THE ROVER BOYS AT SCHOOL
The Rover Boys Express
My Dear Boys:
"The Rover Boys at School" has been written that those of you who have never put in a term or more at an American military academy for boys may gain some insight into the workings of such an institution.
While Putnam Hall is not the real name of the particular place of learning I had in mind while penning this tale for your amusement and instruction, there is really such a school, and dear Captain Putnam is a living person, as are also the lively, wide-awake, fun-loving Rover brothers, Dick, Tom, and Sam, and their schoolfellows, Larry, Fred, and Frank. The same can be said, to a certain degree, of the bully Dan Baxter, and his toady, the sneak, commonly known as "Mumps."
The present story is complete in itself, but it is written as the first of a series, to be followed by "The Rover Boys on the Ocean" and "The Rover Boys in the Jungle," in both of which volumes we will again meet many of our former characters.
Trusting that this tale will find as much favor in your hands as have my previous stories, I remain,
Affectionately and sincerely yours,
"Hurrah, Sam, it is settled at last that we are to go to boarding school!"
"Are you certain, Tom? Don't let me raise any false hopes."
"Yes, I am certain, for I heard Uncle Randolph tell Aunt Martha that he wouldn't keep us in the house another week. He said he would rather put up with the Central Park menagerie -- think of that!" and Tom Rover began to laugh.
"That's rather rough on us, but I don't know but what we deserve it," answered Sam Rover, Tom's younger brother. "We have been giving it pretty strong lately, with playing tricks on Sarah the cook, Jack the hired man, and Uncle Randolph's pet dog Alexander. But then we, had to do something -- or go into a dry rot. Life in the country is all well enough, but it's mighty slow for me."
"I guess it is slow for anybody brought up in New York, Sam. Why, the first week I spent here I thought the stillness would kill me. I couldn't actually go to sleep because it was so quiet. I wish uncle and aunt would move to the city. They have money enough."
"Aunt Martha likes to be quiet, and uncle is too much wrapped up in the art of scientific farming, as he calls it. I'll wager he'll stay on this farm experimenting and writing works on agriculture until he dies. Well, it's a good enough way to do, I suppose, but it wouldn't suit me. I want to see something of life -- as father did."
"So do I. Perhaps we'll see something when we get to boarding school."
"Where are we to go?"
"I don't know. Some strict institution, you can be sure of that. Uncle Randolph told aunty it was time the three of us were hand. He said Dick wasn't so bad, but you and I --"
"Were the bother of his life, eh?"
"Something about like that. He doesn't see any fun in tricks. He expects us to just walk around the farm, or study, and, above all things, keep quiet, so that his scientific investigations are not disturbed. Why doesn't he let us go out riding, or boating on the river, or down to the village to play baseball with the rest of the fellows? A real live American boy can't be still the time, and he ought to know it," and, with a decided shake of his curly head, Tom Rover took a baseball from his pocket and began to throw it up against the side of the farmhouse, catching it each time as it came down.
Tom had thrown the ball up just four times when a pair of blinds to an upper window flew open with a crash, and the head of a stern-looking elderly gentleman appeared. The gentleman had gray hair, very much tumbled, and wore big spectacles.
"Hi! hi! boys, what does this mean?" came in a high-pitched voice. "What are you hammering on the house for, when I am just in the midst of a deep problem concerning the rotation of crops on a hillside with northern exposure?"
"Excuse me, Uncle Randolph, I didn't think to disturb you," answered Tom meekly. "I'll put the ball away."
"You never stop to think, Thomas. Give me that ball."
"Oh, let me keep it, Uncle Randolph! I won't throw it against the house again, honor bright."
"You'll forget that promise in ten minutes, Thomas; I know you well. Throw the ball up," and Mr. Randolph Rover held out hands.
"All right, then; here you go," answered Tom, somewhat put out to thus lose a ball which had cost him his week's spending, money; and he sent the sphere flying upward at a smart speed. Mr. Rover made a clutch for it, but the ball slipped through his hands and landed plump on his nose.
"Oh!" he cried, and disappeared from sight, but reappeared a moment later, to shake his fist at Tom.
"You young rascal! You did that on purpose!" he spluttered, and brought forth his handkerchief, for his nose had begun to bleed. "Was anyone ever tormented so by three boys?"
"Now you are in for it again, Tom," whispered Sam.
"I didn't mean to hit you, Uncle Randolph. Why didn't you catch it on the fly?"
"On the fly?" repeated the uncle. "Do you suppose I am accustomed to catching cannon balls?"
"Didn't you ever play baseball?"
"Never. I spent my time in some useful study." The elderly gentleman continued to keep his handkerchief to his nose, and adjusted his glasses.
"Thank fortune, you are all going to go to boarding school next week, and we will once more have a little peace and quietness around Valley Brook!"
"Where are we to go, Uncle Randolph?" asked Sam.
"You I will learn that Monday morning, when you start off."
"It wouldn't hurt to tell us now," grumbled Tom.
"You must learn to be patient, Thomas. My one hope is that life at boarding school makes a real man of you."
"Of course we are all to go together?"
"Yes, you are to go together, although I can get along with Richard very well, he is so much more quiet and studious than you or Samuel."
"I reckon he takes after you, Uncle Randolph."
"If so, he might do worse. By the way, what were both of you doing here?"
"Nothing," came from Sam.
"We haven't anything to do. This farm is the slowest place on earth," added Tom.
"Why do you not study the scientific and agricultural works that I mentioned to you? See what I have done for scientific farming."
"I don't want to be a farmer," said Tom. "I'd rather be a sailor."
"A sailor!" gasped Randolph Rover. "0f all things! Why, a sailor is the merest nobody on earth!"
"I guess you mean on the sea, uncle," said Sam with a grin.
"Don't joke me, Samuel. Yes, Thomas -- the calling of a sailor amounts to absolutely nothing. Scientific farming is the thing! Nothing more noble on the face of the earth than to till the soil."
"I never saw you behind a plow, Uncle Randolph," answered Tom, with a twinkle in his blue eyes. "Besides, I heard you say that the farm ran behind last year."
"Tut, tut, boy! You know nothing about it. I made a slight miscalculation in crops, that was all. But this year we shall do better."
"You lost money year before last, too," commented Sam.
"Who told you that?"
"Mr. Woddie, the storekeeper at the Corners."
"Mr. Woddie may understand storekeeping, but he knows nothing of farming, scientific or otherwise. I spent several thousands of dollars in experimenting, but the money was not lost. We shall soon have grand results. I shall astonish the whole of New, York, State at the next meeting of our agricultural society," and Mr. Randolph Rover waved his hand grandiloquently. It was easy to see that scientific farming was his hobby.
"Randolph!" It was the voice of Mrs. Rover, who now appeared beside her husband. "What is the matter with your nose?"
"Tom hit me with his ball. It is all right now, although it did bleed some."
"The bad boy! But it is just like him. Sarah has given notice that she will leave at the end of her month. She says she can't stand the pranks Tom and Sam play on her."
"She need not go -- for the boys are going to boarding school, you know."
"She says you promised to send them off before."
"Well, they shall go this time, rest assured of that. I cannot stand their racing up and down stairs, and their noise, any longer. They go Monday morning."
"Better send them off tomorrow."
"Well - er -- that is rather sudden."
"Sarah's month is up Friday. She will surely go unless the boys are out of the house. And she is the best cook I have ever had."
"Excepting when she burnt the custard pies," put in Tom.
"And when she salted the rice pudding!" added Sam.
"Silence, both of you. Randolph, do send them off."
"Very well, I will. Boys, you must go away from the house for an hour or two."
"Can we go fishing or swimming?" asked Tom.
"No, I don't want you to go near the river, you may get drowned."
"We can both swim," ventured Sam.
"Never mind -- it is not safe -- and your poor father left you in my, care."
"Can we go down to the village?"
"No, you might get into bad company there."
"Then where shall we go?" came from both boys simultaneously.
Randolph Rover scratched his head in perplexity. He had never had any children of his own, and to manage his brother's offspring was clearly beyond him. "You might go down to the cornfield, and study the formation of the ears -"
"Send them blackberrying," suggested Mrs. Rover. "We want the berries for pies tomorrow, and it will give them something to do."
"Very well; boys, you may go blackberrying. And mind you keep out of mischief."
"We'll mind," answered Tom. "But you might let me have that ball."
"I will give it to the morning," answered Randolph Rover, and turned away from the window with his wife.
As soon as they were out of sight, Tom threw up both, hands in mock tragedy, "Alack, Horatio, this excitement killeth me!" he cried in a stage whisper. "Sent blackberrying to keep us out of mischief! Sam, what are we coming to?"
"Well, it's better than moping around doing nothing. For my part, I am glad we are to go to boarding school, and the sooner the better. But I would like to know where to?"
"If only we were going to a military academy!"
"Hurrah! Just the thing! But no such luck. Get the berry baskets and let us be off. By the way, where is Dick?"
"Gone to the village for the mail. There he, comes down the road now," and Tom pointed to a distant path back of the meadows.
The two boys hurried into a woodshed behind the large farmhouse and procured a basket and two tin pails. With these in hand they set off in the direction of the berry patch, situated along the path that Dick Rover was pursuing, their intention being to head off their brother and see if he had any letters for them.
Of the three Rover boys, Richard, commonly called Dick, was the eldest. He was sixteen, tall, slender, and had dark eyes and dark hair. He was a rather quiet boy, one who loved to read and study, although he was not above having a good time now and then, when felt like "breaking loose," as Tom expressed it.
Next to Richard came Tom, a year younger, as merry a lad as there was ever to be found, full of life and "go," not above playing all sorts of tricks on people, but with a heart of gold, as even his uncle and aunt felt bound to admit.
Sam was the youngest. He was but fourteen, but of the same height and general appearance as Tom, and the pair might readily have been taken for twins. He was not as full of pranks as Tom, but excelled his brothers in many outdoor sports.
The history of the three Rover boys was a curious one. They were the only children of one Anderson Rover, a gentleman who had been widely known as a mineral expert, gold mine proprietor, and traveler. Mr. Anderson Rover had gone to California a poor young man and had there made a fortune in the mines. Returning to the East, he had married and settled down in New York City, and there, the three boys had been born.
An epidemic of fever had taken off Mrs. Rover when Richard was but ten years of age. The shock had come so suddenly that Anderson Rover was dazed, and for several weeks the man knew not what to do. "Take all of the money I made in the West, but give me back my wife!" he said broken-heartedly, but this could not be, and soon after he left his three boys in charge of a housekeeper and set off to tour Europe, thinking that a change of scene would prove a benefit.
When he came back he seemed a changed man. He was restless, and could not remain at home for more than a few weeks at a time. He placed the boys at a boarding school in New York and returned to the West, where he made another strike in the gold mines; and when he came back once more he was reported to be worth between two and three hundred thousand dollars.
But now a new idea had came into his head. He had been reading up on Africa, and had reached the conclusion that there must be gold in the great unexplored regions of that country. He determined to go to Africa, fit out an exploration, and try his luck.
"It will not cost me over ten to twenty thousand dollars," he said to his brother Randolph. "And it may make me a millionaire."
"If you are bound to go, I will not stop you," had been Randolph Rover's reply. "But what of your boys in the meanwhile?"
This was a serious question, for Anderson Rover knew well the risk he was running, knew well that many a white man had gone into the interior of Africa never to return. At last it was settled that Randolph Rover should become Dick, Tom, and Sam's temporary guardian. This accomplished, Anderson Rover set off and that was the last any of his family had ever heard of him.
Was he dead or alive? Hundreds of times had the boys and their uncle pondered that question. Each mail was watched with anxiety, but day after day brought no news, until the waiting became an old story, and all settled down to the dismal conviction that the daring explorer must be dead. He had landed and gone into the interior with three white men and twenty natives, and that was all that could be ascertained concerning him.
At the time of Anderson Rover's departure Randolph had been on the point of purchasing a farm of two hundred acres in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. The land had not changed hands until a year later, however, and then Dick, Tom, and Sam were called upon to give up their life in the metropolis and settle down in the country, a mile away from the village of Dexter Corners.
For a month things had gone very well, for all was new, and it seemed like a "picnic," to use Tom's way of expressing it. They had run over the farm from end to end, climbed to the roof of the barn, explored the brook, and Sam had broken his arm by falling from the top of a cherry tree. But after that the novelty wore, away, and the boys began to fret.
"They want something to do," thought Randolph Rover, and set them to work studying scientific farming, as he called it. At this Dick made some progress, but the uncle could do nothing with Tom and Sam. Then the last two broke loose and began to play pranks on everybody that came along, and life became little short of a burden to the studious Randolph and, his quiet-minded spouse.
"I must send them off to a boarding school, or somewhere," Randolph Rover would say, but he kept putting the matter off, hoping against hope that he might soon hear from his lost brother.
"I'll race you to the path," said Sam, when the woodshed was left behind.
"All right," answered Tom, who was always ready to run. "Toe the mark here. Now then -- one, two, three! Go!"
And away they went across the meadow, leaping two ditches with the agility of a pair of deer, and tearing through the small brush beyond regardless of the briers and the rents their nether garments might sustain. At first Tom took the lead, but Sam speedily overhauled and then passed him.
"It's no use -- you always could outrun me," panted Tom, as he came to a stop when Sam crossed the footpath ten yards ahead of him. "I can't understand it either. My legs are just as long as yours, and my lungs just as big, too, I think."
"You want to do your running scientifically, Tom. That athletic instructor in New York --"
"Oh, bother your scientific things, Sam! Uncle gives us enough of that, so don't you start in. I wonder if Dick has got a letter from Larry Colby? He promised to write last week. He is going to a boarding school soon."
"We'll know in a few minutes. I wonder where Larry -- Gracious, listen!"
Sam broke off short, as a loud cry for help reached their ears. It came from the footpath, at a point where it ran through a grove of beech trees.
"It's Dick's voice! He wants help!" burst from Tom's lips. "Come on!" and he set off as rapidly as his exhausted condition would permit. As before, Sam readily outdistanced him, and soon came upon the scene of a most brutal encounter.
A burly tramp, all of six feet in height, had attacked Dick Rover and thrown him upon his back. The tramp was now kneeling upon the prostrate boy's chest, at the same time trying to wrench a watch from Dick's vest pocket.
"Keep still there, or I'll knock you on the bead!" cried the tramp, as, letting go of the watch chain, he clapped a dirty hand over Dick's mouth.
"I -- won't -- kee -- keep still!" spluttered Dick. "Let -- me -- up!"
"You will keep still -- if you know what is best for you. I have your pocketbook, and now I am bound to have that watch and that ring."
"No! Don't rob me of the watch! It belonged to my father!" panted Dick, and as the watch came out of the pocket he made a clutch at it. "Help! help!"
"Will you shut up!" burst out the tramp fiercely, and struck at the youth with his fist.
It was at this juncture that Sam put in an appearance. A glance told him how matters stood, and without waiting an instant he came up behind the tramp, and, catching him by the shoulders, hurled him backward.
"Sam! Good for you!" burst out Dick joyfully. "Don't let him get away!"
"What do you mean, boy?" demanded the ruffian, as he turned over and leaped to his feet.
"You let my brother alone -- that's what I mean," was the answer.
"Give me my pocketbook and that watch!" went on Dick, for the tramp held both articles, one in each hand.
"Yes, I will -- not," was the ready reply, turning, suddenly, the tram started through the grove of trees on a run.
Without waiting, Sam ran after him followed by Tom, who had now arrived. Dick came behind, too much winded by being thrown on his back to keep up with them.
"He is making for the river!" cried Tom, after running for several minutes without gaining on the thief. "If he has a boat he'll get away!
"I don't think he has a boat, Tom. He looks like a regular tramp."
"We'll soon find out."
They could not see the ruffian, but they could hear him quite plainly as he crashed through the brush beyond the grove of trees. Then came a crash and a yell of pain.
"He has stumbled and fallen!" said Sam, and redoubled his speed. Soon he reached the spot where the tramp had gone down. He was about to proceed further when a well-known object caught his eye.
"Here is the pocketbook!" he burst out, and picked the article up. A hasty examination showed that the contents were intact; and the two boys continued the pursuit, with Dick still following.
They were now going downhill toward the river, and presently struck a patch of wet meadow.
"We must be careful here," observed Tom, and just then sank up to his ankles in water and mud. But the tramp could now be seen heading directly for the river, and they continued to follow him.
They were still fifty yards from the shore when Sam uttered a cry of dismay. "He's got a boat!"
"So he has. Stop there, you thief!"
"Stop yourself, or I'll shoot one of you!" growled the tramp, as he leaped into a flat bottom craft moored beside a fallen tree. He had no pistol, but thought he might scare the boys.
They came to a halt, and an instant later the flat-bottom craft shot away from the river bank. By this time Dick came up, all out of breath.
"So he has gotten away!" he cried in dismay.
"Yes," answered Sam, "but here is your pocketbook."
"And what of my watch -- the one father gave to me before he left for Africa?"
"He's got that yet, I suppose," said Tom.
At this Dick gave a groan, for the watch was a fine gold one which Mr. Rover had worn for years. Dick had begged for the timepiece, and it had been entrusted to him at the last moment.
"We must get that watch back somehow!" he said. "Isn't there another boat around here?"
"There is one up to Harrison's farm."
"That is quarter of a mile away."
"I don't think there is any nearer."
"And the river is all of two hundred feet wide here! What shall we do?"
It was a puzzling question, and all three of the boys stared blankly at each other. In the meantime, the thief had picked up a pair of oars and was using them in a clumsy fashion which showed plainly that he was not used to handling them.
"If we had a boat we could catch him easily," observed Tom. Then his eyes fell upon the fallen tree. "I have an idea! Let us try to get across on that! I won't mind a wetting if only we can get Dick's watch back."
"Yes, yes; just the thing!" put in his elder brother quickly.
All hands ran down to the fallen tree, which was about a foot in diameter and not over twenty-five or thirty feet in length. It lay half in the water already, and it was an easy matter to shove it off.
"We can't do much without oars or a pole," said Tom. "Wait a moment," and he ran back to where he had seen another fallen tree, a tall, slender maple sapling. He soon had this in hand; and, cleared of its branches, it made a capital pole. Dick and Sam sat astride of the tree in the water, and Tom stood against an upright branch and shoved off. The river was not deep, and he kept on reaching bottom without difficulty.
By this time the tramp was halfway across the stream, which was flowing, rapidly and carrying both boat and tree down toward a bend quarter of a mile below.
"Go on back, unless you want to be shot!" cried the man savagely, but they paid no attention to the threat as no pistol appeared; and, seeing this, the thief redoubled his efforts to get away.
He was still a quarter of the distance from the opposite shore, and the boys on the tree were in midstream, when Sam uttered a shout. "There goes one of his oars! We can catch him now -- if we try hard!"
It was true that the oar was gone, and in his anxiety to regain the blade the tramp nearly lost the second oar. But his efforts were unavailing, and he started to paddle himself to the bank, meanwhile watching his pursuers anxiously.
"We'll get him," said Dick encouragingly, when, splash! Tom went overboard like a flash, the lower end of his pole having slipped on a smooth rock of the river bottom. There was a grand splutter, and it was fully a minute before Tom reappeared -- twenty feet away and minus his pole.
"Hi! help me on board, somebody!" he spluttered, for he had gone overboard so quickly that he had swallowed a large quantity of water.
Both Sam and Dick tried to reach him, but could not. Then the current caught the tree and whirled it around and around until both boys began to grow dizzy.
Seeing they could not aid him, and getting back a little of his wind, Tom struck out for the tree. But the water running over his face blinded him, and ere he knew he was so close the tree came circling around and struck him on the side of the head.
"Oh!" he moaned, and sank from sight.
"Tom's hit!" gasped Sam. "He'll be drowned sure now!"
"Not if I can help him!" burst out Dick, and leaped overboard to his brother's assistance. But Tom was still out of sight, and for several seconds could not be located.
Sam waited anxiously, half of a mind to jump into the river himself. The tramp was now forgotten, and landed on the opposite bank unnoticed. He immediately dove into the bushes, and disappeared from view.
At last Dick caught sight of Tom's arm and made a clutch for it. Hardly had he taken hold than Tom swung around and caught him by the throat in a deathlike grip, for he was too bewildered to know what he was doing.
"Save me!" he groaned. "Oh, my head! Save me!"
"I will, Tom; only don't hold me so tight," answered Dick. "I -- can't get any air."
"I can't swim -- I'm all upset," was the reply; and Tom clutched his elder brother tighter than ever.
Seeing there was no help for it, Dick caught hold of the fingers around his throat and forced them loose by main force. Then he swung himself behind Tom and caught him under the arms, in the meantime treading water to keep both of them afloat.
"Sam, can't you bring that tree closer?" he called out.
There was no reply, and, looking around, he saw that the tree and his younger brother were a hundred yards away, and sailing down the river as rapidly as the increasing current could, carry them for quarter of a mile below were what were known as the Humpback Falls -- a series of dangerous rapids through which but few boats had ever passed without serious mishap.
"I reckon Sam is having his hands full," he thought. "I must get Tom to the shore alone. But it is going to be a tough job, I can see that."
"Oh, Dick!" came from Tom. "My head is spinning like a top!"
"The tree hit you, Tom. But do keep quiet, and I'll take care of you,"
"I can't swim -- I feel like a wet rag through and through."
"Never mind about swimming. Only don't catch me by the throat again, and we'll be all right," was Dick's reassuring reply, and as his brother became more passive he struck out for the bank upon which the thief had landed.
The current carried them on and on, but not so swiftly as it was carrying the tree. Soon they were approaching the bend. Dick was swimming manfully, but was now all but exhausted.
"You can't make it, Dick," groaned Tom. "Better save yourself."
"And let you go? No indeed, Tom. I have a little strength left and -- Hurrah, I've struck bottom!"
Dick was right: his feet had landed on a sandbar; and, standing up, both boys found the water only to their armpits. Under such circumstances they waded ashore with case, and here threw themselves down to rest.
"That thief is gone," said Dick dismally.
"And my watch too!"
"But where is Sam?" questioned Tom, then looked at his brother meaningfully.
"The Humpback Fall!" came from Dick. "Sam! Sam!" he yelled; "look out I where you are going!"
But no answer came back to his cry, for Sam had long since floated out of hearing.
For several minutes after Dick leaped overboard to Tom's assistance, Sam's one thought was of his two brothers. Would they reach the tree or the shore in safety? Fervently he prayed they would.
The tree went around and around, as a side current caught it, and presently the whirlings became so rapid that Sam grew dizzy, and had to hold tight to keep from falling off.
He saw Dick catch Tom from the back and start for shore, and then like a flash the realization of his own situation dawned upon him. He was on the tree with no means of guiding his improvised craft, and sweeping nearer and nearer to the rapids of which he had heard so much but really knew so little.
"I must get this tree to the river bank," he, said to himself, and looked around for some limb which might be cut off and used for a pole.
But no such limb was handy, and even had there been there would have been no time in which to prepare it for use, for the rapids were now in plain sight, the water boiling and foaming as it darted over one rock and another, in a descent of thirty feet in forty yards.
"This won't do!" muttered the boy, and wondered if it would not be best to leap overboard and try to swim to safety. But one look at that swirling current made him draw back.
"I reckon I had best stick to the tree and trust to luck to pass the rocks in safety," he muttered, and clutched the tree with a firmer hold than ever.
The strange craft had now stopped circling, and was shooting straight ahead for a rock that stood several feet above water. On it went, and Sam closed his eyes in expectancy of an awful shock which would pitch him headlong, he knew not to where.
But then came a swerve to the left, and the tree grated along the edge of the rock. Before Sam could recover his breath, down it went over the first line of rapids. Here it stuck fast for a moment, then turned over and went on, throwing Sam on the under side.
The boy's feet struck bottom, and he bobbed up like a cork. Again he clutched the tree, and on the two went a distance of ten feet further. But now the tree became jammed between two other rocks, and there it stuck, with Sam clutching one end and the water rushing in, a torrent over the other.
For the moment the boy could do little but hold fast, but as his breath came back to him he climbed on top of the tree and took a look at the situation.
It was truly a dismaying one. He was in the very center of the rapids, and the shore on either side of him was fifty to sixty feet away.
"How am I ever to get to the bank?" he asked himself. "I can't wade or swim, for the current is far too strong. I'm in a pickle, and no mistake. I wonder if Dick and Tom are on solid earth yet?"
He raised his voice into a shout, not once, but several times. At first only the echoes answered him, but presently came a reply from a distance.
"Sam! Sam! Where are your?" It was Dick calling, and he was running along the bank alone, Tom being too exhausted to accompany him.
"Here I am -- in the middle of the falls!"
"Out here -- in the middle of the falls!"
"Great Caesar, Sam! Can't you wade ashore?"
"No; the current is so strong I am afraid to."
In a minute more Dick reached a spot opposite to where the tree rested. As he took in the situation his face clouded in perplexity.
"You are right -- don't try wading," he, said. "If you do, you'll have your skull cracked open on the rocks. I'll have to get a rope and haul you off."
"All right; but do hurry, for this tree may start on again at any instant!"
To procure a rope was no easy matter, for nothing of that sort was at hand, and the nearest farmhouse was some distance away. Yet, without thinking twice, Dick set off for the farmhouse, arriving there inside of five minutes.
"I need a rope, quick, Mr. Darrel," he said. "My brother is in the middle of the Humpback Falls on a tree, and I want to save him."
"Why, Dick Rover, you don't tell me!" cried Joel Darrel, a farmer who had often worked for Randolph Rover. "Sure I'll get a wash line this minute!" and he ran for the kitchen shed.
Luckily the line was just where the farmer supposed it would be, and away went man and boy, Dick leading, until the river bank was again reached.
"There he is, Mr. Darrel. How can we best help him, do you think?"
The farmer scratched his head in perplexity.
"Hang me if I jess know, Dick," he said slowly.
"If we try to pull him straight to shore the current will carry him over the rocks in spite of the line."
"How long do you suppose the line is?"
"It is fifty yards, and all good and strong, for I bought it of Woddie only last week."
"Fifty yards -- that is a hundred and fifty feet. Do you see that spur of rock just above there?"
"Is it more than a hundred and fifty feet from that rock to the tree?"
"Hardly; but it's close figuring."
"Let us try the line and see."
Both walked up to the spur of rock they had in view. It jutted out into the river for several yards, and was rather wet and slippery.
"Take care, or you'll go in too," cautioned Joel Darrel. "Shall I throw the rope out?"
"You might try it," answered Dick. "I'll hold fast to your leg," and he squatted down for that purpose.
The line was uncoiled and thrown three times, but each time it fell short and drifted inshore again.
"Hurry up!" suddenly yelled Sam. "The tree is beginning to turn, and it will break loose before long."
"Let me try a throw," said Dick, and took the wash line. As he made the cast, Tom came up on a walk, his head tied up in a handkerchief.
"Where is Sam?"
"Out there," said Joel Darrel, and watched the casting of the line with interest. Again it fell short, but Dick's second throw was a complete success, and soon Sam held the outer end of the line fast.
"It reaches, and we have about fifteen feet to spare," said Dick joyfully. "Sam, tie it around you." Scarcely had the word left the younger brother's lips than the tree upon which he rested wobbled and went over, and he found himself thrown into the foaming water.
"Pull away, all hands!" cried Dick, and hauled in desperately, while Joel Darrel did the same. Tom was not equal to the task, but contented himself with holding fast to Dick's coat, that his elder brother might not slip from the rock.
It was no light work to get Sam up the first rise of the rapids, but once this rise was passed the rest was easy by comparison. They pulled in steadily, and presently the boy reached the rock and came up, looking very much like a dripping seal as he clambered to safety.
"Thank fortune, you are safe!" cried Dick when it was all over; and Tom said "Amen," under his breath. Joel Darrel looked well satisfied as he coiled up the wash line.
"It was a narrow escape," he remarked presently. "You want to be careful how you try to cross the river at this point. What were you doing on the tree?"
"I was after a thief," answered Sam, and then he looked at Dick and Tom. "Where is he?"
"Gone," returned Dick.
"A thief!" ejaculated Joel Darrel. "Whom did he rob?"
"He robbed me."
"Do tell, Dick! When?"
"About half an hour ago. I was coming from the Corners with the mail, when he pounced on me near our berry patch and knocked me down. He took my pocketbook and my watch, but Sam and Tom came up, and we chased the fellow and got the pocketbook back."
"But he kept the watch?"
"Was it a good one?"
"It was a gold watch that my father paid sixty-five dollars for -- and the chain was worth ten; and, what is more, the watch was one my father used to wear; and as he is gone now, I thought a good deal of it on that account."
"That's natural, my boy. But where did the thief go?"
"Came across the river about quarter of a mile above here."
"Then he had a boat?"
"Yes -- a craft painted brown, with a white stripe around her."
"That's Jerry Rodman's boat. He must have stolen her in the first place to cross to your side."
"More than likely."
"But where did he go after he crossed the river?"
"Into the bushes, I guess. You see, Tom went overboard from the tree and got struck, and I went to his assistance, so I didn't notice exactly. I want to get back now and follow the rascal."
"I'll go along."
"I wish you would."
"In that case I won't try to keep up with you," put in Tom. "My head is aching fit to split."
"Yes, you may as well take it easy," answered Dick. "But, say, why not, walk up to the river road and see if the rascal heads in this direction?"
"So I will, Dick. Will you go too, Sam?"
It was arranged that Sam should accompany and they set off immediately, while Dick and Joel Darrel ran along the river bank to where the rowboat had been abandoned.
Down where it was muddy it was easy to trace the tramp's footprints, and they led through a meadow and across a cornfield, coming out at a side road leading to the town of Oak Run.
"Well, where to next?" questioned the farmer, as he and Dick came to a halt.
The youth shook his head. "It's so dry here the footprints are lost," he returned slowly.
"That's true, Dick. But I reckon he went to Oak Run."
"Because he could catch a train from there which would take him miles away -- and I guess that is what he wants to do just about now."
"There is something in that."
"Besides, you know, the other end of the road ends up in the woods. He wouldn't go there."
"I had best start for Oak Run, then."
"I'll go along."
The distance was a mile and a half, and they thought they would have to walk it, but hardly had a dozen rods been covered than they heard the sound of wagon wheels, and a grocery turn-out and came into sight driven by a boy Joel Darrel knew well.
"This comes in just right," observed Darrel to Dick. "Hi there, Harry Oswald. Give us a lift to Oak Run, will you?"
"Certainly, Mr. Darrel," answered the grocery boy, and brought his store wagon to a stop. The farmer leaped to the seat, and Dick followed.
On the way Harry Oswald was made acquainted with the situation, and he drove along with all possible speed. They were just entering the outskirts of Oak Run when the whistle of a locomotive was heard.
"That's the down train for Middletown cried Joel Darrel. "Hurry up!"
The horse was whipped up, and they swept along to the depot at a speed which made the constable of the town shake his fist at Harry and threaten to arrest him for fast driving.
The words came from Dick, and he was right. Before the depot was reached the long train had pulled out. Soon it was lost to sight in the distance.
The thief was on it; and his escape, for the time being, was now assured.
"What does this mean?"
It was Gilbert Ponsberry, the chief constable of Oak Run, who spoke, as he strode up to the grocery wagon, all out of breath.
"Hullo, Ponsberry, you are just the man we want to see!" cried Joel Darrel. "Did you notice who boarded that train?"
"No; I wasn't at the depot. Anything wrong?"
"I have been robbed of a gold watch and chain," answered Dick, and related the particulars.
"Gee shoo! No wonder you drove fast," ejaculated the constable. "I would have done so myself. How did that fellow look?"
As well as he was able, Dick gave a description of the thief.
"I saw that tramp yesterday," said the constable, when he had finished. "He was in the depot, talking to a tall, thin man. I remember him well, for he and the other fellow were quarreling. I hung around rather expecting a fight. But it didn't come."
"You haven't seen the thief since yesterday?"
"You remember the tall, thin man he was with?"
"Oh, sure, for he had a scar on his chin that looked like a knife cut."
"Is he anywhere around?"
"I haven't seen him since. Let us take a walk around, and we can ask Ricks the station master about this."
"We had better ask Mr. Ricks first," said Dick.
All hands, even to the grocery boy, hunted up the station master, an elderly fellow who was well known for his unsociable disposition.
"Don't know anything about any thief," he snapped, after hearing the story. "I mind my own business."
"But he may have taken the train," pleaded Dick. It made his heart sink to think that the watch, that precious memento from his, father, might be gone forever.
"Well, if he did, you had better go after him -- or telegraph to Middletown," was the short answer, and then the station master turned away.
"You telegraph for me," said Dick to the constable. "I will pay the costs."
"All right, Dick. My, but old Rick is getting more grumpy every day! If this railroad knows its business it will soon get another manager here," was Gilbert Ponsberry's comment, as he led the way to the telegraph office.
Here a telegram was prepared, addressed to the police officer on duty at the Middletown station, and giving a fair description of the thief.
The train would reach the city in exactly forty-five minutes; and as soon as the message had been sent, Dick, Darrel, and the constable went off on a tour of Oak Run and the vicinity.
Of course nothing was seen of the thief, and in an hour word came back from Middletown that he was not on the cars.
This was true, for the train had stopped at a way station, having broken something on the engine, and the thief had left, to walk the remainder of the distance to Middletown on foot.
It was not until nightfall that Dick returned to his uncle's farmhouse.
Here he found that Sam and Tom had already arrived. Tom was lying on the sofa in the sitting room, being cared for by his Aunt Martha, who was the best of nurses whenever occasion required.
"Didn't find any trace of the villain?" queried Randolph Rover, with a sad shake of his head. "Too bad! Too bad! And it was your father's watch, too!"
"I never wanted to see Dick wear it," put in Mrs. Rover. "It was too fine for a boy."
"Father told me to wear it, aunty. He said it would remind me of him," answered Dick, and he turned away, for something like a tear had welled up in his eye.
"There, there, Dick, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," cried his aunt hastily. "I would give a good deal if you had your watch back."
Supper was waiting, but Dick had no appetite, and ate but little. Tom braced up sufficiently to take some toast and tea, and declared that he would be all right by morning and so he was.
"Here is a letter for Tom from Larry Colby," cried Dick during the course, of the evening.
"I declare, I forgot all about it, Tom, until this minute."
"I don't blame you, Dick," was the reply, with a sickly smile. "You read it for me. The light hurts my head," and Tom closed his eyes to listen.
Larry Colby was a New York lad who in years gone by had been one of Tom's chums. The letter was just such a one as any boy might write to another, and need have no place here. Yet one paragraph interested everybody in the sitting room:
"Next week I am to pack my trunk and go to Putnam Hall Military Academy [wrote Larry Colby]. Father says it is a very fine military, school, and he has recommended it to your uncle."
"Putnam Hall Military Academy!" mused Tom. "I wonder where it is?"
"It is over in Seneca County, on Cayuga Lake," replied Randolph Rover, and something like a smile appeared on his face.
"On Cayuga Lake, uncle!" cried Sam. "Why, that's a splendid location, isn't it?"
"And is that where we are to go?" put in Tom eagerly.
"Yes, Thomas; I might as well tell you, although I wanted to surprise you. You are to go to Putnam Hall, and there you will have with you Lawrence Colby, Frank Harrington, and several other lads with whom you are all acquainted."
"Hurrah, Uncle Randolph!" came from Sam, and rushing up, he caught his relative around the shoulder. "You're the best kind of uncle, after all."
"Putnam Hall is an institution of learning that has been established for some twenty years," went on Mr. Rover, pushing back his spectacles and laying down the agricultural work he had been perusing. "It is presided over by Captain Victor Putnam, an old army officer, who in his younger days used to be a schoolmaster. He is a strict disciplinarian, and will make you toe the mark; but let me say right here, I have it from Mr. Colby that there is no schoolmaster who is kinder or more considerate of his pupils."
"Is it a regular military institution like West Point?" asked Tom.
"Hardly, Thomas, although the students, so I am informed, dress like cadets and spend an hour or so each day in drilling, and in the summer all the school march up the lake and go into an encampment."
"That just suits me!" broke in Sam enthusiastically. "Hurrah for Putnam Hall!"
"Hurrah!" echoed Tom faintly, and Dick nodded to show he felt as they did. At the cheer, Sarah the cook stuck her head into the door.
"Sure an' I thought Tom was out of his head, bedad," she observed.
"Sarah, I'm going away soon -- to a military academy. I won't bother you any more," said Tom.
"Won't yez now? That will be foine." Then the cook stopped short, thinking she had hurt the boy's feelings. "Oh, Master Torn, don't moind me. You're not such an -- an awful bother as we think," and then at a wave of Mrs. Rover's hand she disappeared.
After this the
evening passed quickly enough, for the boys wanted to know all there was
to be learned about their future boarding school. Mr. Rover had a
circular of the institution, and they pored over this.
"I am going to leave you to select your own studies outside of the regular course, Richard. What would be the use of taking up music, for instance, if you were not musically inclined."
"I'd like to play a banjo," said Tom, and grinned as well as the bandage on his head, would permit.
"I doubt if the, professor of music teaches that plantation instrument," smiled Mrs. Rover. Then she patted Tom's shoulder affectionately.
Now the boys were really to leave her, she was sorry to think of their going.
"They will not take more than a hundred pupils," said Dick, referring to the circular again. "I should say that was enough. The pupils are divided into two companies, A and B, of about fifty soldiers each; and the soldiers elect their own officers, to serve during the school term. Tom, perhaps you may turn out captain of Company B."
"And you may be Major Dick Rover of the first battalion," returned Tom. "Say, but this suits me to death, Uncle Randolph."
"I am glad to hear it, Thomas. But I want you to promise me to attend to your studies. Military matters are all well enough in their way, but I want you to have the benefits of a good education."
"Oh, I fancy Captain Victor Putnam will attend to that," put in Sam.
The circular was read from end to end, and it was after ten o'clock before the boys got done talking about it and went to bed. Certainly the prospect was a bright one, and if poor Dick had only had his watch the three would have been in high feather. Little did they dream, of all the startling adventures in store for them during their term at Putnam Hall.
It must not be supposed that Mr. Randolph Rover intended to allow the theft of Dick's watch to pass without a strong effort being made to recover the article. Early in the morning he drove to the Corners, and to Oak Run and another village called Bender's, and at each place had a notice posted, mentioning the loss and offering a reward of fifty dollars for the recovery of the property and of one hundred dollars if the thief was captured in addition. This offer, however, proved of no avail, and Dick had to leave for Putnam Hall wearing his old silver watch, which he had put aside upon the receipt of the gold timepiece.
It was a clear, sun-shiny morning when the boys started off. They had paid a last visit to the various points of interest about the place and bid good-by to Sarah, who shook hands warmly, and said farewell to the hired men, both of whom hated them to leave, for they had made matters pleasant as well as lively. Their three trunks were loaded in a farm wagon, and now Jack, one of the men- of-all-work, drove up with the two seated carriage to drive them over to Oak Run by way of the river bridge, half a mile up the stream.
"Good-by, Uncle Randolph!" cried one after another, as they shook hands. "Good-by, Aunt Martha!" and each gave Mrs. Rover a hug and a kiss, something which brought the tears to the lady's eyes.
"Good-by, boys, and take good care of yourselves," said Randolph Rover.
"And if you can't stand it at boarding school, write, and we will send for you to come back here," added his wife; and then, with a crack of the whip, the carriage rolled off, and the farm was left behind. It was to be many a day before the boys would see the place again.
"I don't think we'll want to send word to Aunt Martha to be taken back," observed Sam, who sat on the driver's seat with the hired man.
"Neither do I," returned Tom. "To be sure, we have a nice enough home here, but it's dreadfully slow."
"There is no telling what may be in store for us," joined in Dick. "Don't you remember how Fred Garrison fared at Holly School? That institution sent out a splendid circular, and when Fred got there they almost starved him to death."
"That is true. Where is Fred now?"
"I don't know."
"Mr. Colby wouldn't recommend Putnam Hall if it wasn't all right," remarked Tom. "Jack, whip up the team, or we'll miss that train."
"They are going putty well now, Master Tom," replied the driver.
The trunks had gone on ahead, and when they reached the depot at Oak Run they found old Ricks grumbling because no one was there to check them.
"Do you reckon I'm going to be responsible for everybody's baggage?" he snarled as Dick approached him.
"I'll check them as soon as I can get tickets," answered Dick curtly. "What an old bear he is!" he whispered to Tom. "He didn't treat me half decently when I was over here about the watch."
"If only we had a little time I would fix him," whispered Tom in return. He had sobered down for several days now and was dying to play a trick on somebody.
They went into the station and procured tickets, and then found the time for the train had been changed, and it would not be along for nearly half an hour.
"Good! Just wait till I get back," said Tom.
He had noticed Ricks gathering up some waste paper around the depot, and felt tolerably certain the old fellow was about to build a bonfire of it. Walking over to one of the stores, he entered, and asked the proprietor if he had any large firecrackers on hand.
"Just two, sir," said the storekeeper, and brought them forth. Each was six inches long and thick in proportion.
"How much?" asked the boy.
"Seeing as they are the last I have, I'll let you have them for fifteen cents each."
"I'll give you a quarter for the two."
"Very well; here you are," and the transfer was made on the spot. Slipping the firecrackers into his coat pocket, Tom sauntered up to old Ricks, while Sam and Dick looked on, sure that something was in the wind.
"Ricks, that is pretty bad news from Middletown, isn't it?" he observed.
"Bad news? What do you mean?" demanded the station master, as he threw some more waste paper on the fire, which he had just lit.
"About that dynamite being stolen by train wreckers. They think some of the explosive was brought up here."
"Didn't hear of it."
"Dynamite is pretty bad stuff to have around, so I've heard."
"Awful! Awful! I never want to see any of it," answered Ricks, with a decided shake of his head.
"If it goes off it's apt to blow everything to splinters," went on Dick.
"That's so -- I don't want any of it," and the old man began to gather up more waste paper for his fire. Watching his chance, Torn threw one of the firecrackers into the blaze and then rejoined his brothers.
With a handful of paper Ricks again approached the blaze. He was standing almost over it when the firecracker went off, making a tremendous report and scattering the light blazing paper in all directions.
"Help! I'm killed!" yelled old Ricks, as he fell upon his back. "Get me away from here! There's dynamite in this fire!" And he rolled over, leapt to his feet, and ran off like a madman.
"Don't be alarmed -- it was only a firecracker," called out Tom, loud enough for all standing around to bear, and then he ran for the train, which had just come in. Soon he and his brothers were on board and off, leaving poor Ricks to be heartily laughed at by those who had observed his sudden terror. It was many a day before the cranky station master heard the last of his dynamite.
The boys were to ride from Oak Run to Ithaca, and there take a small steamer which ran from that city to the head of the lake, stopping at Cedarville, the nearest village to Putnam Hall. At Cedarville one of the Hall conveyances was to meet them, to transfer both them and their baggage to the institution.
The run to Ithaca proved uneventful although the boys did not tire of looking out of the window at the beautiful panorama rushing past them. At noon they had lunch in the dining car, a spread that Sam declared was about as good as a regular dinner. Three o'clock in the afternoon found them at the steamboat landing, waiting for the Golden Star to take them up to Cedarville.
"Fred Garrison, by all that's lucky!" burst out Tom suddenly, as he rushed up to a youth of about his own age who sat on a trunk eating an apple.
"Tom Rover! Where are you bound?"
"To a boarding school called Putnam Hall."
"You don't say! Why, I am going there myself," and now Fred Garrison nearly wrung off Tom's hand.
"If this isn't the most glorious news yet!" burst in Dick. "Why, Larry Colby is going too!"
"I know it. But he won't come until tomorrow."
"And Frank Harrington is going too."
"He is there, already --he wrote about it day before yesterday. That makes six of us New York, boys."
"The metropolitan sextet," chirped in Sam.
"Boys, we ought to form a league to stand by each other through thick or thin."
"I'm with you on that," answered Fred. "As we are all newcomers, it's likely the old scholars will want to haze us, or, something like that."
"Just let them try it on!" cried Tom. "Yes, we must stick together by all means." And the compact, so far as it concerned the Rover boys and Fred Garrison, was made on the spot. Later on Larry Colby and Frank Harrington joined them gladly.
It was not long before the Golden Star, a stanch little side-wheeler, steamed up to the dock, and the waiting crowd rushed on board and secured favorable places on deck. The baggage followed, and soon they were off, with a whistle which awoke the echoes of Cayuga Lake for miles around.
While waiting on the dock Dick had noticed three girls standing near them. They were evidently from the rural district, but pretty and well dressed. The boys took seats near the bow of the boat, on the upper deck, and presently the girls sat down not far away.
"He was awfully bold, Clara; I want nothing to do with him," Dick heard the prettiest of the girls say. "He had no right to speak to us."
"He had dropped his handkerchief, and he pretended I was stepping on it," said another of the three. "Oh, here he comes now!" she went on as a youth of seventeen came into view. He was large and bold-looking, and it was easy to see that there was a good deal of the bully about him. He was smoking a cigarette, but on seeing the girls he threw the paper roll away.
"How do you do again?" he said, as he came up and tipped his hat.
At this all of the girls looked angry, and not one returned his salutation. But, undaunted by this, the newcomer caught up a camp stool and planked himself down almost directly between the prettiest of the three and her companions.
"Splendid day for the trip," he went on.
"Won't you have some confectionery?" and he hauled from his pocket a box of cream chocolates and held them out.
"Thank you, but we don't wish any," said the youngest of the girls.
"Won't you have some?" asked the unknown of the eldest girl.
"I don't want any, and I told you before not to speak to me!" she said in a low voice, and the tears almost came into her eyes.
"I ain't going to hurt you," grumbled the young fellow. "Can't a fellow be pleasant like?"
"I do not know you, sir."
"Oh, that's all right. My name is Daniel Baxter. Sorry I haven't a card, or I would give you one," was the smooth rejoinder.
"I do not wish your card," was the answer delivered in the most positive of tones.
"Oh, all right. Yes, it's a splendid trip," said the fellow, and drew his camp chair even closer. The girls wished to edge away, but there was no room in the narrow bow. The eldest girl looked around as if for help. Her eyes met those of Dick, and she blushed.
"Say, that fellow is a regular pill," whispered Tom to his elder brother.
"Somebody ought to take him by the collar and pitch him overboard."
"You are right, Tom," answered Dick, and then as the bully attempted to crowd still closer to the girls he suddenly arose, took a few steps forward, and caught Dan Baxter by the arm.
"You get out of here and be quick about it," he said in low but firm tones.
The fellow started, and for the instant his face changed color. But then he saw that Dick was but a boy, younger and smaller than himself, and his bullying manner returned. "Who are you talking to?" he demanded.
"I am talking to you. I told you to get out -- and be quick about it."
"Oh, cried the eldest girl, but her face took on a look of relief, for she saw that Dick was a thoroughly gentlemanly youth."
"Who are you anyway?" blustered Dan Baxter.
"My name is Dick Rover, if you want, to know." Dick turned to the girls. "He was annoying you, wasn't he?"
"Very much," answered the three promptly. "Then you'll get out, Daniel Baxter."
"Supposing I refuse?"
"If you refuse, I'll pitch you out, and make a complaint to the police at our first stopping place."
"You talk big!" sneered the bully, but he was much disconcerted.
"Don't you talk back to my brother," put in Tom, who had come up. "You think you're a regular masher, as they call such silly fellows, but I don't think your game is going to work here."
"That's it," chimed in Sam.
"Humph! three of you, eh?" muttered the bully. "We'll see about this some other time," and leaving his camp chair he made for the cabin and disappeared, from view.
"He's a bad egg," was Tom's comment, but how thoroughly bad the Rover boys were still to learn.
"I must thank you for ridding us of that fellow," said one of the girls. "He has annoyed us several times."
"It was a pleasure to assist you," answered Dick, with the politeness of a dancing master, and tipped his hat; and his brothers and Fred Garrison did the same.
After this there seemed nothing to do but to be introduced, and Dick did this for the boys, while the eldest girl acted for herself and her companions.
"My name is Dora Stanhope," she said. "These are my cousins Nellie and Grace Laning. We live at Cedarville."
"Just the place we are going to!" cried Torn. "We are bound for Putnam Hall. I suppose you know the place?"
"We do -- very well," answered Dom Stanhope. "It is less than quarter of a mile away from our farm."
"And it is quite near to our place too," added Nellie Laning.
"Then perhaps we'll see more of each other," remarked Fred Garrison.
"Perhaps; but isn't Captain Putnam rather strict about letting you boys out?" questioned, Dora.
"We don't know yet -- we are newcomers."
"Newcomers!" cried Nellie. "Then you don't know that fellow who was just here?"
"No. Does he belong at Putnam Hall?"
"Yes. I know nothing of him, however, further than that I have seen him several times on the Hall road."
Dick gave a low whistle.
"Perhaps we've put our foot in it," remarked Sam in a low tone to him.
"Never mind; we did what was right," answered Dick. "No fellow is justified in acting as Dan Baxter did."
"Tell us something about Putnam Hall, won't you?" said Fred Garrison, after a pause.
At this the three girls laughed.
"What should we know about that place?" asked Dora. "We have never been inside, excepting at one Christmas entertainment."
"But you must see some of the fellows occasionally."
"Not often," said Grace Laning. "Captain Putnam does not allow his pupils to leave the grounds excepting on special occasions. But papa caught three of the pupils in our strawberry patch once."
"He did? And what happened to the fellows?" put in Tom with deep interest.
"Father made them pick twelve quarts of berries for him for nothing, and didn't let them eat a single one."
"Great Caesar! What a fine fellow your dad -- I mean your father -- must be."
"Of course he is fine. The boys had no right to attempt stealing the berries. My father would have given them some for the asking."
"But they wouldn't have been half as sweet as if they were hooked on the sly," said Tom wisely, and everybody laughed.
"You boys ought to have fine times at Putnam Hall," went on Dora to Dick. "I sometimes see the soldier boys marching; and once, last summer, I visited their encampment."
"We are looking forward to a good time,"' was the answer. "And I trust we see you again," went on Dick; and Dora blushed prettily.
The Golden Star was now approaching a little landing known as Hopedale, and all left their chairs to see the village, and people getting on and off. It was an engaging scene, and the did not return to the bow of the boat until ten minutes later, after taking a walk completely around the steamer's deck.
In the bow a surprise awaited them. During their absence Dan Baxter had appropriated four of their camp chairs and was stretched out on them as if in sleep.
"Oh, what a cheek!" cried Tom.
"Let us haul him off," suggested Sam.
"All right, come ahead," put in Fred.
"Oh, please don't have another row with him!" cried Dora in alarm. "Let him keep the seats. We can go somewhere else,"
"All right, let the pig sleep," said Dick.
He felt tolerably certain that Dan Baxter was awake and heard him, but the bully made no sign.
The party walked away, and the bully sneered softly to himself.
"They didn't dare to tackle me," was what he thought in his conceit. "I'd like to meet 'em one by one alone I'd show each a trick or, two."
At last Cedarville was reached and the little steamer tied up at the dock, and the boys and girls went ashore. Just before leaving, Dick took a look at Dan Baxter and saw that he was now sleeping in earnest.
"I won't wake him," he thought. "If he is carried to the head of the lake, it will only serve him right."
Once on the dock, he and Fred hurried off to see about the baggage, and while they were gone a well-dressed and pleasant- looking farmer came up and kissed each of the girls. It was Mr. Laning.
"I hope you had a nice visit to Cousin May's," he said. "Come, the carriage is waiting out in the street."
And he hurried the girls away before they had hardly time to say good-by.
"Nice girls," remarked Tom.
"Yes, indeed," answered Sam. "Hope we see them again."
"We won't have much of a chance if what they say about Putnam Hall is true, Sam. Evidently Captain Putnam believes in keeping his pupils well in hand."
"Well, Uncle Randolph believes we ought' to be taken well in hand."
Dick and Fred returned presently, bringing with them a tall, lean man of apparently fifty.
"Boys," cried Fred, "let me introduce you to Mr. Peleg Snugsomebody, general utility man at Putnam Hall."
"Peleg Snuggers, please," said the man weekly. "Excuse me, but I was sent to bring you to the Hall."
"Do we walk?" demanded Tom.
"No, sir; the carryall is out on the street, and my boy Pete has the wagon for your trunks."
"The trunks are already in the wagon," said Dick. "Come ahead."
"How many of you, please?" went on Peleg Snuggers.
"There is only one of me, thank you," answered Tom meekly.
"Don't joke me so early in the term, please," said the utility man pleadingly. "Goodness knows, I'll get more than my share between now and Christmas. I mean, how many in the party?"
"Five of us, Mr. Sluggrub."
"Snuggers, please; Peleg Snuggers -- an easy name to remember when you get the swing of it, sir."
"To be sure, Smullers. Yes, there are exactly five of us," and Tom winked at his companions.
"That's all right; the captain said to bring five. Where is the other?"
"The other boy. I see only four of you."
"You asked me how many there were in the party, Mr. Snugbug."
"Yes, sir; and you said five."
"Four of us, and only one of you. Isn't that five -- or do they have a different kind of arithmetic at Putnam Hall from what I have been studying?"
"Please don't joke, Master Rover, please don't. I was to bring five boys." The utility man drew a slip of paper from his pocket. "Four new boys -- Richard, Samuel, and Thomas Rover and -- Frederick Garrison -- and Corporal Daniel Baxter."
"Gracious, the bully is a corporal at the Hall!" came from Sam in so low a tone that Snuggers did not catch it.
"The corporal isn't present," said Fred, gazing around absently.
"So he isn't. Must have missed the boat. Come along, please," and Peleg Snuggers led the way to where a large and extra-heavy carryall stood. A splendid team of iron-grays was attached to the carriage; and Dick, who loved good horseflesh, could not help but admire the animals.
"Oh, they are fine, Master Richard," said Snuggers. "Nothing finer on the lake shore. Captain Putnam's one recreation is to drive behind a fast team."
"Is it? I wish he would take me out with him some time."
"Always drives alone. Reckon it kind of quiets him, after a noisy time with the boys."
They were soon on the way, which led out of Cedarville and over a hill fronting the lake.
"By the way, do you know where the farms belonging to Mr. Stanhope and to Mr. Laning are located?" asked Tom, when they were well out of the village.
"Mr. Stanhope, sir? There isn't any Mr. Stanhope. He died two years ago. That place you see away over yonder is Mrs. Stanhope's farm."
"She has a daughter Dora?"
"Yes," Peleg Snuggers paused for a moment. "They say the widder thinks of marrying again."
"Is that so!" put in Dick, and then he wondered if Dora would be pleased with her stepfather. "So that is the place?"
"Yes, sir; two hundred and fifty acres, and the fittest dairy in these parts. If, the widder marries again, her husband will fall into a very good thing. The dairy company at Ithaca once offered fifty thousand dollars for the cattle and land."
"Gracious!" came from Tom. "We've been chumming with an heiress. Are the Lanings rich, too?"
"Very well to do. That is their place, that side road. Here is where we turn off to get to the Hall. Captain Putnam had this road made when the Hall was first built."
The road was one of cracked stone, as smooth as a huge iron roller could make it. They bowled along at a rapid rate, under the wide spreading branches of two rows of stately maples. They were close to the lake, and occasional glimpses of water could be caught through the tree branches.
"It is certainly a splendid locality for a boarding academy," was Dick's comment. "My, what pure air -- enough to make a sick boy strong! Do you have much sickness at the Hall?"
"Very little, sir. The captain does not let a cast of sickness stand, but calls in Dr. Fremley at once."
"That is where he is level-headed," said Fred. "My father said I was to call for a doctor the minute I felt at all sick."
They were now approaching Putnam Hall, but there was still another turn to make. As they swept around this, they came upon a tramp, half asleep under a tree. The tramp roused up at the sounds of carriage wheels and looked first at the driver of the carryall and then at the four boys.
"Phew!" he ejaculated, and lost no time in diving out of sight into some brush back of the row of maples.
"Hullo, who was that?" cried Sam.
"A tramp, I reckon," answered the utility man. "We are bothered a good deal with them."
"Begging at the Hall for the left-overs?"
"Exactly. The captain is too kind-hearted. He ought to drive 'em all away," answered Peleg Snuggers; and then the carryall passed on.
When it was gone, and the wagon with the trunks had followed, the tramp came out of the brush and gazed after both turnouts. "Say, Buddy Girk, but dat was a narrow escape," he muttered to himself. "Wot brought dem young gents to dis neighborhood? It can't be possible da have tracked me -- an' so quick." He hesitated. "I t'ink I had better give dis neighborhood de go-by," and he dove into the brush again. He was the rascal who had stolen Dick's timepiece.