Two minutes previous a sepulchral voice had spoken the awful words:
"Slide them into the endless pit!"
Then, with a gay college song, the mob that had led Frank and Bob on a hazing trip, that had been positively hair-raising in its incidents, had seemed to retire from the spot. Their laughter and songs now faded far away in the distance.
"Well," uttered Bob, getting his eyes clear and his arms free, "we've had an experience."
"I should say so," echoed Frank. "That old ice chute they dropped us into must have been a hundred feet long."
"The hogshead they rolled us downhill in went double that distance," declared Bob.
"Well, let's get out of this," advised Frank.
That was more easily said than done. Comparative strangers as yet to the country surrounding Bellwood, even when they had got on solid ground out of the muck and mire of the boggy waste, they knew not which way to turn.
It was dark as Erebus and the wind was blowing a gale. Nowhere on the landscape could they discover a guiding light. They were in a scrubby little patch of woods, and they were confused even as to the points of the compass.
"I think this is the direction of the academy," said Frank, striking out on a venture.
"Yes; and we want to get there soon, too," replied Bob, "for we're going to have a great storm in a few minutes."
As Bob spoke the big drops began to splash down. As the lads emerged upon a flat field, the drops seemed to form into streams, and they breasted the tempest breathless, blown about, and drenched to the skin.
"We've got to get shelter somewhere," declared Bob. "Let's put back for the timber."
"I think I see some kind of a building ahead," observed Frank. "Yes, it's a hut or a barn. Hustle, now, and we'll find cover till the worst of this is over."
In a few minutes they came to an old cabin standing near some dead trees. It was small and square and had one door and one window. Bob banged at the door with a billet of wood he found, but could not budge it. The windows had stout bars crisscrossing it.
"Give it up," he said at last. "No one living here, and padlocked as if it was a bank. Hey, Frank, here's a chance."
In veering to the partial shelter of the lee side of the old structure, Bob had noticed a sashless aperture answering for a window in the low attic of the cabin. He got a hold with fingers and toes in the chinks between the logs, and steadily climbed up.
"Come on," he called. "It's high and dry under the roof," and his companion joined him, both half reclining across a loose board floor.
"Hear that," said Bob, as the rain seemed to strike the roof in bucket-like volume. "I hope the crowd who got us in this fix are ten miles from any shelter."
The rain kept on without the slightest cessation. In fact, it seemed to increase every minute in volume. Fully half an hour passed by. Neither lad thought of leaving shelter, and Bob had stretched himself out. The conversation languished. Then Frank, catching himself nodding, sat up and looked out of the window, noticing that his rugged, healthy comrade was breathing heavily in profound slumber.
"There's a light coming this way," spoke Frank to himself, as he peered from the window. "If it's a wagon, I'll hustle down and see if there's any chance of a lift in the direction of the school. Hello, it's two men! Hello again—they're coming right here to this hut. There, I can hear them at the front door."
Frank was convinced a minute later that the newcomers lived in the cabin, or at least had secured the right to occupy the place. He could hear them at the padlock, and then their lantern illumined the room below. Gazing through a crack in the floor, Frank could make out all they did and was able to overhear their conversation.
They were two rough-looking, trampish fellows. Each threw a bundle on the floor. The room had some old boxes in it and a pile of hay in one corner. The men seated themselves on boxes and let the water drip from their soaked clothing.
"That was a pretty husky tramp," spoke one of them.
"I see the governor isn't here yet."
"No; so it's up to us to get as comfortable as we can."
They threw off their coats, and one of them undid a bundle. He took from it some bread, cheese, and a big black bottle, and the twain were soon enjoying themselves. When they had finished eating they lay down in the straw, smoking short, stubby pipes and chatting with one another.
"Now, then, look a-here, Jem," one of them remarked, "you wouldn't see me tramping around in this kind of weather if it wasn't that there was a chanct to get something out of it."
"Don't I tell you what's at the end of it, Dan?" retorted the other. "Don't I say as how the governor pays the expenses right royal while we're here? And then don't you know as how he's agreed to turn over the other half of that card, when we helps him get his plans through about this young kid up at the academy?"
"Say, that was a funny thing about that card," observed the man called Dan.
"No, 'twasn't," dissented Jem. "We got our hands on a fine piece of goods. We had to hide it till there was no danger of its being looked for. The gov and me therefore goes to a friend and we puts it in his strong safe. He is told that we has a card torn up with writing on it, atween us. The arrangement is made that he doesn't let go the property till we both presents them there pieces of card together. So you see, the gov can't get the property and run off with it. No more can I. Now, then, the gov says I can have the property entire if we help him on his present business here."
"Say," spoke up the interested Dan, "is the property pretty fine?"
"I'd call it good for a thousand dollars."
"Where did you fellows get it, Jem?"
"At a town called Tipton."
"Ah!" aspirated the listening Frank in a great gasp.
"And what was it, Jem?"
"A bracelet—a diamond bracelet," replied the man Jem.
Frank held his breath. He was greatly excited and startled. It seemed a strange thing to him that here, in a lonely loft hundreds of miles from home, by pure accident he should run across a clue to the person who had stolen Samuel Mace's diamond bracelet, the mysterious theft of which had so darkened our hero's young life.
Frank gulped down his astonishment. Then he sat still without a rustle. He was afraid that Bob might snore, wake up talking, and had an idea to creep closer to his chum, wake him up softly, and warn him to remain perfectly quiet.
Before Frank could act, however, there came a sudden interruption to the conversation between the men below, Jem and Dan. There was a thundering knock at the door.
"It's the gov at last!" shouted Jem, jumping to his feet.
"No one else!" echoed Dan.
Jem opened the door and a man staggered in. His slouch hat, dripping wet, was pulled down over his face. He was completely enveloped in a great rain blanket. The hole in its center fitted about his neck and covered him nearly to the feet, even to his arms. These held something under the cloak, for its bulging surface showed that he was carrying something.
"Help me out of this," growled the newcomer. "Good I borrowed this blanket in a convenient barn, or everything would have been soaked."
"Borrowed!" guffawed Jem.
"Haw! haw!" roared Dan, as if it was a great joke. "There you are, mate."
If Frank had been surprised and startled at the secret concerning Samuel Mace's missing diamond bracelet, he was dumfounded at the face of the newcomer.
"Why," he breathed in wonderment, "it's the man I drove off from bothering that traveling scissors grinding boy at Tipton, Ned Foreman. Yes, this is the man the boy called Tim Brady, and—whew!"
Frank's thoughts seemed to come as swift as lightning. He had marveled at the strange series of events that had given him a clue as to the persons who had stolen the diamond bracelet that had got him into so much trouble. Now that the tramp, Brady, had appeared on the scene, Frank saw how it all could have happened, for Brady was in Tipton the day the diamond bracelet was stolen.
The only thing that mystified Frank was why these people should be at Bellwood, so far away from Tipton. There was scarcely a chance in a thousand that they could have come accidentally.
When the two men had pulled the blanket from Brady, he disclosed two packages in his hand, one resembling a hat box. He placed them on the floor.
"Got the togs there?" inquired Jem.
"Yes," nodded Brady. "I'm famished; give me something to eat."
Frank did not stir. He felt that it was important that he should remain where he was. These men knew about Samuel Mace's missing bracelet. That was one point of interest. They were up to something now; that was another.
Frank listened to every word they said, but they did not just then again refer to the bracelet nor discuss their plans. They talked generally of how easy the farmers they had met gave away meals. They discussed various stores and houses that might be robbed readily. Frank realized that they were very bad men.
Finally, having finished his meal, Brady got up from the box he had been seated on. He went over to the bundles he had brought, undoing one of them. He took out a long black dress coat. This he tried on. It buttoned up to his neck closely, like some clerical garb.
He opened the other box and took out a silk hat. As he put this on his head he straightened up and drew his face down in mock seriousness.
"My friends," he sniffled, "you see in me a penitent and reformed man."
"Hold me!" yelled Jem, rolling around on the straw in a paroxysm of laughter.
"Will it do?" smirked Brady. "Ter-rewly, my friends, I seek only now to make amends for my wicked, misspent life—a—ah!"
"Wow! Oh, you actor! It's enough to make a cow laugh!"
"Will it work?"
"Work!" chuckled the man Jem. "Why, you'd win over the president of the college himself."
"What was that?" demanded Brady sharply.
Frank was in dismay. In his sleep Bob Upton had groaned, then moved. Probably, in some nightmare, dreaming he was back among his old tyrant masters on the farm, he had kicked out his foot, landing heavily on the floor of the loft.
"Oh, I guess it was the wind rattling some loose timber about the old ruin of a place," observed Jem.
Frank crept cautiously to the side of his sleeping comrade.
Bob was muttering restlessly in his sleep, and Frank feared another outbreak. He placed his hand over Bob's mouth.
"Wake up—quietly, now—there is somebody below," he whispered.
"What's the row?" droned Bob.
"S—st! Follow me. Get out of this. It's stopped raining."
Frank managed to get himself and his friend out of the place without disturbing the three men in the hut or apprising them of their presence. The rain had nearly stopped. Bob rubbed his eyes sleepily.
"Some tramps came into the cabin yonder after you went to sleep," explained Frank. "They are hard characters, and it is best to steer clear of them."
It took the two boys an hour to find their way to Bellwood School. Bob was tired out and sleepy, and Frank was by no means in a mood for chatting. He was absorbed in thinking out his strange discoveries of the night.
"I've got a clue to that diamond bracelet of Mace's," he reflected. "Mace don't deserve any favors from me after the outrageous way he's acted, but if I can do anything toward getting it back for him, all right. I wonder, though, what it means—that man, Brady, being here, and what trick he is up to with the high hat and the dress coat? His friend spoke of the president of the college and some 'kid.' Are they up to some thieving trick? If so, I want to be alert to balk them."
When the two boys reached the academy, they had some difficulty in locating a loose window, and they had to use caution in getting to their room. The bed felt so good after the rough experiences of the night that Frank soon joined his snoring companion in the land of dreams, leaving action as to the crowd at the cabin for the morrow.
They met their friendly persecutors of the evening before good-naturedly at breakfast. It was easy for Frank to see that Ritchie and his associates were ready to accept them as gritty comrades who could take a joke as a matter of course.
"You've paid your initiation fee in pluck and endurance, Jordan," said Mark Prescott, the able lieutenant of Dean Ritchie in his rounds of mischief. "You and Upton can consider yourselves full-fledged members of the Twilight Club."
"Good!" laughed Frank as he started for the campus. Before he was out of the building, however, Frank got thinking of his adventures of the evening before. And instead of immediately joining his fellows he strolled around to the side of the academy.
There was a walk, not much used by the students, leading past the kitchen and laundry quarters of the school. As Frank got nearly to the end of this a baseball whizzed by him and he saw Banbury and a crony named Durkin making for it.
Just at that moment, too, Frank noticed a boy wearing a long apron sitting on a stone step just outside the kitchen door.
He was peeling potatoes, and he was peeling them right, fully engrossed in his labors, as though it were some artistic and agreeable occupation.
"Well! well! well!" irresistibly ejaculated Frank. "If it isn't Ned Foreman!"
THE ROW ON THE CAMPUS
"Shake!" cried Frank, rushing forward and extending a warm hand.
The boy peeling potatoes looked up in some surprise. For a minute he was puzzled. Then his face broke into a genial smile.
"It's the fellow I met at Tipton——" he began.
"That's who—Frank Jordan."
"Who saved me from getting robbed."
"Put it that way, if you like," answered Frank. "How did you ever come here?"
"Walked, coaxed freight hands, and got some passenger lifts," explained Ned. "You know I told you I was going out of the scissors grinding and into school?"
"I know you did."
"Well, I've landed. I've saved up twenty dollars. That don't go far in tuition, so I'm working my way through school."
"Good for you," cheered Frank. "You're the kind that makes a mark in the world. Say, come up to my room. I want to have a real chummy chat with you."
"I couldn't do that just now," demurred Ned. "You see, I help in the kitchen here from six to eight in the morning, eleven to one at noon and five to seven in the evening."
"I haven't seen you in any of the classes."
"No; one of the professors is coaching me. You see, I need training to get into even the lowest class. As I said, I can't leave my work here now, but I may meet you occasionally after dark."
"Come at four this afternoon."
"Think I'd better?" inquired Ned dubiously.
"Well, to be candid," answered Ned manfully, "my clothes aren't very good, as you see, and some of the fellows here have pretty well snubbed me, and maybe it would be wiser for me to keep my place."
"Your place?" fired up Frank. "Except among the stuck-up cads, your place is to be welcome to all the privileges of any well-behaved student, and I'll see to it that you get them, too."
"Hi, Jordan; on the domestic list?" broke in Banbury just then. He had regained the baseball and with his companion stood staring at Frank and Ned.
"Hum! I should say so," sniggered Durkin with a chuckle. "Pah! How it smells of onions and dishwater!"
"Take your friend and introduce him to Ritchie," sneered Banbury. "He needs a new catcher for his measly team that we're going to wallop to-morrow."
"Say," spoke Frank steadily, though with a flashing eye, "I'll bet you that my friend here—understand, my friend, Ned Foreman—would prove as good a catcher as he has to my knowledge run a business where he was trusted and did his duty well. I'll make another bet—you'll be the second-rate scholar you are now two years further on, when my friend is the boss of some surveying camp, where the smartest fellow is the one who has learned the cooking and science both—not a smattering—but from the ground up."
"Yah!" yawped Banbury, but he saw something in Frank's eye that warned him to sheer off promptly.
"You'll run up against a few cads like that fellow," explained Frank to Ned. "Use 'em up in one chapter, and stick to the real friends I'll introduce you to."
"Jordan, you're a true-blue brick," declared Ned heartily, "but I know from experience how these things go——"
"There's the rally whistle for our crowd, so I've got to go," interrupted Frank; "but four o'clock at my room. You come, or I'll come and fetch you."
Frank bolted off for the campus. As he neared his group of friends he observed the Banbury crowd, just rejoined by their leader and Durkin. Banbury was pointing at Frank and saying something, derisively hailed by his companions. Then Frank saw his stanch champion, Bob Upton, spring forward with clenched fists. Frank hurried his steps, guessing out the situation, and anxious to rescue his impetuous friend from an outbreak.
"Hi, chef!" howled out Durkin, as Frank approached, and Frank knew that the mean-spirited cads had been spreading the story of his meeting with Ned Foreman.
"What have you got to say about it, huh? Who are you?" Frank heard Bob cry out angrily, as he came nearer to the crowd.
Frank could not repress a start as he observed the boy whom Bob was facing. He was a newcomer—he was Gill Mace. It appeared that the nephew of the Tipton jeweler had been sent to the same school as Frank.
Gill Mace looked as mean as ever. There was a sneer on his face. He was loudly dressed, or rather overdressed. His uncle had probably provided him with plenty of spending money, for he was jingling some coins in his pocket. His money and his natural cheek had evidently made him "solid" with Banbury and the others, for they seemed to be upholding his braggart insolence.
"Don't get hot, sonny," advised Gill. "I said that Jordan needed to make friends, for he never had any where he came from," and then, staring meanly at Frank, he whispered something to Banbury.
"Hello!" broke out the latter. "That so? Jordan, how's the diamond market this morning?"
Frank started as if he had been struck by a whiplash. A bright red spot showed on either cheek. His eyes flashed, his finger nails dug into the palms of his hands.
He advanced straight up to where Gill Mace stood, brushing aside heedlessly all who were in his way. The jeweler's nephew tried to hide behind his cohorts in a craven way, but Frank fixed him with his eye.
"Gill Mace," he spoke in a firm, stern tone, "you have been telling that bully friend of yours some more of the falsehoods you peddled out at Tipton."
"I told him how you stood in that old burg," admitted Gill.
"What do you mean?"
"I said that you robbed my uncle's jewelry shop."
"Then you uttered a low, malicious falsehood," retorted Frank. "Fellows," he cried, turning to his adherents, "I ducked this sneak in a mud puddle for lying about me once. I want to now make the announcement in public that if within twenty-four hours he does not retract his words I shall whip him till he can't stand, leave the academy, and never come back till I have the proofs to vindicate myself, which I can do."
Mace turned white about the corners of his mouth.
"Everybody in Tipton knows that Frank Jordan stole a diamond bracelet from my uncle," he stammered.
"It's false!" shouted out Bob Upton, squarely springing before Gill, who retreated in dismay, "and you are more than a thief, for you're trying to rob an honest boy of his good name. Take that!"
And Bob Upton knocked Gill Mace down—flat.
Gill Mace went down with a shock of surprise and a yell of fright. He blubbered as his teeth went together like a pair of castanets.
Banbury stepped forward in his usual braggart way. Bob did not wait for him to advance. He flew right up to him.
"You want some?" he shouted. "Come on, the whole bunch of you, one at a time."
Just then, however, Dean Ritchie uttered a familiar warning, and there was a general movement of commotion and dispersement among the group.
"Scatter, fellows," was what Ritchie said.
The Banbury contingent proceeded to sneak away. Some of Ritchie's crowd surrounded Bob Upton and cleverly tried to manipulate him out of view.
Frank, turning, learned the motive for the maneuvers. Professor Elliott stood not thirty feet away, his eyes fixed upon them. The seriousness of his countenance told that he had witnessed the fight.
Bob brushed aside his friendly helpers. He walked straight up to Professor Elliott, took off his cap respectfully and stood with his head bowed. Then some words seemed to pass between them, and Mr. Elliott turned toward the academy, Bob following him.
Frank was a good deal stirred up by the exciting events of the hour. He did not feel much desire for companionship, and less for sport. He left his friends and went up to his room.
He sat down on the bed somewhat gloomy and worried. Frank knew that the malicious story told by Gill Mace would spread through the school like wildfire.
Frank valued his fair name and the good opinion of the new friends he had made. To be dubbed a thief meant harm, and there were some who would believe the story. He recalled the impression such an accusation had made on several people at his home town, and he grew quite downcast thinking it all over.
"I won't mope," he cried resolutely, stirring about the room. "I am innocent, so who can hurt me? I won't think of it."
Frank tried to whistle a careless air, but his efforts were somewhat feeble. Then he went over to his trunk and looked over its contents. He got to thinking of Ned Foreman, and took out a suit of clothes, some neckties and a couple of shirts from the trunk, and had just placed them on a chair when Bob entered the apartment.
"Well, what's the latest?" inquired Frank with a sharp quiz of his impulsive friend's face.
"I'm all broken up, that's the latest," declared Bob, throwing himself into a chair, his face a puzzling mixture of soberness and satisfaction. "Say, Frank, I want to say one thing with all my heart—President Elliott is a bang-up good old man. I've been ashamed, near crying, sorry, glad, mad, and just about all knocked out in the last five minutes. Oh, that measly Banbury mob! And oh, that miserable Gill Mace!"
"What's happened, Bob?"
"Why, I went to the library with the president, and told him manfully that the Mace fellow had insulted the best friend I had, you, and that I couldn't stand for it and just had to land him one."
"And the president?"
"He looked grave. Then he turned his head away. Then he sort of looked at me as if he'd been a—a corker himself in the old boy days. He gave me a mild lecture on controlling my temper. I told him he'd better have me tied up or put Mace somewhere so I couldn't find him, or I was afraid I'd break loose again."
"That was pretty strong, wasn't it, Bob?"
"I spoke my mind, and he knew it. Then he carried me right off my feet, and I'd die for that bully old man any time. He just placed that gentle old hand of his on my head and looked at me with his kind old eyes and said: 'Upton, we're going to be proud of you some day. I feel sure of that. My little ones remember how bravely you risked your life to save them the other day, and pray for you every night. Don't disappoint us, my boy. Young Jordan is a good fellow, and I am sure he wouldn't encourage you to violate our school discipline. Just simply forget the fellows who stir you up. After a good many years' experience, I may say to you that in the long run the bad ones sift out and the good ones come to the top. Make us proud of you, Upton, and become proud of yourself by controlling your temper and acting the gentleman.'"
"That was fine, and it's true," said Frank heartily. "Yes, Bob, we've got to forget those fellows. You are a true-blue champion, but you've shown your colors, so let it go at that."
"What, and have any of those fellows call you a thief?"
"Some day I shall prove my innocence," declared Frank firmly.
"You don't have to prove it—with your friends," flared up Bob. And just then the chapel bell called them to the duties of the hour.
Frank did not pass a very happy day. He mingled of necessity with the Banbury groups during the studies, but only for an occasional glowering look from Gill Mace's discolored eye and some suppressed sneers from Banbury, Durkin and others of their crowd, there was no allusion made to the cause of the fight.
However, there were mysterious whisperings going on at times. Some boys with whom Frank was not well acquainted shied off from him at noon time, and Frank knew that the poison of Mace's insinuations was working among the general school group.
Frank was in his room at four o'clock, and promptly at the hour Ned Foreman put in an appearance. Frank set aside his troubles and greeted him in a friendly manner. He locked the door and gave his visitor a comfortable chair.
"Tell me about yourself, Ned," he said. "How you got here from Tipton, and about your plans, and all that."
It was not much of a story, but its details showed again the homeless lad was set and sensible in his resolve to gain an education.
"I like you, Ned," said Frank, "and you know it, and I wouldn't be acting as a true friend if I didn't say just what was in my mind, would I, now?"
"You'll never say a thing to hurt a fellow's feelings, I'll risk that," returned Ned with a smile of confidence.
"I hope not. I've been thinking about you, and I'm interested in you. Say, is that your best suit of clothes you're wearing?"
"Best and only," acknowledged Ned bluntly. "Why?"
"Well, I've got a suit that will just about fit you, and I want you to sort of tog up when you have time to come out and join our crowd. Not that I would ever be ashamed of you no matter what you wore, but we all have a little pride."
"I'm not going to let you rob yourself to do a kindness for me," declared Ned.
"Rob myself?" repeated Frank with a laugh. "Say, let me tell you something, and you'll see how you are helping me out. I've been living with an aunt at Tipton who is a caution in some ways. She ordered a suit for me about six months ago. Well, she's a great bargain hunter, and then, too, there was some of the same cloth left, and taking two suits she could get a reduction. Here's the one I was measured for first."
Frank opened the wardrobe and showed a light checked suit he did not often wear.
"The other suit," he continued, "is this one," and he indicated the clothes he had taken from his trunk that morning. "The tailor didn't have enough cloth, and the suit is too short for me. My aunt packed it in my trunk, thinking I could wear it out knocking around Saturdays, but it won't do at all. It is nearly new, and you are a little smaller than I am, and I believe it will fit you. There are a few spare neckties and such that go with it, and there you are."
"Mine, eh?" said Ned with a smile, getting up and looking over the clothes. "It will make me dreadfully proud and dressy, Frank. I never had such an outfit before."
"You don't know the relief I have in getting rid of it," said Frank, smiling. "It's settled, then—you'll lug it away with you."
"I'll carry it away as the finest present I could possibly get," responded Ned warmly. "You don't know how I appreciate it."
There was no false pride or affectation about Ned Foreman, and Frank liked him better than ever for his manly actions. He did up the bundle for Ned. Then they had a general talk. An hour drifted by before they knew it.
"Saturday, remember," said Frank as they parted. "I want you to get in on some of the games and know all the good fellows who train with Dean Ritchie."
Frank sat alone at the window after Ned left him, reflecting very seriously.
"I couldn't tell him," he murmured; "at least, not yet. How do I know that I am right? Maybe I'm guessing it all out. Oh, dear, how I miss my father to go to with all my troubles and perplexities. I'd have a talk with President Elliott, only I don't want to bother him and make a lot of talk about things that may naturally right themselves in time. Hello, there's Bob."
Frank got up to greet his friend, who swung down the corridor and into the room, whistling.
"The very fellow!" exclaimed Frank. "I say, Bob, I want to ask your advice."
THE FOOT RACE
"You want my advice?" asked Bob in some surprise.
"Just that, Bob," responded Frank Jordan.
"Huh—no one ever asked that before. I'm afraid I'm not much in that line, but I'll do the best I can."
"All right. Sit down while I tell you a little story," directed Frank.
Bob had come into the room red and perspiring, as though he had just been indulging in some very violent exercise. He soon settled down to steadiness from sheer interest as Frank proceeded to talk.
Frank began at the beginning of quite a lengthy narrative. He recited the episode of the diamond bracelet. He described his first meeting with Ned Foreman. Then he brought his recital down to what he had seen and heard in the lonely hut the night of the hazing and while Bob had been fast asleep.
"You're some story-teller, and that all sounds like a story-book romance," commented Bob, when Frank paused in his narrative.
"I only hope it will end in the good story-book way," observed Frank. "This is all secret between you and me."
"Surely," assented Bob.
"I had to tell it to somebody, for it was worrying me dreadfully," confessed Frank. "You see, I'm in a dilemma."
"I do see that, Frank," nodded Bob seriously.
"I can't see it any other way, but this tramp and his friends, Jem and Dan, among them stole that diamond bracelet."
"I think so, too," said Bob. "Anyhow, judging from their talk you overheard they know where it is now."
"What had I better do? I am awful anxious to prove my innocence to the world."
"Why, I shouldn't hesitate a minute to have those three fellows arrested," exclaimed Bob.
"That wouldn't help the case any."
"Why wouldn't it?"
"They evidently haven't got the stolen bracelet with them."
"That's so, Frank."
"And I haven't the least proof in the world that they are the thieves. No, I must get about it in a different way."
"You see, this man Brady knows me by sight. He doesn't know you. Do you think you could locate the old cabin, Bob?"
"I don't think I could go direct to it," answered Bob, "but I am pretty sure that by hunting for it and making some inquiries I could find it."
"All right; try it, Bob. If you succeed, sort of spy around and you may pick up something that will give us an idea of what those men are about. You see, the fact of Brady being here makes me anxious on another score."
"What is that?"
"They mentioned the academy here. I am afraid that Brady has some plan concerning Ned Foreman."
"Say, Frank, it looks that way," declared Bob thoughtfully. "Why don't you tell Ned about it?"
"I don't want to worry him until I find out something more."
"I'll get on the track of that old cabin and those men first chance I have," promised Bob. "Say, Frank, I was coming to tell you I've just done a big thing, Dean Ritchie says."
"What is it, Bob?"
"You know we are going to have a baseball game and some other matches to- morrow."
"Yes, I know," nodded Frank.
"Well, there's a foot race scheduled. The crack runner of our crowd, Purtelle, is out of trim, and they were looking for a substitute. I don't want to brag, but about the one thing in the athletic line I can do well is running."
"Then you must try to fill the bill."
"I'm going to. Ritchie asked me to give them a test. It's a long-distance spurt—twice around the track over in the meadow where they train their horses on the stock farm. I made the sample run just now. I don't know but what the crowd were guying me, but they seemed to go wild over it."
"Oh, I guess they're in earnest, Bob."
"I hope so, for that big bully, Banbury, is to be my opponent, and I'd do anything to take the conceit out of him and his crowd. Ritchie timed me, and said I had discounted the best record ever made by an academy runner."
"That's grand," said Frank.
"They took me to the gymnasium and gave me this pair of shoes for the ones I had on. They're going to grease up and soften my own shoes to make the running easier, they say. I hope I don't disappoint them."
"You won't, I am sure," said Frank encouragingly.
The next day was Saturday. The weather was ideal, and the boys anticipated a great deal of pleasure for the holiday.
Frank was pleased when his friend, Ned Foreman, showed up about ten o'clock. Ned looked neat and handsome in the light checked suit Frank had given him. He was modest and natural, and Ritchie and his crowd treated him nicely.
There was the first ball game of the series after lunch. Then the whole school adjourned to the training track for the foot race.
Banbury, Mace and their chums were in great evidence. The ball game had come out a tie, and even this barren honor swelled them up considerably. Banbury was gotten up in a flashy sporting suit, as though he was in for the championship of the world, and Mace was also overdressed. Bob wore his every-day clothes. He looked eager and hopeful as Frank helped him put on his running shoes.
The evening previous Bob's remarkable test run had been noised around the school, and Frank somewhat wondered at the vaunting spirit shown by the Banbury crowd.
The start of the race was made in good order. The opponents were off on the second, and they looked in splendid trim as they kept evenly abreast up to the first quarter post. There Bob forged ahead slightly, and there was a cheer from his excited friends. Then he lagged, and Banbury got the lead, and his cohorts gave out ringing huzzahs.
"What's wrong?" uttered Ned breathlessly, as Banbury, with a jump and kicking up his heels derisively at the Ritchie group, shot by the starting post on the second spurt with Bob fully ten yards to the rear.
"Bob is lamed," said Frank in consternation. "See, he's limping."
"Go it, Bob!" yelled the voices of a dozen loyal friends.
Bob looked haggard and unfit. One foot dragged, and he acted like a person in acute pain. At the encouraging word, however, he braced up, made a prodigious spurt, but at the end of fifty yards hobbled and fell flat.
A cry of dismay went up from the Ritchie crowd, while Banbury's adherents made the air echo with delirious shouts of triumph.
Suddenly, however, Bob was on his feet again and off down the course like an arrow.
"He's thrown off his shoes. What's up, I wonder?" spoke Ritchie.
"He's up to him!"
The spectators held their breath. Never had the boys of Bellwood School witnessed so sensational a foot race.
Bob Upton flew like the wind. He was five—ten—twenty yards in the lead of his laboring antagonist.
His face was colorless as he crossed the starting line. A flash of triumph was in his eyes, but Frank saw that he was reeling. Our hero sprang forward just in time to catch the falling champion in his outstretched arms—the winner of the race.
THE TRAMP AGAIN
"He's in a dead faint—give him air," ordered Dean Ritchie.
"Get a dipper of water," said Frank quickly, letting Bob slip gently to the grass.
There was a pump just beyond the enclosure. Ned ran to it, and soon Frank was sponging Bob's face with cool water.
"Who did it—and why?" spoke Bob suddenly and opening his eyes and sitting up.
He drew up one foot with a wry face. As he did so Dean Ritchie gave a start and a stare.
"Why," he cried, "your stocking is dripping with blood."
"The sole of my foot feels like a raw beef-steak," said Bob.
One of the boys had gone after the shoes that Bob had thrown off a distance from the course.
"Ritchie," he said gravely, "feel there."
His leader took the shoe, ran his hand into it, and looked into it.
"Oh, shame! shame!" he exclaimed with a wrathy face. "Whoever did this deserves to be tarred and feathered."
"What is it?" inquired Frank.
"An old trick among touts and welchers. Just feel, Jordan—some one got into the gym last night and doctored these shoes."
"Doctored the shoes?" repeated Frank vaguely.
"Yes, they set in a light cushion sole, with a half dozen blade-pointed brads under it that would break through after a little use. It's a wonder that Upton's foot isn't ripped to pieces."
"It feels pretty near as if it was," said Bob, wincing. "Frank, I guess I'm crippled for a few days. You'll have to help me get to our room."
There were dark frowns of indignation and suspicion among the group. The Banbury crowd were making off with glum faces and uneasy haste.
"Stop!" sharply shouted Ritchie after them. "I accuse nobody, but I want to say right here and now, and I want everybody to hear me, that I'm going to ferret out the low sneak who put those brads in Bob Upton's shoes. When I do, he leaves this school or I do, and one of us will have reason to remember the drubbing of his life."
"They're a fine set, aren't they?" spoke Purtelle. "Fellows, I think this circumstance should be reported to the faculty."
"No," dissented Bob Upton decidedly. "The rascals will reach the end of their tether some time, and we can't prove who worked this mean trick."
They got Bob to his room. Ned did not go there with the crowd, but he appeared a little later with a box of salve and some strips of cloth. He fixed up Bob's injured foot so skilfully that Ritchie complimented him as an expert surgeon.
Frank stayed with his friend, reading to him for a time. All the others had gone away. Finally Bob fell asleep, and Frank strolled out on the grounds. As he again entered the building bound for his room, he ran directly against Ned as he turned down a corridor near the reception-room.
"Why, Ned," he exclaimed, "what are you doing here?"
Ned Foreman was almost crouching in a dark corner. He was trembling, and his lips were white, and there was a marked terror in his eyes. Frank was profoundly startled, almost shocked at the strange appearance of his friend.
"That man is in there!" gasped Ned.
"What man do you mean?"
"Oh!" uttered Frank, and a whole lot of light seemed to flood his mind in an instant. "How do you know that?"
"President Elliott send word to me that a visitor wished to see me in the reception-room. I just came down and looked in. That terrible man who calls me his relative is in there talking to the president."
"What is he after?" asked Frank.
"Can't you see?" spoke Ned in a tone of great agitation and excitement. "He has followed me clear here. He is going to drive me away from here, just as he has driven me away from other places. I can't meet him—the cold chills run all over me whenever my eyes light on him," and Ned shuddered.
"See here, Ned Foreman," said Frank, "you go right into that room. Brace straight up to that miserable wretch, and defy him. Don't be a bit scared at anything he may say to you. I'll do the rest."
"How—how can you?" stammered the terrified boy.
"Leave that to me. I know a lot I'll tell you afterward. Go ahead, now, and don't you show one particle of fear. Leave the door ajar a little, just as it is. I'm no eavesdropper, but on the present occasion I'm mightily interested in seeing and hearing all that's going on."
There was something unaccountable about Ned Foreman's dread of his professed relative. He passed into the reception-room, but he was trembling all over and his face was pale and frightened.
President Elliott sat near a table, and the tramp whom Frank knew as Tim Brady was standing up in front of him.
He did not look much like the fellow Frank had rescued Ned from at Tipton.
In his hand he carried a high silk hat. He was clean shaven, and his hair was combed and plastered down over his bullet head. His clerical-looking frock coat was buttoned up to the chin. His face was drawn in a hypocritical expression of great concern.
"Ah, my boy! my boy!" he exclaimed, jumping about and rushing at Ned, extending both hands as if about to greet some beloved friend.
Ned Foreman shrank from his obnoxious relative in horror.
A DOLEFUL "UNCLE"
Frank, peering in at the doorway of the school reception-room, saw that President Elliott looked both grave and concerned. Judging from the expression of his face, Frank decided that the academy head was not very favorably impressed with either the words or the appearance of the visitor.
"You see, kind sir," said the repulsed Brady, turning to him and snuffling as if at the point of tears, "my own kin disowns me. Oh, sir, it is hard, hard, to have it happen so!"
Ned did not say a word. He simply kept at a safe distance.
"If I may ask," spoke Mr. Elliott, "what do you expect of this boy?"
"Forgiveness," whined the tramp. "Yes, sir, that is the word. I have wronged him cruelly. I admit it, to my shame. I was a worthless, shiftless man, and I abused him and drove him from my heart. Now I have reformed, and I seek to make atonement. He is my last living relative. To whom shall I go for sympathy, to whom shall I cling but my dead wife's brother?"
"Stepbrother," corrected Ned almost sharply. "You are no relative of mine."
"Boy, don't taunt me, don't make my sufferings more than they are," and Brady heaved a prodigious sigh. "I have given up drinking. It's this way: An old-time friend of mine, who has made eighteen million dollars in a diamond mine in Canada——"
"How's that? How's that?" challenged the learned old professor keenly. "According to the last authoritative geological data available, Canada——"
"I mean Brazil; yes, that's it, Brazil—anyhow, somewhere over in Africa."
"H'm!" sniffed the old professor suspiciously.
"He found me in rags. I told him my story. He offered to set me on my feet again if I would sign the pledge. I signed it. Then he bought me a home, and put enough money in the bank to start me in some nice little business, and some other money. I got thinking of this poor, homeless lad. It almost broke my heart. I have spent several hundred dollars having detectives trace him down."
"Jem and Dan," Frank told himself, and almost laughed outright.
"At last I find him," proceeded Brady. "I wish to provide for him; I wish to educate and make a man of him."
"Very well," nodded Mr. Elliott. "He is here at a good school. Let him remain. I shall be pleased to have him now on a basis where he can study and learn all of his time, instead of having to work his way, for he is a bright, promising scholar."
"Exactly, exactly," assented Brady eagerly; "only, you see, sir, I want to prove that I mean well by him."
"Prove it, then, by paying his tuition for a year, and leave him in competent hands," suggested the practical, sensible educator.
"Willingly," declared Brady. "I'll pay five years in advance if you say so, only I'd like to have him come with me for a week or so."
"To get used to me. To see that I'm in earnest I want his advice about my new house, about my business. I want to get him a fine outfit. He can have the best, sir, I assure you. I will get him a watch. I understand these college fellows like pets. I'll buy him a pug dog."
"Not for Bellwood School you won't," observed Mr. Elliott bluntly.
"No, sir, that's so," assented Brady. "I'll buy him a horse and a boat, then, anything he wants, only let him come with me. We are all of us weak, sir. I may be tempted, I may fall. Let him sort of brace me up for a couple of weeks. Then he will return, realizing that his poor old relative is genuine, and I'll be proud all the time thinking I've won his respect."
Professor Elliott fixed his eyes on the speaker as if he would pierce him through and through. Then he regarded Brady thoughtfully. Finally he spoke.
"Foreman, do you wish to go with this man?" he asked.
"No, sir, never!" cried Ned fervently. "Professor Elliott, please, please don't let him take me away!"
"Do I understand," inquired the professor of Brady, "that you pretend to be the legal guardian of this boy?"
"Oh, no, sir; no, indeed," Brady hastened to say. "I'm only his poor old—"
"Then, if you are not his legal guardian," remarked Mr. Elliott decidedly, "the boy remains here, if he so elects. That ends the matter, I think."
Brady made a great ado. He tried to look pathetic and mournful.
"My boy," he sniffled, "won't you grant the dying request—I mean the ardent request of your poor, homeless old relative?"
"I thought your eighteen million dollar friend had given you a home," intimated Ned.
"True, but what is a home without a—a relative?"
"I won't go with you, and that ends it," said Ned firmly.
"I will go, then, sir," said Brady to the professor with affected sadness, "but I shall return to make another appeal to you."
"This incident is closed, sir, and my time is valuable," observed the school president with some asperity, arising to his feet and waving Brady out of the room.
The latter directed a venomous look at Ned. Frank noted this, and shuddered as Ned himself had done. It was an evil face, unmasked now, that of the tramp, and Frank realized that his young friend would do well to keep out of the power of this hypocrite and knave.
Frank dodged aside as the man came out into the corridor. Then he followed him at a distance. He waited till Brady had reached the road in front of the academy. Then he stepped more briskly, caught up with him and touched him on the arm.
"One moment," said Frank.
"Eh—ah—what is it?" stammered Brady, halting and staring suspiciously at our hero.
"Do you remember me?" inquired Frank, looking him squarely in the eye.
"I don't," replied Brady.
"You're sure of that?"
"I never saw you before."
"Think again," spoke Frank. "I'll recall a little incident at Tipton, where I came very near getting you into the hands of the town marshal."
With a frightened scowl Brady glared at Frank, the light of recognition now in his eyes.
"I see you recall the incident," proceeded Frank steadily. "You are a scamp, and you are up to some game about my friend, Ned Foreman. Now I've something to say to you. If you hang around this place one single minute, if you ever dare to come to this academy again, I'll have you in jail inside of an hour."
"You impudent puppy!" shouted Brady, lifting his hand as if to strike Frank. "You'll do what?"
"I'll have you arrested."
"For stealing a diamond bracelet from Mr. Samuel Mace of Tipton," was Frank's reply.
A CLEAR CASE
The shot had told—Frank saw this at once.
Brady gasped for breath and turned white as a sheet.
"W—what diamond bracelet?" stammered the man.
"I guess you know," said Frank. "I guess, too, that the best and safest thing for you to do is to get that bracelet back to the man you stole it from before he sends an officer after you."
Brady simply stared at Frank. He was all taken aback. Frank saw that he was dumfounded and scared. He followed up his advantage.
"You can't play any of your 'reformed man' tricks here, I can tell you," he continued. "You practiced your game pretty well in that plug hat and swallow-tail coat up at the cabin."
"The cabin?" repeated Brady, as though he was shocked.
"Yes; the cabin with those precious 'detectives' you told the professor about, Jem and Dan."
"Say—look here—I don't see—— How do you know?"
"Never mind; you see I do," interrupted Frank. "Now, then, you follow my advice. You get those two pieces of card together, and get that bracelet from the man who has it in safekeeping for you."
Brady's eyes goggled. The amount of information Frank had about him, its tremendous importance, staggered the man. He almost reeled where he stood.
"Send it at once to Samuel Mace at Tipton," went on Frank, "if you don't want to be hunted down across the world if necessary. Then get as far as you can from here. If you don't you're lost. Yes, sir," declared Frank impressively, "a lost man."
"Thunder!" ejected the tramp in an overwhelmed sort of a way.
"You'd ought to be ashamed, hunting down an honest boy like Ned Foreman, who is trying to make a man of himself," continued Frank indignantly. "You've nigh ruined his chances already. You want to leave him alone. Mean and low as you are, he is ashamed to tell the professor about it, but I'll tell him, you bet. Now, then, you get away from here, double-quick."
The tramp started up as if he had been struck by a whip.
"And stay away," added our hero.
"I'm an abused man," sniffled Brady, trying the pathetic tack again. "You're talking Greek to me about diamonds, and that such. Suppose I was a bad one once, ain't I a reformed man now?"
"No, nor never will be, until you tell what dodge you're up to in getting Ned into your clutches again."
"Boy, you mistake a poor old reformed man," said Brady, drawing a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his screwed-up eyes. As he did this a lose pack of playing cards came out with the handkerchief and scattered all around the ground, much on his confusion and assumed surprise.
"That looks like a reformed man, doesn't it?" said Frank. "You're a real, right bad one, you are. Now you get away from here."
Brady went. He gave Frank an awful look of hatred and menace, but he hurried his steps.
Frank stood watching him until the fellow was clear out of sight. Then, very thoughtfully, he walked back to the school.
"Maybe I said too much; maybe I spoiled my own case," he reflected, "but I was thinking of Ned's interests."
Frank had an idea in his mind that he would go to Professor Elliott, tell him the whole story from beginning to end, and see if something could not be done, here at Bellwood, to have the officers of the law try and find the stolen diamond bracelet.
When Frank got to his room Bob Upton was awake, and, pale and worried- looking, Ned Foreman sat conversing with him, and both occupied Frank's thoughts for the next hour.
Frank had a reassuring talk with Ned. He told him that he need not worry about Brady any further, that he had pretty effectually scared the rascal away.
"All he can do is to try and kidnap you," explained Frank. "So you keep pretty close to the academy for the next few days. Then I'll know if he is hanging around here anywhere."
The next day Professor Elliott went away from Bellwood to visit a friend, and Frank had no chance to talk with him about Ned, as he had planned.
Late that afternoon Frank strolled alone from the school grounds. He had no definite purpose in view when he started. A little distance progressed, however, he thought of the old hut, and made up his mind to see if he could locate it.
For the first time since becoming a student at Bellwood Frank wore the light checked suit of clothes, the counterpart of which he had given to Ned.
Our hero had a pretty good idea as to the direction of the old cabin. He must have gone a mile, when, as he was passing through a dense patch of shrubbery, Frank became aware that some persons were following him.
Two men were skulking in his rear, advancing as he advanced, but keeping well under the shadow and shelter of the bushes.
"It's those two men—Jem and Dan," said Frank to himself.
FRANK A PRISONER
Our hero quickened his steps a little. Then he made up his mind what he would do. He fancied he knew what the presence of the men, Jem and Dan, meant. He smiled to himself as he strolled along, carelessly now.
Sidelong glances enabled him to make out the movements of his trailers without awakening their suspicions. He could observe that they had branched off from one another, aiming at a clear space, where they planned to head him off.
This is just what they did do. Frank anticipated their action as they suddenly moved toward him. He was as cool as a cucumber, and halting hailed them with a nod and a familiar:
"Hello, yourself, youngster," returned Jem, looking Frank over keenly, while his comrade stood as if ready to pounce upon the lonely boy in the woods at a given signal. "One of the school fellows, aren't you?"
"Thought so. Let's see, your name is——"
"Oh, call me Brown for short," retorted Frank with a laugh.
"You can't fool me," declared Jem, coming nearer.
"What do you want to know my name for?" demanded Frank.
"I'm sort of curious, that's all. Say, you give us the initial, and I'll bet we can guess at the rest of it."
"Think so? All right, what do you say to N, now?"
"I'd say Ned, right off the handle," piped in Dan.
"All right," laughed Frank. "Then you might take F for the last name."
"Foreman—Ned Foreman!" shouted Dan excitedly. "It's him, Jem. The light suit of clothes that Brady told us about——"
"Shut up—the bag!"
Quick as lightning Dan drew something from his breast and sprang forward. It was to slip a canvas bag over Frank's head. Then each of the men pinioned an arm, and Frank was a prisoner.
This was just as Frank had calculated it would be done, and he was not in the least worried. He figured it out that these men had been sent by Brady to kidnap Ned Foreman. The light suit of clothes had deceived them, and his own verbal parrying had aided in their accepting him as the boy they had been hired to capture.
The bag hung loosely about Frank's head. It was perforated at the top, and he could breathe easily. He could not, however, see through the opaque covering.
"Don't you make any noise now, if you're wise," ordered Jem.
"I'm not doing it, am I?" propounded Frank coolly in a muffled tone.
"Better not," said Dan. "I've got a heavy stick here, and I'd use it pretty quick."
"Who are you, anyway, and what do you want of me?" asked Frank.
"Well, lad," answered Jem, "we're going to take you on a little journey. It will take all night to do it, and we'll make you as comfortable as we can, if you behave nicely. There's a real fine man you are to see. If you do as he wants you to do, you won't be five minutes with him, and you'll leave him with good pay for all the trouble we're putting you to."
"That's fair enough; I'm agreeable," said Frank.
"He's easy enough to handle," Frank heard Jem tell Dan.
"Maybe that's all put on," suggested the other. "Don't take any risks. You'd better leave him with me when you get to the creek, and hurry on to Middletown and get the horse and wagon."
Frank knew that Middletown was a small village not far from Bellwood. After they had proceeded a little farther there was a halt. Dan made our hero sit down on the grass and kept hold of his arm. The man Jem seemed to go away somewhere.
It must have been nearly half an hour when Frank caught the echo of rumbling wheels. Then there was a whistle as an approaching vehicle halted.
"Come on," said Dan, helping him to his feet. "We'll take a little ride."
"Anything for a change," laughed Frank. "What are you fellows up to, anyhow?"
"You're pretty cheerful for a boy in the dark," observed Dan.
"Oh, that's all right—I'm thinking of that good pay you were talking about."
"You're a sensible young fellow," commented Dan. "Don't you worry a bit. You'll fare all right if you last through as you've begun. But if you don't, then most everything fierce is likely to happen to you."
Frank was lifted into a wagon. Its back hinged out, and it was closed again by Jem as Dan got into the vehicle after his prisoner. Frank dropped to a pile of old blankets. Then Dan lifted the bag from his head.
"Don't try to see any further than the law allows," he remarked, "and it's all right."
There was nothing to see, Frank found, but the sides, back and roof of a shut-in delivery wagon. The driver's seat was obscured by a water-proof blanket that came within a foot of the top of the wagon, leaving a small space through which light and air might come.
"All right in there?" sang out Jem, and the vehicle started up.
"You can sleep or loaf, any way you like," said Dan. "If you get hungry or thirsty we'll stop at some tavern and get you some food and something to drink."
"I'm comfortable," declared Frank. "Say, look here, we've got quite friendly. Maybe I can ask you a question or two."
"Ask away, youngster," directed Dan.
"Of course I guess what you are up to, or rather who put you up to it," said Frank.
"You wouldn't be Ned Foreman if you didn't," chuckled Dan.
"All right. Give me a guess, will you?"
"You're taking—me to see a man for five minutes, you said?"
"Yes, that's so."
"I'll bet you I know his name."
"Well, what is it?"
"You've hit it wrong, youngster," declared the man Dan in apparent good faith; "it's not Tim Brady."
A QUEER EXPERIENCE
Frank was a little surprised at the definite announcement of the man Dan. The latter seemed to be telling the truth.
"If it's not Brady, who is behind this business?" began Frank.
"I didn't say that," retorted Dan.
"I said that it wasn't Brady you were going to meet."
"Oh!" uttered Frank vaguely.
"If you hadn't acted so sensible and handsomely," proceeded Dan, "I wouldn't talk with you at all. You've got me sort of chummy, though. I like you. I don't suppose there's any harm in telling you that it's a lawyer you're going to see. He'll explain the business to you."
"What is the business?" persisted Frank.
"Bless me if I know," declared Dan. "We were to do something—get you. We were to take you somewhere—we do it. After that we're paid off, and that's our end of it."
Frank did some thinking and surmising; but he could only theorize. He saw that now he was in the mix-up he must see it through.
How far they traveled in the next eight hours he could only guess at. The vehicle had two horses attached; they were pretty good travelers, and the road was a smooth and level one and in excellent condition.
A little after dark the team halted, and Jem went to some place near by and bought some doughnuts. He gave them to Dan, who divided up with Frank. Then Frank went to sleep, awoke, and went to sleep again on the heap of blankets in the bottom of the wagon, to be aroused by Dan shaking his arm vigorously and saying:
"Wake up, youngster."
"What time is it?" inquired Frank.
"Just struck midnight by the village clock," Dan informed him.
"What village?" asked Frank.
"You're not to know that, youngster," responded Dan with a chuckle, as though he considered the prisoner a pretty keen lad. "You'll have to put on this headgear again," and Frank did not demur as the bag was drawn over his head.
Then our hero was lifted out of the wagon, and Jem took hold of one hand and Dan of the other, and he was led across a yard, up a pair of outside stairs, along a porch, and then there was a pause. Jem knocked at a door. There was some delay, and then the door was opened.
"We're the men from Brady," said Jem.
"Pretty outlandish hour to disturb a man," snapped a sharp and domineering voice in return.
"Acting on orders, judge," said Jem.
"This is the lad, is it?"
"It's him, judge," answered Jem, and they entered some kind of a room.
Frank was pushed down into a chair. Then Dan removed the bag from his head. Frank looked about him with a good deal of curiosity.
He found himself in a room that he decided must be a lawyer's office. It had cases full of law books. On a table stood a shaded lamp, and beside it was the man who had admitted them.
This was a wiry, shrewd-looking individual, whose hair was all touseled and who was only partially dressed, as if he had been aroused from sleep. He moved to a chair and drew toward him a little package of documents with a rubber band around it.
"This is the lad Foreman, is it?" he demanded.
"It's him, judge," declared Jem.
"Very good. Young man, I am acting for a client. Understand one thing. You appear before me voluntarily. If at any future time any—er— misunderstanding, complications arise out of this extraordinary midnight— er—invasion, I simply act as attorney for my client. Here's a document. It is to be signed by you. In consideration of the same, at a later date, my client is to remit to some school or other the money to pay for your schooling four years in advance."
"Don't say a word but 'uh-huh,'" whispered Dan quickly to Frank. "You'll be glad if you do it. It's all right."
"Uh-huh," said Frank obediently, but thinking somethings that would have startled the men with him if they had guessed them.
"Ipse dixit, de facto, as we say in the law," proceeded the judge pompously. "That's all, I think."
The speaker dipped a pen in ink. He set before Frank a two-paged document. Its first page was turned over. Its second page our hero was not given time to read, but Frank's keen glance took in words and phrases that plainly indicated to him that the document alluded to a guardianship of some kind.
Frank signed a name that was no name at all. It was a meaningless scrawl. He believed it would bring about a crisis, but he was now ready for just that. The document was drawn from his hand, but before the judge could look at it there was a ring at a telephone at the end of the room. The judge hastily thrust the document into a drawer and hastened to the telephone.
He spoke to somebody over the phone and nodded to Jem, and said:
"No need of us waiting," responded Jem. "Here's my half of that card, judge. I suppose you know the arrangement."
For reply the judge walked to a safe standing in the corner of the room, opened it, took out a little box and handed it to Jem.
Frank felt somehow that this was the diamond bracelet that had been stolen from Samuel Mace back at Tipton. The thought connected with the talk he had overheard at the cabin near Bellwood about two pieces of card. He theorized that it was the reward to Jem and Dan for agreeing to kidnap Ned Foreman.
"Got it?" spoke Dan eagerly, edging up to Jem. "Then our part's done. Let's get away from here."
Frank took a last glance around the room. It was to note a row of law books that had written on their calfskin backs the name "Grimm." Frank treasured this clue. He did not doubt that it was the name of the "judge." He did not know what town he was in, or how far away from Bellwood, but he believed he now had learned the name of the "judge," and that it would afford a starting point in a later investigation.
Frank smiled to himself as, the bag again over his face, he was taken back to the covered wagon. He wondered what the "judge" and Brady would say when they found a meaningless scrawl to the document they had gone to so much trouble to have signed.
He made up his mind that, although he was a minor, the signature of Ned Foreman to that paper meant something important. It probably gave some power to Brady over Ned. What this was Frank felt sure that he could soon find out, and he planned upon his return to Bellwood School to go straight to Professor Elliott with the whole story.
"Now, then, youngster," observed Dan as the wagon started up, "you've behaved fine. Nobody is hurt, and you've done yourself some good. I'll promise you that your schooling bills will be paid, and you just want to forget everything that's happened to-night. Don't be foolish and stir things up. It'll be no use. You'll be provided for until you're of age, and that's a good deal for a fellow who was grubbing for every cent yesterday."
Frank went to sleep after that. He was roused by Dan in broad daylight, and Jem opened the back of the wagon. Dan walked a few steps with Frank.
"You're about two miles from your school," he said. "I've taken quite an interest in you. If I was the right sort, I'd kind of like to adopt you. Good-by."
"Good-by," answered Frank, starting in the direction of Bellwood School.
Frank walked on for a distance. He observed that the wagon had not started up immediately, and he believed that the two men would satisfy themselves that he was not delaying or lurking around before they resumed their journey.
Frank chuckled to himself. He had gone through a night of considerable mystery, but he fancied he had gathered up some pretty important points as to the reason for all the planning and plotting regarding Ned Foreman. He felt pretty well satisfied with himself.
"I don't want to pat myself on the shoulder any," was the way he put it to himself, "but I think I've done pretty well for a young fellow about my size. They would have it that I was Ned Foreman. They would have me sign that paper. I didn't tell any lies, but I wonder what that lawyer will say when he reads that signature? Grim he'll be, sure enough."
Frank at first was quite content to return to the academy. The wagon had started up at a clattering rate and he did not attempt to follow it. Suddenly, however, a crash and then the echo of loud voices halted him.
"Something happened to that wagon," decided Frank. "Jem and Dan are discussing things at a great rate, too. I'm going to see what's up."
Frank made a short cut through the shrubbery and reached the road at the point whither the loud voices of the two men led him. He came upon the wagon with one hind wheel stuck in a muddy rut and the other one smashed at the hub. From the shelter of a handy bush Frank surveyed the situation and listened to what the recent captors were saying.
"There's no use, Jem," remarked Dan. "She's a goner and you've just got to leave her here."
"But what about getting to Rockton?"
"Ain't that plain?"
"Not to me," asserted Jem.
"Why, unhitch the animal, and make it on horseback."
"Me?" hooted Jem. "Why, I never rode a horse twice in my life, and then without a saddle—not much."
"Well, unhitch, anyway; it isn't far to the town. Let the livery stable man come back after the wagon here and give you a new rig."
"There's no other way to do that I can make out," agreed Jem. "Yes, that's just what we'll do."
Frank became interested in watching them unhitch the horse from the wagon. They finally started off, Jem leading the horse. Frank was about to go about his business, when a casual remark of Dan acted like a magnet in attracting his attention away from his former purpose.
"I say, Jem," he observed in a somewhat anxious tone, "you are sure we can settle the bracelet business right away?"
"Yes, right away," assented Jem.
"Ready money, sure."
"Hope you will. I want my share so I can get away from these diggings and the crowd into some new district and among new people."
"Oho! Going to turn respectable, are you?" jeered Jem.
"I'm going to try," announced Dan manfully. "I'm afraid of Brady. He's the kind of a man who goes from bad to worse. He will be sure to get you in trouble if you stick with him long enough."
"Well, as long as he pays the bills as he agrees I'm his man," said Jem.
"I'm not, and I'll cut loose just as soon as I get my share of the plunder."
That little talk decided Frank that he would not return to the academy at once. He resolved to play the detective, for a little time at least.
Frank believed that what he had done would result in the upsetting of all the plans Brady had set on foot regarding Ned Foreman.
He felt certain that when he related the circumstances of the case to Professor Elliott, the latter would speedily devise a way to protect Ned and ferret out the object of the lawyer, Grimm, and also Brady, in securing some kind of guardianship over the orphan boy.
About the bracelet, however, that was a different affair. From what Frank had just heard he was convinced that Jem had this now in his possession.
"Yes," mused Frank, as almost involuntarily he followed Jem and Dan at a safe distance, "that little box the lawyer gave Jem surely contains the bracelet stolen from Lemuel Mace, back at Tipton. It's sure, too, from what these men just said, that Jem is going to dispose of it right away. Why, if that's so, all trace of it would be lost, and good-by to my chances of ever convicting the real thieves. This man Dan, the best of the lot, is going to disappear, and, of course, Brady and Jem will never admit they stole the bracelet. I sort of feel that if I let these men slip me now I'll never be able to clear myself of the charge of stealing Mace's jewelry."
Frank was so impressed with these ideas that he trailed on after the two men. He did not know that it would do much good, but that bracelet was a kind of a lodestone, and he felt that he would give a good deal to get it into his possession.
The little procession covered about three slow miles, arriving finally at a little sleepy town. Frank had never been there before. Jem led the horse down the main street of the place, and finally turned into a vacant lot, at the rear of which stood a livery stable. A lantern was burning just beyond the wide open door of the place.
Frank lined a board fence that bounded one side of the livery stable yard. When he got opposite the open doorway where Jem had halted, he posted himself at a crack in the fence, where he could see and hear what was going on.
"Hi, there, somebody—wake up!" bawled Jem loudly.
A sleepy-eyed hostler made his appearance in a few minutes. There was a lengthy explanation as to the broken wagon. Jem seemed to make this all satisfactory in a money way. Then he told the hostler that he must have a light single rig, and the man took the horse into the stable, while Jem and Dan remained outside.
"Going on alone, are you?" inquired the latter.
"It's best," replied Jem. "You see, I've got one place in view I want to visit. You know—Staggers."
"Yes, I've heard of him," nodded Dan. "He's a mighty close one, though. Get the full value, Jem."
"I will, never fear."
"What shall I do?"
"Oh, go up to the old hut and snooze until I come back."
"I hope that will be soon."
"I won't be any longer than I can help."
"What are you doing?"
Jem was acting strangely, and the peering Frank was surprised and interested. Jem was going through a puzzling pantomime. He would touch his head in various places in a whimsical manner, then pause and appear undecided as to what he would do next.
"It's funny," he remarked, after silently going through these apparently meaningless gestures for some moments.
"What's that?" inquired Dan.
"I can't get it."
"Can't get what?"
"The high sign."
"You know what I mean?"
"Yes, indeed. Brady told us that Staggers will have no dealings with any one not having the high sign."
"Exactly. Brady said it was L.E.H."
"I remember that."
"But I've forgotten part of it. Let's see, L. is lip. I know that—you touch your lip. Then E. Is it eye or ear?"
"Ear," cried Dan. "Say, I'm sure Brady said ear."
"All right. And the last? Oh, of course—hand. You touch your lip, then your ear, and then put out your hand," and Jem went rapidly through these maneuvers. "As to the grip, it's easy—slip the forefinger up the wrist. O.K.—I've got it. Say, what kind of an old tumbledown trap is that thing?" demanded Jem, as the hostler reappeared leading a sorry nag attached to an old buggy with an enormous hood and a big shallow boot at the rear.
"It's an old mail carrier cart," replied the hostler. "But it's the only single rig we've got in the stable at the present time."
"Well, I suppose it will have to do," observed Jem indifferently. "I'll be back soon, Dan."
Jem drove out of the yard and down a road leading out of the town. The horse was a decrepit animal and did not go very fast. While trying to think out the best plan to pursue, Frank followed after the cart at a safe distance.
He had gone only a little way when he wished he had remained near the stable and had followed Dan. That would have been easier. Dan had planned to return to the hut and had already disappeared in its direction. Unguided, however, Frank did not believe that he could locate it. He kept on down the road, therefore, after Jem, unwilling to lose sight of both of the men who certainly knew all about the diamond bracelet stolen from Lemuel Mace's jewelry store at Tipton.
"This man Jem has the bracelet," reflected Frank, "and just as surely he is going to some man named Staggers to sell it or get him to sell it for them. Then he will return to Dan to divide the spoils. I can't miss scoring some kind of a point following that cart."
This Frank did for over two miles. Then he began to grow wearied and footsore. He had no idea how many miles Jem planned to go, and finally he carried out a bold idea.
This was to climb into the deep boot at the back of the vehicle. The hood in front prevented Jem from seeing what was going on behind him. As the horse struck a patch of very rutty road, Frank ran close up to the buggy.
The vehicle was wobbling and jolting so that the action of his additional weight on the springs did not attract the attention of the driver. Frank cuddled down in the shell-shaped receptacle for mail and parcels, fairly out of sight.
It must have been fully two hours later when Jem drove into a town of quite some size. It was, in fact, a small city, and from what Frank knew of the district he decided that it must be Rockton, a place about eleven miles from the academy town.
Frank slipped from the boot of the cart after the vehicle had made one or two turnings. When he did this he dropped flat in the middle of the road and remained there until Jem had made another turn, when he was up and away, again on the trail of the man.
After proceeding quite some distance, Jem halted the horse at the edge of a sidewalk near an alleyway. He tied the animal to a ring at the curb and proceeded down the dark lane near by.
Frank had gained the shelter of an open hallway directly opposite the point where the vehicle had halted. He stood there pondering as to his next move, when the sharp clatter of running footsteps attracted his attention.
The next minute a boy about his own size darted around the corner, running at full speed. As he rounded into view, he seemed to see some one ahead blocking his way. With an utterance of dismay and excitement he veered from his course, and sprang directly into the hallway that sheltered Frank.
"Hold on, I say!" cried Frank, fairly swept off his footing.
"Don't say a word," panted the strange lad. "Some one is after me! Show yourself, fool them, or I'm a goner. Is there any way out of this?"
Frank heard the boy run down the hall, try a locked door at the rear, and utter a cry of sharp disappointment and concern.
"They've trapped me!" he gasped.
Frank stepped toward the sidewalk and peered out, not quite able to figure out what had happened or was happening. He did not want to become mixed up in any trouble, especially just now when all his energies were centered on keeping track of the man Jem.
Frank saw one man coming running around the corner which the refugee had just turned. Almost in front of the open driveway he met a man who came running from the opposite direction.
"They're constables," murmured Frank,
"Did you see him?" began the first officer.
"A boy?" queried the man.
"Run into that hallway."
"Ah, there he is! Out with you—aha! I've caught you at last, have I?" cried the first officer triumphantly.
He seized Frank by the arm and pulled him out on to the sidewalk. The way he whirled him around amid his wild glee made Frank's teeth chatter.
"Hold on!" our hero demanded, struggling to free himself. "What's all this about?"
"What's it about, eh?" chuckled his captor. "Mighty innocent, aren't you? Don't remember me a bit, do you? Look sharp at me, now," rallied the officer. "I guess you'll recognize me, my soft and downy young bird, if you'll look hard enough."
"I never saw you before, and you never saw me before," declared Frank, getting nettled at his rough treatment.
"Thunder! that's so."
The officer, peering closely at Frank, staggered back as though he was about to collapse. He goggled at Frank, choking with stupefaction and disappointment.
"What's the matter, Hawkes?" asked the other officer.
"This isn't the boy I was chasing."
"It must be."
"But it isn't."
"Well, anyhow, it's the fellow who shot around that street corner a few minutes ago and dodged into the doorway, for I saw him."
"Then I must have been chasing the wrong boy."
"I reckon that's so."
Both officers looked Frank over speculatively and suspiciously.
"No, he ain't the fellow," observed the officer who had grabbed Frank. "But, say, who are you?"
"I'm Frank Jordan, a student at the Bellwood Academy," answered our hero promptly.
"We don't know that," observed the second officer.
"I can easily prove it to you," asserted Frank.
"All right, fetch him up to the station, Hawkes, and let him explain to the captain how he comes to be snooking around people's houses at this unearthly hour of the morning."
Frank was very much cut up at this decision. To leave that spot meant possibly to lose all track of Jem and the stolen bracelet.
"I'm in this town on business," he said boldly, "and I don't see what right you have to interfere with me."
"The captain will explain all that to you," observed the officer. "Here, you come right along with us."
There was no use of resisting. Each of the officers seized an arm of Frank and marched him down the street. He uttered an anxious sigh as he cast a last look back at the horse and buggy Jem had left at the curb.
When they got to the little police station of the town, Frank was confronted by the captain. He proved to be a bright, intelligent man, and looked over some letters Frank showed him.
"This boy's all right, Hawkes," declared the officer at once. "I should have thought you would have known that from a look at his honest face. Get to school, though, lad," he added in a kindly tone to Frank. "I was a boy once myself, but I know from experience that these student larks don't pay in the end. Who did you think the lad was, anyway, Hawkes?"
"A young escaped convict," explained Hawkes. "Nice little fifty dollars reward out for his apprehension, too."
"Well, it seems you started up the wrong covey this time. Good morning, lad," nodded the officer to Frank, who promptly left the station.
Frank got back to the place where he had been arrested on a run. As he turned into the street a single anxious glance made his heart sink.
"Too bad—all for a boy criminal!" he exclaimed. "The buggy is gone."
It seemed certain that during the time the officers had taken Frank to the station, Jem had transacted his business with the mysterious Staggers and had left town.
Frank came across an early riser opening up a cheap restaurant, and inquired if he had ever heard of a man named Staggers.
"Nickname, I guess, that," responded the eating-house man. "Fellows here, shady characters, especially, have all kinds of flash names among their friends. No, don't know Staggers."
Frank was disappointed and wearied. He had the idea of saying something to the police about the bracelet. Then he made up his mind that he would get back to Bellwood and take Professor Eliott into his confidence.
Somewhat dejected and a good deal tired out, our hero turned his face in the direction of Bellwood Academy.
A STARTLING MESSAGE
"Wake up, Frank!"
Frank, roughly shaken by Bob Upton, sat up in bed. He rubbed his eyes drowsily, and for a moment all the strange happenings of the previous night seemed like some dream.
Then Frank recalled reaching the school about ten o'clock in the morning, when all the students were in their classes, of reaching his room unobserved, lying down on his bed in his clothes to rest and collect his thoughts, and of dropping into a nap.
"I say," hailed Bob excitedly, "where in the world have you been?"
"It's a long story," explained Frank with a prodigious yawn and stretching himself. "You wouldn't believe it if I told it to you. Have I been missed?"
"Missed?" echoed Bob, almost in a shout. "The head monitor sat up for you all night. The gardener and the steward have been searching the creek and hunting for you everywhere. Our tutor had arranged to send a party of the class to hunt for you after dinner, and there's been all kinds of excitement and fuss about you."
"I'm sorry," said Frank, "but I couldn't help it. I've been kidnaped, Bob."
"Don't blurt it out. I want to see Ned Foreman first. He's interested."
"Gill Mace was around with his sneering meanness," said Bob. "He said the boys had better see that none of their jewelry was missing."
"Did, eh?" said Frank. "He and his uncle will be interested, too, if things come out as I think."
"Frank, I must tell Professor Drake that you've come back."
"All right," assented Frank, who proceeded to take a refreshing wash as Bob flew from the room.
He returned just as our hero finished brushing his hair.
"You're to come down to the office at once," he said.
"All right," assented Frank.
He proceeded down the stairs without meeting any of his friends. Frank knocked at the office door and was admitted by Professor Drake.
"So you have returned, Jordan?" spoke the teacher in a somewhat severe tone.
"Yes, Mr. Drake," replied Frank.
"I hope you have some satisfactory explanation to offer in regard to your absence against the rules of this school."
"I certainly have, Mr. Drake," said Frank. "There is considerable to tell, and it is very important. I would like to see the president before I say anything, though."
"Professor Elliott is absent until to-morrow," said the tutor. "I am in charge here, and you must explain to me."
"I hope you will excuse me," replied Frank, "but there is a very good reason why I must tell the president before any one else."
"You are pretty mysterious, Jordan."
"I hope you believe that I am doing just what is right until Mr. Elliott returns," said Frank earnestly.
The teacher studied Frank's manly face for a moment.
"I must at least believe that you think you are right," he said after a thoughtful pause. "We will have it that way, if you insist, Jordan."
"Thank you, Mr. Drake," said Frank. "You will find that I am not deceiving you."
Frank was greeted at dinner with a babel of questions as to his mysterious absence. He told his friends that he had been away on business; that he could explain only to the president of the academy.
He attended his classes that afternoon, and joined the crowd on the campus after study hours. A baseball game was on. Frank was right-fielder, and he knew he was on his record in this, his first game, and did some pretty good work.
The game was running pretty close. Two of Banbury's men were on bases, when Frank noticed a ragged urchin run up to a crowd of spectators.
The strange boy asked some questions, and the lad he addressed pointed to Frank.
"Are you—are you Mr. Jordan?" the youngster panted, running up to Frank.
"Yes," nodded Frank.
"Please, sir, quick—there's a man in the old cabin on Greenlee's farm. He wants Ned Foreman to come right straight to him. He's all cut up and bleeding. He's dying. The boy yonder said you'd get Ned Foreman for me."
"Who is he?" demanded Frank, interested and startled.
"I don't know, only he said he must see Ned Foreman, because he won't last long. He's in an awful state. He's in an awful state. He just hollers and yells, and he's smashing a great big bracelet with shining stones in it."
"Hi—don't miss it!" Whiz!
Just past Frank's head flew a fly from the bat Frank had not turned in time. But he heeded not the yells, "Deserted his colors!" "Run away again!" or the fact that his neglect had sent two of Banbury's cohorts home.
Frank knew at once that the man the excited boy spoke of was either Jem or Dan. The allusion to a bracelet had started him on a vivid run, the boy keeping breathlessly by his side, panting:
"I was passing the old cabin, when I heard some one groaning on the inside. Then the man told me to get Ned Foreman."
The little messenger led Frank straight to the hut and slipped down to the doorstep almost exhausted, while his companion rushed through the open doorway.
The man Dan lay on a heap of straw, silent and helpless. His clothing was stained with blood. Frank at once ascertained that he was still alive, but he had fainted from weakness.
He went out to the little fellow on the doorstep.
"What's your name?" asked Frank.
"Well, you're a grand little fellow," said Frank. "You've done a good deal already, but I want you to run to the nearest farmhouse and tell the farmer that he must get here right away to move a dying man to a doctor at Bellwood."
"Yes, sir," nodded the obliging little fellow eagerly.
"Tell him I'll pay all the expenses, and yours, too, Lem, as soon as we get through with this business."
The boy darted away. Frank re-entered the hut. As he did so his foot kicked some object, and it jangled across the rough board floor.
Frank picked it up with some eagerness and satisfaction. It was the bracelet that Lem had described—"with shining stones in it."
Our hero was a good deal excited as he examined the object in his hand. He thrust it into his pocket with quite a thrill of satisfaction. He then went closer to the suffering Dan.
The man seemed to have dropped into a deep daze or sleep. Frank realized that he could do nothing for him until he was removed to some place where skilled surgical aid could be summoned.
"It's wonderful," mused Frank, as he went outside, impatient and anxious for the return of his messenger. "This is certainly the bracelet that I've had so much worry about. I never saw it before, but it must be the one stolen from Lemuel Mace. How does it happen, though, that Dan has it here? Why is it all battered up? Where is Jem? Why wasn't it sold to the man, Staggers? Say, here's a big puzzle, but I've got the bracelet, and this man Dan can be made to explain all about it when he gets his senses back."
Frank certainly had some perplexing thoughts as to the peculiar situation of the moment. He could only theorize what had happened.
The way he figured it out was that Jem had been unable to make any bargain with the man Staggers and dispose of the bracelet. He had come back to the hut to report this fact to Dan. They must have had a quarrel over it, Frank decided. Jem had probably been beaten off. Not, however, until he had pretty badly bruised up his opponent. The bracelet must have got battered in the struggle for its possession, or Dan, in the delirium which the farmer boy had described to Frank, had banged it about, not knowing what he was doing.
Frank paced up and down in front of the hut, turning all these thoughts over in his mind, and really anxious about the condition of Dan, counting the minutes and hoping for the speedy return of his messenger with aid. He was walking slowly on his tiresome patrol, when he heard a rustle in the bushes. He turned, somewhat startled. Before he could get fully around a brisk hand slapped him sharply on the shoulder, with the words:
"Hello, you—glad I've found you!"
Frank drew suspiciously away from a lad about his own age, and a total stranger to him. He was well dressed, and had a keen pair of eyes and a pleasant, rather quizzical expression of face.
Frank was on nettles for fear Jem might return, and at first feared that the boy might be some emissary of Brady or his recent kidnapers.
"Don't know me?" questioned the lad, smiling boldly and in an extremely friendly way into Frank's face.
"Well, I know you," retorted the other. "Here, Frank Jordan, of Bellwood Academy, shake," and he extended his hand.
"Who are you?" inquired Frank, only feebly returning the hearty handshake of the stranger.
"I am your everlasting debtor—friend, slave!" declared the lad vehemently. "See here; that night, or, rather, morning, dark hallway—two officers— nabbed you, took you for me, and I got away."
"O—oh!" exclaimed Frank slowly, and with a decided shock. "I remember you now."
"Thought you would," nodded the lad briskly. "You don't seem a bit glad to see me, but I am to see you."
Frank did not say anything in reply to this. In fact, the boy who had just revealed his identity was not exactly welcome to Frank just at that moment. The latter remembered what the policeman, Hawkes, had said about him—that he was an escaped convict, with a reward out for his arrest. That did not speak well for the fellow. Then, too, Frank did not fancy the proximity of such a person, with a diamond bracelet in his possession presumably worth a great deal of money.
"How did you come to find me here?" demanded our hero with blunt suspicion.
"Didn't—just ran across you. But I was on my way to find you."
"At the academy."
"How did you know I belonged to the academy?" challenged Frank.
"Why, didn't I hear you mention the place and tell your name to the policeman?"
"Yes, that's so," admitted Frank. "But why did you want to see me?"
"To thank you."
"For saving me from arrest."
"Oh, then you admit that you are what the policeman said?"
"What was that?"
"Yes," answered the boy promptly.
"And an escaped convict."
"That's right, too."
"I don't know, then," said Frank, "that I did right in shielding you."
"Oh, yes, you did," declared the lad buoyantly. "See here, you're a good fellow, a staving good fellow. You've just about made my future for me. Isn't that a big thing to do?"
"It is, if it's true," said Frank.
"Well, you'll think so when I tell you something. See here: I was an orphan boy down at the town where you saved me. Five years ago a crowd of fellows started out one Hallowe'en night for fun. We had a mean fellow named Tompkins for a leader. He got us to obey his orders. I had to set fire to a heap of brush at one farmhouse. The others were to do certain stunts in the same neighborhood. We found out later that Tompkins was using us as tools to cover some real spite work of his. I set fire to the brush heap to scare the farmer. The wind blew the sparks into a two-ton haystack near by, and it burned down. I was scared and sorry. I was worse scared and sorry the next day, when I was arrested. Tompkins and his crowd had burned down some barns and an old mill. Their folks were rich, and they could hire good lawyers. I was a homeless orphan boy, and was made the scapegoat. They sent me to the reform school till I was of age."
Frank's mind, of course, was full of anxiety for the wounded man in the hut and impatient for the return of his messenger, but he could not help but be interested in the story of his companion.
"My name is Dave Starr," proceeded the lad. "I went to the reform school. I soon became a good-conduct trusty, but the life nearly killed me. I escaped one day, and if you go into any of the towns around Rockton you'll find my picture in the police stations, with a fifty-dollar reward offered for my arrest."
"What have you done since you escaped?" inquired Frank.
"I have tried to make a man of myself," replied Dave Starr, drawing himself up proudly. "I want to show you something," and he drew a folded paper from his pocket and extended it.
This was what Frank read:
"Received from Dave Starr $37.72, being payment and interest for damage done to my haystack by fire. He says this was the only fire he was responsible for, and that it was an accident, and I believe him to be an honest, truthful lad. "Signed, "JOHN MOORE."
"Understand?" inquired Dave.
"I think I do," nodded Frank. "You've cleaned the slate by paying your debts."
"That's it," assented Dave. "I went back to Rockton to settle that debt, and the policeman, Hawkes, saw me, recognized me, and I would now be back in that dismal, heart-breaking old reform school if it wasn't for you."
"Well, I'm glad I happened to help you," said Frank warmly.
"I've been pretty lucky since I escaped," narrated Dave. "I went away and got work at a factory just outside a little town. One winter day, when a lot of us were nooning, an empty palace car swung from a switching train into a ditch. It caught fire. There was no water near, and a good twenty thousand dollars was burning up, when I led the fellows to the car. We snowballed it till we put out the flames. That was my start in life. What do you think? About two weeks later an agent of the railroad came around. He gave each of my helpers a ten-dollar gold piece, and he gave me one hundred dollars for saving the railroad property."
"That was fine," commented Frank,
"Wasn't it, though? Well, that was my nest egg. I bought a small stock of notions. I made money. By and by I had five hundred dollars. I had an old friend, who had known my father, who had a ranch in California. I wrote to him, and he replied to my letter saying that he had a place for me. Well, I spent a year on his ranch, raising plums. Then a month ago I struck a fine idea. I heard of how they did things in some African fruit colonies. I enthused my employer. A month ago I came East with his instructions and plenty of money to gather together one hundred monkeys."
"What!" fairly shouted Frank.
"Just as I say," declared Dave with a pleasant smile.
"One hundred monkeys?"
"To start a show?"
"Not at all."
"To teach the little fellows to help in the plum orchards. They can be trained easily. You see, when the plums are ripe we spread a sheet under a tree and shake the tree. The monkeys pick up the plums fast as can be, and fill big wicker baskets with them. We take the gang around to other orchards, and save the hiring of a lot of men."
"Well! well!" murmured Frank admiringly. "What a novel idea."
"I've had to pick up the little animals all over the big cities in bird stores," explained Dave. "At last I've got the hundred. They are in a special car down the road, and we start for the Pacific Coast to-morrow morning."
"You certainly have had a queer experience, and you deserve a lot of credit," said Frank.
"I feel good for meeting a square, fair fellow like you, Frank Jordan," continued Dave. "I'd like to feel I had a friend in you, and if I write to you once in a while, will you answer my letters?"
"I shall be delighted," declared Frank.
"Well, I've said my say," resumed Dave in a practical way, "and I see you're busy about something about here, and I may be hindering you, so I'll say good-by."
"Good-by," responded Frank, "and good luck wherever you go."
"Thank you. I say, you wouldn't mind if I sent you a little present as a sort of reminder of what you've done for me, would you, now?" propounded Dave.
"Oh, you mustn't think of that," objected Frank.
"Do they allow pets up at the academy?"
"Oh, yes,—if the fellows keep them from annoying others."
"Well, you'll hear from me about to-morrow. Good-by, Frank Jordan."
The strange lad waved his hand to Frank in a friendly, grateful way, and disappeared just as a wagon came rattling across the field toward the old hut.
"There's some one at that transom!"
"Quick, see who it is?"
Frank, Bob and Ned sprang to their feet as the latter gave the alarm, and Frank's words started them speedily into action. Bob, half crippled though he was, reached the door of the room first, tore it open and gained the corridor.
"It was some one from the crowd next door," he reported. "I fancied I saw Gill Mace vanish into that room. It's just like him—a sneaking spy."
"Ritchie said those fellows were nosing around a good deal to find out about my being away from the academy," observed Frank. "I suppose they're pretty curious."
"Yes, and they're bolting away from the ball game the way you did stirs them up," said Bob.
"Well, the transom is nailed shut, so any eavesdropper wouldn't be likely to hear much," declared Frank.
"No, but they might see that," and Ned pointed to an object on the table, where they had been seated for an hour discussing Frank's circumstantial story of all that had happened to him from the time of his kidnaping. "I shouldn't suppose you would care to have that Mace fellow see it."
"Oh, anybody can see it and welcome, as soon as I have a talk with the president," responded Frank carelessly.
Frank took up from the table and pocketed the bracelet he had found on the floor of the old hut. It was bent and dented as though it had been handled roughly.
Frank had just returned from the town, where he had seen to it that the man called Dan was placed in a comfortable room at a hotel, with a physician in charge of his case.
The doctor told Frank that the man must have been in a terrible fight with some one, for he was wounded in several places and unconscious.
Frank told the hotel keeper that he would be responsible for the expense incurred in caring for the sick man. Our hero offered to pay the farmer whose wagon had brought Dan to the town. The farmer refused any payment, but Frank made little Lem a present out of his pocket money.
Now Frank and his two fast friends had gone over the details of his recent stirring adventures.
"I think that this man Dan is the best of the crowd of plotters," said Frank. "There must have been a fight over the bracelet. I'm glad I've got it. I can prove my innocence now."
"What are you going to do with it, Frank?" asked Ned.
"Turn it over to Professor Elliott in the morning, and tell him the entire story. I am sure that Dan can be made to tell who stole it. I believe it was Brady."