"You hold the light, Songbird," directed Tom. "Sam and I can do this work without any help." Then the two Rovers set to work, and in a very short time the old shoe with its inner tube had been removed. In the meantime, Songbird had brought out another inner tube, and unstrapped one of the extra shoes attached to the side of the car, and these were quickly placed over the wheel rim.
"Now, let me do my share of the pumping," insisted Songbird.
"Nothing doing on that score, Songbird!" replied Tom, quickly. "We had a new power pump installed last week. I will attach it, and then you can start up the motor."
"A power pump! Say, that beats hand pumping all to pieces."
"Indeed, it does!" broke in Sam. "I never minded putting on a new tire, but the pumping-up always came hard."
"Say, this puts me in mind of a story," came from Tom, with a grin. "Some Germans were going on an automobile tour, and a friend was bidding them good-bye. Says the friend: 'Uf you haf a blowout, be sure and haf it in de right place— at de hotel!'" And at this little joke there was a general laugh.
Five minutes more found them again on the way, and now Songbird had the large lights turned on, which made the roadway ahead as bright as day. He drove as speedily as possible, but with great care, avoiding everything that looked as if it might harm the tires.
"Oh, what a splendid time I have had!" exclaimed Minnie, as, all too soon, the Sanderson homestead was reached. Then Songbird assisted her to alight, and insisted upon accompanying her into the cottage.
"I will wager he would rather stay here than go on to Brill," remarked Tom, slyly.
"Sure thing!" returned Sam. "Wouldn't we rather remain at Hope than go to Brill?" And at this pointed remark both of the girls giggled.
Those outside waited for several minutes, and then Tom sounded the horn loudly. Soon Songbird re-appeared and took his place at the wheel, and then the automobile was turned in the direction of the seminary.
"When will we see you again?" remarked Nellie, when the touring car had been run through the grounds.
"Oh, it won't be very long," replied Tom. But as he spoke, little did he realize under what peculiar conditions they would come together again.
"If you hear anything more about that money affair, let us know at once," whispered Sam to Grace.
"I will, Sam," returned the girl; and a few minutes later the young folks bade each other a fond good-night, and the touring car turned towards Brill.
The lads were still some distance from the college grounds when they heard the sounds of horns and rattles. Then they beheld a glimmer of light down by the river bank. Soon the light brightened until it covered a goodly portion of the sky.
"Some bonfires and some noise!" was Sam's comment.
"Well, we don't defeat Roxley every day in the year," returned Tom, gaily. "Say, this suits me right down to the ground! Songbird, you ought to get up a poem in honor of the occasion."
"Perhaps I will," answered the would-be poet of the college, and then he began to murmur to himself. Evidently the poem was already beginning to shape itself in his fertile mind.
"I say, you Rovers!" came a call as the car swung into the roadway lining one side of the campus. "What's the matter with giving us a joy ride?" and one of the students came running forward, followed by several others. Two of them carried torches made of old brooms dipped in tar.
"Nothing doing to-night," returned Sam quickly, and added in a whisper to Tom: "Those fellows would wreck the car completely."
"I know it," answered the older Rover, and then he said aloud: "We have had all the run we want this evening. We are going to celebrate with the rest of the crowd down at the river." And without stopping to argue the matter, Tom ran the automobile to its garage.
"Back, safe an' sound, eh?" questioned Abner Filbury, as he came forward to take charge of the machine.
"Ab, you look out that some of the fellows don't take this car to-night," warned Tom.
"There ain't no cars goin' out less'n I've the correct orders for 'em," replied Abner. "This is the last machine in, an' I'm goin' to lock up an' stay on guard. If anybody tries to break in here against orders, they'll git a dose of buckshot in 'em." And Abner pointed grimly at a shotgun that hung on one of the walls.
"Oh, Ab, don't go in for shooting anybody!" exclaimed Sam, in alarm. "Turn the hose on them, that will be enough."
"All right, jest as you say. But they ain't goin' to git in here at these machines without permission."
Tom and Sam made a hasty visit to their room, and then hurried downstairs again and off to the waterfront. Here, several bonfires had been lit. They were composed of boxes and barrels with a large quantity of brushwood added, and one bonfire was nearly twenty feet in height.
"Here they come!" called out a student.
"Hurrah for our pitcher!"
"And the best fly catcher Brill ever saw!"
"Say, this is certainly some bonfire!" exclaimed Sam, looking at the big blaze.
"It sure is!" returned his brother. "If the wind should shift, it might prove dangerous," he added, as he watched a great mass of sparks floating across the stream and over the woods beyond.
"Oh, it's perfectly safe," came from Paul Orben, who was one of the students who had helped to pile up the combustibles.
The crowd was certainly a gay one, and the Rovers lost no time in joining in the festivities. One student had a bugle, and another had an old base drum which boasted of only one head. These two succeeded in forming a crowd of their fellow-students into marching order, and, singing gaily and tooting horns and sounding rattles, and with numerous torches flickering, the collegians tramped around the college buildings and over the campus and then back to the bonfires.
"Whoop! Hurrah!" came a sudden yell, and from one of the distant barns rushed half a dozen students, dragging behind them a buggy. On the seat, wearing an exceedingly tight jockey jacket, and likewise a jockey cap, sat old man Filbury, the general caretaker of the dormitories.
"Hurrah! Here the conquering hero comes!"
"It's a race— a race for a thousand dollars!"
"I'll bet on Filbury, every time!"
"Now, see here, gents, I don't like this at all. You lemme out o' this here kerridge," wailed the old man-of-all-work. "I ain't doin' none o' this celebratin'. I got some work to do. You let me go."
"Oh, we couldn't think of it, Filbury," cried Stanley, who was one of the students at the shafts of the carriage. "Now then, boys, together!" And along the turnout rattled, past the various bonfires.
"Speech! Speech!" came another cry. "Filbury, can't you say something about Brill and this glorious victory?"
"Never mind the victory," came from Tom. "Let him tell us about how to pass our examinations without studying."
"And how to get credit down in town without paying any bills," put in another student, who, evidently, had hard work making both ends meet.
"I tell you, I ain't a-goin' to make no speech," wailed old Filbury. "I've got work to do. You lemme go."
"Sam," whispered Tom, catching his brother, by the arm, "what's the matter with giving William Philander a ride with old Filbury?"
"Just the cheese, Tom!" returned the young Rover. "But how can we do it?"
The matter was talked over for a short minute, and Spud and Bob were called in to aid. William Philander Tubbs sat on a small packing case which had not, as yet, been fed to the flames. He was, as usual, faultlessly attired, even down to his spats.
Passing the word to those who had charge of the carriage and who were doing their best to get some fun out of old Filbury, Tom and Sam and their chums worked their way to a position behind William Philander. Then came a sudden rush, and the dudish student found himself caught up and carried bodily over to the carriage, where he was unceremoniously dumped on the seat beside the old man-of-all-work.
"My gracious me! What does this mean?" gasped the astonished William Philander. "I don't want any ride, I want you to leave me alone."
"All aboard, everybody!" sang out Tom, and gave the carriage a shove from behind. Before the dudish student could attempt to leap to the ground, the turnout was once more in motion and dashing along the campus roadway as fast as the students could pull and push it.
"Them boys is plumb crazy!" gasped old Filbury.
"Oh, I never! We shall certainly be hurt," wailed William Philander. And then, as two wheels of the turnout went over a big stone, he clutched old Filbury wildly by the shoulder. Then the carriage struck another stone, and both occupants held fast for dear life. Three times the turnout, with its terrified occupants, circled the campus. All the while William Philander and old Filbury were yelling wildly for their tormentors to stop. But now, a long rope had been hitched fast to the front axle, and fully two dozen students had hold of this, fresh ones continually taking the places of those who became tired out. As it was, Sam and Tom went around twice, and then fell out to rest.
"Say, Washer," said a student named Lamar to his close chum, "here's a chance to square up with old Filbury for the way he treated us."
"What do you mean?" asked the student named Washer.
"Let us get in the lead on the rope, and run the carriage down to the river."
"Say, that's just the cheese!" chuckled the other. "We'll do it. I think old Filbury deserves something for reporting us as he did."
On and on went the carriage, but at the turn in the roadway it was suddenly hauled over the grass and between some bushes.
"Oh, Tom, look! They are heading for the river!" cried Sam.
"All aboard!" yelled Washer. "Now then, straight ahead!" He and Lamar had headed for the water. Some of the students tried to turn to the right or the left, but others followed the leaders. In a moment more, the carriage had reached the sloping bank of the river. Then the crowd scattered, and a moment later the turnout, with a twist, struck the water and went over sideways, plunging old Filbury and William Philander into the stream.
THE FIRE AT HOPE
"My, what a dive!"
"Everybody to the rescue!"
"Somebody get some life-preservers!"
So the cries arose as the students ran from every direction and lined the bank of the river, which, at this point, was but a few feet deep.
Old Filbury was the first to reappear, and as he stood up in water and mud that reached his waist, he shook his fist at his tormentors.
"You'll pay for this!" he cried. "I'll fix yer! I'll have yer all sent home, you'll see if I don't!"
In the meantime, William Philander had also struggled to his feet. He had lost his cap, and on the top of his head rested a mass of grass and mud. He came out of the water spluttering and shaking himself.
"I won't stand this! I'll have you all arrested!" he gasped.
"It was an accident," came from one of the students.
"It was not! It was done on purpose!"
"Sure! it was done a purpose!" roared old Filbury. "I never seen such goin's on in my life!"
"Never mind, you needed a bath, Filbury," shouted one student. And at this there was a laugh.
"I am going to report all of you," stormed William Philander. "Look at this suit, it is ruined!" and he held up the sides of his coat to view. The water and mud were dripping profusely from the garment.
"Better go down to the gym and get under a shower," suggested Spud.
"I am not. I am going to my room," retorted William Philander. And then, of a sudden, he took to his heels, burst through the crowd, and hurried toward one of the college buildings. At the same time, Filbury started to run for one of the stables.
"Say, Tom, that was rather rough," remarked Sam, after the two had disappeared.
"It sure was, Sam. I didn't think they would run the carriage into the water like that."
"It was Washer's and Lamar's fault."
"I know it. They are always out for carrying a joke to the limit. I suppose they had it in for old Filbury, and they must have had it in for Tubbs, too."
"I wonder if either of them will make a kick over the way they have been treated," put in Bob. It may be stated here, that, in the end, nothing came of the incident. Filbury stormed around a little, and so did William Philander, but, to their credit be it said, both were "sports" enough not to take their complaints to the college management.
All good times must come to an end, and by midnight the bonfires had burned themselves out, and, one by one, the students retired. The carriage was righted and taken back to the place where it belonged.
For the best part of a week after this, but little out of the ordinary occurred. With the excitement attending the close of the baseball season over, the Rovers applied themselves more diligently than ever to their studies. During that time they received notes from Grace and Nellie, stating that nothing new had developed concerning the missing four-hundred-dollar ring. They also received another letter from Dick, in which the oldest Rover boy stated that he and the lawyer had made a final settlement with Pelter, Japson & Company, and that he had heard that the brokers were about to leave New York City for good.
"By the way, Tom," said Sam, after reading the letter from Dick, "this puts me in mind: What became of that fellow we hauled out of the river?"
"The last I heard of him, he was still under the care of Doctor Havens."
"Don't you think we ought to call on him? He might want to see us."
"If he wanted that, Sam, wouldn't he send us word? Perhaps, if he is any relation to Jesse Pelter, he would rather we would keep away from him."
On the following morning a letter came addressed to Tom, and bearing the Ashton postmark. On opening the communication, he was much interested to read the following:
Dear Mr. Rover:
"I want to thank you and your brother for what you did for me. I shall never forget it. Even were I in a position to do so, I would not insult you by offering you any reward. You, perhaps, have learned my name, and maybe you are wondering if I am related to Mr. Pelter of Pelter, Japson & Company, of New York City. Mr. Pelter is my uncle, and for a number of years I made my home with him. I do not altogether like his way of doing business, and do not uphold him in his dealings with your family. But he is my uncle, and on several occasions he has assisted me very materially. For that reason, I think it is best that we do not meet.
"Again thanking you, I remain
"I guess that explains it," said Sam, after he, too, had read the communication. "He didn't want to face us because of his relationship to Jesse Pelter."
"I am glad that he doesn't uphold Jesse Pelter in his actions, Sam."
"More than likely he would be glad to come and see us in order to thank us in person for what we did for him if it were not for his uncle, and the fact that his uncle has aided him. You know the old saying, 'You can't bite the hand that feeds you.'"
"I wonder if he is still in Ashton?"
"We might telephone to the hotel and find out."
Later on this was done, and the boys were informed over the wire that Barton Pelter had left early that morning, taking his automobile with him.
"Well, only one week more of the grind," remarked Sam one morning on arising. "Aren't you glad that the closing day is so near?"
"I think I would feel a little better if I knew how I was coming out with my examinations," returned his brother.
"But, Tom, it won't make any difference to you, if you are not coming back."
"That may be, but, just the same, I would like to get as much credit as possible while I am here."
Some of the examinations had already been held, and others were to come off within the next few days. As a consequence, the majority of the students were exceedingly busy, so that there was little time for recreation.
Since the Rovers had come to Brill, the college had been endowed with the money to build an observatory. This structure had now been completed, and the boys took great delight in visiting it and looking through the telescope which it contained. It stood on the highest hill of the grounds, so that from the top, quite a view of the surrounding country could be had.
"I am going to the observatory," said Songbird, that evening. "There is going to be some kind of a transit, and I want to see it. Either of you fellows want to come along?"
"I can't,— I've got a paper to finish up," returned Sam, who was busy at his writing table.
"I'll go. I need a little fresh air," said Tom, and reached for his cap.
At the observatory the boys found one of the professors and about a dozen students assembled. The professor was delivering something of a lecture, to which the boys listened with interest, at the same time taking turns looking through the big telescope.
"It's a wonderful sight," murmured Tom, after he had had his look. Then, followed by Songbird, he walked to a little side window which, with several others, faced in the direction of Hope Seminary.
"I suppose you would rather be at Hope than here," remarked Songbird, dryly.
"And you would rather be at the Sanderson cottage than anywhere else in the world," retorted Tom.
"It's too bad, Tom, that you are not coming back next Fall," went on Songbird, seriously. "I don't know how we are going to get along without you."
"It can't be helped. I've got to help Dick. Father is too broken down to attend to business, and I don't think it is the fair thing to put it all off on Dick's shoulders."
"Oh, I understand. But Sam will come back, won't he?"
"I think so. One of us, at least, ought to finish the course here. Dick and I are cut out for business, but I think Sam ought to go into one of the professions."
"I wish I knew what I would like to do, Tom," continued Songbird, wistfully.
"Oh, some day you will be a celebrated poet."
"I think I have got to do something more substantial than write poetry."
"Well, it all depends on the brand of poetry, Songbird." And Tom began to grin. "There are some fellows who make big money at it."
"I'd like to know who they are?" questioned the would-be poet, eagerly.
"The fellows who write up some new brand of safety razor or breakfast food."
"Tom!" And Songbird looked positively hurt. "How can you be so cruel and degrade poetry so?"
"Well, they do it, I don't. Now, if you——" Tom brought his words to a sudden stop, and commenced to stare out of the window. Far over the distant wood he had seen a strange light. Now it was increasing rapidly.
"What is it? What do you see?" demanded Songbird, as he realized that something unusual had attracted his chum's attention.
"Look there!" cried Tom, pointing with his finger. "Doesn't that look like a fire?"
"It surely does," replied the other, after a hasty inspection. "But it may be only some brush heap that a farmer is getting rid of."
"I don't know about that. Say, haven't they got a pair of field glasses here?"
"Sure!" and Songbird turned to get the article mentioned.
As rapidly as possible, Tom focused the glasses on the distant light, and took a careful look.
"Great Scott! it's a fire— and at Hope Seminary!" broke out the youth. "It looks to me as if the whole place might burn down!"
"What! A fire at Hope!" cried Songbird, and his words attracted the attention of all the others in the observatory. He, too, took a look through the glasses, and one after another the remaining students did the same.
"It certainly is a fire, and at the seminary, isn't it, Tom?"
Tom did not answer. He had already started to leave the building. Straight down the hill he tore, and then up to the building where he and the others had their rooms. He burst in on his brother like a cyclone.
"Sam, come on, quick! There is a fire at the seminary!"
The younger Rover, who was deep in his writing, looked up, startled.
"What is that you said, Tom?"
"I said, hurry up; come along; there is a fire at the seminary! The girls may be in danger! Come on, let us go there in the auto."
"Oh, Tom, are you sure of this?" And now Sam leaped up, brushing his writing to one side.
"Yes, I saw the fire from the observatory." And in as few words as possible, Tom gave his brother the particulars. He was already donning his automobile outfit. Sam followed suit, and both boys ran downstairs and to the garage.
By the time they had the touring car ready, Songbird, Stanley, Spud, and several others had joined them. The word had been passed around that there was a fire at Hope, and permission to go to the conflagration was readily granted by the college management.
"All aboard who are going!" sang out Tom, who was at the wheel, with Sam beside him. Then, after several collegians had climbed into the tonneau, away the touring car dashed over the road leading to Hope.
TO THE RESCUE
It was a wild ride, never to be forgotten. Tom had all the lights turned up fully, so that he might see everything that was ahead. From twenty miles per hour the speed climbed up to twenty-five, then thirty, then thirty-five, and finally forty. Over the newly-mended bridge they dashed at breakneck speed.
"Be on your guard, Tom," warned Sam.
"We've got to get there," was the grim response. "The girls may be in danger."
"Right you are! Let her go for all she is worth!"
They had been making many turns and going up-hill and down, but now came a straight stretch of several miles, and here Tom put on all the extra power the touring car could command. From forty miles an hour, they reached forty-five, and then fifty, and, at one point, the speedometer registered fifty-four.
"My gracious, Tom, don't kill us!" yelled Bob, to make himself heard above the roar of the motor, for Tom had the muffler cutout wide open.
The youth at the wheel did not answer. He was giving all his attention to the running of the car, and this was needed. Along the roadway they sped like an arrow from a bow, past trees and fences, with here and there a farmhouse or a barn. Once Tom saw a white spot in the road ahead, and threw off the power. But it was only a flying newspaper, and on he went as speedily as before.
"It's at Hope, all right!" yelled Stanley, when they slowed down at a turn of the road.
"Yes, but I don't think it is any of the main buildings," returned another student.
"I hope not," came from Sam.
There was one more small rise to climb, and then they came into full view of what was ahead. Through the trees they saw that one of the large barns, in which the fire had evidently started, was almost totally consumed. The slight wind that was blowing had carried the sparks to one of the wings of the main building, and this was now in flames at several points.
"Here comes the fire engine!" cried Bob, as the touring car swept through the seminary grounds; and he pointed down the opposite road. Along this a small engine from a nearby town was approaching, hauled by a score of men and boys. Far down another road could be heard the tooting of another engine, probably from some other town.
"We might give some of those fellows help," suggested Songbird. "What's the matter with running the car down to where they are, and hitching fast?"
"You can do it, Songbird, if you wish," returned Tom, hurriedly. "I'll join you just as soon as I find out if the girls are safe."
"And I'll go with Tom," put in Sam.
"Oh, they must be safe; the fire isn't in that part of the building," broke in Stanley. "But go ahead, you fellows, we'll take care of the machine." For he well understood how anxious the Rovers must be regarding the Laning girls.
Leaping from the touring car, Sam and Tom joined the crowd in the vicinity of the fire, composed mostly of girl students and their teachers. About a score of men and boys living in the vicinity had come up, and these, with the hired help from the institution, were doing all in their power, to subdue the flames.
"Did all of the girls get out?" asked Tom, of the first teacher he met.
"I don't know— I think so," was the answer.
The boys pushed their way along from one group of students to another, trying to catch sight of those whom they were seeking. In the meantime, Songbird and the others from Brill had taken charge of the touring car, and run it down a side road, where they hooked fast to one of the arriving fire engines, much to the relief of those who had been dragging the machine over the somewhat rough highway, and were almost exhausted.
"Oh, Sam!" The cry came from Grace, and the next instant the girl rushed up and fairly threw herself into the arms of the youngest Rover.
"Where is Nellie?" he demanded, quickly. "Is she safe?"
"Here I am!" was the call, and then Nellie came up and caught Tom by the shoulder. "Oh, isn't this dreadful!"
"It sure is, Nellie," returned Tom, as he slipped his arm around her waist. "But I am mighty glad that you are safe. Do you think everybody is out?"
"We don't know, but they ought to be out, for we had plenty of warning. The fire started in the barn, you know."
"What caused it?"
"They think one of the men must have been smoking and dropped a light in the hay. Anyway, the fire started there."
"The other fellows took the auto to help the fire engine," broke in Sam. "Here they come now," he added, as the machine came up with honking horn, and dragging one of the fire engines behind it.
"I wish we could do something to put out this blaze," came from Tom. "Sam, we must get busy."
"Right you are!"
"Oh, do be careful, both of you!" pleaded Nellie.
"Yes, don't get burnt," added Grace.
"We'll look out, don't you fear," answered Sam, and then he and Tom turned to join those at the fire engines and the hose carts.
The seminary was provided with several water towers, and from these some lines of hose had already been run to the fire. Now some additional lines of hose were laid from the fire engines, which began to take water from two cisterns. Soon the added streams showed their effect on the flames.
"Girls! girls! have any of you see Miss Harrow?" The cry came from one of the teachers, as she made her way through the crowd.
"Why, isn't she out?" asked a number.
"I don't know, I can't find her anywhere," replied the instructor.
"Was she in the building?"
"I think so. She said at supper time that she had a toothache, and was going to retire early." And thus speaking, the teacher hurried on.
"Is that the Miss Harrow who lost that four-hundred-dollar diamond ring?" asked Tom.
"Yes," replied Nellie.
"Was her room in that addition?" questioned Sam, quickly, pointing to an end of the building which was on fire in several places.
"Yes, she has the corner window, right over there," responded Grace, pointing to a spot close to where the building was in flames.
The words had scarcely left the lips of the girl, when, to the horror of those standing below, a third story window was suddenly thrown up, and the head of a woman appeared.
"Help! Help! Save me!" The cry came wildly from the woman, who was plainly terror-stricken.
"It's Miss Harrow!" cried a score of voices.
"Look! Look! The fire is on both sides of her!"
"Don't jump! Don't jump!" yelled Tom, at the top of his lungs, and he saw the teacher prepare to cast herself to the ground.
"Can't you come down by the stairs?" called out Sam, as loudly as he could.
"I'm afraid to open the door! The hall is full of smoke and fire!" screamed the teacher. "Save me! Save me!"
"Haven't they got a ladder handy?" asked Tom.
"Sure, we've got a ladder— half a dozen of 'em," responded one of the men who worked around the place.
"Where is it? Show it to us, quick!" put in Sam.
"All right, this way," returned the man, and started off with Sam at his heels.
"Don't jump! don't jump! We'll help you!" cried a dozen voices to the teacher.
"We are going to get a ladder!" yelled Tom. "Stay where you are!"
And then he followed the others. The ladders were kept in a wagon shed, and it took but a few moments to bring them out. They were four in number, and of various sizes.
"I'm afraid none of 'em is long enough to reach that winder," said the man who had led the way.
"You are right," replied Tom. "But what's the matter with lashing a couple of them together? Here's a rope." And he pointed to a washline that hung on a nearby hook.
In frantic haste a dozen persons carried the ladders to the burning building. Tom followed with the rope, which he unwound on the way. Then the washline was cut, and with it two of the longest ladders were lashed together as quickly as possible. Then the combination ladder was raised against the building and set close to the window, to the sill of which Miss Harrow clung.
"I'll go up if you want me to," cried Tom, as he saw the men who belonged around the place hold back. "You steady the ladder so it doesn't slip."
"Want me to help, Tom?" asked Sam.
"No, you see that they steady the ladder." And thus speaking, Tom began to mount the rungs.
A cheer went up, but to this the youth paid no attention. In a few seconds he was at the third story window. He had to pass through considerable smoke, but as yet the flames had not reached that vicinity.
"Come, give me your hand, and step out on the ladder," cried Tom to the teacher.
"I— I can't!" gasped Miss Harrow. And now the youth saw that she was almost paralyzed from fright. She clung desperately to the window sill, evidently unable to move. Clinging to the ladder with his left hand, Tom placed his right foot on the window sill, and then he reached down and caught the teacher under the arm.
"Come, you don't want to stay here," he ordered, almost sternly, and pulled the teacher to her feet.
"Oh, oh, we'll fall! I can't do it!" were her gasped-out words.
"You've got to do it— unless you want to be burned up. Now then, if you don't want to climb down the ladder, let me carry you."
"I— I— oh— I can't move!" And with these words, the teacher sank down across the window sill.
A sudden change in the wind drove a cloud of smoke into Tom's face, and for the moment he and the teacher were hidden from the view of those below.
"Oh, look! Tom will be burned up!" screamed Nellie.
"No, he won't," returned Sam, reassuringly. "He knows what he is doing." Nevertheless, Sam was as anxious as anyone over his brother's safety.
When the smoke shifted, it was seen that Tom had hauled the teacher from the window sill and had her over his shoulder. She hung down limply, showing that she had lost consciousness. Rung by rung, the youth came down the ladder slowly with his burden.
"He's got her! He's got her!" was the glad cry, and a few seconds later Tom reached the ground, where he was immediately surrounded by the others.
"Oh, Tom, how did you do it?" cried Nellie, hysterically.
"Oh, it was not much to do— anybody could have done it," replied the youth. "Say, what am I to do with her?" he added, indicating the burden on his shoulder.
"This way, please," said the teacher who had taken charge of matters, and she led the way out on the campus and to a bench on which some of the girls had piled their fancy pillows. Here Miss Harrow was made as comfortable as possible.
By this time a third fire engine had arrived, and more streams were directed on the flames. The ladder was used by some of those at the nozzle of one of the hose lines, and by this means the fire in the wing of the main building was quickly extinguished. Nothing could be done towards saving what was left of the barn, so the firemen directed all their efforts towards keeping the conflagration from spreading.
"Well, it's about out," said Sam, a little later. "Some mess, though, believe me!"
"Oh, I am so thankful it was not worse!" murmured Grace. "Suppose it had burned down the main building!"
"Tom, you're a hero!" cried Spud, coming up.
"Nothing of the sort," retorted Tom. "Anybody could have done what I did, and you know it."
"All the same, you're the one who did it," answered Spud, admiringly.
"He certainly did," said one of the men in the crowd. "That teacher ought to be mighty thankful for what he did for her."
"I don't want her thanks," added Tom, in a low voice. "All I want her to do, is to treat Nellie fairly."
TOM SPEAKS HIS MIND
"Tom, Miss Harrow would like to see you."
It was an hour later, and the Rovers and the Laning girls had spent the time in watching the efforts of the others to put out the last of the fire. In the meanwhile, some of those present had gone through the addition to the main building and opened the various windows and doors, thus letting out the smoke. An examination proved that the damage done there was very slight, for which the seminary authorities were thankful.
"Wants to see me, eh?" returned Tom, musingly. "Well, I don't know whether I want to see her or not."
"You might as well go, Tom, and have it over with," suggested Sam.
"If I go, I want Nellie to go along," returned the brother. "I want her to know how I stand on this missing-ring question. By the way, how is she, all right?" continued the youth, addressing Stanley, who had brought the news that he was wanted.
"She seems to he all right, although she is very nervous. She says the reason she didn't hear the alarm and get out of the building in time, was because she had had a toothache and had taken a strong dose of medicine to quiet her nerves. Evidently the medicine put her into a sound sleep."
"How about the toothache?" asked Sam, slyly.
"Oh, that's gone now; the fire scared it away."
"Where is she?" questioned Tom.
"She is in the office with some of the other teachers."
"All right, if I've got to go, I might as well have it over with. Come along, Nellie."
"Oh, Tom, do you really think I ought to go?"
"If you won't, I won't."
"All right, then," and arm in arm, Tom and Nellie proceeded into the main building. Nellie showed the way to the office, which was located at the end of a long corridor.
"Oh, so here is the young gentleman!" cried Miss Harrow, as they entered. She was very pale, but did her best to compose herself.
"You sent for me?" returned Tom, bluntly.
"Yes. I wish to thank you for what you did for me. You are a very brave young man. Were I able to do so, I should be only too pleased to reward you liberally. But I am only a poor teacher, and——"
"I don't want any reward, Miss Harrow. What I did anybody could have done."
"Perhaps, but——" And now the teacher stopped short, for the first time noticing Nellie's presence. "What do you want here, Miss Laning?" she demanded, stiffly.
"I came in with Mr. Rover; he wanted me to come," was the answer. And as the teacher continued to glare at her, Nellie clung tightly to Tom's arm.
"I— I don't understand——" stammered Miss Harrow. She was evidently much surprised.
"It's this way, Miss Harrow." answered Tom, with his usual bluntness. "Miss Laning and I have been friends for a great many years. The fact is, we hope— that is, I hope"— and now Tom looked a bit confused— "we'll be married before a great while. I have been told about the diamond ring that is missing, and I know all about how you have treated Nellie. I don't like it at all. I think you are doing her a great injustice."
"Oh!" The teacher paused abruptly and bit her lip. She glanced from Tom to Nellie and then to the others who were in the office. "I— I have not accused Miss Laning of anything," she went on, rather lamely.
"Perhaps not in so many words. But you have acted as if you felt certain she was guilty. Now, that isn't fair. She wouldn't touch anything that wasn't her own. It's a terrible thing to cast suspicion on any one. What would you say if I were to intimate you had taken the four-hundred-dollar ring?"
"Sir!" and now the teacher's face grew red. "Do you mean to insult me?"
"Not at all. But I mean to stand up for Miss Laning first, last, and all the time," replied Tom, earnestly. "I think it is an outrage to even suspect her."
For a few seconds there was an intense silence, broken only by a certain nervous movement among the others in the office. Miss Harrow bit her lip again.
"I— I am sorry if I have done Miss Laning an injustice," she said, slowly. "But the diamond ring is gone, and if the ring is not recovered, I may be held responsible for it."
"Now, my dear Miss Harrow, pray do not agitate yourself too much," broke in another of the teachers. "This is all very painful. You had better drop the matter."
"I am willing to drop it," answered Tom, before Miss Harrow could speak. "Only I want it understood that Miss Laning is to be treated with the consideration she deserves. Otherwise I may suggest to her father that she be taken away from this institution and a suit for damages be instituted."
"Oh, no! Not that! Not that!" came from Miss Harrow, and now she was plainly much frightened. "I did not accuse Miss Laning of anything, and I do not accuse her now. The ring is missing. That is all I can say about it."
"I think we had better go, Tom," whispered Nellie.
"You may leave, Miss Laning," said one of the other teachers. "We have had trouble enough for one night."
"Nellie started for the door, and Tom did the same; but before the youth could leave, Miss Harrow clutched him by the arm.
"Mr. Rover, just a word," she said in a low voice. "You did me a great service and I shall not forget it. If I have done Miss Laning an injustice, I am very sorry for it." And having thus spoken, she turned back and sank down on a couch. Tom and Nellie left and hurried to the campus, where they were speedily rejoined by Sam and Grace.
"How did you make out?" asked the younger Rover. And then Tom gave the particulars of what had occurred.
"Oh, Tom, I am glad you said what you did," cried Grace, heartily. "Now, maybe, Miss Harrow will be more careful in her actions."
"Well, I simply said what I thought," answered Tom. "They are not going to lay anything at Nellie's door if I can help it."
"Oh, Tom, but you told them that— that And Nellie grew red and could not go on.
"Well, what if I did? It's the truth, isn't it?"
"What was that?" asked Sam, curiously.
"Why, I told them that Nellie and I had been friends for years and that, sooner or later, we were going to be married."
"You did!" shrieked Grace. "Oh, Tom Rover!"
"Folks might as well know it," returned Tom. "They've got to know it when the affair comes off."
"Don't you think it's about time you boys started back for college?" came from Nellie, who was blushing deeply over the personal turn which the conversation had taken.
"Oh, there's no great rush," answered Tom, coolly.
Nevertheless, now that the conflagration was over, it was thought best by all the students to get back to the college, so a little later the crowd was rounded up by Spud and Stanley, and all climbed into the automobile. Sam ran the car, and the return was made without special incident.
"Say, Tom, if that wedding is to come off so soon, perhaps I had better be saving up for a wedding present," remarked Sam, dryly, when the two brothers were retiring for the night.
"I wouldn't advise you to start saving up just now," answered his brother. "Better get some sleep first." And then he playfully shied a pillow at Sam's head.
The next day nearly all the talk at Brill was about the fire and what Tom had done towards rescuing Miss Harrow. Many insisted upon it that Tom had enacted the part of a real hero, and he was interviewed by a local reporter, and a number of newspapers printed quite an item about the conflagration and the part he had played.
But the students had little time just now for anything outside of their final examinations. Many papers had to be prepared, and poor Tom often wondered how he would ever get through with any satisfaction, either to himself or his instructors. With Sam, the task seemed much easier, for, as Dick had once declared, Sam was "a regular bookworm," and no studies seemed to worry him in the least.
"If I get through at all, I shall be lucky," vouchsafed Tom, after passing in a particularly hard paper.
"We'll hope for the best," returned Sam.
During those days came another letter from Dick, in which he stated that he had moved into the offices vacated by Pelter, Japson & Company, and was doing his best to get everything into working order. He added that, on the request of their father, he had disposed of some stocks, and in their stead, had purchased sixty-four thousand dollars' worth of bonds.
"My, that's some bonds!" remarked Sam, on reading the letter.
"Well, bonds are usually much safer than stocks, even if they don't pay so well," answered Tom.
There was a letter from their Aunt Martha, who stated that their father did not seem to be quite as well as he had been the week previous. She added that they had called in another doctor, who had stated, after an examination, that there was no cause for alarm— that Mr. Rover must be kept quiet and not worried, and probably, he would be his old self in another month or two.
"I am glad that the college is to shut down soon," said Sam, when he and his brother were discussing this communication. "I want to see dad and make sure things are not worse than Aunt Martha pictures them."
"Exactly the way I feel about it, Sam. They may be holding back something on us just so we won't be worried."
Two days later came the final examination for, both the Rovers, and they felt much relieved. Songbird was also "out of the woods," as he expressed it, and asked them if they did not want to join him and Spud in a short row on the river.
"That suits me," cried Tom. "I want to get out into the air somewhere. I am done with classrooms forever. If it was not for the look of things, I would be turning handsprings on the campus."
"Ditto," added Sam.
"Well, come on," said Songbird. And a few minutes later the four students were down at the boathouse, getting out one of the four-oared boats.
"Say, Songbird, I should think this would put you in the rhyming fever," said Sam, as the four lads rowed out on the river.
"It does," returned the would-be poet.
"All right, turn on the verse spigot and let us have the latest effusion," cried Tom, gaily.
"The verses aren't finished yet," answered Songbird. And then resting his oar, he drew from his pocket a slip of paper and began to read:
"The term is passed, Away we cast Our books and papers with great glee. No more we'll train Each tired brain——"
"Instead, we'll cheer because we're free!"
"Say, that isn't half bad," broke out Songbird, enthusiastically. "I was going to put in something about flee——"
"For gracious sake! What have fleas to do with this poetry?" interposed Tom.
"Fleas! Who said anything about fleas?" snorted Songbird. "I said 'flee,' f-l-e-e."
"Oh, I see!" That's the flee that fled, not the flea who refuses to flee," went on Tom. And at this sally, the other boys laughed.
"Never mind, give us the rest of it," put in Spud.
"There isn't any 'rest'— not yet," answered the would-be poet. And then the bays resumed the row up the river.
AT THE FARM
"All aboard who are going! We haven't any time to spare if you want to catch that nine-fifteen train."
"Good-bye, Tom, don't forget to write."
"Say, Spud, when you get down to the Maine coast, don't eat too many lobsters."
"And that puts me in mind, Stanley. When you reach the Grand Canyon, send me a piece of rock; I want to see how the Canyon looks."
"Say, whose baseball mitt is this anyway?" And following this question, the mitt came sailing through the air, to land on the floor of the Brill carryall.
"Please get off of my feet!" The wail came from William Philander Tubbs, who was sitting in a corner with another student partly on his lap.
"Everybody shove, and we'll be off!" cried another student, merrily.
Then came a great mixture of cries and whistles, intermingled with the tooting of horns and the sounding of rattles, in the midst of which there moved from the Brill grounds several carriages and an equal number of automobiles.
The term had come to an end, and the students were preparing to scatter. The majority were going home, but others had planned to go directly to the summer resorts where they were to spend their vacations.
"Good-bye, Brill!" sang out Tom, and, for once, his voice was a trifle husky. Now that he was leaving the college not to return, a sudden queer sensation stole over the youth. He looked at his brother, and then turned his gaze away.
"Never mind, Tom," said Sam, softly. "If I come back, as I expect, you'll have to come and visit me."
Hope Seminary was not to close until the week following, and the evening before the Rovers had visited Grace and Nellie. From them, Sam and Tom had heard news that interested them greatly. This was to the effect that Dora had invited her cousins to visit her in New York City some time during the vacation.
"That will be fine!" Tom had cried. "You come when Sam and I are there, and we'll do all we can to give you the best kind of a time." And so it had been arranged.
The boys and their friends were in the Rover touring car. This machine, it had been decided, was to remain at the college garage, in care of Abner Filbury. Abner was now driving, so that the boys were at liberty to do as they pleased.
"Let's give 'em a song," suggested Stanley, and the boys sang one college song after another, the tunes being caught up by those in the other turnouts. Thus they rolled up to the railroad station in Ashton. Then the train came in, and all the young collegians lost no time in getting aboard.
"Where are you going, my dear William Philander?" asked Tom, of the dudish student, who sat in front of him.
"I am going to Atlantic City," was the somewhat stiff reply, for William Philander had not forgotten the ducking in the river.
"Atlantic City!" exclaimed Tom. "Of course, you are not going in bathing?"
"To be sure I am! I have a brand new bathing suit ordered. It is dark blue, with pin stripes running——"
"But see here, Billy! If you go in bathing at Atlantic City this season, you'll be chewed up."
"What do you mean?" And now the dudish student seemed interested.
"Haven't you heard about the sea serpents they have seen at Atlantic City?" demanded Tom,— "four or five of them." And he poked Sam, who sat beside him, in the ribs; and also winked at Spud, who was in the seat with William Philander.
"That's right, Tubbs," put in Sam. "Why, they say some of those sea serpents are twenty feet long."
"Oh, yes, I heard about them, too," added Spud, and now he braced himself for one of his usual yarns. "Why, they tell me that one afternoon the sea serpents came in so thickly among the bathers that it was hard for them— I mean those in bathing— to tell which was sand and which was serpents. Some of the serpents crawled up on the boardwalk, and even got into some of the stores and hotels. They had to order out the police, and then the fire department, and, finally, some of the soldiers had to come down from the rifle ranges with a Gatling gun. You never heard of such a battle! Somebody said they killed as many as ninety-seven sea serpents, and not less than three hundred got away. Why, William Philander, I wouldn't go within twenty-five miles of Atlantic City if I were you," concluded Spud.
"Oh, how ridiculous!" responded the dudish student. Nevertheless, he looked much worried. "Of course, they do report a sea serpent now and then."
"Well, you haven't got to believe it, Billy," answered Tom. "At the same time, you'll be a fine specimen of a college boy if you come back next Fall minus an arm and a leg. How on earth are you going to any of the fashionable dances in that condition?" And at this, there was a general snicker, in the midst of which William Philander arose, caught up his dresssuit case, and fled to another car.
"You can bet that will hold William Philander for awhile," remarked Sam. "He won't dare to put as much as a toe in the water at Atlantic City until he is dead sure it is safe."
"Humph! William Philander isn't one of the kind to go into the water," sniped Tom. "He belongs to the crowd that get into fancy bathing costumes, and then parades up and down on the sand, just to be admired."
It was not long before the Junction was reached, and here the Rovers had to part from a number of their friends. A fifteen-minute wait, and then their train came along. It was not more than half full, so the students had all the room they desired.
"I must say, the farm will look pretty good to me," remarked Tom, when the time came for them to collect their belongings.
"I want to see dad," returned his younger brother.
"Oh, so do I."
"Oak Run! All out for Oak Run!" It was the well-known cry of the brakeman as the train rolled into the station where the Rovers were to alight.
"Good-bye, everybody!" sang out both Sam and Tom, and, baggage in hand, they hurried to the station platform. Then the train went on its way, leaving them behind.
The boys had sent a message ahead, stating when they would arrive, and, consequently, Jack Ness, the hired man, was on hand with the family touring car.
"Back safe and sound, eh? Glad to see yer!" cried the hired man, as they approached, and he touched his cap.
"And we are glad to be back, Jack," returned Tom, and added quickly: "How is my father?"
"Oh, he's doin' as well as can be expected, Mr. Tom. The doctors say he has got to keep quiet. Your Aunt Martha said to warn both of you not to excite him."
"Is he in bed?" questioned Sam.
"Not exactly. He sits up in his easy chair. He can't do much walkin' around."
While talking, the boys had thrown their belongings into the car. Tom took the wheel, with Sam beside him, leaving the hired man to get in among the baggage. Then away they rolled, over the little bridge that spanned the river and connected the railroad station with the village of Dexter's Corners. Then, with a swerve that sent Jack Ness up against the side of the car, they struck into the country road leading to Valley Brook Farm, their home.
"Looks good, doesn't it?" remarked Sam, as they rolled along, past well-kept farms and through a pleasant stretch of woodland.
"Yes, it looks good and is good," returned Tom, with satisfaction. "The college and the city are all right enough, Sam, but I don't go back on dear old Valley Brook!"
"How the country around here has changed since the time when we moved here," went on Sam. "Do you remember those days, Tom?"
"Do I remember them? Well, I guess! And how Uncle Randolph used to be annoyed at what we did." And Tom smiled grimly.
Another turn or two, and they came in sight of the first of the farm fields. Then they reached the long lane leading to the commodious farmhouse, and Tom began to sound the automobile horn.
"There is Uncle Randolph!" cried Sam, pointing to the upper end of the lane.
"Yes, and there is Aunt Martha," added Tom, as a figure stepped out on the farmhouse piazza. Then both of the boys waved their hands vigorously.
"Back again, eh!" cried Uncle Randolph, when the car had been brought to a stop. "Glad to see you, boys," and he shook hands.
"Back again, and right side up with care!" exclaimed Tom. He made one leap up the piazza steps, and caught his aunt in his arms. "How are you, Aunt Martha? Why, I declare, you are getting younger and better looking every day!" and he kissed her heartily.
"Oh, Tom, my dear, don't smother me!" gasped the aunt. Yet she looked tremendously pleased as she gazed at him. Then Sam came in for a hug and a kiss.
"You mustn't be too boisterous," whispered Uncle Randolph, when all started to enter the house. "Remember, your father isn't as strong as he might be."
"Where is he?" both boys wanted to know.
"He is up in the wing over the dining-room," answered their aunt. "We thought that would be the nicest place for him. The window has a fine outlook, you'll remember."
"Can we go up now?" questioned Tom.
"Yes, but remember, do not say anything to excite him
"All right, we'll be careful," came from Sam. And then both lads cast aside their caps and hurried up the stairs.
Mr. Anderson Rover sat in an easy chair, attired in his dressing gown. He looked thin and pale, but his face lit up with a smile as his eyes rested on his two sons.
"Dad!" was the only word each could utter. And then they caught him by either hand, and looked at him fondly.
"I am glad to see you back, boys," said their father, in a low but clear voice. "It seems like a long while since you went away."
"And we have missed you a great deal!" broke out Sam. It's too bad you don't feel better."
"Oh, I think I'll get over it in time," answered Mr. Rover. "But the doctors tell me I must go slow. I wouldn't mind that so much, if it wasn't for Dick. I think he ought to have some help."
"Now, don't you worry, Dad," interposed Tom, gently. "You just leave everything to us. We are both going to New York to help Dick straighten out matters, and it will be all right, I am sure." And he stroked his father's shoulder affectionately.
"But you'll have to go back to college——" began the invalid.
"Sam is going back. I am going to help Dick, and stay with him. Now, don't say anything against it, Dad, for it is all settled," went on Tom, as his father tried to speak again. "I don't care to go back. I think Dick and I were cut out for business men. Sam is the learned member of this family."
"Well, boys, have your own way; you are old enough to know what you are doing." And now Mr. Rover sank back in the chair, for even this brief conversation had almost exhausted him.
A STARTLING SCENE
"Dear old dad! Isn't it awful to see him propped up in that chair, unable to leave his room!"
"You are right, Sam. And yet it might be worse— he might be confined to his bed. I hope we didn't excite him too much."
"He was very much surprised at your determination to give up Brill, and join Dick. I guess he was afraid Dick would have to shoulder the business alone. And by the way, Tom," went on the youngest Rover, earnestly, "somehow it doesn't seem just right to me that I should put all this work off on you and Dick."
"Now, don't let that bother you, Sam. You can go to New York with me this Summer, and then you go back to college, and come out at the head of the class. That will surely please us all."
This conversation took place while the two boys were retiring for the night. They had not remained very long with their father, fearing to excite him too much. Aunt Martha had, as usual, had a very fine repast prepared for them, and to this, it is perhaps needless to state, the youths did full justice.
"It's a grand good thing that we have Aleck Pop with us," went on Sam, referring to the colored man, who, in years gone by, had been a waiter at Putnam Hall, but who was now firmly established as a member of the Rover household. "Aunt Martha says he waits on dad, hand and foot; morning, noon and night."
"Well, Aleck ought to be willing to do something for this family in return for all we have done for him," answered Tom.
Despite the excitement of the day, the two boys slept soundly. But they were up at an early hour, and, after breakfast, took a walk around the farm in company with their Uncle Randolph, who wished to show them the various improvements he had made.
"We have a new corncrib and a new root hovel," said their uncle, as they walked around. "And next week we are going to start on a new pigsty."
"Going to have one of those new up-to-date, clean ones, I suppose?" returned Sam.
"Yes. I do not think that it is at all necessary to keep pigs as dirty as they are usually kept," returned Uncle Randolph.
"Say, Uncle," put in Tom, with a sudden twinkle in his eye, "are you going to sell pork by the yard after this?"
"By the yard?" queried Uncle Randolph, and then a faint smile flickered over his face. "Oh, I see! You mean sausage lengths, eh?"
"Not exactly, although that is one way of selling pork by the yard," returned Tom. "I was thinking of what happened in our college town. One of the boys went into a butcher's shop, and asked for a yard of pork, and the butcher handed out three pig's feet."
"Oh, what a rusty joke, Tom!" exclaimed Sam.
"Well, I didn't ask for the yard of pork; it was Dobson who did that," returned Tom, coolly.
Having inspected the various improvements, the boys returned to the house, and then went upstairs for another short talk with their father. In the midst of this, the family physician arrived. When he had waited on the invalid, the boys called the doctor to one side, and asked him to tell them the truth regarding their parent.
"Oh, I think he'll pull through all right," said the doctor. "But as I have told your uncle and your aunt, he must be kept quiet. If you talk business to him, or excite him in any way, it is bound to make matters worse."
"Then we'll keep him just as quiet as possible," returned Tom. "If anything unusual occurs in his business, we won't let him know anything about it."
"That would be best," answered the doctor, gravely; and took his departure.
Several days passed, and by that time the boys felt once more quite at home. Once they went out in the touring car, taking their aunt and uncle along.
"It's too bad we can't take dad," was Sam's comment, "but the doctor says it won't do. We'll have to leave him in charge of Aleck." The ride proved a most enjoyable one, and the older folks were much pleased by it.
"What do you say, Tom, if we go down to the river and have a swim?" proposed Sam, the next morning. It was an unusually hot day, and the thought of getting into the cool water of the old swimming hole appealed strongly to the youth.
"Suits me," returned his brother. "We haven't had a swim down there since last year."
"You young gents want to be careful about that there swimmin' hole," put in Jack Ness, who had heard the talk.
"Why, what's the matter now, Jack?"
"I dunno, exactly, but I hear some of the fellers sayin' as how that swimmin' hole wasn't safe no more. I think it's on account of the tree roots a growin' there."
"We'll be on our guard," answered Sam, and a little later the two lads set off. It was a long walk over the fields and through the patch of woods skirting the stream, and on arriving at the old swimming hole, Sam and Tom were glad enough to rest awhile before venturing into the water. As my old readers know, the stream was a swiftly-flowing one, and the water was rather cool.
"Remember the day we flew over this way in the biplane?" said Tom. "That sure was some adventure!"
"Yes, but it wasn't a patch to the adventure we had when the biplane was wrecked," returned his brother, referring to a happening which has been related in detail in "The Rover Boys in New York."
Having rested awhile, the two boys started to get ready for their swim. Both had just thrown off their coats, when there came a sudden cry from up the river.
"What's that, Tom?" questioned Sam.
"Somebody is calling. Listen!" and then both boys strained their ears for what might follow.
"There! Stay where you are! Don't move!"
"I can't stay here," said another voice.
"Shall I shoot him now?" put in a heavy bass voice.
"No, wait a minute, I am coming over," said still another voice, and then there was silence. The Rover boys looked at each other in amazement. What did the talk mean?
"Say, sounds to me as if somebody was in trouble!" exclaimed Sam.
"Perhaps we had better go and see," returned Tom.
"All right, but we don't want to get into trouble ourselves. Those fellows, whoever they are, or at least one of them, seems to be armed."
"We'll take a few stones along, Sam, and a couple of sticks, too, if we can find them."
Stones were to be had in plenty, and having picked up several of them, and cast their eyes around for a couple of clubs, the lads lost no time in making their way towards the spot from whence the voices had proceeded. This was at a point where the river made a turn and was divided by a long, narrow island into two channels. The island was covered with brushwood, while the banks of the stream were lined with overhanging trees.
"Now, I am going to shoot him!" cried one of the voices which the boys had heard before.
"No, don't do it, just wait a minute!" answered some one else.
"Maybe they have got some poor fellow, and have robbed him," suggested Sam, as he and his brother hurried forward as quickly as the trees and tangled brushwood would permit.
"One thing is certain, that fellow, whoever he is, is in trouble," returned Tom. "Perhaps we had better yell to those other fellows to stop."
"If we do that, they may shoot the poor chap, and then run away."
"That's so, too! Well, come ahead, let's hurry and see if we can catch sight of them." And then the two boys pushed ahead faster than ever.
Presently the youths came to where there were a number of high rocks covered with trailing vines. As, to avoid these, it would have been necessary to wade in the stream, and thus get their shoes and stockings wet, they began to scramble over the rocks with all possible speed.
"Listen! They are talking again!" exclaimed Sam.
"Grab him! Grab him by the throat!"
"That's all right, Jim, but I don't want the boat to upset," growled another voice.
"Say, you fellows make me tired!" roared the heavy bass voice. "Do you want to keep us here all day?"
"What do you know about this gun? Maybe it will explode."
"Say, Sam, I don't know what to make of this!" panted Tom, who was almost out of breath from the violence of his exertion.
"Maybe they are tramps, and are holding somebody up. Anyway, it sounds bad," returned his brother.
Hauling themselves at last to the top of the rocks, the Rover boys looked ahead. Down in the swiftly-flowing stream, they saw a flat-bottom boat containing two men. One man, a tall, burly individual, had a much smaller fellow by the throat, and was bending him backward. Close at hand, on the shore, stood another man, gun in hand, and with the weapon aimed at the burly individual.
"Now then, shoot!" yelled somebody from the shore of the island opposite, and an instant later the gun went off with a bang. As the report died away, the burly man in the boat relaxed his hold on the other fellow, threw up his arms, and fell over into the river with a loud splash.
A TELEGRAM OF IMPORTANCE
The Rover boys were horrified by what they saw, and for the instant they neither moved nor spoke. They saw the small man in the boat look over the side into the stream where his assailant had plunged from sight, then this fellow caught up a single oar that remained in the craft, and commenced to paddle quickly to shore.
"Oh, Tom, they have killed him!" gasped Sam, on recovering from the shock.
"It certainly looks like it, Sam," returned Tom. "If he wasn't shot dead, he must be drowned. Come on!" and, heedless of possible danger, Tom scrambled down from the rocks and hurried towards the men, with Sam close behind him. They had not yet reached the pair. on the river bank, when, to their amazement, they saw the burly individual who had gone overboard, reappear at a point further down the stream. He was swimming lustily for shore.
"Hello! He can't he so badly hurt!" exclaimed Tom. "Look at him strike out!"
"Maybe he was only scared, and went overboard to escape a second shot," suggested Sam.
"Hi! you fellows over there!" yelled the man who carried the gun. "Was that all right?"
"It looked so to me, although you were a little slow about it," came from the shore of the island; and now, glancing in that direction, Sam and Tom saw two men. One had what looked to be a megaphone in his hand, and the second stood behind a high, thin camera with a handle attached, set on a tripod. At the sight of the camera, both youths stopped short. Then Tom looked at his brother and began to snicker.
"Sold! What do you think of that, Sam?"
"Why, they are only taking a moving picture!" exclaimed the younger Rover. "Talk about a sell, Tom! That's one on us."
"Don't let them know how we were sold," returned the brother, quickly. "If it leaked out we'd never hear the end of it."
"Right you are! Mum's the word!" And it may be added here that the boys kept their word, and said nothing to those at home about how they had been fooled.
By the time they reached the man in the boat and the fellow with the gun, the individual who had gone overboard was coming up the river bank, dripping water with every step.
"Say, was that all right?" he demanded, as he stripped off his coat and wrung the water from it. "I hope it was, because I don't want to go through that again, not even for the extra five dollars."
"So you are taking moving pictures," remarked Tom, pleasantly. "That was sure a great scene."
"Oh, so you saw it, did you?" returned the man with a gun. "I thought we were here all alone," and he did not seem to be particularly pleased over the boys' arrival.
"Going to take some more pictures here?" questioned Sam.
"That's our business," answered the man in the boat, crustily.
"Well, maybe it's ours, too," returned the youngest Rover, quickly, not liking the manner in which he had been addressed. "This land belongs to my folks."
"Oh, is that it?" cried the man, and now he looked a bit more pleasant. "Are you the Rovers?"
"No, we are about done with our picture taking in this vicinity," continued the man in the boat. The next picture in this series is to be at the railroad station at Oak Run."
"Say, I would like to get into some of those movies," remarked Tom. "I imagine it would be a lot of fun."
"Not if you've got to go overboard as I did," grumbled the man who was wet. "Talk about the strenuous life, this takes the cake! Why, in the past ten days, I have gone over a cliff, rescued two women from a burning tenement house, climbed a rope hanging from a burning balloon, and fallen off a moving freight car. Can you beat that for action?"
"Certainly some stunts!" answered Tom. "But one must get a lot of fun out of it."
"Oh, sure! Especially when one of the women you are saving from the burning house gets nervous for fear the flames will reach her, and grabs you by the ear and nearly pulls it off," growled the moving picture actor.
"Say!" yelled the man with the megaphone. "Aren't you coming over here to get us?"
"Of course," returned the man in the boat, hastily. "Bill, give me that other oar," he went on, and having secured the blade, he lost no time in rowing over to the island. In the meanwhile, the fellow with the camera had dismounted the moving picture machine and folded up the tripod, and was ready to depart.
"Would you mind telling me what this picture is going to be called?" asked Sam. "We would like to know so, if we see it advertised anywhere, we can take a look at it."
"This is scene twenty-eight from 'His Last Chance,'" answered the man with the gun.
"All right, we'll take a chance on 'His Last Chance' when we get the chance," answered Tom with a grin, and at this play on words the moving picture men smiled. Soon they had packed all their belongings, and, getting into the boat, they started down the stream for a landing some distance below.
"We're a fine set of heroes," remarked Sam, grinningly, as he and Tom walked back in the direction of the swimming hole. "Wouldn't it have been rich if we had rushed in to save that fellow in the boat, and spoiled the picture."
"Don't mention it, Sam," pleaded Tom. "That sure was one on us." And then both laughed heartily over the way they had been fooled.
Reaching the swimming hole, it did not take the youths long to get into the water. Remembering what Jack Ness had said about being careful, they moved around cautiously.
"Here is a tree root that ought to be removed," remarked Sam, after diving down. "A fellow could easily catch fast on it."
"Maybe we had better put up a danger sign," suggested his brother, and getting out a note book he carried, he tore a page from it and wrote as follows:
Look Out for the Tree Roots!
"There! That ought to do some good," he went on, as he pinned the notice fast to the nearest tree trunk. The boys enjoyed their swim thoroughly. They indulged in many monkey-shines, and also had a little race to the opposite bank and back. This race was won by Tom, but Sam proved a very close second.
"Now then, I guess we had better hurry home, or we may be late for lunch," said Sam, after consulting his watch. "It is quarter of twelve."
Much refreshed, the lads started back for the farmhouse. They were still some distance away when they saw Jack Ness hurrying towards them.
"I say, gents!" called out the hired man. "You're wanted at the house right away."
"What's the matter, Jack?" demanded Tom, quickly. "Is father worse?"
"No, it ain't that, Master Tom. It's a telegram what come for you."
"A telegram?" repeated Sam. "Do you know where it is from?"
"Your uncle said it was from Mr. Dick."
"Then there must be important news," said Tom, and without further words both youths started on a swift gait for the house. Their aunt and uncle saw them coming, and ran out on the back porch to meet them. Their aunt held up her hand warningly.
"Now don't make any noise, boys," she pleaded. "We must not disturb your father."
"What is it? What's the news?"
"It's a telegram from Dick," answered their Uncle Randolph. "I can't quite make it out, but, evidently, it is very important. Here it is."
He fumbled in the pocket of his coat, and brought forth the yellow envelope and handed it to Tom. Taking out the telegram, the youth read it, with Sam looking over his shoulder. It ran as follows:
"If possible, I want Sam and Tom to come to New York at once. Very important. Do not alarm father.
"What do you make of this, Tom?" asked Sam, after he had read the telegram several times.
"I don't know what to make of it, Sam. But one thing is certain: Dick needs us. Something out of the ordinary has happened."
"That is just what I think, boys," put in their uncle. "Maybe I had better go with you," he added, nervously.
"No, no, Randolph. You stay here with me," pleaded his wife. "The boys can attend to the New York matters better than you can." She knew her husband well, and realized that he was decidedly backward when it came to the transaction of business matters of importance. He was wrapped up in his books and his theories about scientific farming and was a dreamer in the largest sense of that word.
"Very well, my dear, just as you say," answered the uncle, meekly.
"Boys, you won't disturb your father, will you?" continued their Aunt Martha, anxiously. "You know the doctor said he must not be disturbed under any circumstances."
"Have you told him about this telegram?" questioned Sam.
"Not a word."
"Then we had better keep still. We can tell him that we want to go to New York just to see Dick and Dora," put in Tom. And so it was arranged.
By consulting a new timetable, the boys found they could make a good railroad connection for the metropolis by taking a train that left Oak Run at three-thirty o'clock. This would give them about three hours in which to get lunch, pack their suitcases, and bid good-bye to their father.
Mr. Rover was somewhat surprised when his sons told him that they were going to New York to see Dick and his newly-made wife, but they smoothed matters over by stating that they found it rather dull on the farm.
"We'd like to go if you can spare us," said Sam.
"Oh, yes, boys, go by all means if you would like to," returned Mr. Rover, quickly. "I can get along very well. Your Aunt Martha is a splendid nurse— and you mustn't forget that I have Aleck."
"An' you can depend upon Aleck, ebery time, sah," put in the colored man, with a broad grin that showed all of his ivories.
"We are going to try to surprise Dick," said Tom. "We are going to take the afternoon train." And then, after a few more words with their father, and without letting him suspect in the least why they were going to New York, the two lads bade him an affectionate farewell and left the room.
"Better take a good supply of clothing along, Sam," remarked Tom, when they were packing up. "There is no telling how long we'll have to remain in the city."
"What do you suppose it is all about, Tom?" questioned the younger brother, anxiously.
"It's about business, that's certain. More than likely Dick has run into more trouble." But how great that trouble was, neither of the boys realized.
THE MOVING PICTURE
When the two Rover boys arrived at the railroad station at Oak Run, they were a little surprised to find themselves once more confronted by the moving picture people they had met on the river.
"Hello! So you are following us up, are you?" said the man who had handled the gun. But he smiled as he spoke, because he saw that the boys carried dresssuit cases and were equipped for traveling.
"Have you taken your picture of the railroad station yet?" questioned Tom.
"We've had one scene in front of the ticket office," returned the man. "But our main scene we shall pull off when the train comes in— or rather, when it pulls out."
"Perhaps you'll want us in it, after all," broke in Sam.
"See here! If you fellows want to get in this picture, just say so and I guess I can arrange it," said the man who had handled the megaphone in the scene on the river, and who was, evidently, the director of the company.
"That depends on what you want us to do," declared Tom.
"Oh, you won't have much to do. You see, it's like this," went on the manager. "This man who did the shooting wants to escape. He runs up to the railroad station here and buys his ticket— we have that part of it already. Then he is supposed to be in hiding behind yonder freighthouse. When the train comes in, he waits for all other passengers to get on board, then, as the train pulls out, he rushes forward and catches on the last car. At the same time one of the other fellows rushes out as if to catch him, but he is too late. Now, if you want to get into the scene, you get on the train just before she starts and stand on the back platform."
"Let's do it, Tom; it will be quite a lark!" exclaimed Sam.
"I'm willing," answered his brother; and so the matter was arranged. Then the boys hurried into the ticket office, to get their tickets to New York.
In the office they found old man Ricks, the station agent, grumbling to himself.
"Wot ye want?" he demanded, sourly, as he looked at the Rovers.
"Two tickets to New York, Mr. Ricks," returned Tom. "What's the matter?"
"Wot's the matter, huh? A whole lot, I should say!" declared old Ricks, as he began to make out the tickets. "A lot o' them movin' picter fellers been in here cuttin' up like mad."
"What did they do?" asked Sam, curiously.
"Huh! what didn't they do?" retorted the station master. "Come in here, an' knocked over a box an' a basket, rushed up to the winder, an' the next thing I knew, he had planked down a lot o' money, an' when I stuck my head out the winder here, that feller pretended to grab up a ticket wot I didn't give him at all, an' took up his money and dusted out the door. At the same time while this was goin' on, 'nother feller had a light turned on this here winder wot nearly blinded me, and the feller with that funny lookin' camera was a-turnin' the crank to beat the cars!"
"They were only taking a moving picture, Mr. Ricks," declared Sam. "You shouldn't object to that."
"Huh! I ain't hired by the railroad company to get in no movin' picter," growled the station master. "I'm here to 'tend to the railroad business, and nothin' else."
"Never mind, Mr. Ricks, if they've got you in the picture you ought to be proud of it," declared Tom. "Think of the millions and millions of people all over the world who will be looking at you when they visit the moving picture theaters."
"Huh! I ain't no movin' picter actor, I ain't," snorted old Ricks. "I'm a decent, respectable member o' this community, an' I'm a church member, too. I ain't got no use for them movin' picter shows. It's a waste o' good money, that's jest wot it is," and then Ricks shuffled off to attend to some baggage that had come in.
With their tickets in their pockets, the two Rover boys rejoined the moving picture company on the railroad platform. They were quite interested in watching the camera man set up his machine, and asked him several questions regarding its operation. Then they heard a well-known whistle down the track, and knew that their train was coming.
"All ready, there!" cried the manager of the moving picture company. "Now, don't make a fizzle of it, Jake."
"I won't, unless the train pulls out too quickly," returned Jake. "I am not going to get killed, though."
"Well, you've got to take some chances in this business," said the manager, coolly.
There were six or eight passengers getting off the train, and about an equal number to board the cars. As they had been instructed, the Rover boys got on the rear platform of the last car, and stood in the doorway looking back on the tracks. Tom pretended that he was waving his hand to somebody in the distance.
As the train began to move, and while the camera man was taking the picture, one of the actors, as agreed, rushed across the platform and got hold of the rail of the last step. Then, as he pretended to have hard work to pull himself up, the second actor came running down the platform, shaking his fist at the man who was escaping. Then the train passed out of sight around the bend, and the little moving picture scene came to an end.
"Well, I'm glad that's over," declared he actor, as he followed the boys into the car. "I never like the scenes where I am in danger of getting hurt."
"You certainly must have a strenuous time of it," declared Sam; and then he added quickly: "Are you going to New York with us?"
"Oh, no. I'm to get off at the first station and take another train back to Oak Run. The crowd will wait for me. We have some scenes to do at a farmhouse." And then, as he had a ride of ten minutes, the moving picture man told the boys of some things which had happened to him during his career as a movies' actor.
"How soon do you think they will show that picture?" asked Sam, when the man prepared to leave the train.
"In a week or two," was the answer. "I don't know the exact date for the release;" and then the man said good-bye and left them.
"Do you know, if I didn't have anything else to do, I wouldn't mind going into the moving picture business," remarked Tom, as the train rushed onward. "It must be lots of fun to be in the different scenes."
"Perhaps so, Tom. At the same time, those fellows must put up with a great number of inconveniences. Think of plunging into the water when it is cold, or into a burning building when the thermometer is over a hundred in the shade."
"Oh, I know that, and, come to think of it, I was reading only yesterday about a movies' actor who, in a war scene taken out on the Hackensack meadows, fell into a trench, and broke an arm and also a leg. Just the same, I wouldn't mind trying it."
"Maybe you'll get a chance some day."
On and on went the train, and, with little else to do, the boys discussed the situations at home and in the city.
"One thing is sure, Tom," said the youngest Rover, earnestly. "No matter what happens in New York, we mustn't let father know about it. I think the worry is worse for him than anything else."
"Oh, I agree on that. Even if we lose a lot of money, he must not know one word about it."
"Do you think we'll lose any money?"
"I don't know what to think. One thing is sure, something very much out of the way has happened, or Dick wouldn't have sent that telegram."
"Perhaps Pelter, Japson & Company haven't been as honest as they promised to be. Maybe they are holding back some of the securities that belong to dad."
"That may be so, too. At the same time, you must remember that Songbird's uncle is our attorney, and I don't think Mr. Powell would let them get away with very much. You'll remember what Dick wrote some time ago, that he had taken the office fixtures for part of the debt. That would seem to indicate that he had gotten everything from the firm that he could lay his hands on."
"I wonder if we'll ever meet that Barton Pelter again."
"Perhaps, although if he is a nephew of Jesse Pelter, it is more than likely he will keep out of sight, thinking that a meeting between us would be very unpleasant."
At one of the stops a dining car was attached to the train, and, as the boys were hungry, they lost no time in going in for the evening meal.
"Say, Tom, look there," whispered Sam, during the course of the repast, and, with a look from his eye, he indicated a man sitting on the other side of the car. The fellow was a tall, surly individual, plainly dressed. His face was somewhat flushed, as if he had been drinking.
"Why, that's the head gardener at Hope!" said Tom. "It is queer that he should be on this train, Sam!"
"If you'll remember, he lost his job at the seminary."
"He did? I didn't hear anything of that."
"Oh, yes, Grace told me about it. He was a splendid gardener, but every once in a while he would drink too much, and then get into a quarrel with the other help, so they had to let him go."
"It's a shame that such fellows can't leave drink alone," was Tom's comment.
The man had settled himself, and ordered quite an elaborate dinner. He was in the midst of eating, with the Rover boys paying little attention to him, when he happened to glance at them. He straightened up and stared in astonishment, and then looked decidedly uncomfortable.
"He's looking at us, Tom," whispered Sam.
"Well, let him look if he wants to. It doesn't cost anything," was the reply. And then Tom turned his head squarely, and stared at the former seminary gardener. Immediately, the man dropped his eyes, and went on with his meal. He soon finished, and, paying his bill, left the dining car in a hurry.
"That's a queer way to do," was Sam's comment. "He acted as if he didn't want us to see him."
"Maybe he is ashamed of himself for having lost his position," returned the brother. "Anyway, it's none of our business." And there the talk came to an end.
WHAT DICK HAD TO TELL
"Here we are, Sam!"
"And I'm glad of it, Tom. I don't care much about riding in the cars after it is too dark to look out of the windows," returned the youngest Rover.
The train was nearing the Grand Central Terminal, in New York City. The passengers were gathering their belongings, and the porter was moving from one to another, brushing them and gathering in his tips. Then the train rushed into the long station, and soon came to a halt.
"I wonder if Dick will be on hand to meet us?" said Sam, as he and his brother left the car and made their way towards the waiting-room.
"Maybe, although it's pretty late."
There was a large crowd coming and going, and, for the moment, the lads had all they could do to get through. Then, as they emerged into the middle of the big waiting-room, they saw two familiar figures close at hand.
"Hello, Dick! How do you do, Dora!"
"So here you are, Tom and Sam!" cried their big brother, and shook hands heartily. Then Dora came up to greet the newcomers.
"Did you have a nice trip?" asked Dick's wife, as she smiled at them.
"Oh, yes, it was all right," answered Sam. "And what do you think? We got in a moving picture!"
"You did!" exclaimed Dora. "That certainly is a new experience."
"We received your telegram, Dick," said Tom, and looked at his big brother, anxiously. "I hope nothing very serious has happened."
"Well, Tom, I— I——" Twice Dick tried to go on and failed. He looked at both of his brothers, and his face showed something that they had never seen in it before.
"Oh, Dick! Don't say anything here!" interposed Dora, hastily. "Wait till we get to the hotel." She turned to Sam and Tom. "Don't ask him any questions now. It won't do to have a scene here."
"All right, Dora, just as you say," answered Tom, quickly. Yet, both he and Sam wondered greatly what had occurred to so upset Dick.
The oldest Rover boy had a taxicab handy, and into this the whole party got and were quickly driven across Forty-second Street to Fifth Avenue, and then, for a number of blocks, down that well-known thoroughfare. Soon they turned towards Broadway, and a moment later came to a stop before the main entrance of the Outlook Hotel.
"As you know, we have a suite of rooms here," said Dick to his brothers. "I have hired an extra room next door, so we can all be together."
A bellboy had already secured the newcomers' baggage, and, after signing the register, Sam and Tom followed Dick and his wife to the elevator and to the third floor.
"It's a fine layout, all right," declared Sam, when they were settled and the bellboy had been dismissed.
Dick did not make any answer to this remark. He walked over to the door, to see that it was closed, then he suddenly wheeled to confront his brothers.
"You've got to know it sooner or later, so you might as well know it now," he said in as steady a voice as he could command. "Do you remember that I wrote to you about sixty-four thousand dollars' worth of bonds that I had bought for dad in place of some securities that he possessed?"
"Yes," answered both brothers.
"Well, those bonds have been stolen."
"Stolen!" gasped Sam.
"You don't mean it, Dick!" came from Tom.
"I do mean it. The bonds have been stolen, and, try my best, I can't get a single clew as to where they went or who took them."
"Sixty-four thousand dollars! Phew!" ejaculated Sam. "That's some loss!"
"But please don't blame Dick," broke in Dora. "I am sure it isn't his fault."
"How did it happen?" questioned Tom.
"They were taken out of the safe at the offices."
"Stolen from the safe, you mean?"
"When was this?"
"Day before yesterday."
"Of course the safe was locked?" put in Sam.
"But Pelter and Japson knew that combination, didn't they, Dick?" questioned Tom, eagerly.
"No, Tom, they did not. When they turned the offices over to me, Pelter made some sarcastic remark, stating I had better have the combination changed. I told him I certainly would have it changed; and the very next day I had the safe makers up to inspect the lock, and change the combination."
"Humph! Then that lets Pelter and Japson out, doesn't it?"
"But somebody must have taken those bonds," came from Sam. "Did anybody else have the combination, Dick?"
"Nobody but Dora. I gave her the figures, so she could get the safe open in case anything happened to me, or I was away."
"I've got the figures on a card in my pocket-book," explained Dora, "but I don't believe anybody saw them. In fact, the card has nothing but the bare figures on it, so it isn't likely that any one would understand what those figures meant. Oh, but isn't it perfectly dreadful! I— I hope you— you boys won't blame Dick," she faltered.
"Of course we don't blame Dick," returned Tom, promptly.
"Why should we blame him?" added Sam. "If he put the bonds in the safe and locked them up, I can't see how this robbery is his fault. It might have happened to any of us."
"I'm glad to hear you say that," returned Dick; and his face showed his relief. "Just the same, boys, we have got to find those bonds. Our family can't afford to lose sixty-four thousand dollars— or rather sixty thousand dollars."
"What do you mean, Dick?" asked Tom. "You said sixty-four thousand dollars."
"So I did, but four thousand of the bonds were registered in dad's name, principal and interest, so it's likely the thief won't be able to use them."
"And all the other bonds were unregistered?" queried Sam.
"Yes, every one of them."
"So they can be used by any one?"
"Exactly— although, of course, the thief would have to be very careful how he disposed of them."
"Have you notified the police?" asked Tom.
"Not yet. I wanted to consult you first. Besides, I thought it might be possible that the thief would put an advertisement in the newspapers, offering to return the bonds for a reward. But so far, I haven't seen any such advertisement."
"It isn't likely they'll offer to return them if sixty thousand dollars' worth are negotiable," returned Tom. "But give us the particulars of the affair;" and the youth dropped into a seat, and the others did the same.
"Well, to start with, as I said before, as soon as Pelter and Japson and their hired help left, I had the lock of the safe investigated, and then had the combination changed," began Dick. "The fellow from the safe company showed me how the combination was worked, so I fixed the new numbers to suit myself, in order that no outsider would know how to open the safe. I put the numbers down on two cards, and placed one of the cards in my notebook, and gave the other to Dora. As she said, the cards had nothing on them but the bare numbers, so that a person getting one of the cards would not know that the numbers referred to the safe combination.
"It took me several days to get rid of the old stocks, and while I was doing that I, from time to time, purchased the bonds, buying them, on the advice of Mr. Powell, from several bond houses in Wall Street. I also bought a brand new japanned box with a little lock, and placed the bonds in that box, and then put the box in the safe. The last I saw of the bonds was about half-past four in the afternoon, when I placed the last of the bonds in the box. I came down to the office at a little before ten o'clock the next morning, and opened the safe about half an hour later. Then the box was gone."
"Wait a minute, Dick," interrupted Tom. "You just said you opened the safe. Wasn't the door already open?"
"No, the door was shut and locked, just as I had left it the night before."
"Humph! Then somebody must have worked the combination," ventured Sam.
"So it would seem, Sam, and yet when I had the lock inspected, the safe company man told me that that was a first-class combination, and practically burglar proof."
"Is it an old safe?"
"I don't think so— in fact, the safe man led me to believe it was one of the newer kinds. It is about five feet square, and the walls are almost a foot thick. Oh, it is some safe, I can tell you that!"
"But it was not safe in this instance," retorted Tom, who, no matter how serious the situation, was bound to have his little joke.
"You said Pelter and Japson had gone for good," continued Sam. "Is there nobody else around attached to the old firm?"
"I took on their old office boy, a lad named Bob Marsh. You'll remember him," returned the oldest Rover. "He said he wanted work the worst way, so I thought I would give him a chance."
"Maybe he got the combination, and gave it to Pelter or Japson."
"I don't think so, Sam. The boy is rather forward in his manner, but I think he is perfectly honest."
"Yes, but somebody opened that safe and took the box of bonds," put in Tom.
"I know that, Tom, and we've got to get those bonds back, or it will be a very serious piece of business for us," answered the oldest Rover boy, soberly.
"Was anything else taken, Dick?" questioned Sam.
"Not a thing. And that's queer, too, because I had a number of private papers in the safe, and also our new set of books."
"Then that would go to show that all the thief was after were the bonds," came from Tom. "You say they were in a new japanned box that was locked?"
"Yes, but the lock didn't amount to much. I think it could easily be opened."
"Sixty thousand dollars is a lot of money to lose," mused Sam. "Dick, that will put us in something of a hole, won't it?"
"It may. But don't let us think about that, Sam. Let us try to get the bonds back," returned his oldest brother, earnestly.
AT THE OFFICES
After that the three Rovers and Dick's wife talked the matter over for fully an hour. Dick gave Sam and Tom all the particulars he could think of, and answered innumerable questions. But try their best, not one of the party could venture a solution of the mystery.
"I think you had better go to bed," said Dora, at last. "You can go down to the offices the first thing in the morning, and make up your minds what to do next;" and this advice was followed.
"No use of talking, this is a fierce loss!" was Tom's comment, when he and Sam were retiring.
"Yes, and Dick feels pretty bad over it," returned the youngest Rover. "I am afraid he imagines that we think he is to blame."
"Maybe, but I don't blame him, Sam. That might have happened to you or me just as well as to him."
It must be admitted that the boys did not sleep very soundly that night. For a long time each lay awake, speculating over the mystery, and wondering what had become of the bonds.
"Perhaps Pelter and Japson had nothing at all to do with it," thought Tom, as he reviewed the situation. "It may have been some outsider, who watched Dick alter the combination of the safe."
All of the boys were up early in the morning, and accompanied by Dora, obtained breakfast in the hotel dining-room.
"If you want me to go along, I shall be glad to do so," said Dora, during the course of the meal. It cut her to the heart to have Dick so troubled.
"No, Dora, you had better stay here, or else spend your time shopping," answered Dick. "We'll have to take care of this matter ourselves."
"I'll tell you what you can do," broke in Tom. "You can write a nice letter to Aunt Martha, telling her that we have arrived safely, and that we are going into some business matters with Dick. Of course, you needn't say a word about the robbery. It will be time enough to tell her and Uncle Randolph after we have tried all we can to get the bonds back— and failed."
As my old readers will probably remember, the offices formerly occupied by Pelter, Japson & Company were located at the lower end of Wall Street. The building was an old one, five stories in height, which had recently been put in repair. The offices were on the fourth floor in the extreme rear, and had a fairly good outlook.
The Rovers found the office boy, Bob Marsh, already on hand, and doing some work which Dick had given him. He was a bright, sharp-eyed lad, his only failing being that he was a bit forward.
"Any one here to see me, Bob?" asked Dick, as they entered.
"Nobody, sir, but an agent that wanted to sell you some kind of a new calendar. I told him we had bushels of calendars already," and the boy grinned slightly.
Passing through two small offices, the Rovers came to one in the rear— that which had formerly been used by Jesse Pelter.
"Looks a little bit familiar," observed Tom. "Looks like when I visited it as Roy A. Putnam, from Denver, Colorado, and thought about taking stock in the Irrigation Company," and he laughed shortly as he recalled that incident, the particulars of which have been related in "The Rover Boys in New York."
"You've got pretty big offices for only you and the office boy," remarked Sam.
"I took them just as the old concern had them," returned Dick. "But if business increases, I guess we'll have to have quite some office help. Anyway, a bookkeeper and a stenographer."
"Hadn't you better send that office boy out for a little while?" suggested Sam.
"A good idea," returned his oldest brother, and sent the lad on an errand up to the post-office.
Left to themselves, the Rovers once more went over the details of the robbery so far as they knew them. Dick opened the safe, showing his brothers how the combination lock was worked; then the boys looked inside the strong-box, and into the private compartment which, so Dick told them, had contained the missing box of bonds.
"I don't see how they got into this safe," was Sam's comment, after the door had been closed and the combination turned on. "I can't make head or tail of how to get it open."
"Let me have a try at it," returned Tom, and he worked for several minutes over the combination.
"Here are the figures for the combination," said Dick, and he turned them over to his brothers. But even with the figures before them, they found it no easy task to open the heavy door of the strong-box. This door was provided with several bolts, so that to get it open without either working the combination or else blowing the door open, was out of the question.
"It's a Chinese puzzle to me. I give it up," declared Tom, at last. "The only way I imagine, Dick, is that, somehow or other, somebody got hold of that combination."
"It would seem so, Tom. But I can't see how it could be done, or who did it," was the answer.
"Do you suppose that boy suspects anything?" questioned Sam.
"He may, because, after I discovered that the box was gone, I questioned him pretty closely as to who had been in the offices. I guess he knows something is wrong."
"Let us ask him about Pelter and Japson when he comes back," said Tom. "It certainly won't do any harm to get all the information possible. Then, if we can't get any clew by noon, I think the best thing you can do, Dick, is to notify the authorities."
It was not long before Bob Marsh came back from his errand to the post-office, and then Dick called him into the inner office.