"That's our gym," explained Fatty. "You can go in there any time you want to, do a turn on the bars, and break your neck."
Down at the water's edge were several small buildings which, Spouter explained, were used for storing the boats belonging to the Hall and also as bathhouses. Behind the Hall were a stable and a barn, and also a garage. And still farther back were a vegetable garden and some farm fields, for Colonel Colby believed in raising as much stuff for the Hall table as possible.
"That's the Rick Rack River," explained Spouter, as they passed the stream. "We've some dandy times there swimming and boating."
"Don't you have skating in the winter?" queried Andy.
"Sure! And we have some great races, too."
In another moment the auto-stage drew up to the front door of Colby Hall, and one after another the boys and Captain Dale and the other teacher alighted.
"You new pupils may as well follow me right to the office," said the captain. "You can leave your suitcases in the hallway until you have been assigned to your rooms."
He led the way, and they followed through a large reception room and into an elegantly appointed office where Colonel Colby sat at a mahogany desk, writing.
"Some new pupils, Colonel Colby," announced the captain, and at once the colonel arose.
"So you are the Rover boys, eh?" he said, his face lighting up with pleasure. "I am certainly very glad to meet you. Of course you know that your fathers and myself were schoolmates for many years?"
"Yes, Colonel Colby, we know that," replied Jack. "That is one reason why they sent us here."
"So I understand. I am proud to know that my old friends think so much of me," and the master of Colby Hall smiled broadly. "I am sure we are going to get along famously."
"It certainly looks like a nice school," remarked Andy, frankly. "I like it first rate."
"And so do I," added his twin.
"We hope to have some great times here," came from Fred.
Then one after another the boys were required to sign the register and answer a number of questions regarding their age and previous instruction, and the state of their health.
"I'll have Professor Brice assign you to your rooms," said Colonel Colby, after the questioning had come to an end. "He has charge of that matter so far as it concerns the older boys. The younger boys are under the charge of Mrs. Crews, the matron."
The master of the Hall touched a bell, and when a servant appeared requested that Professor Brice be summoned. The latter soon appeared, a young man evidently just from college. He was introduced to the boys, and then took them off to assign them their rooms.
"Hadn't we better get our suitcases?" suggested Jack.
"Yes; you might as well bring them along," answered Professor Paul Brice. "That will save another trip downstairs. You can give your trunk checks to me, and I will see that the trunks are brought up from the station and placed in your rooms to be unpacked. After you've unpacked them, they will be marked with your names and placed in the trunk room."
It took the boys but a minute to reach the end of the hallway where their suitcases had been left. Those of the twins were still there, and also that belonging to Jack; but Fred's was missing.
"Hello! what's become of my suitcase?" questioned the youngest Rover, anxiously.
"Maybe somebody carried it upstairs for you," suggested Jack.
All looked around the hallway and in the nearby rooms, but the suitcase could not be found.
"Well, I don't think you need to worry," said Professor Brice lightly. "There is no danger of thieves around here. Probably some boy picked up the suitcase by mistake."
"Maybe," returned Fred; but then he looked at his cousins and shook his head slowly.
"I guess you suspect Nappy Martell and his cronies," whispered Randy on the way upstairs.
"I do!" answered Fred. "I think they took that suitcase to play a trick on me."
THE MISSING SUITCASE
In the letters sent to Colby Hall the Rover boys had requested that they be placed in rooms close to those occupied by Spouter Powell, Gif Garrison and their chums, and Colonel Colby had replied that he would do what he could for them in the matter, although many of the choicest rooms at the Hall had already been assigned to the old cadets.
"I can give you a choice of several rooms," said Professor Brice, as he led the way to the second floor of the school. "Come this way, please."
He took them down a long corridor and into a wing of the building.
"This is our hallway," whispered Spouter to Jack. "I guess you'll get pretty close to Gif and me after all."
Spouter and Gif had rooms numbered 19 and 21. Across the hall, Fatty had number 16. 18, 20 and 22 were as yet unassigned.
"I can give you these three rooms," announced Paul Brice.
"But what about the fourth?" queried Jack. "There are four of us, you see, and all these are single rooms."
"For a fourth room you might take the one next to that occupied by Powell on the other side of the hallway," answered the teacher.
"That might do," returned Fred. "But we would prefer to be together—especially as these rooms all connect."
"I think I can help you out if you want me to," came from Fatty, good-naturedly. "If Professor Brice is willing, I'll move over to number twenty-three, and that will give you four fellows numbers sixteen, eighteen, twenty, and twenty-two."
"Oh, we don't want to disturb you, although it's very kind of you to make the offer," remonstrated Jack.
"That's all right," answered Fatty. "I'd just as lief be next to Spouter. The room is just as good, and I know you four cousins would like to keep together." And so, after a little more talk, the matter was arranged.
"Now the question is: How are we going to assign these rooms?" came from Randy.
"I've got an idea," returned his twin.
"All right; out with it!" came from Fred. "I'd like to get settled so that I can make another hunt for my missing suitcase."
"Why not live here just as we live on Riverside Drive?" answered Andy. "Jack can take one of the middle rooms, with Fred on one side of him and Randy and myself on the other."
"You've solved it, Andy!" exclaimed Jack, and so without further ado the matter was settled.
"Now I'll institute a hunt for that missing suitcase," said Professor Brice after he had made a note of the room assignments. "Most likely some boy picked it up by mistake."
"If he did that, why didn't he leave his own suitcase behind?" queried Fred.
"I'll look it up. Don't worry," said the professor, and then hurried away, for there were many other matters demanding his attention.
The boys found the rooms small but pleasant. Each contained a single bed, a desk, and a chiffonier, and also a small clothing closet. In one corner was a bowl with running water, and each room contained two electric lights. All of the rooms had connecting doors, but these, for the most part, were kept closed, some of the pupils having their beds or chiffoniers in front of them.
"You see, you are permitted to arrange your room to suit yourselves," explained Spouter, "so some of the boys have them one way and some another. Some of the boys are even permitted to double up—that is, put two of the beds in one room and use the other room exclusively for dressing and studying."
"That's an idea," answered Randy. "Maybe Andy and I will do that." This plan was followed out by the twins, who used the last room of the four for a sleeping apartment and made of the other room a sort of general meeting place for all of the Rovers.
"Where does that Nappy Martell hold forth?" questioned Fred of Fatty, while he was helping the stout youth transfer his belongings across the hallway.
"He and Slugger Brown and Codfish and that gang are all around the corner, on the main corridor," was the reply. "That is, Nappy was there last season. I don't know whether somebody else used his room after he left or not."
"It was room sixty," put in Spouter. "Slugger has sixty-two. I don't believe anyone went into sixty after Nappy left. You see, it was almost the end of the term and all the cadets were settled."
"I'm going to take a look around," answered Fred. "I can't do anything here anyway, with no suitcase and no trunk."
"I guess I'd better go with you," came from Jack. He did not wish to allow his cousin to interview the big, over-dressed youth alone.
Leaving the others to settle down in the rooms as best they could, Fred and Jack hurried through the hallway to the main corridor of the second floor of the Hall. Old cadets and new pupils were coming and going in all directions, and many were the glances of curiosity directed towards the Rovers.
"Gee! some of those fellows certainly look nifty in their uniforms," was Fred's comment.
"They look like the uniforms our folks brought home from Putnam Hall," answered Jack. "My father's old uniform is up in our storeroom now. I tried it on one day just for fun. They tell me they are patterned after the uniforms worn at West Point."
"There goes an officer," whispered Fred, as a tall youth went by with a sword dangling from his belt. "Look at the gold braid, will you? Isn't it swell?" he added, in deep admiration.
"I can see your finish, Fred," laughed his cousin. "If you stay here, you'll want to be an officer with a sword, and with lots of gold lace."
"I don't know about that," answered the youngest Rover, seriously. "I guess all the officers have to be big boys."
"Nonsense! Size has nothing to do with it. Why, some of the greatest military men in the world have been very small. Look at Napoleon, for instance."
"Well, I'll see about that later, Jack. Just now I'd rather get on the track of that suitcase."
It did not take the two Rovers long to reach that part of the corridor where was located the room formerly occupied by Nappy Martell. The door was open several inches, and Fred and Jack saw that three boys were present—Nappy, Slugger, and a small, round-faced youth with a particularly broad mouth.
"That little chap must be the sneak Spouter mentioned—the boy they call Codfish," whispered Jack.
"That was a good joke all right, Nappy," piped out the small cadet, as the Rovers came closer. "A fine joke all right all right!"
"You keep your mouth shut about it, Codfish," retorted Nappy Martell, quickly.
"Oh, I won't say a word, believe me!" returned the other quickly.
Just then Slugger Brown peered out into the hallway and saw the two Rover boys. He looked somewhat startled, and immediately placed his hand over Nappy Martell's mouth.
"I want to see you, Martell," cried Fred without hesitation. "I want to know what you did with my suitcase."
"I don't know anything about your suitcase," growled the loudly dressed youth in surly tones.
"Yes, you do! You took it; and I want you to return it," answered Fred, boldly.
"See here! do you want a licking?" burst out the New York boy, as he doubled up his fists. "You deserve one for the way you tripped me up in that mud puddle. You say another word, and I'll give you what's coming to you," and his manner was very threatening.
"No use of fighting here, Nappy," remonstrated Slugger Brown. "Keep it until some time when you can meet him outside."
"I didn't come here to fight," answered Fred. "But I want my suitcase."
"I don't know anything about your suitcase. Who says I took it?" added Nappy Martell with sudden suspicion.
"I say you took it. There wouldn't be anyone else here to play such a trick on me. Now, you must hand it over!"
"You go on about your business!" roared the New York boy; and as Fred, followed by Jack, attempted to enter the room, he slammed the door in their faces and shot the bolt into place.
Fred was thoroughly angry, and if it had not been for his cousin he would have tried then and there to batter the door down. But Jack caught him by the arm and pulled him back.
"No use of creating a disturbance so soon," said Jack. "We'd only get into hot water, and maybe Colonel Colby would become so disgusted he would send us right home. If Martell took that suitcase, he won't dare to keep it, for that would be stealing. More than likely he'll sneak it back to you by to-morrow."
"He ought to have his head knocked off of him," muttered the youngest Rover. "Jack, I feel in my bones that that fellow is going to cause us a lot of trouble."
"I shouldn't wonder," was the answer. "Remember, Fred; he is as angry at me for the row we had down in Wall Street as he is at you over that mud-puddle affair."
"Oh, dear! And I thought everything was going to be lovely when we got here," sighed Fred.
There seemed nothing else to do, and so the two boys returned to where they had left the others. A little while later their trunks came in, and all spent an hour or more in unpacking these and stowing away the various articles brought along.
"You'll be measured for your uniforms to-morrow," announced Spouter. "And then, if the school has the right sizes on hand, you'll get them at once. Otherwise, they'll be made to order and you'll have to wait at least ten days for them."
"Oh, I hope they've got my size in stock!" cried Andy. "I'd like to see how it feels being a cadet."
"Don't worry," answered his twin. "I guess we'll get enough of that before we leave Colby Hall. Remember, you've got to learn how to drill, and march, and shoot at a target, and all that."
"I think it'll be lots of fun," broke in Jack. "My father told me he liked that part of the life at Putnam Hall very much."
"We're pretty well filled up here, it seems to me," came from Fred, as he sat on his empty trunk surveying his surroundings.
"The men will come to take the trunks away in a little while," answered Fatty; and this proved to be so. With the trunks gone the boys had more room in which to move about, for which they were thankful.
"How about supper?" questioned Andy, presently, as a bell rang out sharply.
"We have supper at six o'clock sharp," returned Fatty, quickly.
"Last year we were at a table with Professor Grawson," put in Spouter. "He's a pretty nice man. I hope I get at his table again."
"Excuse me from getting at a table with a man like Professor Lemm," burst out Andy. "Gee! what will I do if they put me with him?" he continued dolefully.
"Well, you'll have to sit wherever you are placed," answered Spouter.
"And what do you care so long as you get enough to eat?" questioned Fatty.
But Andy shook his head. He thought if he were placed at the same table with Professor Asa Lemm, it would be an actual hardship.
"I don't see him anywhere," remarked Andy, as he and his cousins approached the mess hall of the school.
The cadets were entering in little groups of twos and threes, for as yet the regular term at Colby Hall had not begun. With the real opening of the school, the cadets would have a dress parade previous to dining and would then stack their arms outside and march in in regular order.
"Who are you talking about?" questioned Fred.
"Professor Asa Lemm. I don't see him at any of the tables."
"Maybe he didn't come to the Hall to-night. He might have had quite some business to transact with that man who left the train with him."
As there were more tables than professors, some of the boards were presided over by the senior cadets. There was a little confusion, due to the entrance of so many new pupils, and then the Rovers were assigned to a table presided over by a senior named Ralph Mason, who was the major of the school battalion.
"I am glad to meet you," said Major Mason, as he shook hands cordially. "I hope you will make yourselves at home," and he smiled in a manner that won the confidence of all the boys at once.
The meal was a good, substantial one—for Colonel Colby believed in setting a homelike table—and soon the clatter of knives and forks and the rattle of dishes filled the air. Most of the boys had come in from long journeys and were, consequently, hungry, so but little was said while the meal progressed. Spouter and Fatty and several other boys they had met sat at a table next to that occupied by the Rovers, but Nappy Martell and his cronies were on the opposite side of the mess hall, for which our friends were thankful.
"I think if I had to look at the face of Codfish while I was eating, it would spoil my appetite," was Andy's comment during the meal. "They ought to photograph his mouth and put it in the comic supplements."
"Yes. Or else they ought to get him to act in some of the funny movies," returned his twin.
As soon as the repast was at an end, Fred sought out Professor Brice and asked him if anything had been learned concerning the missing suitcase.
"I am sorry to say I haven't learned anything," answered the professor, a troubled look coming over his face. "I really must say, Rover, I don't know what to make of it. Do you suspect anyone in particular of having taken it?"
Fred was on the point of mentioning Nappy Martell's name, but suddenly held himself in check.
"I wouldn't like to say anything about that, Professor," he answered slowly. "I might be accusing a fellow cadet unfairly. If the suitcase isn't returned by to-morrow I may have something to say about it."
"Very well. I think I understand how you feel about it," and the young professor looked knowingly at the boy. "Did you have much in the suitcase?"
"Yes, sir. It was well packed. You see, I wasn't sure whether my trunk would come right along, so I carried all I could in my handbaggage."
When Fred joined the others, all of the crowd, led by Spouter, walked down to the gymnasium. Here the Rovers were introduced to a number of other pupils, including Ned Lowe, who was quite a mandolin player and also a good singer, and a tall, studious youth named Dan Soppinger.
"Ned is our great singer," announced Spouter. "We expect some day that he'll be singing in grand opera on the Metropolitan stage."
"Did you say grand opera or grand uproar?" questioned Andy, slyly.
"Opera, my boy! Opera!" repeated Spouter. "I expect some day that he will thrill great audiences with exquisite renderings of the famous solos by Wagner, Beethoven, Mozart, Donizetti——"
"Great mackerel, Spouter! what are you giving us—a musical directory?" interrupted Randy.
"No. I was only giving you a list of the things I expect to hear Ned sing sooner or later. Now, as for Dan here—he is the human encyclopedia."
"If there is anything you don't want to know, ask Dan and he'll be sure to tell you all about it," put in Fatty with a grin. "How about it, Dan?"
"Say! that's a fine way to introduce a fellow," cried Dan Soppinger, with a doubtful grin on his studious face. "Of course, I'm trying to learn as much as possible, but there are a whole lot of things that I don't know, and I'm not ashamed to acknowledge it. But say! by the way, can any of you tell me what the date was when Jefferson was inaugurated president?"
At this question there came a sudden groan, not only from Fatty, but also from Spouter and Ned Lowe. Then with one voice the three shouted:
"Down with him! He's at it again!"
"I don't believe any of you know the date," retorted Dan Soppinger. "If you did, you'd tell me. I am writing an article about the presidents, and I've got to put that in. And then, here's another thing. Can any of you tell me who crossed the Pacific Ocean to——"
But whatever the question was, it was never finished, for at that moment Spouter, Fatty, Ned and several others piled on Dan Soppinger and brought him to the gymnasium floor.
"Hi! You let up!" cried the victim, squirming from under the others as best he could. "Can't a fellow ask a question or two without you starting such a rough-house as this?"
"No questions to be asked, Dan, until the regular school term begins," answered Spouter. "Then all you've got to do is to go to the Rover boys——"
"Not much!" came simultaneously from Andy and Randy.
"Do you take us for a school library?" questioned Fred, gaily.
"I'll answer all the easy ones, Dan," said Jack, good-naturedly. "The hard ones I'll turn over to Spouter. If the question is a real sensible one, he'll give you a nice little answer—one about twelve hundred words long."
"Hurrah! Spouter is discovered at last!" cried Fatty. "Twelve hundred words long just fits it—that is, if Spouter is in a hurry to cut it short."
The Rover boys were much interested in what was taking place in the gymnasium, and they even tried out some of the bars and swinging rings, as well as one of the exercising machines.
"This is certainly an up-to-date institution," remarked Jack. "This gym couldn't be better."
"How about the boats?" questioned Randy. He and his brother had owned a rowboat on the Hudson River, and had often gone out in the craft.
"Oh, we've got half a dozen good rowboats, as well as several racing shells," answered Spouter. "You'll probably get a chance to look them over later."
While the Rover boys were taking in the sights to be seen in and around the gymnasium, their attention was attracted to a tall, well-formed cadet who was doing some clever work on one of the bars.
"He's doing that almost as well as a circus performer," was Fred's comment.
"Yes; he's certainly very graceful," returned Jack. "I wonder who he is."
"That is Walt Baxter," announced a cadet who had heard the talk.
"Walt Baxter!" exclaimed Randy. "I wonder if he can be the son of Dan Baxter, the man who made so much trouble for our fathers while at Putnam Hall."
"I'll soon find out," returned Jack. "But please remember—Dan Baxter reformed, and more than likely his son is a first-rate fellow."
As soon as Walter Baxter had gotten through with his exercise and had dropped to the floor, Jack, followed by his cousins, went up to him.
"Are you Walt Baxter—the son of Mr. Daniel Baxter?" he questioned.
"Yes," returned the other, and looked at Jack and the others with him curiously.
"I am Jack Rover—the son of Mr. Richard Rover. These are my cousins," and Jack introduced them.
"Oh! is that so?" answered Walt Baxter, and shook hands rather doubtfully. "I—I—am glad to know you," he stammered.
"And we are real glad to know you, Baxter," answered Randy, readily. "We heard you were at this school. We hope that we'll all be good friends."
"If we are not, it won't be my fault," and now there was a ring of relief in Walter Baxter's voice. He lowered his tone a trifle. "I know your fathers did a lot for my father, and I am very thankful for it. If I can do anything for you fellows here, I'll certainly do it."
"And we'll do what we can for you, Baxter," answered Jack, quickly.
After that the talk became general, and Walt Baxter told much about himself and the doings of the cadets at Colby Hall. When Nappy Martell's name was mentioned, he drew down the corners of his mouth.
"I never had any use for that chap," he declared. "Once or twice my hot temper got the better of me and we came pretty near having a fight. But after that Martell gave me a wide berth."
"I think I've got Martell to thank for something that is missing," said Fred, and thereupon related the particulars regarding the lost suitcase.
"Say! I think I know something about that!" cried Walter Baxter, quickly. "Yes, I'm sure I do!"
"Did you see Martell take the suitcase?" demanded the youngest Rover, quickly.
"I can't say as to that, exactly. But I did see Martell sneaking off through the backyard, past the stable, with something under his arm—a big package wrapped up in a couple of newspapers."
"When was this?" questioned Jack, quickly.
"About four o'clock this afternoon."
"Just after we arrived at the Hall!" burst out Randy.
"What did he do with what package?" asked Jack.
"I don't know exactly, excepting that he went down past the stable on to the roadway that leads to the farm fields."
"Maybe he took the suitcase and threw it down in one of the fields," ventured Andy.
"You didn't see him come back?" asked Fred.
"Yes, come to think of it, I did—about a quarter of an hour after that," answered Walt Baxter.
"And did he have the package then?"
"Then I'll wager it was the suitcase and he left it somewhere down on the farm!" cried Randy. "Let us go and take a look. We are permitted to go out in the farm fields, aren't we?" he asked of Walt.
"Oh, yes. You can go anywhere you please during off hours so long as you don't go out of bounds," was the reply. "If you want to go out of bounds, you have to report at the office and get permission."
The matter was talked over for a few minutes more, and Walt Baxter said he would gladly go along with the Rovers to show them just where he had seen Nappy Martell with the bundle. The five boys were soon in the neighborhood of the Hall stable, and then they passed beyond this to a roadway which ran between the fields attached to the school farm.
"It's a pity it's so dark," declared Jack. "I doubt if we'll be able to locate that suitcase even if we get quite close to it."
"I'll tell you what I'll do," declared Randy. "I'll run back to my room and get my pocket flashlight. That will be just the thing."
It took him but a few minutes to obtain the article he had mentioned, and with the flashlight to guide them, the five boys started along the roadway behind the school. The light was flashed first on one side and then on the other.
"Looks like a wild goose chase," declared Andy, after they had passed two farm fields. "I don't think he would come this far with that heavy suitcase."
"Here is a cornfield full of stacks," said Walt Baxter. "The stacks would afford a dandy hiding place for almost anything."
They approached the first of the stacks, and Fred kicked some of the corn stalks aside, but without result. Then they passed on to the next stack.
"Hello! here is something!" exclaimed Jack, as the rays of the flashlight fell upon the object. "Fred, I guess we've found it all right enough."
"So we have!" cried the youngest Rover; and in a moment more he thrust his hand in between the cornstalks and pulled out the missing suitcase.
DOWN IN THE CORNFIELD
The other boys gathered around in curiosity as Fred brought forth from the stack of cornstalks his missing suitcase. Beside the bag were several newspapers crumpled up into a wad.
"Those must be the newspapers he had the suitcase wrapped in," remarked Walt Baxter.
"More than likely," answered Jack. He picked up the wad of papers and glanced at them. "New York newspapers, too," he cried. "Nappy must have brought them with him from home."
"Was the suitcase locked, Fred?" questioned Randy.
"No. I didn't bother to lock it, because, you see, I had it with me. I only lock a suitcase when I check it."
"Then you'd better take a look inside and see if your duds are all right," advised Andy.
The youngest Rover quickly unstrapped the suitcase and threw back the catch. Then, as Randy sent the rays of the flashlight into the bag, he, as well as the others, uttered various exclamations.
"The mean fellow!"
"Fred, you ought to get after him for this!"
For a quick look inside the suitcase had revealed the fact that Nappy Martell had opened the bag and thrown handfuls of dirt amid the pieces of clothing and the various other articles Fred had packed therein.
"You'll have to have all that laundered stuff done over again before you can wear it," declared Jack. "And you'll have to have those neckties cleaned, too, I am afraid. Say! this is a shame!"
"Just wait! I think I'll be able to get square with Nappy Martell," muttered the youngest Rover.
"He ought to be reported for this," broke in Walt Baxter. "This isn't a joke. It's a low-down, dirty trick."
At this remark all of the other Rover boys looked at Fred, and he looked at his cousins in return.
"I don't know about reporting this," he answered slowly. "I rather think I prefer to settle with Martell myself."
"That's the talk!" cried Andy. "If you reported this, some of the fellows might put you down for a softy and a sneak. I'd rather watch my chance and give Martell as good as he sent."
"And with interest," added his twin.
"If you fellows are anything like your fathers were before you, I reckon you'll know how to get square with Nappy," remarked Walt Baxter. "I've heard that the Rovers never took a back seat for anybody."
"I'll figure out what I'm going to do after I get settled here," returned Fred. He suddenly began to smile. "Say! things have been happening since we left home, haven't they?"
"I should say yes!" answered Andy.
With Jack assisting his cousin in carrying the suitcase, the whole crowd returned to Colby Hall, and here the Rovers started to separate from Walt Baxter, first requesting him to remain silent regarding the finding of the handbaggage.
"If we don't say a word about it, maybe Nappy will get worried," said Fred; "and that is what I want him to do."
"He may go down to the cornfield to see if the bag is still there."
"Hold on!" burst out Randy, suddenly. "I've got an idea!" and then in a few words he explained what had occurred to him. The others listened with interest, and even Walt Baxter had to laugh outright over what he proposed.
"I'll do it!" declared the son of Dan Baxter, readily. "I'll do it the first chance I get. And, believe me, I'll fix it so Nappy Martell gets into hot water!"
"I'd like to see what effect the story has on Martell," said Andy, grinning broadly. "Can't you fix it so we can be around at the time?"
"Sure! When I get the chance, I'll drop you a hint."
"And now I must get this bag to my room without anyone seeing me," said Fred.
"Better let Spouter or Fatty carry it up," advised Jack. "Then, if Martell sees it, he won't know that it is your suitcase."
It was an easy matter to get Spouter to do what was required, although he insisted upon knowing what was in the wind. When he was told, he, too, laughed heartily.
"It will serve Martell right," he said. "I hope it worries him to death."
As soon as the suitcase was safe in Fred's room, he sought out Professor Brice, who was busy arranging the order of some classes.
"I wish to report that I've got my suitcase back, Professor," said the youth.
"Ah, indeed!" was the teacher's reply, and his face showed his relief. "I'm glad to know it. Did you—er—have any trouble?"
"Nothing that I care to mention—at least at this time," answered Fred. "If you don't mind, Professor, we'll drop the matter."
"Oh, very well, Rover. Just as you please." The young professor looked at Fred rather knowingly. "Of course, if there is anything wrong, you can report it later," he added hesitatingly.
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," answered the youth, and then bowed himself out of the office. In the hallway he was joined by Andy.
"Did he make you squeal?" questioned the cousin quickly.
"Not much!" was the reply. "He's a good sport. I guess he's been through the mill himself."
Fred spent some time over the contents of the suitcase, brushing the dirt from some of the articles and sorting the rest out to be cleaned or laundered.
"It's going to cost two or three dollars to fix this up," he declared to Randy. "I really ought to send the bill to Martell."
"Well, just wait first and see if we get any fun out of this," answered the joke-loving cousin.
As was to be expected, there was far from a full night's sleep coming to the Rover boys that night. The quarters were strange to them, and there was more or less noise throughout the school building, a bunch of scholars coming in on a late train and not getting settled down until after midnight. There was also something of horseplay, although the majority of the cadets were too tired from their journeys to be very active.
"I suppose we'll have to stand some hazing and all that sort of thing later on," remarked Jack before retiring.
About one o'clock the school seemed to settle down, and then one after another the Rover boys fell asleep, not to awaken until the autumn sun was showing well above the hills beyond Clearwater Lake.
"This certainly is a splendid location," remarked Jack, as he went to the open window, stretched himself, and filled his lungs with the fresh morning air.
"I don't wonder Colonel Colby picked this place out for a school," answered Andy, who had come in. "He couldn't have done better."
Not being accustomed to their surroundings, it took the Rovers a little longer than usual to get washed and dressed. They were just finishing their toilets when there came a light knock on Randy's door. He opened it to find Walt Baxter standing there.
"Nappy Martell just went downstairs, and I've fixed that matter up with Ned Lowe," said Walt. "Come on down if you want to see what takes place."
He led the way, and all of the Rover boys followed at a safe distance. They saw Walt enter one of the big living-rooms of the Hall, to one end of which was attached the school library. Nappy Martell was at one of the library tables glancing carelessly over a magazine. In the living-room Walt was joined by Ned Lowe, and the pair walked up behind Nappy.
"Why, yes, it was the strangest thing I ever saw," said Walt to Ned in a loud voice so that Nappy Martell could not help but hear. "The fellow seemed to come from a stack of cornstalks down in the cornfield."
"It wasn't one of the cadets, was it?" questioned Ned, innocently.
"Oh, no. I think this fellow was some kind of a tramp—maybe some fellow who had been sleeping under the stack all night. But what he was doing with such a fine suitcase gets me."
"That's right. Tramps don't generally have suitcases," returned the other boy. "Did he come toward the school?"
"No. He dug out the other way just as fast as he could go."
"Poor fellow! maybe he was afraid if he came towards the school he would be arrested. If he had a suitcase he couldn't have been just an ordinary tramp. Maybe he was some working man looking for a job and without the price of a night's lodging."
"Perhaps, Ned. At the same time, I don't think Colonel Colby wants his cornstalks used for a hotel," returned Walt; and then he and Ned walked through the library and went outside on the campus.
During this conversation the Rover boys, hidden behind some open doors, had watched Nappy Martell closely. They had seen that he had caught what was being said and had immediately lost all interest in the magazine he was perusing. His face took on a worried look, and he glanced inquiringly after Walt and Ned. Then he threw down his magazine and started to leave the room.
"Come on, let us watch him," whispered Jack.
"Yes. But keep out of his sight," returned Randy. "We don't want this joke spoiled."
Keeping well in the background, they saw Nappy Martell ascend the stairs to his room. A moment later he came forth with his hat in his hand.
"I bet an oyster against a soda cracker he's going down to that cornfield!" cried Andy.
"Right you are!" answered Fred. "Come on, let's follow him;" and rushing up to their own rooms the Rover boys donned their caps and sweaters, for the day was unusually cool.
Nappy Martell left the Hall by a rear door, and the Rovers followed. They saw the loudly dressed youth hurry toward the stable and then disappear to the rear. Soon he was on the highway leading to the cornfield.
"There is no use of our following him, for he might see us and that would spoil everything," said Randy. "Let's wait here at the stable until he comes back."
It did not take Nappy Martell long to reach the cornfield; and from a distance the Rovers saw him rush around, first to one stack of cornstalks and then to another. He was gone fully a quarter of an hour, and came back looking decidedly worried.
"He thinks some tramp got that suitcase and went off with it," said Fred, grinning. "Randy, that certainly was one great joke."
"Don't say a word," answered Randy. "Just let him keep on worrying for a while. Maybe it will do him good."
As Martell passed the stable, the Rover boys stepped out of sight in the building. They saw him re-enter the Hall, and then they took a roundabout course which soon brought them to the campus, where they joined Fatty and Ned.
"It's certainly a good joke," was Fatty's comment. "And any fellow who would be mean enough to dirty a fellow's clothing like that ought to suffer for it. Gee! I'll bet he's worried!"
Of course, such a joke could not be kept entirely secret, and before long it was spread among a good many of the cadets. But great care was taken to keep it from Slugger Brown, Codfish and all the others belonging to the Martell crowd.
"And now to pay Martell back for his meanness!" said Fred a little later. "This joke of Randy's is all right as far as it goes, but I think I'm going to go him one better—that is, if I can get into Martell's room."
"All right, Fred. Anything you say goes," added Andy, quickly. "Isn't that so, Randy?"
"Look here! You don't want to get into trouble," warned Jack.
"There won't be much trouble about this," answered Fred. "I am only going to give Nappy Martell something to think about."
LEARNING TO DRILL
While the Rover boys were talking matters over among themselves, Nappy Martell had returned to his room, which was connected by a door with that occupied by Slugger Brown.
"What in thunder made you run off in such a hurry, Nappy?" demanded the other cadet somewhat surlily. "You didn't answer that question I put to you at all."
"I had something else to think about," was the reply. "It looks to me as if I'm in hot water."
"Do you remember I told you that I placed that Fred Rover's suitcase down under a stack in the cornfield?"
"Well, I heard Walt Baxter telling Ned Lowe that he had seen a tramp down in the cornfield running away from one of the stacks with a suitcase in his hand; so I went down to the cornfield to find out if the suitcase was still where I had hidden it. It was gone."
"Whew!" Slugger Brown gave a prolonged whistle. "That certainly does look bad. Did Baxter say where the tramp went?"
"He told Lowe that he had not come towards the Hall, but had gone off in the opposite direction."
"Then that looks as if the suitcase was gone for good."
"So it does. And I don't know what I'm going to do about it," answered Nappy Martell, gloomily. "Of course, I didn't think the suitcase would be stolen."
"And the worst part of it is, the Rovers suspect you of having taken it," was the comment of Slugger.
"Yes. But they can't prove it," cried Nappy, quickly. "That is, they won't be able to do it unless you or Codfish give me away."
"You know me well enough to know I won't say a word, Nappy. And as for Codfish, just give him to understand if he opens his trap you'll fix him for it."
A little while later Martell and Brown went below. In the lower hallway they met Fred and some of the others.
"Well, Martell, when are you going to return that suitcase?" demanded the youngest Rover.
"I told you I haven't got your suitcase and don't know anything about it," cried the loudly dressed youth. But at the same time his face grew flushed and he could not look Fred in the eyes.
"You took that suitcase, and if you don't return it pretty quick you'll see what will happen," warned Fred; and then he walked away with his cousins, leaving Nappy Martell gazing at Slugger Brown, questioningly. The pair conversed in a low tone, and passed on out of the hall on to the campus.
"Now's your time, Fred, if you're going to do as you said," whispered Randy.
"Right you are!" was the quick reply. "Come on;" and Fred led the way upstairs again, his cousins following.
When they reached Nappy Martell's room, they found the door locked. But the door to Slugger Brown's apartment was unfastened, and they quickly entered this and passed into the room beyond.
"Say, Jack, won't you stand on guard?" questioned Fred. "They might come back while we're at work."
"All right, boys. But be careful what you do. You don't want to spoil anything. A joke is a joke, but it loses its flavor if it is carried too far."
With Jack standing in the hallway on guard, Fred and the twins took possession of Nappy Martell's room. The boy who loved to dress so loudly was rather methodical in his habits, and had arranged all of his clothing and other articles with great nicety in his chiffonier and his closet.
"The bed first," whispered Fred; and in a trice the boys had taken off the bed clothing and turned up the mattress. On the springs they placed one of the bedsheets and on the top of this they distributed all of Nappy's choice neckties and also his fancy-colored socks. Then to this they added his cuffs, his fancy underwear, and all of his loose jewelry. The articles were spread over the bed with care, so that they rested as flat as possible.
"Now, we'll put the mattress back and then make up the bed as nicely as possible," said Randy, who, of course, in a joke of this sort directed operations.
"Gee! I don't believe he'll find those articles in a hurry," chuckled Fred.
"They'll never find them until they come to turn the mattress over," vouchsafed Andy. "Some joke, believe me!"
"I was thinking about that clothing in the closet. I wonder if we can't fix that up some way," mused Randy. Then he began to grin. "Just the thing!" he continued, and walked to the chiffonier, from a drawer in which he brought out a package of safety pins.
"What are you going to do with those?" questioned Fred.
"We'll pin up all the ends of the sleeves and the trouser legs, from the inside," was the quick reply. "Come, hurry up!" and then the three boys lost no time in doing as Randy had suggested. This done, they left the room, leaving it, so far as looks in general went, just as when they had entered it.
"There'll be some fun when Nappy wants one of those neckties or a pair of those fancy socks," laughed Andy. "I wish I could be on hand to see him."
"Don't you worry—we'll hear about it," returned Fred. "He'll suspect me on account of that suitcase affair."
While it was true that the regular school term had not yet opened, the new arrivals had been informed that they must be on hand to be measured for their uniforms and also to be instructed by some of the seniors who were present in drilling. The measurements of the boys were taken down in the gymnasium under the directions of Mr. Silas Crews, who was the gymnasium instructor and also the husband of Mrs. Crews, the matron for the younger cadets.
"I hope they've got a suit on hand that fits me," was Jack's comment, as he and his cousins walked to the gymnasium. "I'd like to see how it feels to be in a uniform."
His wish was gratified, for a little later he was given an entire outfit, which consisted of both a fulldress uniform and a fatigue suit, as well as belt, shoulder straps, cap, and hat, and several other things. Uniforms were also found for the others, and the entire crowd lost no time in hurrying back to their rooms to dress up. In this they were aided by Spouter, who had donned his uniform immediately upon his arrival.
"Some brass buttons, believe me!" was Andy's comment, as he strode around the rooms.
"Say! you put me in mind of a peacock," said the twin. "My, just see how he swells up!" and Randy himself raised his chest as high as possible.
"What are you going to be, Jack—fifth corporal or first admiral of the rear guard?" questioned Fred.
"I'm going to be head soup-carrier for the bayonet squad," returned his cousin gaily.
As soon as they had donned their uniforms, the boys returned to the gymnasium, where they were placed in what was called an awkward squad, and which was under the direction of Dan Soppinger. Here they quickly learned how to stand erect with their toes on a chalk mark, and how to hold their hands properly. Then they were given directions how to cast their eyes "To the right," "To the left," and "Front." Then they learned the meaning of "Right face," "Left face," and "About face."
"All of you are doing pretty well," remarked Dan Soppinger to the squad of eight under him. "Now then, we'll see what you can do when it comes to marching. When I give the order 'Forward,' you balance on your right foot, and when the word comes 'March!' you step out with your left foot. And when you step out, do it like this," and he gave an illustration by marching up and down in front of the squad.
To the Rover boys all this was very interesting, and they learned with comparative ease. Only one of the awkward squad seemed to have difficulty in marching just right, a lad named White.
"Don't lag behind, White!" cried Dan Soppinger, sharply. "Step right out as if you meant it;" and after that White did a little better.
While the drilling was in progress, Colonel Colby came down to the gymnasium to look on. He was pleased with the general results.
"I think you are doing very well, boys," he said. "Of course, you can't learn to become first-class soldiers in a day. It takes hard practising to do anything just right."
"When do we get guns?" questioned Andy, after the drilling had come to an end.
"You won't get guns until you have learned how to march and how to turn properly," answered Dan. "Then, when you do get guns, you'll have to go in for the manual of arms."
"And how about learning how to shoot?" questioned Jack.
"That will come still later—after you have had experience in marching and in handling your guns."
"Whoop! Me for a real soldier boy!" cried Andy, his eyes sparkling, and then he began to hum a bit of doggerel he had made up on the spur of the moment.
"Johnny, get your musket— You must get your musket. Johnny, get your musket— You must get it now!"
"Wow! that's some song," was Fred's comment. "Better have it copyrighted, Andy."
"Oh, I've already got a double-barreled patent on it," was the light answer. "Anybody who steals it will get ten years in a bathing suit at the north pole;" and at this there was a general laugh.
The boys were awaiting the arrival of Gif Garrison, who came in about noon of that day. Gif was a big boy, and, as mentioned before, was at the head of a great many of the athletic doings of the school.
"Glad to see you fellows here," said Gif, as he shook hands all around. "My! but we're going to have some good times now, aren't we?"
"If we don't, it won't be our fault," responded Jack.
"We've just been learning how to become soldiers," explained Randy. "My head is full of 'Eyes right,' 'Left face,' 'Forward march,' and all that sort of thing."
"Oh, you'll get used to that, Randy, before you've been here very long," returned Gif.
"Did you have a nice time getting here?" questioned Fred.
"I might have had a nice time if it hadn't been for one thing," was the answer. "I came in on the same train with a professor that none of us like."
"Oh! Do you mean Asa Lemm?" questioned Andy, quickly.
"That's it! What do you know of him?"
"We know quite a little," answered Jack, and related some of the particulars of what had happened on the train.
"Oh, I can see your finish," said Gif with a serious look on his face. "Old Lemon will never forget that happening. He'll be down on you for it all the term."
FRED IS FOLLOWED
It took the Rover boys several days to settle down at Colby Hall. Everything, of course, was new to them, and they took great delight in roaming around the place in company with Spouter, Gif and the various new friends they had made. During that time they continued to drill, both in the morning and the afternoon; and it was surprising how quickly they learned the manual of arms and also the other tactics which go to make up the discipline of a cadet.
"This life is all to the merry," was Andy's comment one day, while he and the others were down at the shore of the river inspecting the boathouse with its numerous craft.
"It certainly is one fine place," answered Jack. "If Putnam Hall was anything like this, no wonder our fathers thought so much of it."
Since Fred had asked Nappy Martell for the suitcase, the boy who was addicted to loud clothing had avoided the Rovers. But through the cadet named White they had learned much of what had happened in Nappy's room when he came in after it had been "rearranged" by the Rovers.
"Nappy Martell was the maddest fellow you ever saw," Bart White had declared. "He stormed all around the corridor, accusing nearly everybody in that vicinity of having taken his neckties and his underwear and a lot of jewelry. He even came to my room and threatened to tell Colonel Colby if I didn't tell him where the things were."
"And, of course, you couldn't do that," had been Randy's reply, with a side wink at the others.
"No. I told him I didn't know where the things were—because, you see, I really didn't know," went on Bart White, innocently.
"And after that?" queried Jack.
"Oh, he stormed around, accusing this one and that one until some of the boys got sick of listening and told him to shut up. Then he went back to his room and slammed the door hard enough to burst it off its hinges."
"Do you suppose he reported the matter to Colonel Colby?" had been Fred's question.
"I don't know about that. You see, when a fellow gets as mad as Martell was he's liable to do almost anything." And that was all Bart White had had to relate concerning the affair.
So far, the Rover boys had not had anything to do with Asa Lemm. They had met the sharp-faced professor once in the hallway and he had stared at them in a fashion which made Andy shiver.
"He's got it in for me all right!" had been the declaration of the fun-loving youth.
"I guess Gif was right," had been Jack's comment. "He'll have it in for us the whole term. Too bad! I'd rather be friendly with every one than have any enemies."
The Rover boys were just leaving the boathouse after having admired the beautiful four- and eight-oared shells stored there, when they saw Fatty Hendry coming towards them as rapidly as his stoutness permitted.
"Say! I've got something to tell you fellows," puffed the fat boy as he came closer. "I just saw that sneak of a Codfish coming from Fred's room. He looked awful sneakish, and I'm sure he was up to no good."
"I'll go up to my room at once and see," answered the youngest Rover, and lost no time in speeding back to the Hall.
He bounded up the stairs two steps at a time. But when he reached the room he occupied, a surprise awaited him. Everything was exactly as he had left it. It may be as well to state here that every cadet at Colby Hall was required to keep his room in absolute order, and a monitor came around twice a day to see that this regulation was carried out. If a pupil was lax in any particular regarding his room, he was given a demerit in consequence thereof.
"Well, thank goodness! he didn't upset anything, even if he was here," murmured Fred to himself. "I wonder what the little imp was up to?" Then a sudden thought struck him and he walked to the clothes closet in the bottom of which he had deposited his suitcase. He found the bag in the closet, but it was placed there in such a way that he was sure it had been handled.
"Well, what have you found?" questioned Andy, who had followed his cousin to the room.
"I think I know why he came here," declared Fred. "More than likely Martell sent him here to find out whether I really had the suitcase or not. The bag I know has been handled. When I placed it in the closet I put the open end of the straps against the wall. Now the open ends are on this side."
"Say! you're some detective, Fred!"
"I know how I left the bag. And he certainly had it out of the closet and put it back."
"See if he did anything to it," went on Andy, quickly; and thereupon Fred brought the bag forth and examined it. It was empty, just as he had left it.
"Well, that will take the worry of the missing bag from Martell's mind," was Fred's comment, as he and Andy left the room, this time locking the door.
"Martell must have had some kind of a clue to the truth or he wouldn't have sent Codfish here," was Andy's comment. "Maybe he got on to what part Walt Baxter and Ned Lowe played in the trick." And in this surmise Andy was correct. By the merest accident Codfish had overheard Walt and Ned speaking about the joke, and at once he had gone to Nappy with the news; and the upshot had been that Nappy had sent the sneak to Fred's room to learn if the suitcase with Fred's initials upon it was there.
Late that afternoon both the old and the new cadets were assigned to their places in the various classrooms and also given the text-books which they were to study during the term.
"This begins to look like work," sighed Randy.
"Well, we didn't come here just for the fun of it," declared Jack. "We came here, if you'll remember, to get an education."
"Oh, I'm not going to complain," returned his cousin quickly. "I'm willing to do my share of studying. But after the splendid vacation we had this Summer it will be a little tough at the beginning to get down to the grind."
"That's just what I was thinking," declared Andy. "I wish a fellow didn't have to study. Why can't some of our great inventors invent some kind of knowledge pill so a fellow can just go and buy a few boxes and then take them regularly?"
"Great idea, Andy!" exclaimed his twin merrily.
By the next morning all of the cadets had arrived, and also all of the teachers and the other persons connected with Colby Hall. Then the cadets were assembled on the parade ground and made to march into the general assembly room of the institution, where Colonel Colby addressed them. He spoke about the good work done by the cadets during the former term at the school, and said he trusted that the present term would turn out still better.
"At present all of our old officers of the battalion will hold over," he announced. "But in the near future—just as soon as we have got settled in our classes—I will announce the time for a new election. The major and the two captains to be elected must be in their senior year at this institution. The other officers may be either sophomores or juniors."
"That lets us out," whispered Andy to Jack. "Evidently no freshmen can be officers."
"Well, why should we be officers?" answered his cousin. "We hardly know a thing about soldiering yet. I think Colonel Colby's rule is a very good one."
During the meeting in the assembly room all of the professors were called on to say a few words to the cadets. The addresses delivered by Professors Grawson and Brice and one or two of the other teachers were well received; but it was plainly evident that when Asa Lemm came forward to speak to the boys there was a distinctly cold feeling towards him.
"I want to speak about attention to work," he said in a severe tone of voice. "During the last term at this school there was not that attention in classes that I desire. From now on I expect every one who comes to me to pay strict attention at all times. Any laxity will be severely punished."
"Gosh! He's a cheerful customer!" was Fred's comment.
"He'd make a fellow down on him almost before the term began," was another cadet's comment.
"I don't wonder they call him old Lemon," added another youth.
"And now we're all ready to go to work," said Jack, after the cadets had been dismissed. On the following day the classes were to begin.
There had been so much bustle and confusion throughout the school that day that Fred, who was not feeling extra well, got quite a headache.
"You had better lie down for a while and rest," said Jack, kindly. "You don't want to get sick."
"Oh, it's only a headache, and I'll soon be over it," declared Fred. "I think I'll go out for a quiet walk along the river."
"Do you want me to go along?"
"No. I'd just as lief go alone, Jack. I think the quietness will do me more good than anything."
This mood was not a new one with the youngest Rover, so Jack said no more, and a few minutes later Fred slipped on his heavy sweater and donned his cap and set out for his walk. His steps took him towards the boathouse and the bathing houses, and then he continued on along a path running close to the shore of the river.
Although the youngest Rover did not know it, his departure had been watched by Codfish. The small boy lost no time in hurrying to Nappy Martell and Slugger Brown with his information.
"You're sure he's alone?" asked Nappy, quickly.
"Yes. Nobody went out with him."
"Then that's our chance, Slugger," went on the boy from New York. "Come ahead, if you want to help me."
"All right, Nap. But I thought you said you could polish him off alone?"
"So I can. But I thought you'd like to see the fun."
"Can't I go along too?" put in Codfish.
"Yes, if you'll promise to keep your mouth shut about it."
"Oh, I won't say a word," returned the little cadet, quickly.
Putting on their hats and coats, the three cadets lost no time in following Fred. It was quite dark on the campus and parade ground, but they soon caught sight of the figure ahead as the youngest Rover moved past the bathhouses to the river path beyond.
"He's alone all right enough," was Slugger Brown's comment.
"I thought I'd catch him sooner or later after I set Codfish to watching him," answered Nappy Martell. "Now I guess I'll be able to teach him to play tricks on me," he added sourly.
The three cadets quickened their pace, and in a moment more caught up to Fred just as he reached a point on the river shore almost out of sight of the Hall. Fred had dipped his handkerchief in the water and used the same for wiping off his aching brow.
"See here, Rover, I want to talk to you!" cried Nappy Martell, and, striding forward, he caught Fred roughly by the arm.
Of course, the youngest Rover was startled, not dreaming that anyone was following him. Yet he showed no signs of fear.
"What do you want of me, Martell?" he asked quietly.
"I'll show you what I want of you!" cried Nappy Martell in sudden wrath. "I'll teach you to play tricks on me! Try to make me believe your suitcase was stolen, will you? And then come to my room and rough-house things, eh? Just wait till I get through with you and you'll wish you'd never been born!"
Fred Rover realized that he was in an unenviable situation. Nappy Martell was thoroughly angry, and evidently Slugger Brown and Codfish were present to aid him in anything he might undertake to do.
Many another boy might have thought discretion the better part of valor and taken to his heels. But the youngest Rover was not built that way. He had been taught to stick up for his rights and defend himself whenever the cause was a just one.
"What do you propose to do, Martell?" he questioned as quietly as he could.
"I'll show you what I'll do," blustered the other. "You thought it was a fine joke to put most of my things under the mattress of my bed, didn't you?"
"Who told you I did that?"
"Never mind. I found it out, and that's enough. Do you dare to deny it?"
"I don't suppose there will be any use in denying it," was Fred's reply. "It was done as a joke, to square accounts over the missing suitcase."
"Bah! you needn't talk to me, Rover! I know the kind you and your cousins are. I'm going to fix you. How do you like that?" and as he uttered the last word, Nappy Martell hauled back and slapped Fred on the cheek.
It was a comparatively light blow, but it aroused all the fighting blood in the youngest Rover boy's nature, and without stopping to think twice, he doubled up his fists and hit the larger youth a stinging blow in the jaw.
"Gee! look at that!" murmured Codfish, who had not expected such an onslaught from the smaller cadet.
"Say, Nappy, he's coming back at you!" burst out Slugger Brown, in surprise.
"Coming back at me nothing!" roared Martell; and, leaping forward, he rained a succession of blows on Fred—hitting him in the shoulder, the chest and then the left ear.
In another moment the two cadets were at it "hammer and tongs." As they circled around, Codfish put out his foot, trying to trip Fred up. He failed in this, but a moment later Slugger Brown tried the trick with success, and the youngest Rover came down heavily and an instant later Nappy Martell landed on top of him.
"Get off of me! That wasn't fair!" exclaimed Fred. "Those other fellows tripped me up."
"Aw, shut up!" retorted Martell; and while he held Fred down with his body he continued to pommel the smaller youth with his fists.
"Don't go too far," said Slugger Brown presently, in alarm. "If you do that, he may squeal and get you into trouble."
"Somebody is coming!" screamed Codfish, suddenly, as he saw a number of forms running across the parade ground in the direction of the river road. "Four or five of 'em."
"It's Jack Rover and his chums," muttered Slugger Brown.
He was right. Jack was approaching, followed by Spouter, Fatty, Walt Baxter and Gif Garrison.
"I was sure they were up to no good—following Fred that way," Walt Baxter was saying.
"I'm glad you told me about this, Walt," answered Jack. "Three against one is no fair deal."
As the five cadets came rushing up, Codfish viewed their approach with alarm and then retreated several paces. Slugger Brown, however, stood his ground.
"Hi you! let my cousin alone!" cried Jack, and, leaping forward, he caught Nappy Martell by the collar and hurled him into some bushes.
"Say, this isn't any of your fight," put in Slugger Brown, uglily. While he spoke, Fred lost no time in leaping to his feet and there he stood, once more on the defensive.
"No one asked you to butt in, Jack Rover!" stormed Nappy Martell. "You keep out of this."
"Why did he attack you, Fred?"
"Huh! you know the reason as well as he does," burst out Martell. "You played a trick on me about that suitcase, and then you came and rough-housed my room."
"One trick was only played to square up for the other, Martell," answered Jack, calmly. "You ought to be man enough to cry quits and let it go at that."
"I won't cry quits—not until I've given this fellow a good licking!" roared Nappy Martell; and then before anyone could stop him he lunged another blow at Fred, who, however, was quick enough to dodge it.
"Stop!" Jack's voice was now unusually stern, and stepping up to Nappy Martell he caught the fellow by the arm and swung him around so that the pair faced each other. "If you want to fight, Martell, take somebody nearer your size."
"Oh, Jack! I'm not afraid of him," burst out Fred. Strange to say, the excitement of the occasion seemed to have chased his headache completely away.
"Maybe you want me to fight you," sneered Nappy Martell.
"You'll have to fight me if you don't leave my cousin Fred alone."
"See here, Rover! you've no right to butt in like this," interposed Slugger Brown. "Why don't you let the pair finish it?"
"Those two fellows," cried Fred, pointing to Slugger Brown and Codfish, "tripped me up. It wasn't fair—three against one."
"We didn't trip him up at all," came from the two accused ones simultaneously.
"They did, Jack. First Codfish tried it, and then Brown put out his foot and I went down, and Martell at once pounced on me."
"That's no way to fight!" broke out Spouter.
"It was certainly a mean trick," was Gif's comment.
"If there is any fighting to be done, I guess we're on hand to see that it's done fairly," came from Walt Baxter.
A perfect war of words followed, in the midst of which Nappy Martell seemed to lose complete control of his temper. He rushed at Jack and hit the youth two quick blows, one in the chest and the other on the chin. The oldest Rover was not looking for this attack, and he staggered backward into some bushes, all but losing his balance.
"That's the way to do it, Nappy!" cried Slugger Brown, excitedly. "Give it to him!"
Jack was as much surprised as Fred had been when first hit, but he was able to recover much more quickly than his cousin. He leaped forward from the bushes, doubled up his fists, and the next instant sent in a crashing blow that landed straight on Martell's nose. He followed up this blow with another on the other youth's chin which sent Martell sprawling flat on his back.
"Hurrah! that's the way to do it, Jack!" cried Spouter.
"Say! has he got to fight two of you Rovers?" questioned Slugger Brown.
"No. He's got to fight me only," answered Jack, quickly. He turned to his cousin. "Fred, you keep out of this."
"But he started on me," pleaded the youngest Rover. "And now that you are here to see fair play, I'm not afraid of him."
"Never mind. It's my fight, anyway," went on Jack. "I owe him one for the way he treated me down in Wall Street that day."
While this talk was going on, Nappy Martell had scrambled to his feet. His nose was swollen and bleeding profusely.
"You imp!" he howled, and lunged another attack at Jack.
He was able to land two blows on Jack's chest, but they were not powerful enough to do harm. Then, as Martell circled around, the oldest Rover boy managed to get in another blow, this time on his opponent's mouth, loosening two of Nappy's teeth.
"That's the way to do it, Jack!"
"Give him a few more like that and he'll soon quit."
"Go for him, Nappy! You can do him up if you'll only try," bellowed Slugger Brown in excitement.
"You keep back, Slugger," warned Walt Baxter. "Don't you interfere."
"I didn't interfere."
"Well, you're too close, anyway. Keep back like the rest of us."
"That's just what I say," broke out Spouter.
Realizing that the others were in the majority, Slugger Brown kept his distance from the pair who were fighting. Codfish was trembling like a leaf, and cowered well in the background.
Around and around circled the two contestants, and for a few minutes neither of them seemed to have the advantage. Jack was hit in the arm, and returned by landing another blow, this time on Nappy's chest. Then the big youth aimed a kick at the Rover boy's stomach.
"Hi! that's no way to fight!" cried Gif, indignantly.
Jack had managed to escape the kick, and he had put down one hand so quickly that Nappy Martell had been in great danger of being caught and thrown on his back.
In the midst of the contest several forms could be seen hurrying across the campus and the parade ground, and in a moment more Andy and Randy came into view, followed by Bart White and some other cadets.
"It's a fight!"
"Why, what do you know about this! Jack is fighting Nappy Martell!"
"Martell tackled me first, but Jack took the fight out of my hands," explained Fred to his cousins.
"Who has got the best of it?" questioned Bart White, excitedly.
"I think Jack has the best of it so far," answered Gif; "but the fight isn't finished yet," he added, a bit anxiously.
"You're right it isn't finished yet!" retorted Slugger Brown. "Just you wait until Nappy gets his second wind, and then you'll see what he'll do to Rover."
Once more the two contestants were circling around, each trying to get in some kind of telling blow. Various passes were made, and in the excitement the pair left the roadway and began to circle around on the grassy bank of the river.
"Look out there, or you'll both go overboard!" sang out Spouter in alarm.
The cadets who were fighting were too engrossed to pay attention to this warning. They kept on circling about, and then Nappy Martell made a wild and vicious pass for Jack's head. The latter dodged like lightning, came up under his opponent's arm, and the next instant landed a swinging blow on Martell's ear which sent him staggering backward several paces, to fall with a splash into the river.
IN THE TOWN
"Hello! Nappy's overboard!"
"Wow! that was some crack on the ear!"
"Can he swim?"
"Sure, he can swim! If he can't we can haul him in easy enough."
"I don't believe the river is very deep here."
Such were some of the words uttered immediately after the well-delivered blow from Jack Rover had sent his opponent spinning into the swiftly flowing waters of the Rick Rack River. Fortunately, the moon and the stars were shining brightly, so it was not as dark as it otherwise might have been. Indeed, had it not been for the brightness of the night it is doubtful if the fight could have been carried on as already described.
All of the cadets present lined up along the river bank, and an instant later saw Nappy Martell come to the surface. He was striking out wildly and spluttering at the same time, showing that he had gone overboard with his mouth open and had swallowed some of the water. One hand and shoulder were covered with mud from the river bottom, for at that particular point the stream was less than five feet deep.
"Oh, he'll be drowned! I know he'll be drowned!" screamed Codfish in terror.
"You shut up, you little imp!" burst out Gif. "You'll arouse the whole school, and there is no need of doing that."
By this time Nappy Martell was close to the river bank, and he reached up his hand appealingly to those above him.
"Here, give me your hand, Nappy!" cried Slugger Brown, and reached down to aid his crony. But the bank was a slippery and treacherous one, and he was in danger of going overboard himself.
"Wait a minute, Slugger—let me help you," cried Spouter, and he took hold of the big youth's left hand.
Then the others also came forward to do what they could, and in a few seconds more Nappy Martell was hauled up on the grass. He was pretty well exhausted and panted painfully.
"I'm sorry you went overboard, Martell," said Jack, promptly. "I didn't expect to knock you into the river."
"You did it on purpose! You know you did!" returned the other youth wrathfully. "Yo—you—d—d—don't know how to f—f—fight fair," he added, his teeth suddenly beginning to chatter, for the unexpected bath at this season had proved awfully cold.
"Say! he's shivering like a leaf!" cried Fred.
"You had better get back to the Hall and change your clothing," advised Jack.
"I won't change anything until I've given you a licking," roared Nappy Martell.
"Oh, say, Nappy, you had better call it off for to-night," interposed Slugger Brown. "You can't fight in those wet clothes. Finish it some other time."
"I won't!" came the ejaculation, and then the dripping boy hurled himself once more at Jack.
But he was blinded by water and mud as well as by rage; and the oldest Rover boy easily evaded the new onslaught. Then, of a sudden, he reached out and caught Martell by both wrists and held him in a vise-like grasp.
"Now, see here, Martell, don't be foolish," he said sternly. "I don't want to fight a fellow who has been overboard and is wringing wet. You'll catch your death of cold hanging around here in this night air. Go on back to the Hall and change your clothing. If you want to finish this some other time, I'll be ready for you."
"That's the talk!" added Spouter.
"It would be foolish to go on in this condition," remarked Gif. "Call it off, by all means."
"You might as well do it," came from Slugger Brown. "You wouldn't have any kind of a fair show, Nappy—after having been in the river, and after having had to lick the other Rover first."
"He didn't lick me!" burst out Fred, indignantly.
More words followed, but in the end Nappy Martell consented to return to the Hall and went off in company with Slugger Brown, Codfish, and one or two more friends who had chanced to come up.
"You'll have to slip in on the sly, or else somebody may ask some unpleasant questions," remarked Slugger Brown on the way to the school.
"You lend me your coat, and I'll take mine off and make a bundle of it," answered Martell; and so it was arranged. The others clustered around the dripping youth and thus they managed to get him to his room without being detected.
"He'll never forgive you, Jack, for knocking him into the river," said Randy, while the Rovers and their friends walked slowly back to the Hall.
"I guess you're right," was the answer.
"And what is more, he'll probably try to play some underhanded trick on you," added Andy.
"I wish I had had the chance—I think I could have knocked him out myself," broke in Fred. "I'm not afraid of him, even if he is bigger than I am."
All those who had witnessed the contest were cautioned to keep quiet about it. Yet in a school like Colby Hall it was next to impossible to keep the particulars of the affair from circulating, and before long many of the cadets knew the truth. The majority were of the opinion that Jack could readily have defeated Martell had the contest been fought to a finish.
"He'll undoubtedly lay for you, Jack," remarked Fred that night, in talking the matter over in their rooms.
"Maybe he'll lay for you, Fred," smiled his big cousin. "You had better keep your eyes peeled."
"I guess we had better all watch out," was Randy's comment.
But for the next few days Nappy Martell, as well as his particular crony, Slugger Brown, kept to themselves, while Codfish was so timid that he hardly dared to show himself.
About a week, including Sunday, went by, and the school began to settle down to its regular routine of studies. The Rover boys had had all their classes mapped out for them, and had also been assigned to a class in gymnasium work. Gymnastics especially suited the agile Andy, who nearly always preferred action to sitting still. The Rover boys on leaving home had promised their parents that they would pay strict attention to their studies, and now they did their best in that direction. Of course, some of the lessons were rather hard, and Fred, being the youngest, often found he needed assistance from the others.
During those days they quickly discovered why Dan Soppinger had been referred to by one of their friends as the "human question mark." Dan always wanted to know something, and he did not hesitate to ask for information on any and all occasions, no matter what else might happen to be under discussion at the time.
"He'll die asking questions," remarked Andy. "I never knew a fellow who could fire questions at a person so rapidly."
It was now ideal weather for football, and as soon as the school became settled football talk filled the air. Gif Garrison had been at the head of the football eleven the Fall previous, and now he was looked upon to whip the new team into shape.
"We generally play three games with outside schools," explained Gif to the Rovers one day. "First we play Hixley High. Then we play the Clearwater Country Club. And after that we wind up usually with our big game with Columbus Academy."
"It must be great sport," answered Jack.
"Did you ever get a chance to play football in New York?"
"Oh, yes, we occasionally played a game."
"Jack would make a first-rate football player if he had the chance," put in Randy. "I've seen him play, and I know."
"Yes. And Fred makes a pretty good player, too," added Andy. "Of course, he's small and light in weight, but he's as quick on his feet as they make 'em."
"How about you and Randy?" questioned Gif.
"Oh, we never cared very much to play football. We'd rather have some fun in the crowd looking on," was the answer of the twin.
At this, the football leader smiled. "Well, we've got to have some kind of an audience—otherwise there wouldn't be any fun in pulling off a game." He looked at Jack and Fred, thoughtfully. "I'm going to keep you two fellows in mind, and if I can put one or both of you on the team, I'll do it. Of course, you'll have your try-outs on the scrub first."
"Well, you can put me on the scrub as soon as you please," answered Jack, promptly.
"I'll be glad of the chance," added Fred.
As was to be expected, no sooner had the boys attempted to settle down at Colby Hall than they began to want for a number of things which they had failed to bring from home. These articles were, for the most part, of small consequence; yet the boys could not get along very well without them, and so resolved on the following Saturday, which was a holiday, to walk down to Haven Point and do some shopping.
"I'd like first rate to take a look around the town, too," said Randy. "It looked like a pretty good sort of place."
"Maybe we can go to the moving picture show there," put in his brother. "We'll have time enough."
"Perhaps—if the films look worth while," answered Jack.
They had already learned that the moving picture show in the town was of the better class, and that the pupils of the school were allowed to attend a performance whenever they had time to do so.
It did not take the four cousins long to walk the distance to Haven Point. They left the school directly after lunch, and inside of an hour had purchased the various small articles which they desired. Then all headed for the moving picture theater, which was located on the main street in the busiest portion of that thoroughfare.
As the boys walked up to the booth to purchase their admission tickets, they saw a bevy of girls just entering the door. They were all well dressed and chatting gaily.
"Nice bunch, all right," was Randy's comment. "I wonder where they are from?"
"I think I know," answered Jack. "Spouter was telling me there is a girls' school on the other side of this town, called Clearwater Hall. It's about as large as Colby Hall. More than likely those girls come from that school."
"I wish we knew them," said Andy. "I wonder if some of the cadets from our school don't know them."
"More than likely some of our fellows know some of the girls," said Jack. "We may be able to become acquainted with them some day."
AT THE MOVING PICTURE THEATER
The moving picture theater was large enough to hold several hundred people, and when the boys entered they found the place almost full.
"There are some seats—over on the left," remarked Jack, as he pointed them out. "Two in one row and two directly behind."
"Why not two in one row and two directly in front?" returned Andy, gaily, and then headed for the seats.
"You and Fred had better sit in front, and Randy and I can take the back seats," went on Jack; and so it was arranged.
They had come in between pictures and while some doors had been open for ventilation, so that the place was fairly light. As Jack took his seat he noticed that the girls who had come in just ahead of the boys were sitting close by.
"They certainly do look like nice girls," was Jack's mental comment; and he could not help but cast a second glance at the girl sitting directly next to him. She was attired in a dark blue suit trimmed in fur and held a hat to match in her lap. Jack noted that she was fair of complexion, with dark, wavy hair.
"I'm thinking this is going to be a pretty interesting picture for us, Andy," remarked Randy, as the name of the production was flashed upon the screen. "'The Gold Hunter's Secret—A Drama of the Yukon,'" he read. "That must have been taken in Alaska."
"That's right, Randy," returned his twin. "Gee! I hope this Alaskan play doesn't affect us; like that other Alaskan play once affected dad," he went on, referring to a most remarkable happening, the details of which were given in "The Rover Boys in Alaska."
"It isn't likely to," answered Randy, promptly. "Poor dad was in no mental condition to attend that show, Uncle Dick once told me. He had been knocked on the head with a footstool, and that had affected his mind."
The four Rovers were soon absorbed in the stirring drama of the Alaskan gold fields, and for the time being almost forgot their surroundings. In the midst of the last reel, however, Jack felt the girl beside him stirring.
"It's my hatpin," she whispered. "It just fell to the floor."
"I'll get it," he returned promptly, and started to hunt in the dark. He had to get up and push up his seat before the hatpin was recovered.
"Oh, thank you very much," said the girl sweetly, when he presented the article to her.
"You are welcome, I'm sure," returned the Rover boy; and then he added with a smile: "Accidents will happen in the best of families, you know," and at this both the girl and two of her companions giggled.
The photo-drama was presently finished and was followed by a mirth-provoking comedy at which the entire audience laughed heartily. Then came a reel of current events from various portions of the globe.
"Say, there's something worth looking at!" cried Fred, as a boat race was flashed on the screen.
"Right you are," responded Jack. "Just see those fellows pull! Isn't it grand?" he added enthusiastically. "I'd like to be in that shell myself," and he turned suddenly, to catch the girl beside him casting her eyes in his direction. She dropped them quickly, but her whole manner showed that she, too, was interested, not only in the race, but in what Jack had said. The cadets, of course, were in uniform, so the girl knew they were from Colby Hall.
The reel of current events had almost come to a finish, and there was intense silence as the picture showed the funeral of some well-known man of the East, when there came a sudden splutter from the operator's booth in the back gallery. This was followed by several flashes of light and then a small explosion.
"The theater's on fire!"
"Let's get out of this!"
"That's right! I don't want to be burnt to death!"
Such were some of the exclamations which arose on the air. A panic had seized the audience, and, like one person, they leaped to their feet and began to fight to get out of the theater. In a twinkling there was a crush in the aisles, and several people came close to being knocked down and trampled upon.
"Where's my hat?"
"Get back there—don't crush these children!"
"See the smoke pouring in!"
"Open the side door, somebody!"
"Keep cool! Keep cool!" yelled somebody from the gallery. "There is no fire! Keep cool!" But there was such a tumult below that scarcely anybody paid attention to these words.
While many fought to get out the way they had come in, others stormed towards the side doors of the playhouse. Meanwhile, an ill-smelling cloud of smoke drifted through the auditorium.
With the first alarm the Rover boys had leaped to their feet, and almost by instinct the others looked to Jack to see what he would do.
"Oh, oh! is the place on fire?" cried the girl who had been sitting next to the oldest Rover, and she caught him by the arm.
"I don't know," he answered. "Something exploded in the operating room."
"Oh, let us get out!" came from one of the other girls.
"Yes, yes! I don't want to be burnt up!" wailed a third.
"Don't get excited," warned Jack. "I don't believe there is any great danger. There is no fire down here, and there seem to be plenty of doors."
"The fellow upstairs said to keep cool," put in Randy. "Maybe it won't amount to much after all."
Most of the lights had gone out, leaving the theater in almost total darkness.
"Come on for the side door," said Jack. "That's the nearest way out."
The smoke from above was now settling, and this caused many to cough, while it made seeing more difficult than ever. Jack pushed Fred ahead of him, holding one hand on his cousin's shoulder, while with the other hand he reached out and grasped the wrist of the girl who had been sitting beside him.
"You had better come this way," he said; "and bring your friends along."
"All right. But do hurry!" she pleaded. "I am so afraid that something will happen."
"Oh, Ruth! can we get out?" questioned the girl next to her.
"I don't know. I hope so," answered the girl addressed, and then began to cough slightly, for the smoke was steadily growing thicker.
It was no easy matter to reach the side entrance, for already half a hundred people were striving to get through a doorway not much over two feet wide. The air was filled with screams and exclamations of protest, and for the time being in the theater it was as if bedlam had broken loose.
"Are we all here?" came from Andy, as, with smarting eyes, he tried to pierce the gloom.
"I'm here," answered his twin.
"So am I," came simultaneously from Jack and Fred.
Then Jack turned to the girl who was now beside him.
"Are all your friends with you?"
"I—I think so," she faltered; and then she added: "Annie, are Alice and Jennie with you?"
"Yes. We're all here," came from somebody in the rear. "But, oh, do let us get out! I can scarcely breathe!"
"I've lost my hat!" wailed another.
"Oh, never mind your hat, Alice, as long as we get out," came from the girl who was next to Jack.
At last the crowd at the doorway thinned out, and a moment later the four Rovers, pushing the girls ahead of them, managed to get outside. They found themselves in a narrow alleyway, and from this hurried to the street beyond.