"They sure do," answered Jepson, and then turned away to hide the broad grin on his face.
"How long is the entertainment to last?"
"You will have to get all the information from the gentlemen," answered Tom, calmly. "Just go down to the drug store and ask for Mr. Carr and Mr. Beckwith, and they'll tell you all about it. It's a fine chance for you, Tubby," concluded Tom, and then walked away, followed by his chums.
"Tom, what is the game?" demanded Sam, when they were out of hearing.
"We'll go down to the drug store Saturday afternoon and see," was the reply.
"Are Carr and Beckwith the moving picture men?"
"Yes, and they want a young man to play usher, and do a lot of other things—one who can sing preferred," and the fun-loving Tom grinned broadly.
"Oh, Tom, and you would send William Philander there!" cried Songbird. "Such a dude as he is! He'll never forgive you!"
"There is seven dollars a week in it to start," answered the fun-loving Rover calmly, and this made all in the crowd roar, for they knew how rich Tubbs was and how working for seven dollars a week would appeal to him.
This conversation occurred on Thursday and the crowd of boys waited impatiently for Saturday to come. Sam was glad to notice that Tom seemed to improve daily and was acting very much like his old self.
On Saturday, directly after lunch, Sam and Tom saw William Philander start off for Ashton. He was stylishly dressed as usual and carried a gold-headed cane, and in his buttonhole was a large carnation.
"Now for the fun!" cried Tom, and he and Sam quickly gathered their chums together and all went after the dude, but kept out of his sight.
The drug store that William Philander was bound for was located on a corner, with doors opening on both streets. On the side street there was also an ordinary window, and both doors and window were wide open.
"We'll go around to the side and watch him," suggested Tom, and this was done.
Sprucing up, so as to look his very best, William Philander strode into the drug store. As it chanced, several young ladies of the town were having soda at the fountain, and as he had once met one of them, he made a most profound bow, lifting his hat as he did so. Then he approached the proprietor of the shop, who was putting up a prescription at the rear counter, close to the open window.
"Mr. Carter I believe?" he lisped.
"Yes, sir. What can I do for you?"
"I am Mr. William Philander Tubbs, from Brill College," was the lofty answer. "Perhaps you have heard of me. I came in to meet two gentlemen, Mr. Carr and Mr. Beckwith. Are they here?"
"Not yet, Mr—er—Mr. Phillips?"
"No, no, Mr. William Philander Tubbs. When will they be here, may I ask?"
"I expect 'em any moment, Mr—er—Mr. Tubbs."
"Then I'll wait for them," answered the dude, and sank down in a chair.
"Have you got an interest in that show?" asked the druggist, as he continued to compound the prescription.
"Not yet, but I may have," answered William Philander, calmly. "It will be quite a grand affair, I presume."
"They say it will be the best Ashton ever had."
"Is that so! Then I am very glad I came to take part," went on William Philander, warming up. "I am sure I can be of great service to Messrs. Carr and Beckwith. I have had a great deal of experience, you know."
"Thought you said you were from Brill?"
"Oh, yes, but, don't you know, I have assisted at many entertainments," gushed William Philander. "Why, some entertainments would have been absolute failures if I had not taken part."
"Hum, is that so!" returned the druggist. Tubbs' dudish ways did not strike him very favorably. "Well, here is Mr. Beckwith now, you can tell him about it," he added.
A burly, red-faced man, with a heavy moustache, had entered. He was evidently in a hurry and full of business.
"Anybody call about that job, Mr. Carter?" he asked, abruptly.
"This young man wants to see you," answered the druggist, and indicated William Philander.
"You are Mr. Beckwith?"
"Permit me," and the stylish-dressed student presented his card. "I was told you were getting up an entertainment and needed some assistance," continued William Philander. "Now I have had a great deal of experience in that line, and the ladies always seem to be glad to see me. I can aid in getting up the proper programme, and all that, you know. I was on the committee of the Charity Bazaar, and the Plainvine Dog Show, and the Ladies' Aid of the Golden Hope Society, and the Blue Banner Social, and——"
"Say, what are you pouring into me?" gasped Mr. Beckwith, in astonishment. "Do you think I am running a pink tea, or a ladies' sewing circle? I don't need anybody to help me to get up a programme; my partner, Mr. Carr, attends to that end of it. What I need is a strong, willing fellow to take tickets and usher folks to seats, and keep the floor free of rubbish, and all that."
"W-h-a-t!" shrieked William Philander. "You—you—what sort of an entertainment are you going to give?" he faltered.
"Why, didn't you know? We are going to open the Eclipse Moving Picture Theater, in Cameron's Hall, over yonder. We advertised for a young man, to take tickets, usher, and make himself generally useful. We'll have a little vaudeville with the photo plays, and if the young fellow can sing, or dance, we'll give him a chance at it."
"Oh, dear me! Did you ever!" gasped poor William Philander. And then, as he saw that the girls at the soda fountain had heard all that was going on, he turned red.
"I hardly think you will do for the job," went on the moving picture man. "You don't look—er—well, strong enough."
"Job," wailed William Philander. "I—er—I don't want any job! Oh, this is dreadful, horrible! It's one of Tom Rover's jokes! I might have known it. Sent me all the way to Ashton to try to get a position in a horrid moving picture show! Oh, this is the worst ever!" And looking the picture of despair, poor Tubbs rushed from the drug store, with the laughter of the proprietor, the show man, and the girls ringing in his ears.
From the window and the side door Tom, Sam, and the others had seen and heard all that took place. They had all they could do to suppress their mirth, and when Tubbs came storming out of the drug store they lost no time in disappearing out of sight behind the building. They watched the stylishly-dressed student prance down the street, brandishing his cane viciously in the air.
"Just wait till he catches you, Tom," remarked Spud.
"He'll about half kill you," added Stanley.
"Oh, I guess I can stand it," answered the fun-loving Rover, calmly.
"It was rather a rough joke," was Sam's comment.
"Oh, he needs something like that, to take the awful conceit out of him," came from Songbird. "Why, he is getting worse and worse every day. Half the students are down on him. This may do him good."
"I doubt if you can make William Philander improve," was Stanley's comment. "The only thing that will do it is to send him off to sea, or on a ranch, and make him rough it for a while."
Tom expected to see Tubbs that evening, but the dudish student kept out of sight. He did not show himself until Sunday afternoon, and then he had but little to say. But he eyed Tom in a manner that was new to William Philander.
"He is going to get back at you, Tom," said Sam. "Better keep your eyes open."
On Monday afternoon Tom and Sam went down to the water for a short row. They came back just before supper and rushed up to their room to fix up a bit.
"Hello, the door is locked!" cried Tom, trying it.
"And the keyhole is plugged," added Sam, taking a look.
Then the brothers looked at each other.
"I guess William Philander Tubbs did it," said Tom.
WILLIAM PHILANDER TURNS THE TABLES
It was useless to try to open the door. The lock was filled up with a wad of paper that refused to budge.
"If it's only paper we can burn it out," suggested Sam. "But it may scorch the door."
"We'll go through by the way of Songbird's room," said Tom.
There was a door connecting the two rooms. It was not supposed to be used, for one of the beds was against it. But the bed was rolled to one side by Tom. Songbird and his roommate had already gone below.
"Here's the key," said Sam, bringing it from a nearby nail. "It's a wonder William Philander didn't plug this keyhole, too."
"Maybe he didn't have time," answered Tom. "Always supposing it really was Tubbs."
"That's so—iy may have been somebody else."
The connecting door was unlocked and Tom and Sam walked into their own apartment. Both gave a cry of astonishment.
And not without reason. The room had been "stacked," and every boy who has ever attended boarding school or college knows what that means. In the center of the room lay the parts of the two beds in a heap and on top of those parts were piled a miscellaneous collection of books, chairs, clothing, the table and bureau, looking glass, an empty water pitcher, football, baseball bats, shoes, bed clothing, rugs, papers, pens, pencils, soap, caps, a steamer trunk from the closet, several framed photographs, some college banners, and a score of other articles. On the very top of the heap was a fancy sofa pillow Nellie had given to Tom and to this was pinned a card, on which was written, in a disguised scrawl:
Hoping you will enjoy your job!
"It was William Philander all right enough,", murmured Sam, as he and his brother inspected the card. "You sent him to one job, and he is sending us to another," and he heaved a deep sigh.
"Some work, Sammy," returned Tom. "Well, we can't go at it now—it will take us two hours to straighten things up. We'll do it after supper."
"Going after Tubbs for this?"
"What's the use? I don't blame him for getting back at us. I guess, after all, that joke I played on him was rather rough," replied Tom.
It took the best part of three hours to put the room back into shape. Some ink had been spilled on one of the mattresses, and the glass over one of the photographs had been broken, but that was all the real damage that had been done, and it looked to be accidental. The wad of paper in the keyhole was picked out piece-meal by means of a big fishhook. The key was in the heap on the floor, having been flung through the open transom after the door was locked and plugged.
"Well, he got back at you right enough," said Songbird, while the room was being re-arranged.
"Dot's chust vot he did, py golly!" came from Max Spangler.
After this incident the boys settled down to their studies for the best part of a week. Tom was now doing very well, although he still complained of his head.
"I've got an idea," said Sam, one afternoon, after the Eclipse photo playhouse in Ashton had been opened. "Why can't we make up a party some afternoon or evening and take the girls to the show?"
"I thought of that," answered Tom. "But don't you think it would be best for us to go alone first and see what sort of a place it is? Some of these country show places have pretty rough audiences."
"Oh, Ashton isn't such a common town as that, Tom. But maybe it would be better to size it up first. What do you say if we go down next Wednesday evening? We might make up a little party, with Songbird and the others."
"That suits me."
The matter was talked over with the others, and it was speedily arranged that nine of the students should go, including Sam, Tom, Songbird, and Spud. Stanley could not get away, and Max had some lessons he wanted to make up.
"I hope they have some thrilling films," said Tom, when the time came to leave for Ashton. "I hate these wishy-washy love stories and would-be funny scenes. I once saw a shipwreck that was fine, and a slide down a mountainside that couldn't be beaten."
"Well, we'll have to take what comes," said Sam. "I understand they change the pictures twice a week."
When the students arrived at the playhouse in Ashton an agreeable surprise awaited them. Instead of the dingy hall they had expected to see, they saw that the place had been completely transformed. There was a large electric sign over the door, and several big billboards announced the various attractions. A crowd was purchasing tickets at the booth in front, and already the showhouse was half filled for the first performance of the evening.
"'Her First Love,'" read Tom, from a billboard. "That sounds a little mushy. 'Broncho Bill's Reward,'" he went on. "That might be interesting. 'Lost in the Ice Fields of Alaska, in Two Parts.' Say, that sounds as if it might be something worth while," he added, brightening up.
"Yes, I'd like to see some pictures of Alaska," returned Songbird.
"Provided they weren't taken in Hoboken, or somewhere like that," answered Sam. "Some of these moving pictures are great fakes. They take real scenes in China right in New York City, and show you the bottom of the sea, taken on the sixth floor of an office building in Chicago!"
"Never mind, I guess we'll get our money's worth," said another of the students, and then the crowd passed inside, each youth buying his own ticket, as was the usual custom.
They managed to get seats almost in the center of the hall, which was long and narrow, just the shape for such an exhibition. They noticed that a tall, lanky town boy was usher, and Tom nudged Sam in the ribs.
"Just think, William Philander might have had that job!" he chuckled.
"Well, you did the best you could for him," answered Sam, dryly.
The end of a funny reel was being shown and the audience was laughing heartily. Then came an illustrated song, sung by a young woman with a fairly good voice, and after that "Broncho Bill's Reward," a short drama of the plains, with cowboys and cattle thieves, and a sheriff, who aided Broncho Bill to get back his employer's cattle and win the hand of the girl he loved.
"Maybe you could write some verses about that girl," suggested Sam to Songbird, in a whisper. "You could call it 'The Cowboy's Sweetheart,' or something like that."
"So I could," murmured the would-be poet, and immediately commenced to make up rhymes, which he scribbled on some paper in the dark.
At last came the well-advertised drama, "Lost in the Ice Fields of Alaska." It was a well put together play, the opening scene taking place in a shipping office in Seattle. Next came the departure of the steamer for the North. There were several views on shipboard, and quite a complicated plot, the villain of the play trying to get the best of a young gold hunter and his partner. A girl appeared, and she exposed the villain, and the latter stalked around and vowed vengeance on both the girl and the young gold hunter.
The second part of the play took place in Alaska, and there was shown a typical mining town and then the mountains. It was mid-winter and the mountains were covered with snow. The young gold hunter and his partner had discovered several nuggets of good size, enough to make them rich, and were bound back to the mining camp when the villain and his cronies appeared and robbed them. Then came a fierce snowstorm and a blizzard, and the young gold hunter and his partner were lost on the fields of ice. This was tremendously realistic, and the audience held its breath in suspense, wondering what would happen next.
"Isn't it great!" murmured Tom, his eyes fairly glued to the screen before him. "I never saw anything so real!"
"That must surely have been taken in Alaska," answered Sam.
"Lost in the ice fields!" went on Tom. "How terrible!"
The play went on. The young gold hunter and his partner were almost frozen to death, when the scene shifted to the mining camp. Word of the robbery was brought in by an Indian, and the father of the girl organized a rescuing party, taking his daughter and half a dozen men with him. On the way they ran across the villain and his cronies, frozen stiff in the ice and snow and with the stolen nuggets in their possession. Then the rescuing party went on, until they reached the young gold hunter and his partner just in time to save them from death. The young man was given his nuggets, and he asked for the hand of the girl who had aided in the search; and all ended happily.
"Well, that was certainly a great play!" was Spud's comment, as the students left the photo playhouse. "Wow! it made me fairly shiver to look at that snow and those fields of ice!"
"It was just as if a fellow was there," said Sam.
"Think of the work of taking those films!" said Bob Grimes. "I'll wager the photographer had pretty cold fingers!"
Thus the talk ran on, all of the students being enthusiastic over the production. The only one who was rather quiet was Tom, and soon Sam noticed this.
"What's the matter, Tom; don't you feel well?" he asked, anxiously.
"Nothing extra," was the answer, and Tom put his hands to his eyes. "I guess that moving picture strained my head too much. But it was great—best picture I ever saw! Say, I'd like to go to Alaska once, wouldn't you, Sam?"
"Yes, but not to be caught in the ice and snow like that," returned the younger Rover boy. "Say, it's a good show for the girls, all right," he went on.
"Fine. We'll take 'em as soon as we can arrange it."
All the way back to Brill the students talked about the wonderful Alaskan film, which had really been taken on the spot and had cost a good deal of money. Evidently in opening the new photo playhouse Messrs. Carr and Beckwith had resolved to give the audiences their money's worth.
It was a good advertisement, too, for not only did the town people flock to the place, but the college students told their friends, and the next evening a score or more of the boys attended the performance. The dimes flowed in steadily, much to the delight of the owners of the project.
That evening Sam noticed that Tom was quite feverish and he advised his brother to take an extra pill, to quiet him.
"Oh, all I need is sleep," said Tom. "That picture hurt my eyes a little. After they are rested I'll be all right." And then he undressed and retired.
Sam had been asleep about two hours when he awoke with a start. He sat up, and in the dim light of the room saw his brother thrashing wildly in the bed.
"Give me the nuggets!" murmured poor Tom, in a nightmare. "I must have the money! Ha, the biggest nugget in Alaska!" He clutched at the pillow. "Out of my way, I say! It is mine! Look, it is snowing! Where is the trail? We are lost! See the ice and snow! Lost! lost! lost!" And Tom floundered around more wildly than ever.
Sam leaped out of bed, and, catching his brother by the arm, shook him vigorously.
"Tom! Tom! wake up!" he cried. "You're asleep! Wake up! You are not in Alaska! Wake up!"
"Oh, the ice and snow! And the trail is lost! We shall die! Can nothing save—— Er—er—eh? What's the—the matter?" stammered Tom, and suddenly opened his eyes. "What are you shaking me for, Sam?" he demanded.
"You've got a nightmare, Tom, and you were shouting to beat the band!"
"Was I? Say, I—I thought I was in Alaska, right in that field of snow and ice. And I was lost! Gosh! what a scare I had!" And poor Tom fairly trembled.
"Well, go to sleep and try to forget it," said Sam, and Tom laid down again, and soon dropped off. Sam also retired once more, but he was much troubled.
"I guess it didn't do Tom any good to go to that show," he reasoned.
IN WHICH TOM DISAPPEARS
Sam was the first one up in the morning. He found Tom thrashing around in his bed. He had an uncertain look in his eyes and was feverish.
"How do you feel, Tom?" he asked, sitting down and taking his brother's hand.
"Not as good as usual," was the reply. Tom put his hand to his head, as of old. "I've got a fierce pain here," he added.
"Shall I send for a doctor?"
"No, I'll keep quiet and maybe it will go over, Sam."
"All right, I'll have you excused from lessons."
Sam dressed and went below, and after breakfast came up again. He found Tom sound asleep.
"I guess sleep will do him as much good as anything," he told himself, and went out again, closing the door softly.
Sam had two classes to attend before dinner, so it was not until quarter to twelve that he had a chance to run up to the room again. To his surprise Tom was gone.
"Songbird, did you see Tom?" he called to his chum, who was in the next room.
"He's gone, and I left him sound asleep when I went to lessons."
"Oh, he must be somewhere around," suggested the would-be poet of the college. "Maybe he's taking a bath."
"I'll find out," said Sam.
On the way to the bathroom he met Spud and asked about Tom.
"Why, I saw Tom about eleven o'clock," said Spud. "He told me he was going to town to see a doctor."
"Oh, all right," and Sam felt much relieved. He went to dinner with the others and then waited for Tom's return. A full hour went by and still Tom did not show himself, and then Sam sought out Spud once more.
"How did Tom act when he went away, Spud?"
"Act? What do you mean?"
"Was he all right?"
"Well, to tell the truth, Sam, I think he looked a bit strange in his eyes. But I guess he was all right. I'd not worry too much if I was you. He'll be back before long. Maybe Doctor Havens was out and he had to wait."
Presently Sam had a lecture to attend and went off to it. At half-past three he was free once more and hurried again to his room. Tom was still absent, and nobody seemed to know anything about him.
"I guess I had better go to town and see where he is," thought Sam, and he asked Songbird if he wanted to go along.
"Yes, I'll go, Sam. But don't worry so much—I'm certain Tom is O.K."
"Maybe, Songbird. But you know how queer he acted. He didn't seem to be able to get over that crack in his head."
"Well, it was an awful blow, Sam. It would have killed some people."
Before long the pair were on their way to Ashton. About half way to the town they met two students who had been away from Brill for several days.
"Did you come from Ashton, Cabot?" asked Sam, of one of the boys.
"See anything of my brother Tom?"
"I think I saw him," said the other student, a fellow named Lambert.
"Down at the depot. I was looking for my baggage. I think I saw him near the freight house."
"Was he alone?"
"Yes, so far as I know. Why, what's wrong, Rover?"
"Oh, nothing, only I want to find him," said Sam, and to avoid further questioning, he hurried on, pulling Songbird with him.
"If Tom was at the freight house he must have been taking a walk," suggested Songbird.
"Perhaps; but I am awfully worried about this."
It did not take the two students long to reach Ashton, and Sam went directly to the home of Doctor Havens, located in a grove of trees on a side street. A man was washing down the front piazza with a pail of water.
"Is the doctor in?" asked Sam.
"No, sir, he won't he in until about six o'clock," said the man.
"How long has he been gone, may I ask?"
"He went to the city directly after breakfast this morning, for a consultation with some other doctors."
"He hasn't any assistant?"
"No, sir, but he said if anybody needed a doctor in a hurry to call old Doctor Slate."
"Where does he live?"
"In the big white house on the hill, opposite the depot."
"I know the place," put in Songbird.
"We'll go there," said Sam. "Much obliged," he added, to the man.
"Maybe Tom went there and that is how Lambert came to see him near the freight house," suggested Songbird.
"We'll soon know," returned the youngest Rover.
It did not take the students long to cross the railroad tracks and reach Doctor Slate's residence. They found the old doctor out in his garden, tying up some bushes. He was a white-haired gentleman and had given up his regular practice some years before.
"No, there has been no young man to see me," he said, in answer to Sam's question. "Old Mrs. Powers was in, and Pop Slocum, the negro, and that's all."
"In that case, Tom must be hanging around town, waiting for Doctor Havens to return," said Songbird.
"It's a puzzle to me," said Sam, with a deep sigh, and he and his chum walked slowly away.
"I wouldn't worry so much, Sam," said Songbird, sympathetically. "I am sure it will be all right."
"It would be if Tom was all right in his head, Songbird. But you know how he acted that day Stanley and Spud went into the old well hole, and——"
"Well, what could happen to him in Ashton, such a sleepy country town as this is? Oh, he's around somewhere and will soon turn up, take my word for it."
They found the depot deserted, for it was a time of day when there were no trains. Then they walked up the main street, past the stores and the Eclipse photo playhouse. The afternoon performance was just over at the show place and a crowd of about a hundred, mostly women and children, was pouring forth. In the crowd were a burly, jolly looking farmer and a pretty girl, his daughter.
"Why, Mr. Sanderson!" cried Songbird, his face lighting up. "And you, Minnie! This is a surprise!" and he shook hands.
"Oh!" cried the girl, and smiled sweetly. "I didn't expect to see you here."
"We were doing some tradin' in town and thought we'd run in and see the movin' picters," said Mr. Sanderson, who knew the boys well. "They sure are great."
"We came in to find Tom," said Sam, as he, too, shook hands. He and his brothers had once done Minnie Sanderson a great service, the particulars of which I have related in "The Rover Boys at College." Since that time Songbird had frequently visited the Sanderson homestead, to call on Minnie, whom he regarded as the nicest young lady of his acquaintance.
"To find Tom?" repeated Minnie.
"Yes. Have you seen him?"
"I saw him about noon time," said Mr. Sanderson.
"Why, he was walking along the road to Hope Seminary."
"The road to Hope?" cried Sam. "Are you sure?"
"Tolerably sure, Sam. I was drivin' rather fast an' didn't take much of a look. But I reckon it was Tom."
"Maybe he went there to call on Nellie," suggested Songbird.
"This mixes me up," murmured Sam. "I don't know what to think."
"I trust there is nothing wrong, Sam," said Minnie, sweetly. She counted the Rovers among her warmest friends.
"I—I hope not, and yet I am very much worried. You see, Tom hasn't been just himself ever since he got that blow on the head. He came to Ashton to see a doctor, but the doctor was away on business. Now I can't find him anywhere."
"If you want to go to Hope I'll drive you there," said Mr. Sanderson. "I've got to go there anyway—to see about some potatoes they wanted. Minnie said she would stay in town and do some more shopping, until I got back. But I've only got a buggy big enough for two," added the farmer.
"I could stay in town with Minnie until you got back," said Songbird, eagerly, to Sam. "I could keep my eyes open for Tom."
"We could both look for him," added the girl. It pleased her to think she might have the would-be poet's company.
The matter was talked over for several minutes and then it was agreed that Sam should ride over to the seminary with the farmer.
"You won't have to hurry back," said Songbird, on parting. "If it gets too late Minnie and I can go over to the hotel for supper," and he smiled at the girl, who blushed and smiled in return.
Mr. Sanderson had always owned some excellent horses and the mare attached to his buggy was a swift animal. He and Sam got into the turnout, and away they went with a whirl, soon leaving Ashton behind.
"This year the seminary is going to buy all its potatoes from me," explained the farmer. "And they get their cabbages, and carrots and turnips from me, too, and a good many of their eggs and chickens. They are quite a customer, and I want to do my best to please 'em."
"It's a fine place," returned Sam. "Just as good as Brill."
"So it is, Sam. By the way, how is Dick makin' out? I understand he was lookin' after your father's business."
"He is, and he is getting along very well. Of course, our lawyer is helping him, for some matters are in an awful tangle."
"That feller who hit Tom over the head ought to have been put in jail."
"Well, he is going to lose most of his property—or at least, he had to give up what belonged to Dad. The lawyer thinks that will be punishment enough. We thought of prosecuting the bunch, but Dad is in such bad health he didn't want to bother. Besides, one of the crowd, Josiah Crabtree, broke his leg in two places and he will be a cripple for life."
"Serves the rascal right! He had no business to interfere with you, and with that Mrs. Stanhope an' her daughter. I ain't got no sympathy to waste on sech cattle," snorted the straight-minded farmer.
Presently they came in sight of Hope Seminary and Mr. Sanderson drove around to a side door, to interview the housekeeper. Sam walked around to the front, and rang the doorbell, and a maid answered his summons.
"I would like to see Miss Grace Laning," he said. "Or, if she isn't in, her sister, Miss Nellie."
"Yes, sir," and the girl ushered the young collegian into the reception room.
A few minutes later Grace appeared. She looked at Sam in surprise.
"Why, I thought you wrote you'd come next Tuesday," she cried.
"So I did, Grace. But this time I've come about Tom. Have you seen him?"
"Tom? No. Did he come here?"
"I thought he might have come. Mr. Sanderson saw him on the road, headed in this direction."
"Oh, Sam, you look so—so alarmed! What is it? What do you think has happened?"
"I don't know what has happened, Grace. But something is wrong, I feel sure of it," answered Sam, with conviction. "Tom is missing, and I can't imagine what has become of him."
WHAT THE GIRLS KNEW
After that, Sam related the particulars of what had occurred, to which Grace listened closely. As she did this, tears streamed down the cheeks of the girl.
"This will break Nellie's heart—if it isn't broken already," she faltered. "You know I wrote that I had something to tell you, Sam. It was about Nellie. But I can't tell you here—let us take a walk."
"All right. But I can't stay long—I must go back with Mr. Sanderson and continue this hunt for Tom."
"To be sure—I won't keep you but a few minutes." Grace led the way outside and down one of the campus walks. "You remember that time we came back from the auto ride?" she said.
"Well, when Nellie and I got to our room she threw herself on the bed and cried as if her heart was breaking. I couldn't do anything with her. I wanted to find out what it was all about, but at first she wouldn't tell me a word. Then she said it was Tom—that he had acted so queerly when they took a walk in the park he had scared her."
"What did he do?"
"Oh, he talked so queer! He told Nellie tie wished he had the Dartaway back, so that they could go on a honeymoon trip to the moon. And then he laughed and asked her if she would go on a camelback ride with him through the Sahara desert. And then he said he didn't want to get married until he could lay a big nugget of gold at her feet—and a lot of nonsense like that. She was awfully scared at first, but after a while he got more rational and then she felt a little better. But she couldn't get it off her mind, and it made her feel dreadful! And then, the other day, Tom sent her the queerest letter, full of all sorts of the wildest kind of nonsense—about going to the North Pole and bringing the pole back with him, and about sending her a pair of slippers, to wear in place of gloves, and asking her to send him a red and blue handkerchief, to keep his head from aching. And he wrote that he didn't think he was cut out for college, that he would rather shovel nuggets in a gold mine—that is just what he wrote—'shovel nuggets in a gold mine!' Oh, such a mixed-up letter you never read! And it made Nellie cry again. Oh, Sam, what does it mean?"
He shook his head and gave a deep sigh.
"I don't know, Grace. It scares me almost as much as it has Nellie. Maybe Tom ought to be put in a sanitarium."
"Oh, do you think he is really out of his mind?"
"It almost looks that way. Poor Tom! and he was always so bright and full of fun!"
"But what can—Oh, Sam, here is Nellie now!" cried Grace, as her sister appeared and ran towards them.
"Oh, Sam, I just met Mr. Sanderson and he said you were looking for Tom!" cried Nellie, as she came closer.
"That's true, Nellie."
"He hasn't been here—at least I haven't seen him."
"So Grace just told me," Sam tried to look at the girl in front of him, but had to turn his gaze away. He knew only too well how much Nellie thought of his brother.
"Did he—he run away?" burst out Nellie.
"I don't know about that, Nellie," said Sam, and told his story over again, just as he had related it to her sister.
Nellie burst into tears, and Sam and Grace did their best to comfort her. Grace's own eyes were moist, and Sam had all he could do to keep from breaking down likewise.
"Oh, he is gone, I am sure of it!" cried Nellie. "He is not himself at all! For all we know he may have thrown himself into the river! Oh, what shall we do? What can we do?" and she wrung her hands.
"Don't take it so hard, Nellie, it may not be so bad after all," said her sister, soothingly. "Tom may be back to Brill by this time."
For several minutes the matter was talked over. Then Mr. Sanderson appeared, ready to return to Ashton for his daughter.
"I'll help you hunt for Tom," said the bluff farmer. "I know he must be somewhere around. Don't you worry so," for he could see that Nellie had been crying.
"Send word at once, when you do find him," begged Nellie, as the buggy drove away, and Sam promised.
On the way back to town but little was said. Near Brill they met quite a few students and the youngest Rover asked them if they had seen his brother. All replied in the negative.
When Ashton was reached it was dark, and they drove around to the hotel. Songbird and Minnie had been dining, and the student asked Mr. Sanderson and Sam to have something.
"No, I don't care to eat just now," said Sam. "I'll take another look around," and he left the Sandersons and Songbird together.
But Sam's walk around the town was productive of no results. He called again on the two doctors, only to be told that Tom had not shown himself at either place. At the depot nobody seemed to remember seeing him. The youth visited several stores where Tom was known, but none of the clerks had seen the missing one.
"I suppose all I can do is to return to Brill and wait," said Sam, on rejoining those at the hotel. "I might send out a general alarm, but I'd hate to do that and then have Tom walk in as if nothing unusual had happened."
"And it would be just like him to do it," returned Songbird.
It was nearly ten o'clock when Sam and his chum returned to the college. Tom had not yet shown himself, nor had he sent in any word. His books and his clothing were exactly as he had left them.
"Well, he didn't take anything with him," was Sam's comment, as several of his chums came in to sympathize with him. "That looks as if he hadn't meant to go far."
"Oh, he'll be back, don't worry," said Spud, optimistically.
All did their best to cheer poor Sam up, but this did little good. Sam was much worried and his face showed it.
"I don't know what to do," he said. "I certainly don't feel like going to bed."
One of the proctors had heard that Tom was missing and came to the room to see about it. Sam told him all he knew and the proctor said he would immediately report the case to Doctor Wallington.
"You know he can't stay out as late as this without permission," observed the proctor.
"Permission or no permission I wish he was here," answered Sam. "He is sick and I am very much worried about him." And then the proctor left.
An hour dragged by and the other students went to bed. Sam sat up in an easy chair, trying to doze, but starting up at every sound. He tried to figure out what would be best for him to do, but could reach no satisfactory conclusion. He looked out of the window. The moon was setting and soon all became dark. A wagon rattled by on the roadway beyond the campus, and the clock in the college tower tolled out the hour of midnight.
"This is simply awful!" murmured Sam, as he walked back to the easy chair and dropped down. "I wonder if I hadn't better send a message to Dick? But I can't do it until seven o'clock—the telegraph office is closed."
At last Sam became so worn out that he could keep his eyes open no longer. He flung himself on his bed, dressed as he was, and fell into a fitful doze. And thus the hours went by until the sun shone over the hills in the East.
"Did he come in?" It was a question put by Songbird, as he came to the door.
"Say, Sam, this is strange. What are you going to do?"
"I don't know—telegraph to Dick and send out a general alarm, I guess."
"You don't think he simply ran away, do you?"
"What, without telling me? You know better than that, Songbird."
"Then he must have wandered off while he was out of his mind. Maybe he's somewhere in the woods around here."
"Maybe. I only hope he isn't hurt."
"Well, if I can do anything, let me know," answered Songbird, and stepped back into his room to dress.
As soon as possible Sam went to Doctor Wallington and talked the matter over with the head of Brill. The worthy doctor knew about the case already and was all sympathy.
"We had better send out a general alarm," he said. "And you can notify your folks. It was a mistake to let your brother come back here so soon after being hurt. You can take one of the carriages and drive down to Ashton at once, if you wish, and also drive around to some of the other places in this vicinity. Somebody must have seen your brother after he left here, or after Mr. Sanderson saw him."
"Would you mind if I take John Powell with me?" asked Sam. "I may need somebody to help me."
"Very well, Rover, he can go if he wishes."
"To be sure I'll go," said Songbird, when told of this. "And we'll find Tom, see if we don't," he added, by way of cheering Sam.
Sam waited until nine o'clock to see if Tom would show himself and then he and Songbird drove over the Ashton. A search lasting the best part of an hour followed, but nothing new was learned. Then, rather reluctantly—for he knew that Dick was having trouble enough attending to their father's affairs—he sent a telegram to his big brother, telling of Tom's disappearance, and adding that he would telegraph again, if anything new turned up.
In driving over to Hope Seminary Mr. Sanderson had pointed out to Sam the spot where he had seen—or thought he had seen—Tom. Sam now determined to visit that spot and see if from that point he could not get on the trail of his brother.
The place was near a turn of the road and just beyond was another road. At the forks stood an old stone house, wherein lived an old basketmaker named Rater. The girls of Hope often bought baskets from the man just to help him along.
Sam and Songbird found Rater sitting on a side porch of his home, with his basket-making materials scattered around him. He was a tall, thin man, somewhat deaf, but with a pair of sharp eyes.
"Come to buy a basket?" he asked, briskly.
"No, I came for a little information, if you can give it, Mr. Rater," replied Sam.
"What do you want to know?"
"Were you here yesterday?"
"I sure was—all day long."
"Did you see anything of my brother?" went on Sam. "He is a little larger than I am, and here is his picture," and the youngest Rover produced a photograph he had brought along.
The old basketmaker looked at the photograph carefully.
"Why, yes, I see that feller," he said slowly. "He stopped at my gate fer a minute or two. He acted sort o' strange."
"In what way?"
"He didn't speak to me, he spoke to hisself. Said something about a basketful o' nuggets. I asked him if he wanted to buy a basket, but he only shook his head an' said somethin' about wantin' to git the nuggets o' gold first. Then, all of a sudden like, he ran away."
"And which way did he go?" asked Sam, with interest.
"Up the Hoopville road," and the old basketmaker pointed to the side road which ran past his home.
"Did he have any baggage with him?" questioned Songbird.
"Nary a thing."
"Thank you for the information," said Sam, and passed over a quarter, which Rater pocketed with a broad smile. Ready money was scarce with him.
"We'll drive to Hoopville," said Sam, a minute later, as he and Songbird got in the buggy. "And we'll ask about Tom on the way."
A quarter of a mile was passed and they came to a lonely spot on the highway. Here, the only building in sight was a half tumbled down cottage belonging to a man named Hiram Duff. Duff pretended to be poor, but common report had it that he was a miser and fairly well to do.
"Going to stop here?" questioned Songbird, as they drove near.
"We might as well," returned Sam. "Old Duff is a tough customer, but in this case——"
He did not finish for at that instant a muffled cry came from the old cottage, startling both boys.
AT HIRAM DUFF'S COTTAGE
"What can that be?"
"Must be somebody in trouble!"
"Maybe it is old Duff!"
"Let us go and see!"
With these hasty exclamations both boys leaped from the carriage they occupied and ran towards the delapidated cottage. The cries continued, coming from somewhere in the interior.
"Wait—we'll look in the window first," suggested Sam. "Maybe old Duff is having a quarrel with one of his neighbors, and if so it might not be wise to interfere."
There was a window with small panes of glass close at hand, and going to this the two youths peered into the cottage. To their surprise they could see nobody. Both lower rooms of the old building seemed to be unoccupied.
"Let's go around to the rear. Maybe the sounds come from there," suggested Songbird.
There was a path full of weeds leading to a rear porch that was almost ready to fall down. The back door stood partly open. Nobody was in sight.
"The call comes from somewhere inside," said Sam. "Come on in. But be on your guard, Songbird. We don't want to get into trouble."
Both lads crossed the rickety porch and entered what was the kitchen of the cottage. A musty odor pervaded the building, for old Duff usually kept everything tightly closed.
The place was in disorder, a chair being overturned and several cooking utensils littering the floor. On the stove, which was cold, lay a big carving knife.
"What do you want? Where are you?" called out Sam.
"Oh, help me! Get me out of here!" came the somewhat faint reply. "I am in the cellar!"
"In the cellar!" repeated Songbird. "Are you Mr. Duff?"
"Yes. Help me out, please."
Both boys looked around for a stairs, but there was none. Then, to one side of the kitchen floor, they saw a trap door. It was shut down and bolted by means of a plug stuck through two staples.
It was an easy matter to kick the plug away and raise the trap door. The boys peered down into the opening below and saw Hiram Duff sitting on the lower step of the stairs. He looked hollow-eyed and almost exhausted.
"What's the matter, Mr. Duff? How did you get shut up this way?" asked Sam, kindly.
"Oh, my! Oh, my!" sighed the old miser. "Ca—can't you help me up the stairs? I am so—so weak I can't hardly walk. Where is the rascal who shut me up this way? I'll have the police on him!"
"Did somebody shut you up In this cellar?" asked Sam, as he and Songbird crawled below to give the old man assistance. They saw that the cellar was merely a big hole in the ground and the stairs were very steep and not particularly safe.
"Yes, somebody got me to come down here and then locked that trap door on me," grumbled the miser. He got up with difficulty and crawled slowly to the kitchen, the boys coming after him to see that he did not fall back. "Oh, dear, what a time I have had of it!" he whined.
"When was this?" asked Songbird.
"I don't know—that is, I can't tell how long it was until I know what time it is now."
"It is half-past ten," answered Sam, consulting his watch.
"What! Do you mean half-past ten in the morning?" burst out Hiram Duff. "If that's true then I've been down cellar all night—ever since yesterday afternoon! No wonder I was hungry and thirsty. I've got to have something to eat and drink soon, or I'll starve to death!" And he walked to the kitchen cupboard and got out some bread and meat. There was water in a pail on the bench and he took a long drink of this.
"Who was it locked you in the cellar?" asked Sam.
"Who be you boys?" asked the miser in return.
"We belong to Brill College. We were driving past and we heard you yell," answered Songbird.
"Yes, I thought I heard a carriage on the road, so I called as loud as I could. I did that ever since that fellow went away, but I guess nobody heard me—leastwise, they didn't pay no attention."
"Will you tell us how it all happened?" asked Sam, and then he added aside to Songbird. "Don't say anything about Tom." And the would-be poet of Brill nodded to show he understood.
"It was this way," answered Hiram Duff, dropping down on the chair Sam fixed for him. "I was sitting on the back porch mending my coat when all of a sudden a fellow came around the corner of the house. He was a strange looking young fellow and he wore a funny looking cap pulled away down over his eyes. He asked me if I wasn't Hackler. I said I wasn't, that my name was Hiram Duff. Then he says, 'I knew it, I knew it! At last!' and sits down on the porch. I says, 'At last, what?' and he says something about a nugget of gold. He acted awful mysterious like, and finally he asks me if I'd like to own half of a big nugget of gold. I told him I certainly would."
"And then?" asked Sam, as the old miser paused to take a bite of bread and meat.
"Then he told a queer story about a nugget of gold brought down to this place from Alaska. He was very mysterious, and at last he said the nugget was right down in my cellar, and if I'd dig it up fer him he'd give me half. At first I thought he was fooling, or wasn't just right in his mind, but a nugget of gold—even a little one—isn't to be sneezed at, and it wouldn't cost me nuthing to go down cellar and look. So I starts to go down the stairs when he says to be careful, that he would look around, to make sure nobuddy was a-spying on him. He said the nugget was in the northwest corner. I went down and the next thing I knew I heard a strange cry upstairs. 'You shan't rob me! The nugget is mine!' yells that fellow and bang! goes that trap door, and then he up and bolts it fast, so I couldn't open it. I calls to let me out, and he calls back for me to keep quiet until he got some friends, so I couldn't rob him of that nugget. Then he slammed around upstairs here something awful. At last he went away; and that's the last I seen or heard of him."
"What did you do? Didn't you try to get out?" questioned Songbird.
"For a long time I waited, thinking he would come back. And as he seemed so sure about the nugget I took the lantern and looked for it. But there wasn't no signs of any gold. Then the lantern got dry and went out, leaving me in the dark. I didn't know what to make of it. I went up the stairs and tried to open the door, but I couldn't budge it. Then I tried to dig my way out of the hole, but the old shovel I had broke and there I was. I'm an old man and pretty full of rheumatism, and staying down cellar all night has most finished me," concluded Hiram Duff, with a groan.
"Did the fellow say where he was going?" asked Sam, after a pause.
"Said he was going to get help, that's all, so I couldn't rob him of that nugget. I don't know what to make of it. Might be he was a lunatic, eh?" went on the old miser, suddenly. "Maybe he run away from some asylum."
"Possibly," answered Sam, shortly. "Did he take anything, do you suppose?" he went on.
"Take anything? You mean steal anything?" cried Hiram Duff, and started back. The sandwich he had made for himself dropped from his hand. "I—I wonder if he did take anything," he muttered, and his eyes roved towards the other room of the cottage.
"Better take a look around, if you had anything of value," said Sam, and gave Songbird a meaning look.
With feeble steps the old miser walked out of the kitchen into what had been the sitting room of the cottage. As he was too feeble to sleep upstairs, Hiram Duff now used the apartment for a bedroom as well. He closed the door between the two rooms and the boys heard him rummaging around among his possessions. Then came a wild cry.
"It's gone! It's gone! My tin box is gone!"
"Your tin box?" repeated Songbird, as the old man threw open the door.
"Yes! yes! The fellow has robbed me! Oh, this is dreadful! What shall I do? I am a poor man! Oh, I'll have to go to the poorhouse!" And the miser commenced to wring his hands.
"What did you have in the box?" questioned Sam.
"I had—some—er—some money, and some—er—jewelry," faltered Hiram Duff. He was a very secretive man naturally and it galled him to make the admission.
"How much money, Mr. Duff?"
"Oh, a—er—quite some. Oh, this is too bad! What shall I do? This will ruin me! Oh, where is that rascal? How can I catch him?" and the old man ran around the kitchen, staring at one thing and another, and at the boys.
"This must be Tom's work," whispered Sam to Songbird. "I wonder what I had best do about it?"
"Wait until you are sure it was Tom," advised the would-be poet.
Sam commenced to question the old miser regarding the looks of the fellow who had visited him. He soon became convinced that it must have been Tom. Clearly his brother must now be completely out of his mind.
"Poor, poor Tom," he sighed. "If he is going to act this way, what will he do next? I wish I could find him, and that Dick was here to help me to take care of him and clear up this mess."
"I don't know what I'm a-going to do," whined Hiram Duff. "I gotter find that box."
"How big a box was it?" questioned Sam.
"'Twasn't so very big—a fellow could put it in his pocket. But it had gold—I mean money—in it, and my dead wife's jewelry."
"How much money, Mr. Duff?"
"What business is that of yours?" demanded the miser, suspiciously.
"Why, I think—maybe I can help you get it back," stammered Sam. He grew red in the face. "To tell the plain truth, I think I know who that fellow was."
"Tell me what you lost first."
"Well, if you must know, that box had three hundred dollars in gold in it, besides the jewelry. That my wife got from her folks when they died, and they said it was wuth over a hundred dollars."
"Is that all?"
"Ain't that enough? Land sakes! I ain't no millionaire! That gold was a-going to keep me from the poorhouse." And Hiram Duff shook his head dolefully. He did not tell the young collegiates that he had an even ten thousand dollars in the banks. He had saved money all his life, denying himself and his wife almost the necessities of life.
"Do you suppose anybody else could have come in and taken the box?" said Songbird.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, did anybody come in after that fellow left?"
"How should I know?—I was down cellar."
"Did you hear anybody?"
"I heard something. Maybe it was somebody, or maybe it was my sheep. They come up to the house sometimes."
"But what do you know about this?" demanded Hiram Duff, turning to Sam. "You said you might help me to git the money back."
"I'll tell you," said Sam, and related how his brother had disappeared and how the blow on the head seemed to have affected him.
"That's it! That's him! That's the man!" cried the old miser. "He did it! You catch him and git my money back!" he went on, excitedly.
"I'll certainly do my best to find him, Mr. Duff," answered Sam. "And if he really took your box you shall have what you lost back."
"Is he crazy, do you think?"
"He wouldn't do such a thing if he was in his right mind."
"Tom Rover is as honest as the day is long," declared Songbird. "If he really took your box he didn't know what he was doing."
"Well, he certainly did act queer," agreed Hiram Duff. "But that ain't here nor there. I want my box back, with all that's in it, and I'm going to have it. I guess I had better go to town and tell the police about this."
THE WESTERN EXPRESS
The old miser was very much excited and began to pace the floor of his cottage.
"Yes, I better tell the police, that's what I better do," he muttered.
"There won't be any necessity to tell the police—if it was really my brother who did it," said Sam.
"Why not, I'd like to know?" challenged Hiram Duff. "He ain't no better'n other folks."
"If he took the box, I and my family will see to it that you are repaid for your loss, Mr. Duff," answered the youngest Rover.
"Humph! Do you guarantee that?" demanded the old miser, suspiciously.
"And you can take his word for it, sir," added Songbird. "The Rovers are well-known and wealthy, and they will do exactly as they promise.
"I've heard that name before. Didn't you have some trouble with the railroad company?" asked Hiram Duff. "About a busted-up flying machine?"
"Yes," replied Sam.
"And got the best of that skinflint lawyer, Belright Fogg?"
"We made Mr. Fogg pay for the biplane, yes."
"I know all about it," chuckled Hiram Duff. "Served Fogg right. And he lost his job with the railroad company, too." The old man pursed up his lips. "Well, if you'll give me your word that you will settle with me I won't go to the police. But I want every cent that is coming to me, understand that."
"You'll get it—if my brother took the box," answered Sam. "But listen to me. First of all I want to find my brother. I think he ought to be under a doctor's care."
"He ought to be in an asylum," responded Hiram Duff, bluntly. "It's dangerous to allow sech a feller at large."
"Maybe. We are going on a hunt for him right now," answered Sam. "I'll come back here, or you can come to see me at Brill. And don't worry, Mr. Duff,—you'll not lose a cent," added the youth, earnestly.
Luckily Hiram Duff had heard all about the trouble the Rovers had had with the railroad lawyer, and had at the time also heard that Sam's family were wealthy and of high standing. This being so, he took matters far more calmly than would otherwise have been the case. But he wanted something in writing and Sam quickly wrote out a statement and signed it.
"Now we must get after my brother," said the youth. "Although you say you have no idea where he went?"
"No, I ain't got the least idee."
"Let us drive on towards Hoopville," suggested Songbird. "We can make inquiries along the way."
In a few minutes more the pair were on the way, Hiram Duff gazing after them anxiously.
"Don't forget to let me hear from you!" he called out.
"Songbird, this is terrible!" murmured Sam, as they drove on. "I wish Dick was here to advise me."
"He'll come as quickly as he can, don't worry about that, Sam. I only hope we catch Tom before he gets too far away."
About a mile was covered along the road leading to Hoopville, a small village, the single industry of which was the making of barrel hoops. Then they came to another farmhouse, where they saw a boy of fifteen sitting on a horse-block, whittling a stick.
"Hello, there!" called out Sam. "Say, I'm looking for a young fellow that passed here yesterday. Did you see anything of him? Here is his picture."
"Sure I saw him," answered the boy, after a glance at the photograph. "I drove him over to Morton's Junction."
"Drove him over to Morton's Junction?" repeated Sam. "When?"
"Yesterday afternoon. But we didn't git to the Junction till seven o'clock."
"Where did you go to?"
"What do you want to know for?" asked the boy, curiously.
"He is my brother and I want to find him, just as quickly as I can."
"Oh! Well, he wanted to catch a train. He just got it, too."
"The Western Express. He wouldn't have got it only it was about ten minutes late. He got aboard just as she started out from the depot."
Sam's heart sank at this news. Tom on the Western Express! For what place had he been bound?
"Did he say where he was going?" put in Songbird.
"To Chicago, I think. He talked to himself a good deal. Said something about Chicago and St. Paul and Seattle. I asked him if he was on business and he said he was going to pick up nuggets of gold. I guess he was poking fun at me," went on the boy, sheepishly. "But he paid me two dollars for driving him over," he added, with satisfaction.
"Did he have much money?" asked Sam. "Tell me all you know. I might as well tell tell you, that was my brother, and he is sick in his head, so that he doesn't know just what he is doing."
"Say, I thought he was queer—he had such a look out of his eyes, and talked so much to himself. He only had about ten dollars in bills. But he said he had some gold in his pocket, in a box. He didn't show it, though. He said he was on Bill Stiger's trail."
"Bill Stiger's trail," murmured Sam, and his mind went back to the night Tom had gone to see the moving picture drama entitled "Lost in the Ice Fields of Alaska." Bill Stiger had been the name of the villain in the play—the rascal who had robbed the hero of his golden nuggets.
"He didn't have no ticket," went on the boy. "So he could get off the train anywhere."
"We must hurry to Morton's Junction and see if we can find out anything more," said Sam to his college chum. His face showed plainly how greatly he was worried.
The boy told them how to go and they made the best time possible, arriving at the Junction some time after noon. They found the depot master on the platform.
"I remember the fellow you mean," he said. "He got on the last car. Dunkirt, the conductor, helped him up. But I don't know where he went to. Maybe Dunkirt could tell you, when he gets back here."
"When will he be back?"
"He's off to-day and he'll be here on the one-thirty train. You can talk to him when he comes in, if you want to."
"I'll do it," answered Sam.
He and Songbird had an even hour to wait, and the latter suggested that they go to the Junction Hotel for dinner.
"Might as well eat, Sam," he said, kindly "It won't help matters any to go hungry."
"I don't care much about eating, Songbird," was the answer. "But I'll go along and take a bite. I wish I knew just where Tom had gone. I might telegraph ahead for him."
"Well, let us hope that conductor can tell you something."
With nothing to do but to wait, the boys took their time over the midday meal, and while doing this they had the team fed. Then they sauntered down to the depot to await the arrival of the man they wanted to interview. Presently the train came in and the depot master pointed out the conductor.
"Excuse me, but are you Mr. Dunkirt?" asked Sam.
"That's my handle," was the prompt reply.
"I am looking for the young man who jumped on your train just as it was leaving here yesterday."
"Ha! I thought somebody might be after that fellow!" exclaimed the conductor, quickly.
In a few words Sam explained as much of the situation as seemed necessary, the conductor listening with interest. He nodded his head several times.
"I thought he was a little bit off in his upper story," he said. "He talked rather wildly of going far away to get gold nuggets. He paid his fare to Chicago and that's as far as I carried him."
"What did he pay with?" asked Sam.
"He gave me a ten-dollar gold piece. He had quite a lot of gold with him."
"Did he say where he was going from Chicago?"
"Oh, yes, he had it all mapped out. He was going to St. Paul first and then straight west to Seattle. From there he was going to Alaska."
"Alaska!" cried Sam and Songbird, in a breath.
"That is what he said."
"What part of Alaska?" asked Sam, faintly.
"He didn't tell me and I didn't ask him. I rather thought he was kidding me, he acted so queer-like when he talked."
After this the conductor told all he could remember about Tom. He said that the youth had left the train at Chicago in a large crowd and that was the last he had seen of the youth.
"I'll send another telegram to Dick," said Sam to his chum.
"Why not telephone to Ashton first?" suggested the other. "There may be a telegram for you there."
"I'll do it," said Sam, and got the station master at Ashton on the wire as soon as possible.
"Yes, a telegram came in for you an hour ago," was the answer, over the telephone wire. "I sent it up to Brill."
"Will you have the operator read it to me?" asked the youth.
"Sure. Hold the wire a minute."
Another connection was apparently made and Sam heard a different voice.
"Is this Samuel Rover?"
"Want that message from Richard Rover?"
"If you please."
"He says he is coming up to Ashton on the train that gets here at eleven-fifteen tonight."
"Is that all?"
"Very well. Thank you," and Sam hung up the receiver.
"What's the news, Sam?" questioned Songbird, and when told he looked relieved. "Dick will know what to do."
"I know what I am going to do, Songbird. I am going right back to Brill and get ready to follow Tom."
"I supposed you'd do that. I'd like to go with you."
"I know it. But that won't be necessary—if Dick goes with me." Sam drew a deep breath. "I—I guess I'd better stop at Hope on the way back and let the girls know how matters stand," he added, soberly.
"I can go up to-morrow and tell them, Sam."
"No. I'd rather tell them myself," answered the youngest Rover. He knew exactly how Nellie and Grace would feel when he broke the news to them.
It was a very sober and thoughtful pair of boys that got in the carriage and started back to Brill by the way of Hope Seminary. Sam was laying his plans how to follow Tom in his wild trip West and Songbird was wondering how he could be of assistance to the Rovers. Several times the would-be poet started to quote some original verse, but each time cut himself short.
Presently they came in sight of Hope, just as the girls were coming from their afternoon classes. They espied Nellie and Grace, and beckoned to them. Both came forward on a run.
"What is the news, Sam?" asked Nellie, quickly.
"It's not very good, Nellie," he said, kindly. "Tom has run away."
"Run away!" gasped the girl, and turned pale. "Oh, you don't mean it!"
"Where did he go to?" questioned Grace.
"And from there, so he told a train conductor, he was going to Seattle and then to Alaska," said Songbird. "Sam and Dick are going after him, just as soon as they can."
"To Alaska! Tom has gone to Alaska!" murmured Nellie, and then she turned and swayed, and the next moment fainted in Sam's arms.
DICK AND SAM IN CHICAGO
"Get some water, Songbird, quick!"
"Oh, Sam, shall I get some smelling salts!" cried Grace.
"I guess the water will do, Grace. Here, stand on this side, so those other girls can't see Nellie," went on the boy. "No use of letting them know everything."
Grace understood and she and Sam shielded Nellie and carried her to a campus bench. Then Songbird arrived with a cup of water from a well. Just as he handed it over, Nellie opened her eyes.
"Oh! I—I—what happened?" she murmured. "Oh, I remember now!" And a look of pain crossed her face.
"Take a drink of water, dear," said her sister, and held the cup. Nellie took a sip and then Grace bathed her forehead with some water poured on a handkerchief that Sam passed over. Soon the girl sat up straight.
"I—I'm all right now," she faltered. "It—it was such a—a shock. Oh, Sam, do you really think Tom is bound for Alaska?"
"It looks like it, Nellie," he answered. "I'll tell you all about it, if you'll walk down the road, away from those other students." And then, as they walked away slowly, Sam and Songbird told their story, the two girls hanging on their every word.
"It's awful, terrible!" murmured Grace. "Poor Tom, he must be clear out of his mind!"
"That's the only explanation," answered Sam. "He'd never do such a thing if he was in his right senses."
"Oh, but he may lose his mind entirely," gasped Nellie. "I've read of such cases in the newspapers. A person wanders off and forgets who he is, or where he came from, and all that! Supposing Tom went to Alaska and that happened to him! Why, we might never be able to find him!" And the tears began to course down Nellie's cheeks.
"We'll find him," answered Sam, sturdily. "Why, we've got to do it!"
"But Alaska is so big, Sam! And think of going out to those mining camps, and out in that snow and ice! Oh, I can't stand it!" And Nellie's tears started afresh.
"We'll have to catch him before he has a chance to leave St. Paul or Seattle," returned the youth.
"I think they had better telegraph ahead and set somebody on the watch," said Songbird. "It will cost money to send a description of Tom, but it may pay to do it."
"Yes, yes! Do that, Sam! Anything to find Tom!" pleaded Nellie.
"We'll do what we can, Nellie, you can be sure of that," was the reply.
The boys remained with the girls a short time longer and then took their departure.
"Take care of yourself, Sam," said Grace, on parting. "If you go West don't get into any trouble."
"I won't get into any more trouble than I can help," he replied. "But we are bound to find Tom and bring him back."
It was dark when the boys got back to Brill, and while Songbird prepared to go to supper, Sam hurried to the office of the head of the institution. He found Doctor Wallington pouring over some teacher's reports. He listened with a troubled face to what Sam had to tell and shook his head slowly.
"Too bad, Rover, and I sympathize with you and your family from the bottom of my heart. Clearly that blow on the head has put your brother completely out of his mind. I am glad that Richard is coming to Ashton to aid you. What you had better do next is a problem."
"I think we'll send word West about Tom and then try to follow him," answered Sam. "That is why I came here—to notify you that I'd have to leave."
"I shall be sorry to lose you, Samuel. Let us hope that you'll be able to come back in a few days—and that Thomas's case will not prove as bad as we think. I agree that it is best for you to move at once, for there is no telling what your missing brother may do. Can I aid in any way?"
"You may cash a check for me—I may need some ready money,—if Dick doesn't happen to have enough with him."
"I'll do that with pleasure. Anything else?"
"I want to go to Ashton late this evening, to meet Dick. I'll take a suitcase with me."
"One of the men can drive you down. Will your brother come here?"
"Possibly. But both of us may stay in Ashton, to take the one o'clock train for Chicago. It stops on signal, you know."
"Yes. Very well. Anything else?"
"No, sir," answered Sam, and then he wrote out the check and got his money. A little later, after a hasty supper, he started to pack his suitcase with such things as he thought he might need for the trip to Chicago.
He was in the midst of his labors when Songbird came in, followed by Spud, Stanley, Max and several others. All wanted to assist him, yet they could do little. Each was deeply sympathetic.
"It's too bad, Sam," said Spud. "I hope you catch Tom before he has a chance to leave Chicago. Why when a chap gets out of his mind there is no telling what he'll do, or where he'll go."
"Oxactly so," came from Max. "I knowed a man vonce dot goes his mind owid. He took an axe, and—veil neffer mind, Dom ton't do nuddings like dot anyvay," added the German-American student hastily, after a warning look from Songbird.
"I think that moving picture must have hit Tom hard," said Stanley. "It was so lifelike. He talked about it a great deal."
"Yes, he couldn't forget it. He even talked about it in his sleep," returned Sam. "He wanted to go out and get those nuggets of gold."
"Well, I'd like some nuggets myself," cried Spud. "But I am not going to the ice fields of Alaska for 'em," he added, grimly, and this caused a faint smile to spread on some of the boys' faces.
Songbird had received permission to accompany Sam to Ashton, and at nine o'clock the youths were on the way, in a carriage driven by one of the college drivers. They went directly to the depot, there to await the arrival of the train that was to bring Dick.
It was a cold, disagreeable evening, with a promise of rain in the air. The boys were glad enough to go into the station, which was kept open for the coming of the late train.
"Can a fellow get on that one o'clock Chicago train from here?" asked Sam, of the ticket man.
"Yes, if he's got a ticket," was the reply. "I'll have to signal it to stop though."
"Well, I'll let you know about it as soon as I see my brother. He is coming in on the eleven-thirty."
It had begun to rain by the time the last-named train rolled in. Only three passengers got off, but one of them was Dick. He had a suitcase with him, and he fairly ran to meet Sam and Songbird.
"Any more news?" he demanded.
Sam related the particulars of what had occurred. In the meantime the train had gone on and the station was deserted by all but the ticket man.
"Going to lock up now," he said to the boys, who had gathered in the station, out of the rain.
"Wait just one minute please," pleaded Sam.
"Here, go out and get some cigars for yourself," added Dick, and passed over a quarter.
"Thanks, I will," returned the ticket man, and walked off to an all-night resort not far from the station.
"I don't see anything to do but to follow Tom to Chicago," said Dick. "We might send a telegram to the authorities, but I can't see how it would do any good. They don't know him, and in a big city like that it is hard enough to find a fellow when he is well-known. If we take that one o'clock train we'll be in Chicago by morning, and I'd rather look around myself than trust the police to do it."
"All right, I came prepared for the trip," answered Sam, and pointed to his suitcase.
When the station man came back they purchased two tickets for Chicago and the man set out his lantern to signal the express. Then Songbird said good-bye, wishing them all kinds of good luck, and rode back to Brill.
"Sam, this is simply terrible," observed the big brother, as he paced the depot platform, the station master having gone away. "I never thought such a thing as this would come to Tom."
"Neither did I, Dick. Nellie is all broke up over it, too."
"Did you send word home? I didn't."
"No, I didn't want to worry the folks until the last minute. But Dora knows, and so does Mrs. Stanhope."
"What about Dad's business, Dick? Can you get away from it?"
"I can't get away any too easily, Sam. Things are in a fearful snarl. But I telephoned to Mr. Powell, the lawyer, to look after matters during my absence. I think we've got those brokers under our thumb—at least I hope so. But if we haven't, we stand to lose a bunch of money."
"Twenty or thirty thousand dollars."
"That's too bad. If you think you ought to go back, I might look for Tom alone."
"Don't you dare to mention such a thing, Sam. I think more of Tom than I do of twice that amount of money—and so do you and the rest of the family. Our whole duty is to find Tom, and do it, too, before he gets into more mischief, or gets hurt," concluded the oldest Rover.
Promptly on time the night express bound west came along. It seldom stopped at Brill and the conductor gazed curiously at the two youths as they got aboard. Then the lantern was extinguished and set aside, and the heavy train rolled on.
Fortunately travel was light that night, so the lads had no trouble in getting a section of a sleeper from the Pullman porter. They had only the lower berth made up, and on that laid down, to talk matters over and get some sleep.
"Yes, it must have been that moving picture that set Tom off," said Dick, during the course of the conversation. "And that gives us something like a clue to work on. The main scenes took place in Alaska, and he may be just topsy-turvy enough in his mind to want to find those places. Talking about golden nuggets, and about being on the trail of Bill Stiger, looks like it, anyway."
"I think so myself, Dick. But his mind may change and he may go to Mexico, or Europe," and Sam sighed deeply.
Neither of the boys slept much and both were up almost as early as anybody on the train. More to pass the time than because they felt hungry, they went into the dining car for breakfast.
At last the train rolled into the suburbs of the great city of the lakes and finally came to a stop at the big depot. The youths took up their suitcases and filed out with the other passengers.
"Have you any idea where we ought to look first?" asked Sam.
"I think we may as well leave our bags on check at this depot and look around here," was the answer. "Tom started from here and maybe we'll be lucky enough to meet somebody who saw and remembered him."
Having checked the suitcases, the Rovers started in earnest, asking the men at the news stand and in the smoking room and at the lunch counter and restaurant. Then they questioned the taxicab drivers, and even some of the newsboys and bootblacks.
"It looks almost hopeless," said Sam, at last.
"Not yet," returned Dick. "We haven't struck the most important people yet. Funny we didn't think of them first."
"Whom do you mean?"
"The ticket sellers. Let me have that photo of Tom and we'll see if any of them remember him."
From one ticket window they went to another, until they reached an elderly man, who gazed at the photograph with interest.
"Yes, I remember that young man," he said, slowly. "He was here yesterday afternoon."
"Did he buy a railroad ticket?"
"Can you remember on what train?" asked Sam.
"Sure. I had to hurry for him, for he took the four-ten train, by way of St. Paul," was the reply.
"Well, Sam we have done all we can do for the present."
"That's right, Dick."
"Whether it will do any good or not remains to be seen," and Dick gave a long-drawn sigh and leaned back in the sleeping car seat he occupied.
It was about three hours later and in that time the Rover boys had been very busy.
Following the announcement of the ticket seller that Tom had taken a train for Seattle by way of St. Paul, the Rovers had sent a telegram to the conductor of the train, asking him to look out for Tom and have him detained. They had procured accommodations on the train they were now on, and had so notified the railroad official, so he would know where to address them, provided the missing one was found. They had also sent a telegram to the folks at home and another to the girls at Hope.
"Perhaps we'll get word when we reach St. Paul," said Sam. "For all we know Tom may be there, awaiting our arrival."
"I sincerely hope so, Sam. I'm sure I don't want to go away out to the Pacific coast for him."
"It's too bad Tom didn't buy one of those railroad tickets that a fellow has to sign," observed Sam. "If he had done that, it would be easy to find him."
The train they were on was an express, making but few stops and would reach St. Paul late in the evening. It was only about three-quarters filled, so the Rovers had had no difficulty in getting a section of a sleeper. Whether they would go further than St. Paul was, however, as yet a problem.
"Next stop Milwaukee!" was the cry, and soon the train rolled into that city. Anxiously the two brothers looked out and saw one of the trainmen take several telegrams from a man on the platform. After the train had started again the trainman came through the train.
"Telegrams for Miss Baker, Mr. Josephs and Mr. Rover!" he called out.
"Here you are!" cried Sam, eagerly. "Rover." And the telegram was passed over. Hastily the envelope was torn open and the contents scanned. The boys looked at each other blankly. The telegram read as follows:
"No young man answering to name Tom Rover on this train. Will watch passengers closely as instructed.
"What do you make of this, Dick. Maybe Tom didn't use that ticket after he bought it," gasped Sam.
"But that ticket seller saw him rush for the gate. He must have gone on the train, Sam. He probably didn't answer to his name because if he is out of his mind he has forgotten what his real name is. And so long as he keeps quiet the trainmen won't suspect anything wrong with him."
"Perhaps we'll get another telegram at St. Paul."
"I hope so."
On and on rolled the train through the afternoon, coming presently to the shore of the upper Mississippi, with its wide stretches of marshland and its dead trees. It was not an inviting scene, and the two Rovers were glad enough, when the time came, to turn from it and go to the diner for dinner.
There was to be a stop of ten minutes at St. Paul and in that time the boys must make up their minds whether they were going to continue on that train or not. If they laid over, several more hours of precious time would be lost.
It was well towards midnight when the train reached St. Paul and a number of sleepy passengers got off and others got on. Dick and Sam waited impatiently for a messenger to appear. The telegram was there, sure enough, and this time it carried more interesting information.
"Queer-acting young man found, but says his name is Paul Haverlock. Says he is bound for Alaska. Wire positive instructions, as I can take no risks.
"It must be Tom!" cried Sam.
"But that name, Paul Haverlock," mused Dick. "Where did he get that?"
"Why, I remember, Dick! In that moving picture the hero was called Paul Haverlock. His name was on the letters they showed on the screen. Tom must have remembered it, just as he remembered the name of the villain, Bill Stiger!"
"I see. Then this Paul Haverlock must really be Tom," returned Dick. "Now to have him stopped. I wonder where that other train is now?"
They found out that the other train was then in the vicinity of Livingston, the junction point for Yellowstone Park. From there it was bound for Helena, Spokane, and then to Seattle direct.
"We'll telegraph again, and keep right on this train," said Dick, and this was done.
If the two youths had slept but little the night before, they were even more restless this night. And yet they realized that Folsom, the conductor of the other train, would not be likely to arouse Tom if he had gone to bed.
"He won't take the chance," said Dick. "Remember, he isn't sure of what he is doing, and all railroad men like to keep out of trouble. If he made a mistake, the passenger might sue the railroad company for big damages, and get them."
"If only we could catch up to Tom!" sighed Sam.
"That is impossible, Sam, because he is on an express, just as we are. As it is, he'll gain on us when he gets to Spokane, for he will go through without waiting, while we'll either have to lay over or go by some other route that is much longer."
As there seemed nothing more to do just then they at last went to sleep, and did not rouse up again until it was broad daylight.
They immediately asked for further news, but were informed that none had come in. Nor did any word come in all that forenoon.
"This suspense is fierce," was Dick's remark, at last. "That conductor is either asleep or has given up the search. I wish I knew of some first-class detective on the other end of the line who could take up the case for us."
"We'd know somebody if Tom was bound for San Francisco," returned his brother. "But I don't know a soul in Seattle—oh, yes, I do!" he suddenly shouted.
"A fellow named Jim Hendricks. He is a cousin of Stanley Browne, and also a cousin to Larry Colby, who went to Putnam Hall with us. He was at Brill once, for a week, and I got pretty well acquainted with him."
"Why, yes, I remember him. He and I used to talk about what Larry and I did at Putnam Hall. But is he in Seattle now, and have you his address?"
"I think I have his address. Wait, I'll look," end Sam pulled a little notebook out of his pocket. "He asked me to write to him some time, but I never did more than mail him a postal. Yes, here is the address."
"Do you think he would help us, if he was home?"
"Sure I do. He got acquainted with Tom, and he knew what chums Tom and Larry were at the Hall."
"Then we might telegraph him. It won't do any harm anyway."
A rather long telegram was prepared and sent from the next station at which the train stopped. There the youths hoped for another message from Folsom the conductor, but none came.
Slowly the hours dragged by, the express thundering along in the meanwhile on its journey westward. They stopped at Livingston, and there many passengers got off, bound for a trip through that great natural wonderland, Yellowstone Park. At Helena they heard from Folsom again. This time the message was one full of mystery.
"Cannot find Paul Haverlock anywhere. So far as known, he did not leave train at any station. We are very much crowded, account special excursion, and break down of Number 126. Attached two extra cars. He may be hiding among new passengers. I can do no more."
"I think I can explain this," said the conductor of the train, when Dick showed him the telegram. "Number 126, the train just ahead of Number 182, the one your brother is on, broke down. Now, the second train is carrying two cars of the other train, and most likely all of the other train's passengers. So Folsom is having his hands full with his extra duties. In the meantime your brother has disappeared, probably in the crowd of extra passengers."
"If he didn't jump off the train," sighed Sam.
"Would he do that?" asked the railroad man,
"I don't know. A fellow who is out of his mind is liable to do anything."
"That is true."
The train was now in the midst of the Rocky Mountains, but the Rovers had no heart to look at the scenery.
"Oh, if only we get some sort of encouraging word at Spokane!" sighed Sam.
"We ought to hear from Jim Hendricks," answered Dick. "That is, if he is home and got our message." They knew that the Hendricks family were rich and that Jim had a great deal of time to himself.
At Spokane they left the train, for they did not want to go down to Portland, whither it was bound. They asked at the telegraph office for a message and one was handed over to them.
"This is something like it!" cried Dick, as he read it aloud. It ran as follows:
"My sincere sympathy. I remember Tom well and will be on the watch for him. Will meet you on your arrival.
"JAMES V. HENDRICKS."
"Well, that's one word of encouragement," said Sam. "Good for Jim! I thought he'd help us."
"If he only got the message in time to catch Tom," returned his brother. "We were rather late in getting it to him, remember."
"We'll have to hope for the best."
While the boys were waiting around Spokane, for the train to take them to Seattle, they fell in with a commercial drummer who said he was waiting for a companion with some sample cases. He was a kindly-looking man and during the course of his conversation let slip the news that he had been on the train Tom had taken.
"Perhaps you can give us some information," cried Dick. "We are trying to catch a young man who was on that train," and he gave a few of the particulars.
"Well! well!" cried the commercial drummer. "To be sure I met that fellow. The way I noticed him was because he acted so queer. He didn't want to sit still, but kept walking up and down the aisle and from one car to another. I saw the conductor talk to him once or twice, too."
"Where did he go?" questioned Sam.
"Well, you know the train ahead of ours broke down and we hooked fast to some of the cars. When this was done a lot of new passengers got in our cars, and there was something of a mix-up. I saw the fellow go into one of the cars from the other train, and that's the last I did see of him."
"And that train went right through to Seattle?" asked Dick.
"Yes. That is, unless they had more trouble on the line. And by the way, did you hear of what happened on the trip from St. Paul? A lady lost her handbag containing jewelry to the value of ten thousand dollars."
THE ROVER BOYS IN SEATTLE
Sam and Dick looked at each other in new alarm. They remembered only too well what had occurred at Hiram Duff's cottage. Was it possible that Tom had seen the lady's jewels and taken them? In his unbalanced state of mind he was liable to do anything.
"She had the jewels in her handbag?" questioned Dick.
"Yes, a little black affair—so she told the conductor. When she discovered that it was gone she was almost crazy. She said some of the jewelry belonged to her mother, who was with her."
"Was this in your car?"
"Yes, up at the other end from where I sat, though." And the commercial drummer grinned. "Oh, I had nothing to do with it," he added, lightly.
"I didn't suppose you had," returned Dick. "But where was this other fellow—the one I think was my brother—at this time?"
"Why, he sat up near the other end, too—about two seats from the lady. He said, the same as did everybody on the car, that he hadn't seen the bag or the jewels. The conductor and the porter made a long search, but nothing came of it. The lady was wild, and said she would get her husband to sue the company for her loss. She had the conductor worried, I can tell you."
"And that's why he lost interest in helping us," murmured Dick. "He certainly had his hands full, with that train breakdown and the missing jewels, and looking for Tom."
"Who sat next to the lady?" asked Sam.
"Her mother, a very old woman."
"And was that young man we mentioned next?"
"Couldn't they find any trace of the bag at all?"
"Not a thing. It was mighty queer, and the woman made it worse by being so excited. She could hardly tell when she had seen the bag last, or where. First she said she had had it in her lap and then she said she guessed she had put it on a hook with her coat."
"What did they do about it?"
"I don't know, for I got off here, while the lady and her mother went through to Seattle," answered the drummer.
The commercial man could tell but little more of importance to the Rovers, and presently, when his companion came with the sample cases, he went away.
"Dick, do you think Tom took that lady's handbag with the jewels?" asked Sam, when the two were by themselves.
"Sam, I don't know what to think," was the discouraging reply. "I only know one thing—the quicker we locate Tom and put him in some safe place, the better."
"Do you—you think his mind is affected for good—I mean for always?"
"Let us hope not. Why, it would be terrible to have to keep him in an asylum for the rest of his life! It would just about kill father. And think of Nellie."
"It certainly is the worst thing that ever happened!" muttered Sam. "It's worse than our trouble with Dan Baxter, Lew Flapp, or with Sobber and those brokers, and old Crabtree."
"So it is."
When the train for Seattle finally came in they got abroad. It was so crowded that they had to take seats in a day coach. But this they did not mind. They would have ridden on a freight train, could they have gotten to Seattle faster thereby.
Hour after hour passed slowly. The boys could not settle down to read, and they had little appetite for their meals. They caught a little sleep in their seats, and were ready to leave the train the moment the conductor called out that they were approaching Seattle.
"I see Jim Hendricks!" cried Sam, as he looked out of a window.
"Is Tom with him?" queried his brother.
"No, he is alone."
In a minute more they were out of the train, suitcases in hand, and shaking hands with the cousin of Stanley and Larry. Jim Hendricks' usually jolly face showed his deep concern.
"I've got bad news for you," he said. "That train Tom was on got here before I did, and so I didn't have a chance to stop him. I've been making some inquiries though, and I am pretty certain he reached this place. One man who was on the train told me he had met a young fellow who said he was bound for Alaska to find some nuggets of gold. He wanted to know about the ships that sailed for Sitka and Juneau, and the man told him what he knew. He said the young fellow went off in the direction of the shipping offices."
"Oh, Dick! we must get after him at once!" cried Sam.
"That's it, Sam." Dick turned to Jim Hendricks. "Will you show us where they are? We can go in a taxicab."
"I've got our auto outside—we can go in that, and you may as well bring your baggage along," continued the Seattle young man. "If you have to remain in town, I want you to stay at our house."
"Thanks, that's kind of you," answered Dick.
Jim led the way outside, to where stood a handsome six-cylinder touring car. "I don't know when the steamers sail, but we can soon find out," he said, and directed the chauffeur where to go.
They were soon passing through the streets of Seattle, a well-built up city where much business is done. As many of my young readers must know, Seattle is located on Puget Sound, one of the great natural gateways to the Pacific Ocean. Just south of it is Tacoma, also a city of importance.
The ride to the first of the shipping offices did not take long, and going inside Dick made some inquiries of the clerk at the desk.
"Don't remember any such man," said the clerk.
"When is your next sailing?"
"Day after to-morrow. Want to book for the passage?"
"Perhaps. I don't know yet."
"Better make up your mind pretty quick. We have only a few berths left," went on the clerk.
"We are looking for a certain young man who was bound for Alaska," went on Dick, producing Tom's photograph. "Have you seen anything of him?"
The clerk gave a glance at the photograph and started.
"Well, that's strange!" tie cried.
"You saw him?" put in Sam, eagerly.
"I sure did. Did you want to meet him?"
"Well, I'm sorry, but I don't see how you are going to do it. His name was, let me see—Haverlock, I believe."
"That's the name he was traveling under," answered Dick, giving his brother a nudge in the ribs.
"Wasn't his own then?" and the clerk became interested.
"No, it's an assumed name. I might as well tell you, the young man isn't all here," and Dick touched his forehead.
"I thought that might be it—he acted so queerly. But he got his ticket for the other boat. You see it was this way: He came in here just as I was talking to a man who had purchased a ticket for the other boat and wanted to stay in Seattle another week. The man wanted me to exchange the ticket or give him his money back. While we were discussing the matter, this Haverlock, or whatever his name is, came in. He listened for a minute and then said he'd take the ticket and glad of the chance, for he said he was in a mighty hurry to get some nuggets of gold. So the man transferred the ticket to him, and that was the last I saw of the young fellow."
"When did that other boat sail?" asked Sam.
"Last night, at nine o'clock."
"Last night!" cried Dick. "Then he certainly must have rushed matters!" He looked at Jim Hendricks. "What can we do next, do you suppose?"
"You might send a wireless to the steamship," was the suggestion. "If he's under the name of Haverlock they ought to be able to hold him. Where did the steamer sail for?" Jim went on, to the clerk.
"For Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and all the regular ports."
"She carries a wireless?" asked Sam.
"Certainly. You can send a message from here if you wish. We can telephone it over to the wireless station."
"Let's do it!" burst out Sam. "The quicker somebody takes charge of poor Tom the better!"
"You're right," answered Dick. He wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. "What a pity we didn't get here sooner, or that Tom wasn't delayed!"
Then he and Sam got a blank and started to write out the wireless message that might put those on board the steamer on the track of Tom.
OFF FOR ALASKA
"What steamer was that?" questioned Dick and the clerk told him.
"I suppose we had better address the captain," said Sam. "Now, the question is, What shall we say?"
"We'll give Tom's assumed name and a short description of him, and ask that he be held for us at one of the ports," said Dick. "I don't know what else to do."
"I don't think the captain will hold the young man on your say-so," said the clerk, on being questioned. "He would be afraid of getting into trouble with the authorities. You had better get the police to make the request."
"The trouble is, we don't want to make this too public," explained Dick. "We'd rather keep it quiet. I'll risk the personal message to the captain."
"I'll sign the message with you," said Jim Hendricks. "Maybe the captain will know our family, at least by reputation."
"Who are you, if I may ask?" came from the clerk, curiously.
"I am James Hendricks, and my father is Colonel Wilby Hendricks."
"Oh, yes, I guess Captain Dwight knows of your father. Your name will carry weight with him," added the clerk, for he knew that the colonel was well-known and was rich.
After considerable trouble the message was made out and telephoned at once to the wireless station. This accomplished, there was nothing to do but to wait for an answer.
"When is the next sailing for Alaskan ports?" asked Dick.
"Our sailing, as I told you before, is day after to-morrow. But one of the other lines has a sailing to-morrow, at nine P. M."
"They all seem to sail at nine o'clock at night," mused Sam.
"Yes, that is the usual hour," answered the clerk.
"Well, if we have to, we can take that boat at nine o'clock to-morrow night," remarked Dick.
"Provided you can get accommodations," said the clerk.
"Oh, we'll get aboard somehow—if we really have to go."