there! Who's taking my name in vain?" came from Tom, and suddenly his head appeared at the top of one of the openings on the side of the stage.
"I was just telling what Nellie Laning did, Tom. When you made that splendid kick—"
"Stow it, you moving-picture camera!" cried Tom, his face growing suddenly red. "You see altogether too much."
"Do I?" drawled Harry dryly. "Maybe. And then when Dick made his run, pretty Dora Stanhope just put out her arms as if she wanted to hug— Whow!"
Harry Blossom's banter came to a sudden ending, for, as red in the face as his brother, Dick Rover reached forward and thrust a banana he was eating into the tormenter's half open mouth. Harry gulped once or twice, then the fruit disappeared as if by magic.
"All right, Dick, I accept the bribe and will henceforth be silent," he said solemnly, as soon as he could speak.
"That's right, tie up your tongue, unless you want to be lifted from the stage," said Tom.
"It's all right," put in Dave Kearney, another cadet. "Dora Stanhope and the Laning girls are nice folk and I don't blame anybody for being sweet on them."
"Yes, but you keep out of their cornfield, or you'll have all three of the Rovers after you," came from Harry warningly.
"What are we going to do to-night?" asked Dick abruptly, and in such a tone that the others felt the bantering must come to an end. "Is it feast, or fireworks, or both?"
"Make it both!" came in chorus from a dozen cadets. "Captain Putnam is just in the humor to let us do anything to-night. And Mr. Strong's in the same good humor. Let us make the best of it."
"All right; feast and fireworks it is," said Dick. "But both will cost money. Who'll pass around the hat?"
A groan went up, as is generally the case when an academy boy is asked to part with some of his spending money. But the groan counted for nothing, and the passing of the hat brought in over ten dollars.
"Ten-sixty for this load," announced the cadet who had made the collection. "And there are two other loads following, besides those who were on their wheels. We ought to be able to collect at least thirty dollars, and that will buy out half of Cedarville."
"If only old Carrick has some of his Fourth of July fireworks left," said Sam.
"Chust so!" grinned Hans Muelle, the German cadet who had joined the academy the season before. "Vot is von celebration midowit firevorks, hey? He vos chust noddings!"
"Do you want another pistol explosion?" asked one of the others, referring to an incident between Tom Rover and Hans which had nearly ended in a tragedy.
"Mine cracious, no!" howled the German lad. "I go me not py a hundred feet mid an old pistol again alrietty! I vould radder sit town on von can of dynamite to sleep, yes I vould!" And he shook his curly head earnestly.
"We won't have any pistols in this," broke in Tom, who felt like shuddering every time the incident was mentioned. "We'll just have skyrockets, and Roman candles, and pin-wheels, and all of the rest of the good old-fashioned things—that is for the celebration on the outside."
"And for the celebration on the inside let us have cake, ice-cream, fruits, and nuts," put in Larry. "At this minute I feel hungry enough to eat the captain out of house and home."
"Ditto myself," came from another student.
"Perhaps the captain will be glad enough to have us celebrate—at our own expense," suggested a cadet in one corner, yet he did not mean what he said, knowing that bluff Captain Putnam, the owner and headmaster of Putnam Hall was whole-souled and generous to the core.
The stage had already covered over a mile of the road, and now the turnout left the lake shore and began to climb a long hill leading to the heights upon which the academy was located. But there was still a little valley to cross, at the bottom of which dashed a rocky mountain torrent on its way to the placid waters beyond.
At the top of the first long rise Peleg Snuggers stopped the team for a few minutes' rest. Here the view was magnificent, and many a cadet stopped his idle talk to gaze at the mountains to the westward and the sparkling lake winding along in the opposite direction. It was early fall, and nearly every tree was tinted with red and gold, while here and there the first frosts had covered the ground with leaves and nuts.
"Don't wait too long, Peleg," urged Tom impatiently. "It will take some time to get ready for our celebration to-night, you know."
"I'm hurrying as fast as I can, Master Tom," was the reply. "Git up, Jack! git up, Sally!" And once more they moved off, and again some of the boys tooted their horns. At this Sally picked up her ears and gave a little start to one side of the narrow road, dragging her mate along.
"Whoa! Steady there!" cried Peleg Snuggers, and tried to pull the team in. Failing in this He grabbed the brake handle and pushed it back vigorously. He was so nervous that he gave the handle a mighty wrench, and in a twinkle the brake bar snapped off, close to the wheel. Onward bounded the stage, hitting the team in the flanks, and away leaped both horses on a dead run!
"The brake is broke!"
"Stop the team, Peleg, or they'll upset us sure!"
"Whoa, there, Jack! Whoa, Sally! Don't you know enough to stop?"
Such were some of the cries which rang out. Peleg Snuggers grasped the lines and pulled with might and main. But then came an awful bump, and away flew the driver into a bush along the roadside, and the reins fell to the horses heels, scaring them worse than ever.
"We are in for it!" gasped Tom. "I don't see how we are going to stop them now."
"The bridge! The bridge across the gully!" screamed another cadet, in terror-stricken tones. "They were mending it this morning. Supposing they haven't the new planking down?"
"There is the bridge!" burst out another, pointing ahead. "Oh, Heavens, boys, we are lost!"
All strained their eyes ahead to see what he meant, and then every face grew pale. The bridge was torn up completely, not a single plank of the flooring remained.
SOMETHING ABOUT THE ROVER BOYS
The Rover boys were three in number, Dick being the oldest, Tom coming next, and Sam the youngest. In their younger days they had resided with their parents in New York, but after the death of their mother and the disappearance of their father they had gone to live with their uncle, Randolph Rover, and their Aunt Martha, on a farm called Valley Brook, near the village of Dexter Corners, on the Swift River.
Those who have read the previous volumes of this series, entitled respectively, "The Rover Boys at School." "The Rover Boys on the Ocean," and "The Rover Boys in the jungle," know that our three heroes had already passed through many trying experiences and thrilling adventures. From home they had been sent to Putnam Hall, a military academy of high standing, and here they had made many friends, including those already mentioned, and several enemies, among the latter being one Dan Baxter, who was known as the school bully, and John Fenwick, better known as Mumps, the bully's toady. They had also made a bitter enemy of Josiah Crabtree, the headmaster of the Hall.
But since those first days at the school many things had happened and many changes had occurred. It was discovered that Dan Baxter was the son of one Arnold Baxter, a rascal who had, years before, tried to swindle the Rover boys' father out of some valuable mining property in the West, and that the son was little better than his parent. Dan had left the school in a hurry, and soon after this his father had been arrested in Albany for a daring office robbery, and was now in jail in consequence.
The disappearance of Dan, and Josiah Crabtree's yearning for wealth, had led to further complications. Near Putnam Hall resides the widow Stanhope and her pretty daughter Dora, and Crabtree, who exerted a sort of hypnotic power over the widow, tried to get the lady to marry him, so that he might obtain the fortune she held in trust for her daughter. But how the Rover boys fooled the grasping teacher, and how Dora was saved from the plot Crabtree and Dan Baxter hatched up against her, has already been told in "The Rover Boys on the Ocean."
Anderson Rover had gone to Africa to locate certain mines in that country, and when many years passed and no word came from him the three boys grew worried and wanted to go in search of him. At last came a strange letter written by a sea captain, containing some important information, and acting on this the Rover boys, accompanied by their Uncle Randolph, set out for the heart of the Dark Continent to find the long-lost. On the way they fell in with one Alexander Pop, who had formerly been a waiter at Putnam Hall, who proved a valuable friend when it came to dealing with men of his own ebony hue. In this hunt they likewise ran across Josiah Crabtree, who was out with an exploring party from Yale, and with Dan Baxter, and both of these rascals tried to do them much harm. But the schemes of the rascals fell through, and Crabtree only escaped after a severe whipping at the hands of Dick Rover, while Dan Baxter fared little better. Soon after this Mr. Rover was found, as a prisoner of a savage African tribe, and rescued, and then the entire party returned to the United States. Alexander Pop remained in the employ of the two elder Rovers, and the three boys returned to finish the term at Putnam Hall.
These are a few of the things that had happened. But there were countless others, which space will not permit being mentioned here. There had been many contests, in baseball, football, and other sports, and jokes that seemed to have no end, and there had also been a disastrous fire, which none of the Putnam Hall cadets were likely ever to forget—a fire as thrilling as the scene now being enacted on the road. But I am afraid I have already left the boys in the runaway stage too long, so we will return to them without further delay.
"The bridge is down!" The cry rang through the stage, bringing every cadet to his feet on the instant.
"Don't jump!" cried Dick, as he saw several preparing to leap. "You will break your necks!" For now the bushes were left behind, and on either side of the road were jagged rocks, covered here and there with withered vines.
As Dick spoke he pushed his way to the front of the stage and crawled out on the driver's seat.
"The back—drop off at the back!" came from Frank Harrington, and he showed how it could be done. But the road was now rougher than ever, and he landed on his knees and his face, giving himself an ugly cut on the chin.
Dick was trying to reach the reins when Tom came down beside him.
"Can you make it?" asked Tom.
"I can try," was the desperate answer. "If only we could block those wheels!"
"Block the wheels!" came from half a dozen, and one boy, who happened to have a stout cane with him, thrust it out between several of the spokes of the wheel on the left, in the rear. For an instant the stick held, then it snapped, and the wheel went around as before.
The bridge was now less than two hundred feet away, and whatever was to be accomplished must be done quickly. At last Dick had the reins, and he began to pull upon them with all of his strength, at the same time calling upon Tom to hold him to the seat.
"To the right—turn 'em to the right!" sang out Sam, as he saw a narrow opening between the rocks.
"Yes, the right!" added Fred Garrison. "It is our only hope!"
Dick did as requested, and at the last instant the heavy stage swung around. There was a grinding and a splitting of wood as the front wheels met the rocks and went to pieces, and then Dick came down on the horses, with Tom on top of him—and the elder Rover knew no more.
"Dick's hurt!" gasped Sam, as he scrambled out of the side window of the turnout. "Don't let the horses kick him."
For the runaway team were struggling wildly, amid the rocks and the wreck of the harness. But Tom was already up, and he and Larry Colby dragged Dick to a place of safety. In the meantime some of the other cadets who were used to managing horseflesh took care of the team and led them away and tied them fast to a tree.
"Dick, Dick! are you badly hurt?" The question came from Tom, as he gazed anxiously into his brother's face. There was a nasty cut on the left check from which the blood was flowing.
Dick did not answer, and Tom asked somebody to run down to the stream for some water. When this was brought he and Sam bathed Dick's face, and presently the latter opened his eyes and stared around him in bewilderment.
"A touchdown—I claim—" he began, and then stopped. "Wha—what has happened?" he stammered. "Oh, I remember now!" And he feel back again.
"He thinks he's still in the football game," whispered Harry Blossom. "Oh, but he's a plucky one."
All of the other lads had been severely shaken up, but nobody had been hurt excepting Frank, as before mentioned. Soon he came limping up, followed by Peleg Snuggers.
"I missed it by jumping," he observed ruefully. "Hullo, is Dick knocked out?"
"So ye stopped 'em, eh?" cried the general utility man. "It was prime plucky to do it, so it was! Poor Dick, hope he ain't bad."
By this time Dick was opening his eyes once more, and this time he kept them open.
"I—I—that was a nasty tumble, wasn't it?" he muttered. "I'm glad I didn't go under the horses' feet."
"How do you feel?"
"I guess I had the wind knocked out of me, that's all." He tried to get up, but his legs refused to support him. "I'll have to keep quiet awhile."
"Yes, don't you move," said Sam. "We can't get across the stream anyway, now the bridge is down. We'll have to go around to the other bridge."
"It's queer the workmen didn't put up some sort of a sign as a warning," said Fred Garrison. "I believe they can be held liable for this disaster."
"To be sure they can be held liable," burst out Peleg Snuggers.
"But a sign wouldn't have kept the brake from breaking," said Tom.
"True, lad, but ye must remember that it was their duty to put the sign up at the beginning of this road, which is on the top of the hill. If the sign had been there we would never have started to come down this way."
"Perhaps we missed the sign," put in another cadet.
"Of dot is so, ve besser run pack und stop udder carriages from comin' dis vay," broke in Hans Mueller quickly. "Listen to dot!"
They all listened, and heard merry cries of laughter and carriage wheels rapidly approaching.
"A carriage—with ladies!" gasped Sam. "Come on and stop them!" And away he, dusted up the hill, as well as his short legs would carry him. Hans, Larry, and several others followed. They had barely gained the top of the hill when a large carryall belonging to John Laning appeared. In the carryall were the farmer and his two charming daughters, and, Mrs. Stanhope, who was his sister-in-law, and her daughter Dora. Mrs. Laning was also present, along with several neighbors.
"Hi, whoa! stop!" yelled Sam. "Stop!"
"Hurrah for Putnam Hall!" cried Grace Laning, waving a tiny flag toward Sam, which made the younger Rover blush.
"Glad to be able to congratulate you, Sam!" said Dora Stanhope. "Where are the other members of the football team?"
"Just ahead—down by the gully. You mustn't drive down here, for the bridge is down."
"Bridge down!" ejaculated John Laning. "Darwell said he was going to mend it this week, but I saw no sign up at the cross-roads."
"Neither did we, and we came near to going overboard. As it is, we had a pretty bad smash up!"
"Indeed!" came from Mrs. Stanhope, in alarm. "And was anybody hurt?"
"Dick was thrown out and knocked unconscious, and Frank Harrington had his chin cut, while the rest of us were pretty well shaken up. Peleg the driver was thrown into some brushwood and that most likely saved his life."
Mrs. Stanhope grew pale, for she remembered only too well that fateful ride she had once taken with Josiah Crabtree, which had almost cost both of them their lives.
"I will go to the poor boy!" she said, and leaped to the ground, followed by Dora and the two Laning girls. Soon the carryall was led to the side of the road, and the others alighted, to see what damage had been done.
THE MISSING DANGER SIGNAL
When Sam came back he found Dick sitting on a rock with his cut plastered up from the out kit taken along to the football match. Frank had likewise been attended to.
"I am so glad you are not hurt seriously," said Mrs. Stanhope, as she sat down beside Dick, with Dora close at hand. "All of you have had a very narrow escape."
"It is a shame that no danger signal was display," said Dora. "When they are fixing a bridge they usually put a bar across the road with the sign: 'Danger! Road Closed,' on it."
"Exactly," put in Peleg. "But I haint seen no sign, an' that I can swear to."
"In that case Contractor Darwell will be responsible for this smash up," said John Laning. "Are the horses hurt?"
"They are pretty well scratched up around the legs."
"Humph! And the two front wheels of the stage are a total wreck. I reckon it will take the best part of fifty dollars to fix matters up."
"Anyway, I don't calculate as how I'm responsible," grumbled the general utility man, fearing he saw trouble ahead, when Captain Putnam should hear of the affair.
A creaking on the road was heard, and presently a lumber wagon hove into sight, piled high with the new planking for the bridge. On the front sat Darwell the contractor and two of his workmen.
"Hullo, what does all this mean?" cried the contractor, as he brought his wagon to a standstill, and viewed the wrecked stage.
"It means that Captain Putnam will have a little account to settle with you, Mr. Darwell," put in Harry Blossom promptly.
"With me? What for?"
"For this wreck."
"And for this cut chin," added Frank.
"And my being knocked out," said Dick.
"I'm not responsible for any wreck," replied Joel Darwell. "I put up the bar with the danger signal on it, up at the cross-roads."
"We didn't see no sign," interrupted Peleg Snuggers. "Not a bit of a sign."
"There was no sign when I came along," said John Laning.
"I put the sign up not over three hours ago," insisted Joel Darwell. "I can show you just where Sandy Long and I dug the post holes for it."
"Then some rascal took the sign down," said Tom. "What for?"
"Must have done it to wreck the stage," answered Larry Colby. "But could anybody be so cold-blooded?"
"Yes, there are several people who would do that," answered Dick promptly. "But I don't think they are within a hundred miles of Cedarville just now."
"You mean Dan Baxter for one," said Sam.
"And Josiah Crabtree for another," put in Tom. "They are both down on everybody around here."
"How about Mumps?" asked Larry.
"Oh, he reformed after that chase on the ocean, and I've heard he is now out West," said Sam. "There's another rascal, though—Mr. Arnold Baxter. But he is in jail in Albany—he and that tool of his, Buddy Girk."
"Well, certainly somebody is responsible," said Frank. "Supposing we go back and try to find some clew?"
"And find the danger sign and put it up again," said Joel Darwell.
A dozen of the boys went back, and with them Tom and Sam, leaving Dick with the Stanhopes. As soon as the crowd had left, Dora Stanhope motioned the elder Rover to one side.
"Oh, Dick, it makes me shiver to hear Josiah Crabtree spoken of," she said in a whisper.
"Why, Dora, you don't mean to say that he has turned up again?" he questioned quickly.
"No—but—but—last night I heard a strange noise on our side porch, as if somebody was trying the side window. I went to the door and asked to know who was there. At once I heard somebody or some animal leave the porch and climb over the side fence of the garden. I am almost certain it was some person trying to get into the house."
"Did you tell your mother?"
"No, she had one of her nervous headaches, and I thought it would do no good. But I couldn't sleep all night, and I laid with a big stick in one hand and papa's old revolver in the other. The revolver wasn't loaded, but I thought I might scare somebody with it."
"The revolver ought to be loaded, Dora. Do you know what caliber it is?"
"No; you know I know little or nothing about firearms."
"Then I'll find out for you, and get some cartridges. If Josiah Crabtree is around you ought to shoot him on the spot."
"Oh, I couldn't do that—even though I do know how dreadfully he treated you while you were in the heart of Africa."
"You must be very careful of your movements, especially after dark. Crabtree may be around, with some new scheme against you or your mother. I wish he could have been left behind in Africa."
"Oh, so do I! but he and Dan Baxter both came back to America, didn't they?"
"So we heard in Boma. But don't get worked up too much, Dora, for it might have been only a cat,—or a common tramp looking for something to eat. We have had lots of tramps around the Hall lately."
"I have asked Grace Laning to pay us a visit, and she is coming over to-morrow."
"Then you will have somebody in the house besides your mother and yourself. I wish I could stay with you folks."
"How long are you going to remain at the Hall, Dick? When you came back you said something about going out West with your father to look up that mining claim in Colorado."
"We shan't start for the West until next spring. Father was going right away at first, but after he found out that Arnold Baxter was safe in jail and couldn't bother him any more, he concluded to remain with Uncle Randolph and Aunt Martha until next spring so as to give himself the chance to get back his old-time strength. His sufferings in Africa pulled him down a good bit."
"I suppose. Well, I am glad you will be around during the winter. Next summer mamma has promised to go with me on a trip to Buffalo and then around the Great Lakes. I trust the lake air will do her much good, and that we won't hear or see anything of Mr. Crabtree while we are on the water."
"I'd like to go with you on that trip," answered Dick. "I have no doubt you will have a grand time."
Little did he dream of all the perils that trip was to lead to, and of how he and his brothers would be mixed up in them.
In the meantime the others had journeyed up the hill to where the road branched off in three directions. At this point Joel Darwell pointed out two newly-made holes in the earth, about fifteen feet apart.
"See them?" he cried. "Well, that is where I placed the danger sign, and I am willing to swear to it."
"And so am I," added the workman who was along.
"Well, there is no danger signal here now," returned Tom, glancing around. Some bushes torn up beside the road attracted his attention, and he hurried toward them. "Here you are!"
He pointed to a cleared spot behind the bushes and there, on the ground, lay the torn-up posts and boards. Evidently somebody had dragged them thither in great haste.
"It's the work of some thorough rascal!" cried Sam. "Somebody who meant mischief to our stage."
"Maype dis vos der vork of dem Pornell Academy fellers," suggested Hans.
"No, they are gentlemen, not scoundrels," replied Tom. "They may feel cut up, but they wouldn't play such a dastardly trick as this."
The spot was one commanding a good view of the back road, so that anybody standing there could have seen the stage coming while it was still a quarter of a mile off.
All hands began a search for some clew leading to the identity of the evil-doers—that is, all but Joel Darwell and his helper. These two dragged the posts and boards into position again, and this time set them down so firmly that a removal would be out of the question without tools.
"Hullo, here's something!" cried one of the cadets presently. "Did you just drop this, Tom?"
As he spoke he held up a round, flat coin of coppery metal, engraved with several circles and a rude head.
"No, I didn't drop it," replied Tom, his face growing serious. "Did you, Sam?"
Sam gave a look, placed his hand in his pocket and brought out a similar piece. "No, there is mine," he said. "Where in the world did that come from?"
Then Tom and Sam looked at each other. The same idea crossed the mind of each. The coin was similar to those they had handled while on their way through Africa. They had brought home several as pocket-pieces.
"I'll wager Dan Baxter dropped that!" cried Tom. "He, or—"
"Josiah Crabtree!" finished Sam. "Yes, I am sure of it, for Dick brought none to Putnam Hall; I heard him tell the Captain so, when they were talking about coins one day."
"Then in that case, either Baxter or Crabtree is responsible for this smash-up!" came from one of the other cadets.
"Right you are. The question is, which one?"
"Perhaps both vos guilty," suggested the German student.
"That may be true, Hans," came from Tom. "I wonder if one or the other of the rascals is in hiding around here?"
"We'll begin a search," said Sam. "Hans, go and call the others," and at once the German cadet started off on his errand.
A TRAIL IS FOUND AND LOST
By this time several carriages had come up, also a number of folks on bicycles and on foot, and to all of these the situation had to be explained. Among the last to put in an appearance was Captain Putnam, and he was at once all attention, and desired to know how seriously Dick and Frank were injured.
"It was an outrageous piece of work," he said.
"Still, to be fair, we must admit that the broken brake is largely responsible for what happened, after the start down hill was made."
"But I couldn't help the brake breaking," pleaded the general utility man. "I did my best, and was thrown out—"
"I am not finding fault with you, Snugger," cut in the captain, shortly. "Let it pass, and leave the stage to be taken care of by the Cedarville blacksmith. But I wish we might lay hands on the rascal who is responsible for the start of the mishap."
"They have found a coin such as we used when as we were in Africa," said Dick. "I think that furnishes a clew."
"In what way, Rover?"
"Those coins were also used by Dan Baxter and Josiah Crabtree."
"And you think one or the other, or both, are in this neighborhood again?"
"It looks plausible, doesn't it?"
"Yes, but—it would be very strange. I should think they would give this locality a wide berth."
"Hardly. Josiah Crabtree isn't done with the Stanhopes, to my mind, and Baxter will get square with us if he can."
While this talk was going on Sam and Tom were following some footprints leading from the clearing where the signal board had been found down a small path toward the lake. The footprints were clearly defined.
"The prints are not very large," observed Tom, as he and his brother measured them. "It looks to me as if Dan Baxter's feet might have made them."
"Certainly they weren't made by old Crabtree," said Sam. "He had a very long foot and always wore square-toed boots."
They followed the prints down to the lake shore, and then along the rim of the lake for nearly half a mile.
Here there was a little cove, and under some bushes they discovered some marks in the wet dirt of the bank, as if a rowboat had been moored there. In this dirt the footprints came to an end.
"That's the wind-up of this trail," sighed Tom. "Water leaves no trail."
"That's so. But supposing we skirt the lake some more."
They went on, and did not give up until the declining sun told them the day was done.
When they reached the Hall they found that all of the others had come in, and that preparations were already going forward for the feast in the evening. For once Captain Putnam and George Strong, his main assistant, were going to allow the cadets to have their own way. Secretly the captain was tremendously pleased over the showing his pupils had made on the football field, for this happened to be a year when college athletics were in the ascendancy in all of the States.
But the regular evening drill must not be neglected, and soon the sound of the drum was heard, calling the members of companies A and B to the parade ground. A rush was made for uniforms, swords, and guns, and soon the boys come pouring forth, Dick as a captain, and his two brothers as under officers.
"Attention!" shouted the major of the command. "Forward! march!"
"Boom! boom! boom, boom, boom!" went the drums, and then the fifers struck up a lively tune, and around the academy marched the two companies at company front. Then they went around again by column of fours, and then marched into the messroom, where they stacked arms and sat down at the long mess tables. The movements were patterned after those at West Point, and could not have been improved upon.
"Well, what of the hunt," asked Dick, as soon as he got the chance to talk to Tom.
"We followed it to the lake and then lost the trail," answered his brother. "But I am convinced that the rascal was Dan Baxter."
"I believe you are right, Tom," answered Dick, and related what Dora Stanhope had told him. Of course Tom listened with keen interest.
"We made a mistake in letting old Crabtree and Baxter go when we had them in Africa. We should have handed them over to the authorities."
"I am not worried about Baxter so much," went on Dick. "But I hate to think of Crabtree being around to molest the Stanhopes."
"And especially Dora," grinned Tom.
"Right you are, Tom, and I am not ashamed to admit it to you. But please don't—don't well, make fun of it to me any more."
"I won't, Dick." Tom gave his brother's hand a squeeze under the table. "Dora is all right, and if some day I get her for a sister-in-law I won't complain a bit." This plain talk made Dick's face flush, but he felt tremendously pleased, nevertheless, and loved Tom more than ever.
Directly after supper the boys were given until eleven o'clock to do as they pleased. At once some old barrels were piled high at one end of the campus, smeared with tar, stuffed with wood, and set on fire, and the blaze, mounting to the sky, lit up the neighborhood to the lake on one side and the mountains on the other.
Four cadets had gone down to Cedarville to buy the fireworks and the things to eat, and by nine o'clock these returned, loaded down with their purchases. Among the crowd was Larry Colby, who sought out Dick as soon as he arrived.
"I've got news," he exclaimed. "Whom do you suppose I saw down in Cedarville? Josiah Crabtree!"
"You are certain, Larry?"
"Where did you meet him?"
"Down at the restaurant where he went for some ice cream. He was just paying for a lunch he had had when I came in."
"Did you speak to him?"
"No; I wanted to do so, but as soon as he saw our crowd coming in he dusted out of a side door."
"Was he alone?"
"Humph!" Dick's brow clouded. He was inclined to think that Dora had been right concerning the noise she had heard on the side porch.
"You haven't any idea where he went?"
"No; I wanted to follow him, but it was dark on the street and he slipped me."
This was all Larry had to tell, and he hurried to arrange the fireworks.
The celebration was a grand success, and lasted until almost midnight. The boys had brought along a lot of Roman candles and skyrockets, and these they set off from the top of one of the tallest trees on the grounds.
"So that the Pornell fellows can see them," said Sam. "I know they will enjoy the show," and then he closed one eye suggestively. The Pornell players had chaffed him on account of his size, and now that the victory was won, he did not mean to let them forget their defeat too quickly.
At about ten o'clock Dick went to Captain Putnam and asked permission to leave the grounds for an hour or two.
"Where do you wish to go?" asked the captain.
"To Mrs. Stanhope's, sir," and he related what Dora had told him, and of what news Larry Colby had brought.
"I am afraid you may get into trouble, Rover," said the captain seriously.
"I will be very careful, sir. I am not afraid of Mr. Crabtree, should he turn up."
"I don't believe you are afraid of anyone," said the master with a smile, for he admired Dick's courage.
"Then you will let me go?"
"Wouldn't you rather have somebody with you?"
"I wouldn't mind having Tom along."
"I meant some grown person—like, for instance, Mr. Strong."
"Well, then, take Tom. But mind and be careful, and don't stay too late if everything is right, down there."
Having received this permission, Dick hurried to Tom. Soon the two brothers were on the way, Tom eating some cake and peanuts as they hurried along. The latter hated to miss the feast, but did not wish to see his brother under take the mission alone.
It was a clear night, and although there was no moon, the stars twinkled overhead like so many diamonds. Both knew the short cut to Mrs. Stanhope's cottage well, and made rapid progress. "Shall you ring the bell if everything appears to be right?" asked Tom, as they came in sight of the modest dwelling, set in the widow's well-kept garden.
"I guess not, Tom. It's so late. Both Mrs. Stanhope and Dora have probably gone to bed."
They had almost reached the gate to the garden when Dick caught his brother by the sleeve and drew him back into the shadow of a large maple tree.
"What is it, Dick?"
"I think I saw somebody moving around the corner of the house just now."
Both boys strained their eyes, but could see nothing that resembled a human form.
"I don't see a thing, Dick."
"Come, we'll move around to the outside of the garden," returned the older brother.
The flower garden was not large, and was separated from the vegetable laths. As they made their way along this, both caught the sound of a window sliding up.
"Hark! Did you hear that?" whispered Dick excitedly.
"I did. It came from the back of the house."
"Somebody must be trying to get into the kitchen window!"
Dick broke into a run, with Tom at his heels. Entering the garden by a rear gate, they soon reached the vicinity of the kitchen. A window stood wide open, and through this they beheld somebody inside the apartment with a blazing match in his hand trying to light a candle.
"Hi, there, who are you?" cried Tom, before Dick could stop him.
At the sound of the call the man in the kitchen jumped as though stung by a bee. Then he wheeled around, with the lighted candle in his hand, and both boys saw that it was Josiah Crabtree.
A STRUGGLE IN THE DARK
"Crabtree, you rascal!" ejaculated Dick.
"Who—who is that?" spluttered the former teacher of Putnam Hall, in dismay.
"It is I—Dick Rover. What are you doing here?"
"I—I came to call upon the Widow Stanhope," stammered Josiah Crabtree. He was so astonished he knew not what to say.
"You came to rob her, more likely," sneered Tom. "You just broke in at the window."
"No, no—it—it is all a mistake, Rover. I—I am stopping here for the night."
"Indeed!" gasped Dick, almost struck dumb over the man's show of "nerve," as he afterward expressed it.
"Yes, I am stopping here."
"With Mrs. Stanhope's permission of course."
"Certainly. How could I stop here otherwise?"
"What are you doing in the kitchen all alone?'"
"Why, I—er—I was up in my room, but I—er—wanted a glass of water and so came down for it."
"Then Mrs. Stanhope and Dora have gone to bed?"
"Yes, they just retired."
"Have you become friends again?" asked Dick, just to learn what Josiah Crabtree might say.
"Yes, Rover, Mrs. Stanhope is once more my best friend."
"Then she doesn't know what a rascal you were out in Africa."
"My dear Richard, you are laboring under a great delusion. I was never in Africa in my life."
"What!" roared Dick aghast at the man's audacity.
"I speak the truth. I have made an investigation, and have learned that somebody went to Africa under my name, just to take advantage of my—ahem—of my exalted rank as a professor."
"Great Scott! how you can draw the long bow!" murmured Tom.
"I speak the plain truth. I can prove that for the past six months I have been in Chicago and other portions of the West.
"Well, if you are a guest here, just stay with Tom while I call the Stanhopes," said Dick, and leaped in at the window.
"Boy, you shall do nothing of the kind," cried Josiah Crabtree, his manner changing instantly.
"Why not? If you are friends, it will do no harm."
"Mrs. Stanhope is—er—is not feeling well, and I will not have her disturbed by a headstrong youth like you."
"We'll see about that. If you—"
Dick broke off short, for just then a voice he knew well floated down into the kitchen from upstairs.
"Who is talking down there? Is that you, Dick?" It was Dora speaking, in a voice full of excitement.
"Yes, Dora, it is I—and Tom. We have caught Josiah Crabtree here in your kitchen."
"Oh!" The girl gave a little scream. "What a villain! Can you hold him?"
"We can try," answered Dick. He turned to Crabtree. "I reckon your game is up, old man."
"Let me go!" growled the former teacher fiercely, and as Dick advanced upon him he thrust the lighted candle full into the youth's face. Of course Dick had to fall back, not wishing to be burnt, and a second later the candle went out leaving the room in total darkness.
But now Tom sprang forward, bearing Crabtree to the floor. Over and over rolled the pair, upsetting first a chair and then a small table.
At the sound of the row Dora Stanhope began to scream, fearing one of her friends might be killed, and presently Mrs. Stanhope joined in. But the cottage was situated too far away for any outsiders to hear, so the boys had to fight the battle alone.
At length Josiah Crabtree pulled himself clear of Tom's hold and made for the open window. But now Dick had recovered and he hurled the man backward.
The movement kept Crabtree in the room, but it was disastrous to Tom, for as the former teacher fell back his heel was planted on Tom's forehead, and for the time being the younger Rover lay stunned and unable to continue the contest.
Finding himself unable to escape by the window, Josiah Crabtree felt his way to the door and ran out into the hall. Because of his former visits to the house he knew the ground plan well, and from the hall he darted into the parlor and then into the sitting room.
Dick tried to catch him, and once caught his arm. But Crabtree broke loose and placed a large center table between them.
"Don't dare to stop me, Rover," hissed the man desperately. "If you do you will be sorry. I am armed."
"So am I armed, Josiah Crabtree. And I call upon you to surrender."
"What, you would shoot me!" cried the former teacher, in terror.
"Why not? Didn't you try to take my life in Africa?"
"I repeat, you are mistaken."
"I am not mistaken, and can prove my assertion by half a dozen persons."
"I have not been near Africa."
"I won't argue the point with you. Do you surrender or not?"
"Yes, I will surrender," replied Josiah Crabtree meekly.
Yet he did not mean what he said, and as Dick came closer he gave the lad a violent shove backward, which made the elder Rover boy sit down in an easy chair rather suddenly. Then he darted into a small conservatory attached to the sitting room.
"Stop!" panted Dick, catching his breath.
"Tom, he is running away!"
Crash! jingle! jingle! jingle! Josiah Crabtree had tried the door to the conservatory and finding it locked and the key gone, had smashed out some of the glass and leaped through the opening thus afforded.
By this time Dora was coming downstairs, clad in a wrapper and carrying a lamp in her hand. The first person she met was Tom, who staggered into the hall with his hand to his bruised forehead.
"Oh, Tom, are you hurt?" she shrieked.
"Not much," he answered. "But Dick—Dick, where are you?"
"Here, in the conservatory. Crabtree just jumped through the glass!"
Dora ran into the little apartment, which Mrs. Stanhope had just begun to fill with flowers for the coming winter. Tom came behind her, carrying a poker he had picked up.
"Is he out of sight?" asked Tom.
"Yes, confound the luck," replied his brother. "Which way did he go?"
"I don't know."
"We ought to follow him."
"We will." Dick turned to Dora. "After we are gone you had better lock up better than ever, and remain on guard until morning."
"I will, Dick," she answered.
The key to the conservatory door was hanging on a nearby nail, and taking it down they unlocked the door, and the two boys passed into the darkness of the night outside.
"Please take care of yourselves!" cried Dora after them, and then turned to quiet her mother, who had come downstairs in a state of excitement bordering on hysteria, for, as old readers know, Mrs. Stanhope's constitution was a delicate one.
Running into the garden, Dick made out a dim form in the distance, on the path leading to the lake.
"There he is!" he cried. "Come, Tom, we must catch him, if we can!"
"I am with you," answered Tom. "But take care what you do. He may be in a desperate frame of mind."
"He is desperate. But I am not afraid of him," returned the elder Rover, with determination.
Josiah Crabtree was running with all the speed of his long legs, and the two lads soon found that they had all they could do to keep him in sight.
"Stop!" yelled Tom, at the top of his voice, but to this command the former, teacher paid no attention. If anything, he ran the faster.
"He is bound for the lake," said Dick. "He must have a boat."
But Dick was mistaken, for just before the water came into view Josiah Crabtree branched off onto the road leading into Cedarville. Then of a sudden the shadows of a patch of woods hid him from view.
"He's gone!" came from Tom, as he slackened his speed.
"He didn't turn down to the lake."
"That's so. He must have gone toward Cedarville."
The Rover boys came to a halt and looked about them searchingly. On one side of the road lay a tilled field, on the other were rocks and trees and bushes. They listened intently, but only the occasional cry of a night bird broke the stillness.
"We are stumped!" groaned Dick dismally.
"What, you aren't going to give up the hunt already, are you?" demanded Tom.
"No, but where did he go?"
"Perhaps he went back to the house."
"I don't believe he would dare to do that. Besides, what would he go for?"
"What made him go in the first place?"
"I am sure I don't know. Perhaps he was going to abduct Dora—or Mrs. Stanhope."
"If he was going to do that alone, he would have had his hands full."
The two boys advanced, but with great caution. They peered into the woods and behind some of the larger rocks, but discovered nothing.
"That is the second time we have lost our game to-day," remarked Tom soberly. "First it was Dan Baxter or somebody else, and now it is Josiah Crabtree."
"It must have been Baxter who tried to wreck the stage. He and old Crabtree always did hang together."
"If they are stopping anywhere in Cedarville we ought to put the police on their track."
"I'll do that sure. We can easily hold both on half a dozen charges—if we can catch them."
AN INTERESTING LETTER
But to catch Josiah Crabtree was not easy. The former teacher of Putnam Hall was thoroughly alarmed, and once having taken to the woods, he plunged in deeper and deeper, until to find him would have been almost an impossibility. Indeed, he completely lost himself, and when the boys had left the vicinity he found himself unable to locate the road again, and so had to remain in the cold and damp woods all night, much to his discomfort. He could not keep warm, and sat chattering on a rock until daylight.
Finding it of no use to continue the search, Dick and Tom retraced their steps to the Stanhope homestead. They found Dora on guard, with every window and door either locked or nailed up. The girl had persuaded her feeble mother to lie down again, but Mrs. Stanhope was still too excited to rest comfortably.
"Did you catch him?" Dora asked anxiously, after she had admitted them.
"No, he got away in the darkness," answered Dick.
"It is too bad. What do you suppose he was up to?"
"That is what we would like to find out, Dora. Certainly he was up to no good."
"Perhaps he wished to rob us."
"He must know that you do not keep much money in the house."
"Day before yesterday mother had me draw four hundred dollars out of the bank, to pay for the new barn we have had built. The carpenter, however, went to Ithaca on business, so as yet we have not been able to pay him the money."
"It was a mistake to keep so much cash in the house. You should have paid by check—it's the same thing," put in Tom.
"I know it, but Mr. Gradley is peculiar. He once had some trouble over a check, and he stipulated that he should be paid in cash."
"Do you suppose Josiah Crabtree saw you draw the money from the bank?" remarked Dick thoughtfully.
"I don't know what to think."
"He would be just rascal enough to try to get it, if he knew of it. I guess we had better remain here until morning, and after that you had better have a man around the house."
"Yes, mother says she will hire a man. But men are difficult to get—that is, one who is reliable. We had to discharge Borgy on account of drunkenness."
"Perhaps father will let Alexander Pop come up here for a while," cried Dick, struck with the idea. "I don't believe he needs the man at home, and Aleck is thoroughly reliable, even if he is colored."
"Yes, I know Pop well. I would like to have him first-rate. But it is asking a good deal at your hands, Dick."
"As if I wouldn't do a good deal more than that, Dora," he cried quickly, and caught her hand.
"I know you would—you have already. You are the best friend I have, Dick—you and your brothers."
"And I always will be, Dora, always!" he whispered, and pressed her hand so tightly that she blushed like a peony.
Tom had passed into the kitchen and was looking around to see what damage his struggle with Crabtree had done. Nothing was injured. Under the kitchen table lay a letter and a small vial. He picked up both.
"Chloroform!" he cried, as he smelt of the contents of the vial, just as the others came in.
"Where did you get that?" asked Dora.
"Found it under the table, along with this letter. Crabtree must have dropped both."
"Let me see the letter!" cried Dick.
Tom passed it over, and all three read the communication with interest. It had been sent to Josiah Crabtree while the latter had been stopping in New York, and was post-marked Albany.
"It's from Dan Baxter," said Dick.
The letter ran as follows:
"Dear Mr. Crabtree:
"I drop you a few lines as promised. I have seen my father and his plans are about completed. The Rovers think they have the upper hand, but when he gets out of jail he will be able to show them a thing or two and surprise them. If you go to Cedarville I will meet you there on the 5th of next month—at the old meeting place. We won't have Mumps, the turncoat, to bother us, and maybe we can lay plans for a fat deal all around. Anyway, we ought to square accounts with those Rover boys. They treated both of us outrageously and they ought to suffer for it.
"Yours as faithfully as ever,
"Won't Crabtree be mad when he finds out that he lost this?" grinned Tom.
"He may not know that he dropped it here."
"Well, it clears up one point. Baxter and he are both around, and intent on mischief."
"What shall you do next?" put in Dora anxiously.
"I hardly know. 'Forwarned is forearmed,' they say, but Baxter and Crabtree are such underhanded rascals one never knows what to expect of them next."
"Of course you will tell the Cedarville police—or I shall."
"I'll do that. But you know what they did before. Never helped us a bit, but let both slip through their fingers."
"Perhaps they will be on their mettle now."
The situation was talked over for half an hour, and then it was decided that Tom should return to Putnam Hall to explain to Captain Putnam and to Sam, while Dick should remain with the Stanhopes.
This agreed upon, Tom took his departure immediately, as it was now midnight, and he did not wish to be locked out for the night.
"And now you had better return to bed, Dora," said Dick, after his brother had departed. "I will remain downstairs, on the sofa, and I don't believe anybody will disturb me."
"All right, if you wish it that way," replied the girl. "But you can have one of the bedrooms if you wish."
"No, I'll stay here, and keep my clothes on."
Dora went upstairs, but soon came back, carrying a pillow and a quilt.
"There, that will provide a little comfort," she said, but then, as Dick caught her hand as if to kiss it, she gave a merry little laugh and ran upstairs again.
It was a long while before Dick could go to sleep. He had read the letter found in the kitchen with care, and he wondered what it all meant.
"What plans can Arnold Baxter be completing?" he asked himself. "And how can he surprise father? Can that refer to the missing mine in Colorado? He talks as if he was going to get out of jail pretty soon, but that can't be, for the judge will certainly give him three or four years at the least. Perhaps I had better write to father about this."
No other person came that night to disturb the inmates of the cottage, and when at last Dick did fall into slumber he did not awaken until the sun was shining in the window and a neighboring Irish woman, who did Mrs. Stanhope's washing and ironing, was knocking on the kitchen door for entrance.
"Good-morning, Mrs. O'Toole," he said, as he leaped up and let her in.
"Good-marnin', young sir," stammered the washerwoman. "Sure an' I didn't ixpict to see you here."
"I suppose not. But come in, and I will call Miss Dora."
"No need to call me, if you please," came in a silvery voice from the hall, and Dora appeared, as bright and fresh as ever. "I would have been down before, only I had to wait on mamma."
"And how is she?"
"She is no worse, but neither is she better. I shall send for our doctor to-day."
Breakfast was soon on the table-fresh coffee, fresh eggs, and dainty buckwheat cakes baked by Dora's own hands. It is needless to say that Dick enjoyed the repast.
"You'll make a famous housekeeper for somebody some day, Dora," he said, looking at her pointedly.
"You go and eat your cakes before they get cold," she answered.
"I've already eaten my fill, I can't go another one. I've enjoyed them ever so much. Now I guess I had better be off for Cedarville."
"If you wish, you can hitch up Dolly to the carriage and drive over. It will be nicer than walking."
"Supposing I go over on horseback? Is she used to a saddle?"
"Oh, yes, and you will find a gentleman's saddle in the harness closet back of the stalls."
"Then I'll go that way. Good-by. I'll be back before noon, unless something unusual turns up. And when I am down in Cedarville I'll send word to father about Aleck."
Leaving the house Dick went to the barn, which was usually locked. Dora had given him the key, but to his surprise he found the padlock pried off and the door partly open.
"Can this be more of Crabtree's work?" he asked himself. "Perhaps he has stolen the mare! What fools we were not to look in here last night."
But Dick's fears were groundless. The mare was still there. But she was all saddled, ready for him to ride.
"Crabtree's work, beyond a doubt," he thought.
Before he went to the house he came here, and it was his intention to steal the mare and get away on her.
A HUNT THROUGH THE WOODS
Before starting for Cedarville Dick acquainted Dora with the discovery he had made.
"We were fortunate," said the girl. "I would not lose Dolly for a good deal."
If there was one thing Dick loved it was a good horse, and once on Dolly's back he urged the little mare along at top speed. She was in prime fettle, and flew along the hard road as if she thoroughly enjoyed the outing.
Arriving at Cedarville Dick sought out the little police station, for the town had at last taken on a force, consisting of a chief and eight men.
The chief, a little fat man by the name of Burger, sat in his office reading the Cedarville Trumpet, the weekly journal of the place.
"Want to see me on business, eh?" he said, laying down the sheet. "All right, young man, sit down. What name?"
"Richard Rover. I am one of the cadets at Putnam Hall."
"Just so. Trouble at the Hall, I presume? Anything connected with that celebration last night?"
"No, sir, I—"
"Another robbery, then? Captain Putnam seems to have his hands full."
"We've had no robbery at the Hall, sir. I came—"
"No robbery, eh? Then perhaps it's a fight. Students will fight when they get celebrating. I know we had a fight once at the academy I attended, and it lasted three days."
"I hope they called out the fire department," answered Dick, with a grin.
"The fire department—Ha! ha! a good joke! No; they called in the doctor, ha! ha! So it's a fight, eh? Does the captain want us to arrest anybody?"
"It's not a fight."
"What? But you said—" The fat chief paused.
"I said I wanted to see you about business."
"Just so—and that you were from Putnam Hall, and Captain Putnam had sent you."
"No, no. Please give me a chance to talk."
"Why, of course. I never interrupt anybody. Go on, but don't take too much time, for my time is limited."
"I came from Mrs. Stanhope's cottage, man broke in there last night—"
"Ha, a burglary! Why didn't they let us know at once? Or perhaps you have collared the villain already?"
"No, we haven't got him, although my brother and I tried to catch him."
"Pooh! Two boys, and tried to catch a burglar! Of course he got away."
Dick felt disgusted, and arose to make his departure.
"If you won't listen to what I have to report, I'll take myself off," he said half angrily.
At this Chief Burger stared at him in astonishment.
"Really, you are a remarkable boy," he gasped. "Ain't I listening to everything you are saying?"
"Hardly. I wish to tell you everything from the beginning."
"Just so. Go on, I shan't say a word. What a remarkable boy! But it must be the military training that does it."
As well as possible Dick told all that had happened during the night. Chief Burger interrupted him a score of times, but at last the tale was finished. At the conclusion the chief closed one eye suggestively.
"And don't you know where this Josiah Crabtree is now?" he asked.
"If I did I'd go after him hot-footed," returned Dick.
"He must be in hiding in the woods near the cottage."
"Perhaps, but he had eight hours in which to get away."
"Just so. I will send out an alarm to all of my force, and then Detective Trigger and I will make a personal hunt for the rascal."
"When you hunt for him you had better hunt for Dan Baxter, too," said Dick, and he told of the happening on the stage ride.
"I will keep an eye open for Baxter, too," said the chief.
From the police station Dick rode to the post office, and here wrote and mailed a long letter to his father, relating what had happened and repeating the wording of the letter that had been found. He requested that Alexander Pop be sent up without delay.
There was nothing to keep Dick in Cedarville any longer, and he prepared to return to the Stanhope cottage with the mare. But before going he entered the leading drug store, and here purchased a box of choice chocolates for Dora, for he fortunately had his spending money with him, or at least the balance left over from the football celebration.
When Dick reached the cottage he found both the washwoman and the carpenter at work, one in the wash-house and the other finishing up the new barn. The money taken from the bank had been turned over to Mr. Gradley, so Mrs. Stanhope no longer had this to worry her.
Feeling that he could do little at school for the balance of that day, Dick resolved to hunt through the woods for some trace of Josiah Crabtree, and went off shortly after giving Dora the chocolates, over which the girl was greatly pleased. He followed the road in the direction of the lake at first, and was about to plunge into the brushwood when a distant voice hailed him.
"Hullo, Dick, stop! I want to see you."
It was Sam calling, and soon his youngest brother came up on a run.
"Sam, what brings you?" he asked, for it was easy to see that something out of the ordinary had occurred.
"I want to know where Tom is," panted Sam.
"Tom?" Dick's face grew pale all in an instant. "Didn't he return to Putnam Hall last night?"
"No, and nobody around there has seen him since he went off with you. I thought he was with you, until Dora just told me that he started to return about midnight."
"He did. And he didn't return? What can it mean?"
"What's the trouble here?"
Sam was given the particulars, and uttered a long, low whistle.
"That looks black, doesn't it?"
"It does, Sam. I don't like it for a cent."
"Do you suppose he fell in with Crabtree?"
"Perhaps—or with somebody just as bad."
"Perhaps he spotted Crabtree and started to follow him."
"I shouldn't think he would follow him all this time without letting somebody know."
For several minutes the two brothers discussed this new turn of affairs. Both were greatly troubled, and Dick did not know whether to continue his hunt or not.
"I wouldn't care if only I knew he was all right," he said.
"That's just it. Tom is able to stand up for himself in an even fight, but if Crabtree played him some trick—"
"Let us hunt for him," interrupted the elder Rover. "There is no use of our sitting down and sucking our thumbs."
They went along the road until the spot was gained where Josiah Crabtree had been last seen. Then they began a systematic search until Sam discovered what he said were fresh footprints leading directly into the woods. At one point one of the prints was very plain, and they saw that it was made by a long shoe, square-toed.
"I reckon you have struck it, Sam," said Dick, after an inspection. "Now if only we can stick to the trail to the end."
Fortunately the ground was so damp that the trail could be followed with ease. An hour's walking brought them to the rock where the former teacher had spent the larger part, of the night.
"He made a stop here, that's certain," observed Dick, as they surveyed the criss-cross tracks.
"Like as not he got mixed up in the dark, Dick. It must have been awfully black here under the trees."
Presently they discovered another trail, leading up a hill. Beyond was a tall tree which Josiah Crabtree had climbed in order to obtain a better view of the surroundings. From the tree the trail led directly toward the lake.
"We're on his track, all right enough," observed Sam. "But if he took to the water we'll lose it, just as we lost Baxter's trail yesterday."
The trail crossed the main road and came out at the lake where there was a slight bluff covered with a heavy growth of underbrush. To their right was an old building, which in years gone by had been a dwelling.
"There is a fire over yonder," observed Dick, as he pointed past the building "Somebody seems to be burning a lot of wet brush. See the heavy smoke."
"Perhaps the folks at the fire can tell us something of Crabtree," answered Sam. "Let us go over and interview them."
His brother was willing, and as well as they were able they pushed their way through the brush toward the fire.
The latter burned fiercely, and presently the two boys detected the odor of tar.
Then they reached a point where they could overlook what was going on around the fire, for the blaze was located in something of a gully of the cliff.
"Merciful heaven!" burst from Dick's lips, and he stood spellbound. Sam also gave a look, and the sight that both boys saw nearly froze the blood in their veins.
WHAT BECAME OF TOM
To go back to Tom at the time when he left Dick and the Stanhopes, and started to return to Putnam Hall.
He went away whistling gayly, for he thought that all danger was over.
"What a shame I had to miss the celebration," he murmured. "And after my success on the football field, too!"
Soon the Stanhope grounds were left behind, and he struck the main road leading to the academy.
He had advanced a distance of several hundred feet along this road when, on looking ahead, he observed some person coming slowly toward him.
Wondering who the individual could be, and thinking of Crabtree, he stopped short.
At the same time the other person also halted, and then of a sudden slipped out of sight behind the nearest trees.
"Hullo, that's queer," murmured the youth. "Evidently he doesn't want to be seen. Can it be Crabtree?"
He was unarmed, and had some hesitancy about advancing, not knowing what to expect.
But he did not wish the former teacher to escape, and so casting around he espied a sharp stone and picked it up.
"Hi, there, come out of that!" he called, as he ran forward and held the stone ready for use.
No reply was vouchsafed, and he called again. By this time he was directly opposite the spot where the mysterious individual had disappeared.
"Look here, Josiah Crabtree, you might as well come out and give yourself up," he called sharply.
Still there was no answer, and now Tom did not know what to do. Under the trees it was so dark that he could scarcely see a yard in front of him.
Yet he advanced several paces, still holding the stone up as a weapon of offense or defense, as the case might prove. But nobody appeared in sight, and at last he returned to the road.
He was in a quandary whether to return to the cottage or continue on his way to the Hall.
"I suppose I may as well go on," he concluded. "Neither Dick nor I can do much in the woods in the dark."
So he went on, but this time more slowly, wondering if Josiah Crabtree would follow him, and never dreaming that the person who had slipped him was not the former teacher, but Dan Baxter.
For Baxter it was, who had been waiting around to be joined by Crabtree, for the pair of evil-doers had come to the vicinity of the Stanhope cottage together.
"It's Tom Rover," muttered Baxter, on hearing the boy's voice. "I was lucky to get out of the way."
He remained as motionless as a statue while Tom passed within a dozen feet of him. Then When Tom went out on the road again Baxter ran forth, too, but in the opposite direction.
Down on a side road Baxter had that day run across a tramps' encampment. In the camp were three hoboes, as they are sometimes called rascals who were willing to do almost anything but work for a living.
They had demanded money of the bully, and he gave them a dollar, fearing violence if he refused them.
Baxter now thought of the tramps, and as he did so an evil look crossed his face.
"If only I can pay off Tom Rover," he muttered. "I'll do it if I can."
Soon the tramps' encampment was reached, and he found two of the men dozing before a tiny fire, with an empty liquor bottle between then the third tramp had gone to Cedarville for more liquor.
"Wake up here," cried Baxter, catching first one and then the other by the shoulder.
"What do yer want, young feller?" demanded the leader of the party, who rejoiced in the name of Stumpy Nuggs.
"I want you two men to help me lay a boy out," answered Dan Baxter, feeling that there was no use in mincing matters, for he knew that the tramps were a bad crowd.
"Lay a boy out?" repeated the second tramp, who was called Longback.
"Yes, he is an enemy of mine, and just passed on the road yonder. If you will help me thrash him and make him a prisoner, I'll give you each five dollars."
"Say, yer talkin' big," said Stumpy Nuggs.
"I mean what I say. I know you are not above doing such work by the way you tackled me."
"Is de boy alone?"
"An' yer want to whip him and den make him a prisoner?"
"Wot yer goin' ter do wid him after dat?"
"I don't know yet."
"Who is de boy?"
"A cadet up at the military academy above here."
Stumpy Nuggs scratched his head of tangled hair.
"Maybe yer gittin' us into a trap fer askin' yer fer dat dollar," he observed suspiciously.
"No, I am not. This boy is an old enemy of mine, and I want to get square with him. We can easily catch him before he gets to the academy, if you hurry up."
"An' you will give us five dollars each?"
"Yes—and perhaps more. The boy carries a watch, and must have some money in his pocket. He also wears a gold ring."
At the mention of jewelry and money the tramps' eyes glistened.
"If you are tellin' de truth, dis is all right," cried Stumpy Nuggs, as he arose and stretched himself.
"I am telling the truth, and you can easily prove it for yourselves. Only hurry up, or it will be too late."
The two tramps consulted together, and asked a few more questions. Then they agreed to follow Baxter, and do whatever he desired of them, providing they were allowed their fair share of plunder, if there was any.
In the meantime Tom went on in deep thought. He still held the stone in his hand. He wished he had a club, but the stick he had formerly picked up had been left at the cottage.
The hall grounds had just come into sight in the dim distance when the boy heard the patter of footsteps behind him.
He turned around, but could see nobody, and at that instant the sounds ceased.
"Somebody is following me," he thought. "Can it be the same party I spotted before?"
An instant later he found himself confronted by two men and a boy, each with a bit of cloth tied over his face, into which two holes had been cut for eyes.
"Is dat him?" asked one of the men.
"Yes," answered the boy, in a strangely unnatural voice. "Give it to him."
All three of the party carried sticks, and they at once fell upon Tom, hitting him over the shoulders and the head.
He did his best to defend himself, and hit Baxter in the arm with the stone, inflicting a wound that made the bully shriek with pain.
"So it is you, Baxter!" cried Tom, recognizing the voice. "What do you mean by this?"
"Knock him down," yelled the bully. "Don't let him get away from you!"
Thus urged, the two tramps closed in, and while one caught Tom by the arm, the second tried to pull his feet from under him.
It was a fierce, but unequal struggle, and though the boy struck out right and left, inflicting not a little injury, in the end he found himself on his back, with Stumpy Nuggs sitting on his chest.
"You rascals, let up," he gasped. "Do you mean to kill me?"
"Lay still, or you'll catch it worse," growled Nuggs. "Where's dat rope, Longback?"
A rope had been brought along, and it was quickly produced, and then Tom was rolled over and his hands were bound behind him. His legs were also bound together in such a fashion that he might walk but not run.
"Now get up," ordered Dan Baxter, with a wicked scowl.
Not caring to remain on the ground, Tom did so. He noted that the two men with Baxter were tramps, and he came to the conclusion that he had a hard crowd with whom to deal.
"March!" went on Baxter, taking Tom by the shoulder.
"March? Where to?"
"You'll find out fast enough."
"Suppose I refuse."
"You had better not, Tom Rover. You know I'm not to be trifled with."
"I am not afraid of you," answered Tom boldly. "You were always a bully, Dan Baxter, and a bully is a coward."
"Is your name Baxter?" asked asked Stumpy Nuggs, curiously.
"Never mind what it is," growled Baxter.
"I used ter have a friend wot knowed a feller named Baxter," went on the tramp. "Me friend's name was Buddy Girk."
"I know your friend," cried Tom. "He once stole my brother Dick's watch. He is this boy's father's tool, and both of them are now in jail in Albany for robbery."
"Wot!" cried Nuggs, in astonishment. He turned to the other tramp. "Longback, I reckon we have struck an odd crowd, hey?"
"Dat's wot," answered Longback. "But say, we didn't go through de young gent's pockets yet."
"Wait until we are off the road," interrupted Dan Baxter. "Somebody may come along and make trouble for us."
"Right ye are," answered Stumpy Nuggs. "Don't let's stay here anudder minit."
With Baxter on one side of him, Nuggs on the other, and Longback bringing up the rear, Tom was forced to march along. Once he resisted, and received a punch in the side that took nearly all of the wind out of him. He started to cry for help, but his captors threatened if he did this that they would place a gag of dirty cloth in his mouth.
In days gone by Baxter had often visited a deserted dwelling on the lake shore, and to this spot the party now directed their steps. In the dark their course was uncertain, and they made slow progress, so it was after three o'clock in the morning when the dilapidated building was reached.
A DOSE OF TAR AND FEATHERS
"Make some kind of a light—I can't see a thing," said Dan Baxter, as the little party came to a halt in front of a half tumbled down building.
Stumpy Nuggs carried matches, and quickly lit a bit of candle which he produced from one of the pockets of his ragged attire.
They entered the dwelling, forcing Tom to accompany them. This done they tied the young cadet fast to an iron ring set in the huge old fashion fireplace.
"Now we'll turn out his pockets," said Longback, and this was quickly done. To the tramps' chagrin Tom carried no watch, but had with him two dollars in money.
"Now we'll take dat ring," said Nuggs, pointing to the article on Tom's little finger.
"So I have fallen in with a lot of thieves, eh?" said the boy. "Well, if you want the ring you can fight for it."
"Shut up!" roared Dan Baxter, and struck him across the mouth, causing Tom's under lip to bleed. The boy tried to retaliate, but his bonds held him fast.
While one tramp held his hand the other possessed himself of the ring. The ring contained an opal of which Tom was very proud, and to part with the article made the young cadet feel pretty bad.
"You will rue this night's work," he muttered. "I'll see you in prison for it."
"Don't waste your breath in threatening," cried Baxter.
"All right, Baxter, wait and see. I'll put you where your father is."
The bully's face reddened. "Will you shut up, or do you want another crack on the mouth?"
"It's only a coward who would strike a person when he is helpless."
"Coward or not, I want you to keep a civil tongue in your head."
"Perhaps you imagine we don't know who tried to wreck the stage," went on Tom pointedly.
"Wreck a stage? I know nothing of such a thing."
"You know all about it. And we'll prove it too—when you are under arrest."
"I won't talk to you!" howled Baxter.
"Come with me," he added to the tramps, and then the three quitted the building, leaving Torn to his reflections, which were dismal enough.
"I'm in a pickle and no mistake," he murmured. "What will they do with me next?"
Hour after hour went by and still Tom was left alone. In the meantime Baxter had held a long conversation with the tramps and had formed a compact with them, paying them the ten dollars as agreed.
The sun was shining brightly when at last Dan Baxter re-entered the old building.
"Getting hungry, I suppose," he remarked, with a wicked grin.
"Not particularly so," answered Tom coldly. He was hungry, but he was not going to admit it.
"I suppose you would like to have your liberty," went on the bully.
"Don't ask superfluous questions, Baxter. Let us get down to business. Why did you make me a prisoner, and what are you going to do with me?"
"I made you a prisoner because I felt like doing so," growled the big youth.
"And what do you propose to do next?"
"Teach you a lesson that you won't forget all your life, Tom Rover."
"Thank you for nothing."
"I haven't forgotten how you and your brothers handled me out in Africa—and here, too, for that matter."
"You deserved what you got, Dan Baxter. Some persons would have had you sent to prison for your actions."
"Bah! You don't know what you are talking about. What were you doing out so late last night?"
"None of your business."
"Were you over to the Stanhopes' place?"
"Perhaps I was and perhaps I wasn't."
"Don't get mulish. Remember that you are absolutely in my power."
"And what if I was at the Stanhopes' place? Haven't I a perfect right to go there?"
"Did you meet anybody there?"
"Yes, I did. I met your particular friend, Josiah Crabtree."
Baxter's face fell. "And what—that is what did you have to say to each other?"
"Crabtree tried to rob the widow—and I believe you were outside waiting for him," Tom continued suddenly.
At this moment Stumpy Nuggs came in.
"There's a man comin' dis way!" he said excitedly, "Wot shall we do?"
"A man!" ejaculated Baxter, in alarm. "I'll go out and see if I know him."
He left the building with the tramp. The newcomer was approaching along the gully path. As he drew closer Baxter recognized Josiah Crabtree.
"Baxter!" exclaimed the former teacher, as, he carne up. "This is fortunate; I was afraid you had been captured."
"And I was afraid you were in the same box," rejoined Baxter.
"I had a hard time of it to get away. I got lost in the woods and had to remain out in the cold all night."
"Then you didn't succeed in getting what you wanted, or in seeing Mrs. Stanhope?"
"No. Those confounded Rover boys turned up, and I had to—ahem— leave in a hurry. But who are these two men?" and Josiah Crabtree looked apprehensively at the tramps.
"They are all right, Crabtree. They helped me do a slick thing last night."
"Ah, and what was that?"
"I met Tom Rover on the road and they helped me to capture him."
"Indeed, and where is the—ah—young rascal now?"
"A prisoner in the old house yonder."
At this information Josiah Crabtree was much astonished, and begged for the particulars of the affair, which were speedily forthcoming.
"And now you have him a prisoner, what do you propose to do?" asked the former teacher.
"I'll soon show you," growled Baxter. "I'm going to do him up brown—or rather, black. See here."
He led the way back to the gully and pointed to a pot of tar and a brush which rested by it.
"It is tar!" cried Crabtree.
"And you are—ahem—going to give him a coat of that?"
"Yes. Doesn't he deserve it?"
"To be sure he does. I will assist you," answered the former teacher readily, with a malicious gleam in his fishy eyes. "I wish you had all three boys here, to tar them with the same brush."
"One at a time, Crabtree. We'll fix the others some time later."
A fire was started and the pot of tar was hung from a chain caught up between two uprights.
Some of the softening stuff was smeared on the wood which was burning, and this made the blaze more fierce than ever. Soon the tar was near to the boiling point.
The two tramps had thrown themselves down to watch the proceedings.
"Yer ought ter have some fedders," suggested Longback.
"I have. There was an old musty feather bed in the house. I'm going to use that."
Going into the building Dan Baxter brought forth the feathers in question, and placed them close to the pot of tar.
While he was doing this Josiah Crabtree went in to talk to Tom.
Of course the boy was surprised to see the former teacher, who eyed him darkly.
"So Baxter has caught you," began Crabtree.
To this Tom made no answer.
"I presume you do not like your present position," went on the man.
Still no reply.
"You feel so bad about it that you do not even Wish to talk, is that it?"
"No, I was just thinking of what an ugly, black-hearted villain you were, Crabtree," aid Tom, looking him full in the face. "I don't believe you have a single spark of honor left in you."
At this Crabtree's face grew as dark as a thunder cloud.
"Ha I how dare you address me in this fashion?" he cried.
"I know I am taking a great risk, but I cannot help it."
"Do you forget that you and your brothers are solely responsible for my present position? That but for you I would have married the Widow Stanhope and started one of the finest boys' school in New York State?"
"Yes, and you would have made Mrs. Stanhope perfectly miserable, and squandered every dollar that she holds in trust for Dora."
"That is your opinion, and it is worth nothing."
"My opinion is the opinion of everybody that knows you as well as I do."
"You have constantly interfered in the doings of myself and of others, and now you must stand punishment for the same."
"What do you intend to do?" demanded Tom quickly.
"I'll show you," broke in the voice of Dan Baxter, and he came in, followed by the two tramps. Soon Tom was released from the fireplace and marched between them out into the open air.
"How do you like that?" asked Baxter, as he led the way to the fire. "Tar and feathers are fine, aren't they?"
"You would tar and feather me?" asked Tom, and now it must be confessed that he shivered in spite of his efforts to remain calm.
"Yes, we'll tar and feather you," responded Baxter.
"And lay it on—ahem—thick, Daniel," put in Josiah Crabtree.
"Trust me for that."
Baxter gave a signal to the two tramps and they began to literally rip Tom's clothing from his back. Soon the unfortunate youth was stripped to the waist. Then Baxter caught up, a brush full of tar and advanced upon him.
IN THE NICK OF TIME
"Baxter, don't you dare to tar me!" cried Tom, as the bully faced him.
"Ha! ha! I guess you are pretty well scared now," laughed Baxter. "Your former show of bravery was all put on."
"If you go ahead you shall suffer the full penalty for the outrage, mark my words."
"Bah, Tom Rover, you can't frighten me. When I get through with you I'll warrant that your own mother won't know you."
Tom tried to retreat, but each of the tramps held him by the arm, so that he could not stir. As his legs were still bound, kicking was likewise out of the question.
"Let me put a nice big cross on his breast first," said Baxter. "Here goes!"
He reached out with the brush, but before he could touch Tom an interruption came as forceful as it was unexpected.
A thick stick came flying through the air, hitting his arm and sending the tar brush spinning to a distance.
"You rascal, let Tom alone!" came in Dick Rover's voice, and he rushed in and threw the bully headlong.
"Dick! Sam!" came from Tom joyfully. "Oh, how glad I am that you have come."
"Wot's dis!" gasped Stumpy Nuggs. "Longback, dare's trouble ahead!"
"Yes, an' I don't intend ter be in it!" answered the second tramp. "I reckon we've got about all we want out of dis crowd, anyway!" And both tramps took to their heels.
Josiah Crabtree stood by, speechless. The interruption had come so suddenly that he knew not what to do.
As quickly as he could Dan Baxter scrambled to his feet. As he did so Sam leaped for the tar brush and secured it.
"Let me alone!" roared the bully, and began to back away. But as he did so his hand went into his hip pocket and he drew a pistol.
"No, you don't!" cried Sam, and knocked the weapon from his hand with the brush. This action caused the hot tar to leave a heavy streak over Baxter's face and neck, and he let out a yell that would have done credit to an Indian on the warpath.
"Wait, I'll get even for this, Sam Rover!" he hissed, and then as Dick advanced he turned and took to his heels, running as if the Evil One were after him. Sam followed him, still swinging the brush, but Dan Baxter was soon lost to sight in the bushes.
Dick now turned to where Josiah Crabtree had been standing. The former teacher had recovered and was making tracks down the gully toward the lake. The tramps had disappeared. He leaped to Tom's side.
"We must bag some of them, Tom," he said, as he whipped out his knife and set his brother free.
"There goes Crabtree—let us collar him."
Both boys ran as never before, and came upon the former teacher just as that individual reached the lake shore below the bluff. Tom made a grab and caught him by the coat tails.
"Let me go!" snarled Crabtree, and aimed a blow at the cadet's head. But Tom ducked, and the next instant put out his foot and Crabtree pitched headlong into the lake.
"Help me! I'll be drowned!" spluttered the former teacher, as he came up with his head covered with mud, for the lake at this point was less than five feet deep.
"Climb out and you'll be all right," sang out Dick, and feeling the bottom with his feet, Crabtree looked very sheepish and clambered slowly up the bank.
As he stood before them, all dripping with water and mud, he looked the picture of misery.
"Boys, this is a—a—sad way in which to treat your former teacher," he wailed.
"Don't talk like that, or I'll be tempted to throw you in again," exclaimed Tom. "Dick, what will we do with him?"
"Hold him until we hear from Sam."
They looked up the gully and soon espied the youngest Rover hurrying toward them.
"Where is Baxter?" asked Dick.
"He got away, but not until I had let him have that tar brush right in the neck," answered Sam. "Hullo, so you have captured old Crabby, eh? That's good."
"Surely you do not intend to—ahem—keep me a prisoner," remarked Josiah Crabtree, in a voice which he tried in vain to steady.
"That's just what we do intend to do," answered Dick. "You'll march right to the Cedarville lock-up with us."
While Dick and Sam guarded the prisoner, Tom ran back for his torn coat and other garments, and also for the rope. When he returned Crabtree's hands were bound and the cadets told him to move along. He was searched, and a pistol was taken from him.
Crabtree went along most unwillingly. Once he refused to budge, but Dick showed the pistol, and that settled his stubbornness, and he went along as willingly as a lamb.
On the outskirts of Cedarville the party met Chief Burger and Detective Trigger.
"So you have one of them, eh?" cried the chief. "Very good, very good indeed. Turn him over to me and I will take him straight to headquarters."
"You must be careful that he doesn't get away," said Dick.
"Just so, lad; I will be. No one ever escaped from me, not much! Come on, sir!" And he caught Josiah Crabtree by the arm.
"This is awful!" groaned the former teacher. "And right here in Cedarville, too, where everybody knows me!"
"You should have thought of those things before, Mr. Crabtree," said Dick, his heart softening a little, now that he saw the man was beginning to break down.
"What will my friends, and the profession at large, say?" and Crabtree shook his head bitterly.
"You have only yourself to blame," put in Tom. He had not forgotten how Crabtree had threatened him but a short while before.
Suddenly the former teacher's last drop of courage seemed to desert him and, deadly pale, he sank on his knees.
"Spare me, boys, spare me! For the sake of my family and my friends, spare me!" he moaned.
"I didn't know you had a family," put in Sam.
"My relatives—my poor, dear, distant relatives," replied Crabtree, hardly aware of what he was saying. "Spare me for their sakes, and I will reward you well."
"The law must take its course, Mr. Crabtree," said Dick. He turned to Chief Burger. "Take him, and Tom can go with you, to make the charge for us and for Mrs. Stanhope. I think Detective Trigger had better come with Sam and me to hunt for Dan Baxter."
So it was arranged, and soon Crabtree was walking into Cedarville with the chief of police on one side of him and Tom on the other. The sight of a man being placed under arrest was an unusual one, and soon a crowd began to follow the three.
"It's Mr. Crabtree that used to teach at Putnam Hall," said one. "My, but ain't he a sight."
"Must have tried to get away by jumping into the lake," suggested another.
"What's he arrested for?" asked a third.
Nobody in the crowd knew, and consequently all followed to the police headquarters.
Here Chief Burger, who also acted as justice of police, took down Tom's charge against the former teacher.
"Breaking in and trying to steal," said Tom.
"It's not so!" cried Crabtree. "Boy, this is—ahem—infamous! I never stole a thing in my life!"
"We will prove it when your trial comes off," answered Tom coolly.
"Let us—ahem—try to patch this thing up," went on Josiah Crabtree. "Chief, will you kindly send for Mrs. Stanhope? I am certain she will not allow this charge to stand against me."
"See here, you shan't try any of your games on that lady!" exclaimed Tom. "I know the peculiar influence you exert over her, and I feel bound to protect her."
"She is not my enemy, as you are. I know she will clear me."
"Not much. If she won't testify against you, her daughter Dora will, and so will I and my brothers, and some other folks, too."
"I demand to see my accusers!" stormed Crabtree, trying to put on a bold front.
"All right, Dick and Sam will be here after awhile. And then, if you wish, we'll air all of your doings since the time Captain Putnam discharged you."
At the last words the former teacher winced and turned pale, for he knew his record would not bear investigating.
"You are a bad boy, Tom Rover—leave me!" he muttered, and turned his back on the cadet. A few minutes later, as he could not furnish bail, he was led to a cell and locked up.
As soon as Crabtree was disposed of, Tom left the jail to find his brothers. This was no easy matter, and it was not until well along in the afternoon that he discovered Dick, Sam, and Detective Trigger down by the lake shore nearly a mile from Cedarville.
"Any luck?" he asked.
"Not a bit," replied Dick. "He has given us the slip nicely."
The hunt continued until nightfall, and was kept up all of the next day. But it proved of no avail. Dan Baxter had left the vicinity of the lake entirely, and the Rover boys were destined not to see him again for many days to come.
The arrest of Josiah Crabtree had occurred on Friday. On Monday came a letter from Mr. Anderson Rover, stating that Alexander Pop would arrive in Cedarville on Tuesday and might remain at Mrs. Stanhope's cottage as long as the lady and the boys wished.
"I wish Aleck to be near you," wrote Mr. Rover. "It alarms me greatly to hear of the trouble that you are having. It seems to me that our family are bound to be in hot water all the time. I cannot understand Arnold Baxter. As he is in prison at Albany I do not see how he can trouble me, at least for the next few years.
"I have looked up that mining property in Colorado very carefully, and shall go out there as soon as the coming winter is at an end. Perhaps I will take one or all of you with me, but that will depend upon how good you do at your studies this winter. I shan't take anybody along that can't show a good report."
BROUGHT TO TRIAL
"By jinks! we'll have to be on our good behavior," observed Tom, after he had read his father's letter.
"That's so," responded Sam. "Father means to have us study, or else we must stay here during the spring term."
As anticipated, Alexander Pop reached Cedarville Tuesday afternoon. He came first to Putnam Hall, and was warmly received both by the Rover boys and by the others who knew him as an old hand around the Hall.
"Glad you have come, Aleck!" cried Tom. "I declare it looks as if you belonged here."
"Yes, sah, an' I dun feel like I belong heah, too, Massah Tom," answered the colored man.
"Remember the sport we used to have?" put in Sam.
"'Deed I does, Massah Sam—an' de tricks youse lads used to play on dis yeah coon," and Aleck smiled broadly.
Captain Putnam also came forward to greet Pop. There had been a time when the captain had suspected Pop of stealing, and the colored man had run away in preference to being sent to jail, but now it was known by all that the faithful negro was innocent, and the master, of the Hall was sorry that he had ever accused the man.
"Pop, I miss you a good deal," he said kindly.
"If ever you are out of work again, come to me and I will let you stay here as long as you please."
"T'ank you, Cap'n Putnam, I'll remember dat. But I dun lub de Robers, ain't no use ter talk, an' so long as da wants me to stay by 'em, why dat's whar you will find Aleck Pop, yes, sah!" And he bobbed his head to emphasize his words.
"I do not blame you for sticking by them," answered the captain. "For they always stood up for you."
Of course some of the boys could not help but have some fun with Pop. Some ran off with his hat, and when they returned it to him it was half full of flour, although he did not know it.
"Mustn't do dat, Larry Colby," he said, as he took the hat. "Dis niggah dun cotch cole in his haid widout a hat." And then they clapped the headgear on his head, very carefully.
"Only a bit of Larry's sport," said Frank. "Come in, the captain wants to give you some supper before you start out for the Stanhopes' place."
Never suspecting that anything was wrong, Aleck Pop entered the kitchen attached to the academy, where Mrs. Green, the matron, had a nice supper spread for him.
"How do you do, Aleck," she said pleasantly, as he came in.
"How do yo' do, Missus Green," he answered, and took his hat off with such a flourish that part of the flour swept into her face and the balance landed over the supper table.
"Oh! oh!" screamed Mrs. Green. "What in the world have you done? I am covered with flour from head to foot!" And then she began to sneeze with great violence.
"Deed, missus, I don't—ker—chew!" replied Pop, sneezing. "I didn't—ker—chew—"
"But you did—ker—chew!" she answered. "You covered me with— ker—chew! Ker—chew!"
"Oh, you—ker—chew!" and then she went off into another prolonged sneeze.
Pop had gotten some of the flour in his eyes, indeed, his face was white from top to bottom, and it was several minutes before he could see what he was doing. His sneezing made him bump his head against the kitchen shelf, and at a point where sat a bowl of rice pudding. Part of the pudding was plastered to his forehead, while the balance turned over on to the cat sleeping on the floor.
"Me-ow!" wailed the cat, and started across the kitchen on a run, nearly upsetting Mrs. Green in its hurry to get away from more trouble.
"Stop! Did you kick my pet cat?" screamed Mrs. Green. "Oh, you—ker—chew! You brute! I never—ker—chew! Ker—chew!" And then she had to stop talking and let the sneezing have full play.
"I didn't kick—ker—chew—nuffin!" spluttered Aleck. "I'se dun—ker—chew—dem boys dun—ker—chew! Dern boys did it."
"Put flour in ma hat, de ole boy take 'em!" finished Aleck, and then he blundered out of the kitchen and tried to find Larry and the others. But all of the cadets, who had been watching proceedings through the kitchen window, had vanished and could not be found.