"Who be yeou?" he drawled.
"We have had a breakdown on the road," answered Dick. "We thought we might get some help here."
"A breakdown, eh? What sort?" And the old man gazed curiously at the boys.
In a few brief words the Rovers explained matters.
"If you can let us have some wire, or straps, we'll pay you for them," went on Dick.
"I hain't got much," replied the old man. "I'm poor, I am— with havin' sech rheumatism I can't work the farm. But yeou kin look in the barn an' see wot there is."
The boys waited to hear no more, but hurried to the structure indicated— a building all but ready to fall down. In a harness closet they found a few old straps and a coil of fence wire.
"I guess these will answer," said Dick.
"Anyway, let us try them. Sam, you go back and pay the old man whatever he wants, while Tom and I do the mending."
"All right," answered the youngest Rover, and hurried off in the direction of the farm-house.
Sam found the old man sitting by a small table, eating a frugal meal of beans and bread and coffee.
"We found three old straps and some fence wire," said the youth. "What do you suppose they are worth?"
"Well, I'm a poor man, I be," whined the old man. "I don't think yeou be goin' to rob a poor, old man."
"Not at all," answered Sam, kindly. "How much do you want?"
"Them tudder fellers wot had a breakdown give me a dollar fer wot they got," said the old man, shrewdly.
"If I give you a dollar, will that be all right?"
"I guess so," answered the old man. He knew what three straps and what wire were meant, and knew they were not worth half the amount offered.
"Who had the other breakdown?" asked Sam, as he handed over a dollar bill.
"Some fellers in an autymobile— a couple o' weeks ago, or so."
"Some men in an automobile!" cried Sam, with sudden interest. "Who were they?"
"I dunno. They left the autymobile in the barn one night an' come fer it the next day. They give me a dollar."
"How many men?"
"Two I think there was, although one on 'em kept putty well out o' sight, as if he didn't want to be seen."
"How did the man look that you saw?"
"Oh, he was a tall feller, with a face that stuck out here," and the old man pointed to his chin.
"And did he have real heavy eyebrows?"
"He sure did— eyebrows 'most as heavy as a moustache."
"How did the other man look?"
"I dunno— didn't git no good sight o' him. But, say, wot you askin' about them fer? Do you know 'em?"
"I think I know one of the men, but I am not sure," returned Sam, and went outside to join his brothers.
Dick and Tom were deeply interested in what the old farmer had told their brother, and as soon as the strapping and wiring of the split axle was completed all of the boys went into the house to ask the farmer more about the two men and the automobile.
"I can't tell yeou nuthin' more," said the farmer. "They left the autymobile in the barn all night an' paid me a dollar fer it. I don't know who they was, or where they went."
"Can you remember the date this happened?" asked Dick.
"I certainly kin do that, fer it was on my birthday, the tenth."
"The day Crabtree escaped!" murmured Dick, and Sam and Tom nodded.
"Where did they go?" asked Tom.
"I dunno. They went off at night."
This was all the old farmer could tell, and a few minutes later the boys left him. All were rather thoughtful as they got into the carriage once more and drove off.
"Just to think of it!" cried Tom. "Crabtree was around here a night and a day, and nobody knew it!"
"It's too bad we didn't get news of it before," returned Dick. "We might have followed up that 'autymobile,' as the old man called it. But it's too late now. They must be miles and miles away. Crabtree may be in Canada, or on his way to Africa, or China."
"I don't believe he'd go to Africa or China," said Tom. "I think he'll hang around, trying to do us or the Stanhopes or Lanings an injury."
"Just what I think," put in Sam. "I'd like to know who the fellow with the pointed chin and heavy eyebrows is."
"He must be some old friend, or he wouldn't help Crabtree to get away."
"Either an old friend, or else Crabtree paid him pretty well for his services."
"Well, Crabtree is gone, and that is all there is to it."
All the way to Brill the boys discussed the situation. At first they thought they would notify the authorities about what they had learned, but finally concluded that this would do no good. Too much time had elapsed since the automobile had stopped at the old farmhouse.
Arriving at the college, they turned the carriage over to Abner Filbury, explaining about the axle and offering to pay for the damage done. Then they hurried to their room, to get ready for the feast Bob Grimes was to give.
As they entered the dormitory they saw a letter lying on the table. It bore a special delivery stamp and was addressed to Dick.
"Hello, what's this?" cried the oldest Rover boy; "A letter from home, and sent by special delivery. What can it mean?"
"No bad news, I hope," said Sam, his face sobering.
"Read it, Dick," put in Tom. "It must be something important."
Sam and Tom watched with interest while Dick tore open the envelope and took out the letter it contained. The oldest Rover boy scanned the communication hastily.
"What is it?" questioned both of his brothers, impatiently.
"It's from Uncle Randolph," replied Dick. "He says father went to New York several days ago."
"Is that all?"
"No, he adds that he sent father a telegram and so far no answer has come back," went on Dick, seriously. "He thinks something has happened to dad."
"Oh, Dick" cried Sam. "What could happen to him?"
"A great many things, Sam— in a big city like New York. He might get run down by a street car, or an automobile, or be hurt in the subway, or on the elevated railroad. He wasn't very well, remember."
"Yes, I know that. Is that all?"
"Uncle Randolph wants to know at once whether we have heard from dad during the past three days."
"We haven't had a word," broke in Tom "I thought it kind of strange, too."
The other boys read the letter, and then the three talked the matter over. They were interrupted by a knock on the door, and Stanley appeared.
"Going to the spread, aren't you?" he questioned. "Hurry up— it's getting late."
"I don't think I can go," answered Dick. "I've got something I must attend to— this letter from my uncle," and he held the communication up. "Sam and Tom can go."
"I don't feel much like it— now," murmured Sam.
"Neither do I," added Tom.
"Oh, you might as well go," urged Dick. "I'll attend to the message to Uncle Randolph. Everything may be all right— and there is no use of the three of us disappointing Bob. You go, and explain why I didn't come."
"Maybe you can come later," suggested Stanley.
"I'll see. But I must get word to my uncle first," answered Dick.
While Sam and Tom got ready to attend the spread Bob Grimes was to give, Dick hurried downstairs again. In the hallway he ran into Paul Orben, one of the older students whom he knew real well.
"Why in such a hurry, Dick?" questioned Paul, good-naturedly grabbing him by the shoulder.
"I want to get to town— to send a telegram home," answered Dick. Then, struck by a sudden idea, he added: "Paul, is your motorcycle ready for use?"
"It is, and if you want to use it to run down to Ashton with, take it," answered the other, readily. He had once been up in the Dartaway and was glad of a chance to pay the debt he thought he owed the Rovers.
"Thanks very much, I'll use it," returned Dick.
"Come on, then, and I'll make sure that it is all right."
The two young collegians hurried to a room attached to the gymnasium, where bicycles, motorcycles, and other things were kept. Soon the motorcycle was brought out and Paul gave it a brief inspection.
"All right," he announced. "I thought it would be."
"Then I'm off," answered Dick, and pushing the machine along the path towards the road, he hopped into the seat and turned on the power.
Dick had never had much experience in running a motorcycle, but he had tried one enough to know how it should be handled, and soon he was well on his way and riding at a fair rate of speed. The road was good, and he had a fine headlight, and almost before he knew it he had reached Ashton and was approaching the depot.
He had been afraid the ticket and telegraph office would be closed, but he found the man inside, making up a report.
"I want to rush a message home," he said. "And I want to arrange to have it telephoned to our house. I will pay the bill, whatever it is."
"It will depend on whether we can get the operator at Oak Run," said the man. "He may have locked up for the night."
The message was written out, and Dick waited in the depot for an answer. Quarter of an hour passed slowly and then the telegraph operator came to him.
"Sorry, Mr. Rover, but Oak Run doesn't answer. I guess the office is closed for the night."
"Try for Spotstown," said Dick, naming another railroad station several miles further from his home.
Again came a wait.
"Same story— can't get Spotstown, either," said the operator.
"Well, I've got to get somebody, somehow," murmured the oldest Rover boy. "I guess you can get New York City, can't you?" he asked, with a faint smile.
"Then I'll write another message."
Dick knew that when his father was in the habit of going to the metropolis he usually stopped at a large place on Broadway, which I shall call the Outlook Hotel. He accordingly addressed a message to the manager of that hotel, as follows:
"Is Anderson Rover at your hotel? If so, have him telegraph me; otherwise send me word at once."
"Now I guess I'll hear something," thought Dick, as he turned in this telegram and paid for having it transmitted. "Send it Rush, please," he told the operator.
Again there was a wait— this time of nearly half an hour. At last the instrument commenced to click in the telegraph office, and Dick waited anxiously while the man took the message down.
"Is it for me?" he asked. And the man nodded, as he continued to write.
When the sheet was passed over the operator looked curiously at Dick— a look that made the youth's heart sink. With a hand that trembled in spite of his efforts to steady it, the oldest Rover boy held up the paper and read this:
"Anderson Rover was at this hotel until yesterday morning. His baggage is here. Bill unpaid. Left no word.
"Gone!" murmured Dick, brokenly. "'Left no word,' 'Bill unpaid!' What can it mean?"
"Something unusual, eh?" said the operator, as he took the bankbill the youth handed out to him for the message and gave back the change.
"Very unusual," was the reply. "I don't know what to make of this." Dick thought for a moment. "I suppose I can't get a train home before morning."
"No, the first train for you is the eight-forty-five to-morrow."
"Too bad! I wish there was a train right away."
There was no help for it, and a few minutes later the youth left the depot, and jumping on the motorcycle, started back for Brill College.
As he rode along Dick's thoughts were busy. What had taken his parent to New York and why had he disappeared so mysteriously?
"He certainly must have gone there on business— the business that has been bothering him so long," he mused. "But would that cause him to disappear? Maybe he had an accident, or was waylaid for his money."
A thousand thoughts surged through poor Dick's brain, but he could reach no definite conclusion regarding his father's disappearance. Yet he was certain of one thing.
"He didn't leave the hotel that way of his own accord," he reasoned. "He would pay his bill and look after his baggage. It's for some outside reason that he didn't return to his hotel and answer Uncle Randolph's telegram."
When Dick arrived at the college he put the motorcycle away and went directly to his room. Sam and Tom were still away, but he heard them returning just as he was on the point of going after them. As they came in, he motioned for them to close and lock the door. Fortunately, they had their rooms to themselves, Songbird, their only roommate, having gone away for the night.
"What did you learn, Dick?" asked both brothers, quickly.
"Not much— and still a great deal," he answered, and told them how he had tried to send word home and had then called up the hotel in the metropolis.
"What do you make of this?" asked Tom, after he and Sam had read the brief message from the hotel manager.
"Do you think he met with an accident?" questioned Sam.
"I don't know what to think."
"It looks mighty suspicious to me— the bill unpaid and baggage left behind," murmured Tom. Then of a sudden he drew a sharp breath. "Oh, Dick, do you think——" And then Tom stopped short.
"I— I hate to say it, but do you think it's possible that dad got— got a little bit out of his head— with that business worrying him?"
"It's possible, Tom. Men have been known to get that way from business troubles, and dad was far from well, we all know that."
"He should have taken somebody to New York with him," put in Sam. "But it's no use talking about that now. The question is, What are we going to do? I can't stay here and study when he is missing."
"Not much— I couldn't study a thing!" cried Tom.
"I know what I am going to do," replied Dick. "I am going to take that early train home, and see Uncle Rudolph. I'll send another message to that hotel manager, too, and then, unless we get word that everything is O. K., I'm going to New York as fast as I can get there."
"And I'll go along!" cried each of the two brothers.
"Yes, that might be best— for if he is still missing we may have a great task to learn what became of him. We'll have to hunt the hospitals, and the police headquarters, and the— the——" Dick was going to add "morgue," but he could not bring himself to utter the word. It was too awful to think that their father might be dead.
"We'll have to explain to Doctor Wallington, or Professor Blackie," said Tom.
"And send word to the girls," added Sam.
"I don't want to worry anybody more than I have to," said Dick. "This may turn out all right after all," he added. But he had his doubts. That something unusual had happened to his father he was certain.
The boys spent some little time in packing their suitcases with such things as they deemed necessary for the trip, and then turned out the lights and went to bed. But none of them slept well. All tumbled and tossed on their couches, trying in vain to solve the mystery that surrounded the disappearance of their parent.
They were up an hour earlier than usual, and it was Dick who took the liberty to knock on the door of the head of the institution.
"Who is it?" asked the worthy doctor, and the young collegian told him. A moment later the head of the college appeared, wrapped in a dressing gown.
"I am sorry to disturb you, sir," said Dick. "But something has happened that has upset me and my brothers a great deal." And he briefly related the condition of affairs, and asked leave of absence for himself and Tom and Sam.
"This is certainly alarming," said Doctor Wallington, sympathetically. "I trust your, father is speedily found and that nothing serious has happened to him. Yes, you may go, and remain as long as is necessary. When he is found, let me know."
"Thank you, sir," said Dick, and after a few words more he hurried off. Then he and his brothers got an early breakfast, and had Abner Filbury drive them to the Ashton depot. Only a handful of students saw them depart.
"Wish you success, boys!" cried Stanley after them.
"Yes, indeed," added Spud. "Keep up a stout heart. Maybe it's all right, after all. There may be some mistake somewhere."
AT THE FARM
"Oak Run! All out for Oak Run!"
It was the familiar cry of the brakeman of the train, as the cars rolled into the little station at which the Rover boys were to alight. The ride from Ashton had been without incident. They had had to make two changes, and had fretted not a little over a delay of half an hour at one junction point.
"There's old Ricks!" cried Sam, motioning to the station master, who was looking after some baggage. "Remember the fun we had with him on our last trip here, Tom?"
"Indeed, yes," was the reply, and the fun-loving Rover grinned a little.
"No time for fun now," put in Dick, quickly. "We want to get home just as soon as possible."
From one of the telegraph offices along the line the boys had sent word ahead, and at the station they found Jack Ness, the hired man, who had brought the family touring car.
"Glad to see you back," said the hired man, touching his cap.
"Any news, Jack?" asked the three, in one voice.
"You mean from your father?"
"No," and Jack Ness shook his head slowly "Not a line for several days. Your aunt an' uncle are worried 'most to death."
The boys leaped into the touring car, Dick taking the wheel and Sam getting in beside him. Tom and the hired man occupied the tonneau, with the baggage. Away they went, in a cloud of dust, over the frail bridge that spanned the river and through the village of Dexter's Corners. Then they struck the country road leading to Valley Brook farm, their home. Dick increased the speed to thirty miles an hour— all the car would stand on such a highway.
"Say, we'll have an accident!" cried Jack Ness, in alarm. "It ain't safe to run so fast, nohow!"
"Sit still, Jack; Dick knows what he is doing," commanded Tom. "We want to get home just as soon as we can."
"Well, I don't blame ye fer wantin' to git home,— but I don't want to git kilt!" murmured the man of all work.
Farm after farm was passed and also a patch of timber land. Then they swept around a turn and came in sight of Valley Brook, with its broad fields and its gurgling brook flowing down to Swift River.
"There's Aleck!" shouted Sam, pointing to a colored man who was standing at the entrance to a lane. He waved his hand and Alexander Pop, one of the servants, and a man who had made many trips with the Rovers, took off his hat and waved in return.
As he swung up to the broad piazza of the house, Dick honked the automobile horn. At once the door flew open and Mrs. Rover ran out, followed by her husband.
"Oh, boys! I am so glad to see you!" cried Mrs. Rover.
"How are you, Aunt Martha!" returned Sam, leaping out and kissing her, an example speedily followed by his brothers.
"Very glad you came," said Randolph Rover, a tall, thin, and studious-looking man, wearing big spectacles. He shook hands all around. "Come right into the house."
"You haven't any word from dad?" questioned Sam.
"Nothing, boys— and I do not know what to make of it."
"It is a fearful state of affairs," burst out Mrs. Rover, and tears stood in her motherly eyes. "We cannot imagine what has happened to your father."
"I sent another telegram to that hotel," said Dick. "I asked the manager to send his reply here."
It was a rather sad home-coming, and even Tom felt much depressed in spirits. All filed into the house and to the sitting-room, leaving Jack Ness and Aleck Pop to look after the automobile and the baggage.
"We ought to get a message from New York soon," remarked Dick, after his uncle had related the little he had to tell about how Anderson Rover had gone away on the trip to the metropolis. Evidently Randolph Rover knew little about the business that had taken his brother to the city. He was no business man himself— being wrapped up in what he called scientific farming— and probably the boys' father had not thought it worth while to take him into his confidence.
Dinner was on the table, and the boys went to the dining-room to eat. But nobody had any appetite, and the fine repast prepared by the cook under Mrs. Rover's directions, was much of a failure. Once the telephone rang and the boys rushed to it. But the call was only a local one, of little consequence.
"I think the best thing I can do will be to go over dad's private papers," said Dick, presently. "They may give me a clew of where to look for him in New York."
"That's the talk!" cried Tom. "Come on, let's get busy." He hated to sit still at any time, and just at present inactivity was doubly irksome.
During the past year a room had been added to the house and this was used as a library and sort of office combined, being provided with a substantial safe and two roller-top desks. One of the desks was used exclusively by Anderson Rover for his private letters and papers. When sick the man had given Dick the extra key to the desk, telling him to keep it. The father trusted his three sons implicitly, only keeping to himself such business affairs as he thought would not interest them.
The boys sat down and, led by Dick, began a careful inspection of the many letters and documents which the roller-top desk contained. A large number of the papers and letters they knew had no bearing on the affair now in hand. But presently Dick took up some letters of recent date and scanned them with interest.
"I guess this is what we are after!" he cried.
"I was afraid it might be that."
"What is it?" asked his brothers.
"That old irrigation scheme— the one run by Pelter, Japson & Company, of Wall Street, New York."
"Why, I thought dad had dropped that," said Sam, in surprise.
"He tried to. But they held him to some agreement— I don't know exactly what. They wanted to get more money out of him— if they could."
"And you think he went to New York on that account, Dick?" asked Tom.
"It looks so to me."
"But that doesn't account for his disappearance."
"Perhaps it does."
"What do you mean?"
"Those fellows may be holding him a prisoner, or they may even have put him out of the way altogether— although I doubt if they are as bad as all that."
"Some men would do anything for money," grumbled Sam. "But what good would it do to hold him a prisoner?"
"They may want to force him to sign some papers, or give up some papers he is holding, Sam. One thing is certain, they were very anxious to see him— these letters show that."
"Hadn't we better telegraph to them and see what they have to say?" suggested Tom.
"Perhaps, Tom— but, somehow, I don't think that would be a wise move to make. Father did not trust them. He said they were sharpers. If we sent them any word it might put them more on guard than they would otherwise be. I think the best thing to do is to go to New York and interview them personally— if we don't get word from dad before we leave."
"I think——" commenced Tom, and just then the telephone bell rang and all rushed to it. Dick took up the receiver.
"Is this the Rovers' house?" asked a voice over the wire.
"I have a telegraph message for Richard Rover."
"All right, Mr. Barnes," answered Dick. "What is it?" He had recognized the voice of the telegraph operator at Oak Run.
"Oh, it's you, is it, Mr. Rover?" returned the operator. "This is from New York City, and is signed, 'Thomas A. Garley.'"
"Yes, yes! Read the message!" cried Dick, and all three boys listened closely while Dick held the receiver.
"He says: 'No news of Anderson Rover. Better come on and investigate.'"
"Is that all?"
"Yes." And the operator repeated the message. "I'll mail the sheet to you," he added.
"All right, much obliged." Dick turned to his brothers. "Shall I send word back that we are coming?" he questioned.
"Take this message down, Mr. Barnes," went on Dick, and dictated what he wished to say. "I'll settle next time I see you," he added, and hung up the receiver.
The uncle and the aunt of the boys wished to know the news, if such it can be called, and the lads told them. At once Mrs. Rover burst into tears.
"I am sure something has befallen Anderson!" she sobbed. "Oh, what shall we do, Randolph?"
"I— I think I had better go to New York and— er— make some— er— inquiries," answered her husband, somewhat helplessly, for a visit to the teeming metropolis always appalled him.
"No, you stay here, and wait for some word, Uncle Randolph," said Dick. "Sam and Tom and I are going to New York."
"Oh, boys!" cried Mrs. Rover. "Going alone?"
"Why not, Aunt Martha?" asked Sam. "We are not afraid."
"I know that. But this is— er— no ordinary trip. You may get into trouble, and——"
"If we do, we'll get out of it again," put in Tom, grimly.
"Oh, if only we knew what had become of your dear father!" and the lady's eyes filled again with tears, while Uncle Randolph looked deeply sympathetic.
"I think we had better start at once," went on Dick. "We can get the five-thirty train down."
"What, to-night!" exclaimed the aunt. "Why, that will get you to New York at midnight!"
"Just about," said Tom.
"You had better start in the morning. What will you do at midnight in a big city like New York!"
"We'll go direct to the Outlook Hotel," answered Dick. "And then, if we can't find out anything about father, we can go down to the offices of Pelter, Japson & Company in the morning."
"And if you don't find out anything there?" asked Randolph Rover, timidly.
"Then we'll go to the police, and maybe get a detective or two on the case," returned Dick. "And we'll have to look up the hospitals— in case he met with an accident. But I don't think he has met with any accident," he continued hastily, for he saw how alarmed his aunt was becoming. "For if he had an accident, the authorities would find out, from the things in his pockets, who he was, and notify us, or the hotel."
Mrs. Rover heaved a deep sigh, and her husband shook his head slowly. Dick closed the desk again and locked it, and then the three boys hurried to their rooms, to prepare for the trip to the metropolis.
"Say, I dun heah dat you am gwine to New York," came a voice from the entrance to Dick's bedroom, and looking up from the suitcase he was packing, the oldest Rover boy saw Aleck Pop standing there, an anxious look on his ebony face.
"Yes, Aleck, we are going to take the five-thirty train. You can tell Jack to get the car ready."
"Want me to go along?" asked the colored man, wistfully.
"No, Aleck, not this trip. You stay here and do what you can for my aunt and uncle."
"Yo' father am missing, ain't he?"
"It's too bad. Hope you find him, Dick, I do, indeed! I'll tell Jack about dat auto." And Aleck Pop went off, shaking his head in sorrow. He loved all of the Rovers, and their troubles were his own.
OFF FOR NEW YORK
"Boys, you must take care and not get into trouble."
"And as soon as you have word of your father let us know."
Thus spoke Aunt Martha and Uncle Randolph, as the three Rover boys stood ready to say good-bye. The automobile was already at the door and their suitcases were in the tonneau.
"We'll take care of ourselves," said Dick. "And as soon as we get any word we'll let you know. And remember, Uncle Randolph, if any word comes to the farm you are to forward it at once to the Outlook Hotel."
"Yes, I'll remember that," answered the uncle.
The boys kissed their aunt, who shed silent tears at their departure. To Aunt Martha the great metropolis was a wonderful as well as dangerous place.
"Good-bye!" cried Tom, and was the first to climb into the automobile, getting into the driver's seat. Jack Ness was to go with them as far as Oak Run, to bring the touring car back.
The other lads climbed in, and all those left at the farm waved them an adieu. Then Tom threw in the dutch, and off they sped, down the lane to the main road. Soon a cloud of dust hid them from view.
"It's awful, Randolph!" murmured Mrs. Rover to her husband. "New York is such a busy place— and there are so many wicked people in it!"
"The boys know how to take care of themselves," answered Randolph Rover. "Why, they even took care of themselves when they were cast away on that island in the Pacific Ocean," he added, referring to happenings which I have related in detail in the volume entitled "The Rover Boys on Land and Sea."
"True— but— but I am nervous about this trip. And then, what can have happened to Anderson?"
"That I don't know. Maybe a street car or an automobile ran over him. They have such accidents in New York every day, so I've been told."
"I know it! Oh, it is terrible, this suspense!" And Mrs. Rover walked away, the tears still coursing down her cheeks.
In the meanwhile the touring car was making good time along the road to Oak Run. At Dexter's Corners they stopped at the post-office for letters. There were three— one for each boy, but not one was postmarked New York. They were from the girls at Brill.
"Glad to hear from the girls," said Sam. "But, just the same, this time I'd rather get word from New York."
"So would I," added Dick.
"Ditto here," echoed Tom, with a long-drawn sigh.
Without waiting to read the communications, the lads kept on to the Oak Run depot. They could hear the train coming through the hills and presently it glided into sight and up to the station.
"Good luck to ye!" shouted Jack Ness, as they boarded one of the cars. And then he turned back towards the farm with the touring car.
The train was not more than half filled, so the three youths had but little difficulty in getting seats. They turned one of the seats over, so that they might face each other, and put their suitcases in the racks overhead.
"Guess we might as well read our letters," said Dick, as soon as they were settled. He was anxious to learn what Dora had written. He had asked her to write to her mother concerning their proposed marriage.
"Just what I say," added Tom, and soon he and Sam had settled back, following their big brother's example.
The communication from Dora was quite long and Dick enjoyed it so thoroughly that he read it twice before stowing it away in his breast pocket. The girl stated that her mother had left everything to her own judgment and that she, in turn, was willing to leave everything to Dick.
"Dear, dear Dora!" he mused. "The sweetest girl in all the world! I only hope I prove worthy of her!" And then he sat back and pictured to himself the happy home they would establish as soon as everything could be arranged. Had it not been for the cloud concerning his father, Dick would have been the happiest youth in the world.
"Well, they are not doing much at Hope," remarked Sam. "Society meetings, fudge patties, and grinding away at themes."
"Just what Nellie writes," answered Tom. "Well, you can't expect much fun when you are trying to get an education!" And he sighed, as he thought of what was before him at Brill. In a way, he envied Dick his opportunity to break away and get out into the business world.
It had been too early to get supper before leaving home— although their aunt had offered it— so about seven o'clock the lads went into the dining car attached to the train. They found a table for four vacant and took possession, and presently ordered what they wanted.
"Hello! look there!" exclaimed Tom, in a low voice, after looking around the dining car, and he pointed to a man at one of the tables for two.
"It's that lawyer who settled for the smashed biplane," returned Sam. "Must be going to New York, too."
"Most likely his profession takes him to the city quite often," remarked Dick.
"Wonder if he'll speak to us if he sees us," ventured Sam.
"I don't know and I don't care," came from his big brother. "I didn't like him at all— he was too crafty-like."
Their food served, the boys fell to eating with that gusto that characterizes youths who are still growing. They had about half finished when Dick felt himself touched on the arm. At his side stood Belright Fogg.
"Taking a little trip, eh?" remarked the railroad lawyer, with a bland smile.
"Yes," answered Dick, shortly.
"To New York, I suppose?"
"Well, you got settled about that flying machine, didn't you?" went on the lawyer, and dropped into the vacant seat opposite Dick, on the side where Tom sat.
"We did— but we had some trouble," replied Tom.
"That was a mistake— to remove the machine," said Belright Fogg. He gazed at the boys a moment. "I understand you sold the wreck for quite a price," he continued.
"We didn't get as much as we wanted," said Sam. "We are still quite something out of pocket."
"But not as much as the railroad company!" The lawyer gave a brief chuckle, which surprised the lads. "Oh, it's all right, so far as I am concerned," he continued. "Maybe you'd be interested to know that I no longer represent that road."
"You don't?" and now Dick was interested.
"No, I handed in my resignation three days ago," answered Belright Fogg. He did not add that he had been asked to resign by the head of the railroad company, because of irregularities in his accounts and because of several professional shortcomings.
"Going to give up law?" asked Tom, for the want of something better to say.
"Not at all, my boy. I am going down to the city to practice my profession. There is a much larger field for my abilities down there than up here," Belright Fogg answered, loftily.
"Yes, New York is pretty large," responded Tom, dryly.
"I expect to open my offices in a few days," went on the lawyer. "If you ever have any business down there, come in and see me. I will mail you one of my cards," and with another bland smile, and a bow, he passed out of the dining car.
"Oh, my, but we are some pumpkins!" murmured Tom. "First thing you know he'll be putting all the other lawyers in New York out of business."
"I shouldn't want him for a lawyer," remarked Sam. "He doesn't impress me very favorably."
"Handed in his resignation, eh?" mused Dick. "More than likely he had to do it. No, I shouldn't want anything to do with him."
The boys finished their meal, and after paying the bill, returned to their former seats. They looked around for Belright Fogg, but he was evidently in some other car of the train.
It was dark, so they could see little of the country through which they were passing. At one station at which they stopped, a newsboy came through the train, crying his wares, and Dick purchased several metropolitan evening papers and handed them around.
"Nothing but politics, a murder, a big auto race, and a new war in Central America," remarked Tom, thumbing over his paper. "How tired the reporters must get of writing about the same kind of things every day."
"They must have exciting times getting the news, sometimes," returned Sam.
"Here's an advertisement that will interest you," remarked Dick, and he pointed to the bottom of a page. "Pelter, Japson & Company advertise themselves as brokers and dealers in high-class Western securities, and they offer stock in that Sunset Irrigation Company. That's the company dad was interested in."
All of the boys read the advertisement carefully, but it added nothing to their stock of knowledge. Then they looked the newspapers over some more, and finally threw them away.
"Wish we were in New York," sighed Sam. He was growing tired, having been on the go since early morning.
"We'll be there inside of half an hour," returned Dick, after consulting his watch.
Presently the long train rolled into the city and came to a stop at One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street. Then they rolled on and on, through the city, past block after block of apartment houses, stores and offices, and private dwellings.
"Talk about a bee hive!" murmured Tom. "You can't beat New York City, no matter where you go!"
"Well, Chicago is a close second," answered Dick.
"And St. Louis and Philadelphia, and some other cities," put in Sam. "Ours is a big country and no mistake."
The passengers were already getting their belongings together, and in the parlor cars the porters were brushing off the people and, incidentally, pocketing various tips. Then the train rolled into the Grand Central Depot, now called the Grand Central Terminal.
"Last stop!" was the cry, and the boys piled out, each with his suitcase. The sleepy crowd moved along the long platform, in the glare of the electric lights, and through the depot into the busy street.
"Cab!" "Taxi!" "Carry your baggage!" Such were some of the cries which greeted the boys' ears as they emerged on Forty-second Street. The clang of the street car gongs added to the din, and newsboys were everywhere, crying the latest editions of the afternoon papers.
"I'll get a taxi to take us down to the hotel," said Dick, and soon the brothers were in a taxicab, with the suitcases in front, next to the driver. "Outlook Hotel," he ordered, and away they moved, out of the maze of vehicles, for certain thoroughfares of the metropolis are crowded nearly every hour out of the twenty-four.
"Somebody told me that New York never sleeps, and I guess that is true," remarked Sam. "It is half-past twelve and look at the people!"
The taxicab turned over into Fifth Avenue and sped down that noted thoroughfare for about ten blocks. Then it made another turn westward and reached Broadway, and almost before they knew it, the boys were at the main entrance to the Outlook Hotel.
Leaving the driver to turn the baggage over to the hotel porters, Dick paid the fellow and hurried into the building, with Tom and Sam at his heels. They found the night clerk and his assistant at the desk.
"I am Richard Rover," said Dick, to the head clerk.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Rover," was the answer. "I am glad you have come."
"Have you any word about my father?" went an Dick, quickly.
"Nothing, Mr. Rover. We have made all sorts of inquiries, but we haven't learned a single thing, excepting that he walked out of this hotel alone and didn't come back."
AT THE OUTLOOK HOTEL
The news had not been totally unexpected, yet the three lads felt very much depressed. They had hoped that some sort of word might have been received concerning their father while they were speeding towards New York on the train.
"I wish you would give me all the particulars," went on Dick.
"Here comes the manager,— he can tell you more than I can," replied the clerk, and he nodded in the direction of a tall, heavy-set individual who was approaching.
"So you are Mr. Rover's sons, eh?" said Mr. Garley, as he shook hands. "I am sorry for you, indeed I am. This is certainly a puzzle. Come in here and I will tell you all I know," and he led the way to a small reception parlor that was, just then, unoccupied. He drew two chairs up to a small sofa, so that all might sit close together.
"I don't suppose any word came from the farm for us?" suggested Sam, as he was about to sit down.
"If anything came in the name of Rover I'd know about it," returned the hotel manager. "I am very much interested in this case."
"Have you spoken to the police about it?" asked Tom.
"Not yet. I thought that perhaps you would not like it. Sometimes, you know, men go away and leave no word, and, later on, they come back, and they don't want anything said about it. So we have to be careful."
"What have you got to tell us?" asked Dick.
"It isn't very much. In the first place, though, I don't think your father was in the best of health. I noticed that, and so did one of my clerks and one of the elevator men."
"Did he have an attack while he was here?" cried Sam.
"I don't know about that. But we all noticed that he was feeble at times— and that he seemed to be very much worried over something. He was continually getting his notebook out and doing some writing or figuring, and then he would shake his head, as if it didn't please him at all."
"Yes, he was worried over some business matters," answered Dick. "But that wasn't bad enough to make him go off like this and leave no word. When was he last seen?"
"In the morning, about ten o'clock. He came down in one of the elevators with a small package in his hand— a package, so the elevator man said, that looked like some legal documents. He seemed to be very much disturbed, and the man said he talked to himself. He hurried out of the side door of the hotel, but one of the doormen saw him go to the corner and turn down Broadway— and that was the last seen of him, so far as we knew."
"And what of the things in his room?" questioned Dick.
"Outside of the usual cleaning up, I have had everything left as it was," answered the hotel manager. "You may go up there, if you wish."
"We will,— and we'll most likely want rooms, too."
"The room next to his is vacant, you can have that if you wish."
"All right, we'll take it," returned Tom. "Do they connect?"
"Yes. I'll have the hallman unlock the connecting door for you."
They were soon in an elevator, a boy bringing up their baggage. They passed to the fourth floor of the hotel and to the rear.
"Your father wanted a quiet room, so we put him on the court," explained the manager of the Outlook Hotel, as he unlocked the door and turned on the electric lights.
It was a typical hotel room of the better class, with a brass bed, a bureau, a desk, and several chairs. At one side was a small bathroom.
On a chair rested Mr. Rover's suitcase, locked but unstrapped. On the bureau were his comb and brush, a whisk broom, and some other toilet articles. On some hooks hung a coat and a cap. They glanced into the bathroom, and in a cup on the marble washstand saw his toothbrush.
"He certainly meant to come back," murmured Tom.
"Yes, and that very soon— or else he wouldn't have left these things lying around," added his younger brother.
Dick passed over to the coat that hung on a hook and felt in the pockets. They contained nothing but some railroad timetables.
"Can't you call up some of your father's business friends or acquaintances?" suggested the hotel manager.
"He had very few acquaintances in the city," answered Dick. "He used to have some close friends, but they are either dead or have moved away. As for the business men he had dealings with— I guess I had better see them in the morning."
"Then, if there isn't anything more I can do, I'll leave you," returned the hotel manager.
"Nothing more at present," answered Dick.
With the hotel manager gone, the boys closed the door leading to the hallway and sat down to discuss the situation. The door between the two bedrooms had already been opened by a hallman, so that they would have ample sleeping accommodations when they wished to retire. But just now they were too excited and worried to think of sleeping.
"Maybe we had better put the police at work," suggested Sam.
"We surely ought to do something," added Tom.
"What can the police do— with no clews to work on?" asked their big brother.
"They might look around in the hospitals for him."
"I don't think we'll find him in any hospital."
"Why not, if he met with an accident?"
"I don't believe there was any accident," continued Dick, earnestly.
"Do you think he met with foul play at the hands of those men he came to see?" demanded Sam.
"It looks that way to me, Sam."
"Then we ought to have them locked up at once!"
"How can we— when we have no evidence against them?"
"Let us look into dad's suitcase," suggested Tom.
"I'll see if I can unlock it."
Dick had a bunch of keys in his pocket, as did Tom and Sam, and the boys tried the keys one after another. At last they found one which fitted, and the suitcase came open.
The bag contained the usual assortment of wearing apparel which Mr. Rover was in the habit of carrying when on a trip that was to last but a few days or a week. In addition, there were several letters and documents, placed in a thick manila envelope and marked with the owner's name.
The boys read the letters and documents with interest. From them they learned that Mr. Rover had been requested to come to the city immediately, to see about some business connected with the Sunset Irrigation Company. The documents were some transfers of stock which they did not quite understand.
"He came down here to see Pelter, Japson & Company, that's certain," remarked Dick. "It eras evidently the only reason why he came to New York. Now the question is, Did he go and see those men, and did they waylay him, or did they hire somebody to do it?"
"I wish we knew more about those men," said Tom. "You can soon size a fellow up when you talk to him."
"Not always," answered Sam. "Sometimes the smoothest talkers are the greatest rascals. Don't you remember how nicely Josiah Crabtree used to talk to Mrs. Stanhope, and see what a rascal he turned out to be!"
"I wonder if they have captured him yet," mused Tom.
"Never mind Crabtree now," put in Dick. "What we want to do is to find father. I don't know exactly how we are going at it, but I think I'll have some sort of plan by morning."
"We can go down to Pelter, Japson & Company and make them tell what they know," said Sam.
"They'll tell what they feel like telling, Sam,— and that might not do us any good. Mind you, I don't say they did father any harm. But I know they didn't like the way he was getting after them, for they knew that, sooner or later, he might sue them and possibly put one or more of them in jail for fraud."
For fully an hour the boys talked the situation over, and by that time Sam was so sleepy he could scarcely keep his eyes open. Then they retired, Dick remaining in the apartment his father had occupied, and Sam and Tom taking the next room.
For over half an hour Dick turned and tossed on the bed— his mind filled with thoughts of his father. What had become of his parent? Had he been hurt, or killed, or was he being held a prisoner by his enemies? What if his father should never be heard of again? The last thought was so horrible it made the youth shiver.
"We've got to find him!" he murmured, as he drew the bedclothes around him. "We've got to do it!"
At last Dick fell into a troubled sleep, following the example of his brothers, who had also found difficulty in settling themselves.
Presently the oldest Rover boy awoke with a start. He sat up in bed, wondering what had thus awakened him.
From the next room came the regular breathing of Sam and Tom, showing that they were still in the land of slumber. Dick listened, but no unusual sound broke the stillness.
"It must have been my nervousness," he thought. "Father's disappearance has been too much for me. Well, it's enough to get on anybody's nerves."
He prepared to lie down again, when a faint scraping sound caught his ear. He listened intently.
Somebody was at the hallway door, trying to insert a key in the lock. But the key would not go in, because of the key already there.
"Maybe it's father coming back!" thought the youth, and leaped from the bed to the floor. Three steps took him to the door and he quickly turned the key and caught hold of the handle.
As Dick started to fling the door open he heard a muttered exclamation of dismay in the hall outside. Then came the sound of retreating footsteps, and a slight tinkle, as of metal striking metal.
"Hi, stop! Who are you?" called the youth, and the cry aroused Tom and Sam. He flung open the door and leaped into the semi-dark hallway. The figure of a man was just disappearing around a corner. Dick saw that he wore a heavy beard and that was all.
The oldest Rover boy was thoroughly aroused now, and calling to Sam and Tom to follow, he darted after the flying individual. But by the time he reached the corner of the corridor the man was out of sight. He heard a distant door shut and then all became quiet.
"Who was it?" asked Tom, as he joined Dick.
"Was the fellow in your room?" asked Sam.
"No, but he was trying to get in," answered Dick. "When I woke up he was trying to put a key in the lock. When I started to open the door, thinking it might be dad, the fellow ran away."
"Was it a hallman?"
"I don't think so."
"Where did he go to?"
"Somewhere in this part of the hotel. I just heard a door shut."
"Then he must be on this floor," said Tom. "Say, we ought to investigate this. Did you get a look at him, Dick?"
"Not much of a look. I saw he had a heavy beard."
By this time one of the hallmen was coming up, and to him the boys explained what had happened. He was much interested, for he knew about the disappearance of Mr. Rover, and said he would report to the office.
"I think I heard something drop," said Dick, as the boys returned to the rooms, to put on some clothing. "Hello, here they are! A bunch of keys!" And he held them up.
"One of 'em is new," said Sam, examining the bunch.
"Maybe it was made for the lock of the door to the room father occupied," suggested Tom.
"It's like the old key," returned Dick, comparing the two. "That rascal, whoever he is, must have had the key made for the sole purpose of getting into this room!"
"But for what reason?" questioned Sam.
"To get at dad's private papers," answered his big brother. "Boys, if we catch that man maybe we'll be able to find out what has become of father!"
DICK MAKES A DISCOVERY
While the boys were discussing the situation one of the night clerks of the hotel arrived, having been summoned by the hallman. He listened with interest to what the lads had to tell.
"I'll set the house detective on this," he said. "We can't allow anybody to prowl around, trying to use false keys."
"We want to catch that man ourselves," said Dick. "We are going to set a watch for him. No more sleep for us to-night."
"I don't blame you," returned the clerk. "If you spot him, call up the office and we'll give you all the help you want."
The boys hurried into their clothing, and then, led by Dick, walked noiselessly through the various hallways of the big hotel in the direction where the oldest Rover boy had heard the door shut. But though they passed many doors, Dick could not determine which was the right one.
"Let us set a regular watch," suggested Tom "We can take turns. One can watch while the others sleep."
"All right, I'll watch first," answered Dick.
"Call me in an hour, Dick," returned Tom.
"And call me an hour after that— if you want me," added Sam.
The hallway was long and but dimly lighted. At the end was a sofa, and after walking up and down several times, Dick sat down on this. The long journey from Valley Brook farm had made him sleepy, but he resolved to keep wide awake, in case the mysterious individual should again show himself.
"He's got to come out of his door some time, unless he tries to get away by a fire escape," thought the youth. "And I guess all the fire escapes on this side of the building are at the end of the hall. I hope I've got him trapped, whoever he is."
Half an hour went by and nothing unusual happened. Then Dick heard a distant elevator stop, and two men got off and came down the hallway. They stared rather curiously at the youth.
"What's the matter?" asked one, presently.
"Waiting for a friend," was the answer.
"Humph! rather late," remarked the man.
"Better say early, Jack," laughed the other. "It's ten after two."
"Is that so! Great Scott! Time we got to bed!" And the two men passed into a nearby room, locking the door after them.
After that came another period of silence, broken only by the sounds of the two men undressing. To keep himself awake Dick commenced to walk up and down the long hallway again.
"I guess I'll call Tom," he thought, at last, after more than an hour had passed. "I've got to get some sleep, or I won't be worth anything in the morning. And if I am to call on Messrs. Pelter, Japson & Company I want to have my wits about me."
He stepped around the corner of the hallway, in the direction where his own room was located. He did not know that a man with eager eyes was watching him,— a man who stood on a chair in one of the rooms, peering through the transom light of the door.
"Gone at last— I was afraid he would stay here all night!" muttered the man. "Now is my chance to get away. I didn't think they'd get here to-night. I should have gotten that key made sooner." And opening the door noiselessly, he came out into the hallway. He wore a thin overcoat and a slouch hat, and a heavy beard covered his face.
Dick hurried his steps and called Tom, and then went back to the other hallway, unwilling to leave it unguarded even for a few minutes. He was just in time to see somebody disappearing down a broad flight of stairs to the floor below.
"Hello! who's that?" he asked himself, and ran towards the stairs. When he arrived there he looked down, to see the man going down further, to the ground floor of the hotel.
"The same fellow, I'll bet all I'm worth!" cried Dick. "There is that heavy beard! He must have been watching for a chance to get away! What a chump I was to let him get out! I've got to stop him!" And he bounded down the stairs three steps at a time.
By the time Dick reached the next floor the man was in the lower corridor of the big hotel. Here, in spite of the hour, quite a few people were stirring— coming in from late suppers after an evening at the play or opera. The man moved into the crowd and towards the main entrance on Broadway.
"Hi! Stop him! Stop that man!" cried the oldest Rover boy, as he, too, gained the lower corridor. But the man had already gotten out on Broadway. As Dick came out he saw the fellow run across the street to a distant corner and leap into a taxicab that was empty. The driver was on the seat and the turnout started rapidly away.
"You're not going to get away if I can help it," muttered Dick, desperately, and looked around for another taxicab. One stood halfway down the block, the driver taking a nap inside.
"Wake up!" exclaimed Dick, shaking the man. "See that taxi? I want to follow it! Don't let it get out of your sight, if you want your fare and a couple of dollars besides."
"I'm on!" answered the driver, and leaped into his seat, while Dick got into the cab. Away they started, in the full glare of the electric lights of Broadway.
The course was downtown, and the first taxicab made rapid progress. The man inside looked back and when he saw Dick following him, he spoke hurriedly to his driver. Then the cab turned swiftly into a side street, and, reaching Fifth Avenue, shot northward on that well-known thoroughfare.
"Can you catch that other taxi?" asked Dick, anxiously.
"I can try," was the grim answer. "He's going some, though!"
"Maybe they'll be held up at some cross street."
"Not this time in the morning," answered the driver, "They've got a straight road to the Park."
On and on went one taxicab after the other. Fifty-fifth Street was passed and still the first turnout kept well in the lead. But then a big furniture van appeared out of a side street and the cab ahead had to slow down.
"Now is your chance!" cried Dick. "Run up alongside of 'em!"
His driver did as requested. But then came a mix-up, as two more cabs appeared, and Dick's was caught between them. He looked ahead and saw the man with the heavy beard leap to the ground.
"Guess your man is going to run for the Park!" cried the taxicab driver. "Hold on— I want my money first, young fellow!"
Dick had leaped to the ground, bent on catching the fleeing individual. He pulled some bills from his pocket.
"Here is five dollars— wait for me!" he cried. "Or maybe you had better come along. That fellow is a criminal."
"I'll wait here," answered the taxicab driver. He did not wish to become mixed up in an affair which he did not understand.
The corner of Central Park at Fifty-seventh Street was already in sight. The bearded man ran swiftly across the broad plaza and the sidewalk. Then he darted along the side of the Park and on to the path leading to the menagerie. In a moment more the darkness of the place swallowed him up.
"Hey there, what are you running for?" It was a challenge from a Park policeman, as he stepped in front of Dick.
"I wanted to catch that man who just ran in here," explained the youth.
"I didn't see any man."
"Well, he went in here just now. He ran away from the Outlook Hotel in a taxi and got out just below here."
"Who is he?" asked the policeman, becoming interested.
"I don't know. But he tried to get in my room at the hotel. The hotel men want to catch him."
"Humph! Well he's gone now."
Dick continued to look around for the escaped man, but it was all to no purpose. Then he returned to where he had left the taxicab. He found his driver in earnest conversation with the other driver.
"That fellow didn't pay me a cent!" complained the other driver, bitterly. "An' after me doing my best for him, too!"
"Why did you try to run away?" asked Dick, coldly.
"I thought it was all right. He said he had a 'phone message that his father was dying and he must git up town at once, and he promised me big pay. I didn't know he was trying to git away from anybody."
"Well, it's too bad he got away from all of us. By the way, can you describe him to me?" went on Dick, curiously.
"Don't you know him?"
"Only by reputation— and that's bad," and Dick smiled grimly.
"He was tall and thin and didn't have much hair on his head. I think them whiskers was false."
"Anything else that you remember?"
"He had two of his front teeth filled with gold. I noticed it when he yawned under the electric lights."
"Two front teeth filled with gold!" cried Dick, in amazement. "And tall and thin! Can it be possible!"
"Do you know him after all?" asked the man who had given the information.
"Perhaps I do. Tell me some more about him. How was he dressed and how did he talk?"
As well as he was able the taxicab man described the individual who had gotten away. As he proceeded Dick became more and more convinced that he was on the right trail.
"Here is a dollar for what you have told me," said he, to the driver. "If you spot that rascal, have him arrested, and call up the Outlook Hotel," he added.
"All right, I'll remember that," was the ready answer.
"I'll go back to the hotel," said the youth, to his own driver. He knew that Sam and Tom would be wondering what had become of him.
It took but a short while to reach the Outlook Hotel, and there Dick found not only Sam and Tom, but also a clerk and several others awaiting his return. He settled with the driver, and dismissed him.
"Do you know anything about the man who got away?" asked Dick, of the clerk.
"Not much. He came here several days ago and registered under the name of Peter Smith, of Pittsburgh. All he had was a small valise, and that is still in his room."
"Anything in it?"
"I don't know. We can go up and take a look."
"It's a pity you didn't catch the rascal, whoever he is," was Tom's comment.
"Wait," whispered Dick, to his brothers. "I've got something to tell you."
All passed upstairs in an elevator, and the clerk led the way to the room which the patron calling himself Peter Smith had occupied. All the apartment contained was a rusty-looking valise.
"Must have picked that up at some second-hand store," was Sam's comment.
The valise was unlocked and the clerk opened it. It contained nothing but a comb and brush and some magazines.
"Humph! A dead beat!" muttered the clerk. "He put the magazines inside to make the valise feel as if it was filled with clothing. It's an old game. Be intended to leave without paying his bill. I wish you had collared him!"
"I wish I had," answered Dick; and then he and his brothers returned to their own rooms.
"What have you got to tell?" demanded Tom, when they were alone.
"I've found out who that man was," answered Dick.
"Who?" questioned Sam.
AT THE BROKERS' OFFICE
Sam and Tom gazed at their brother in amazement.
"Josiah Crabtree!" exclaimed the youngest Rover.
"How did you find that out?" questioned Tom.
"I suspected Crabtree as soon as I saw the man jump into the taxicab," answered Dick. "There was something about his form, and in the way he ran, that looked familiar. Then the taxi driver told me he had two front teeth filled with gold. That put me on the trail, and from what the man told me I am sure the fellow was old Crabtree."
"But if it was Crabtree, what has he to do with dad's visit to New York?" asked Sam.
"That remains to be found out. But one thing is sure. Crabtree knows that father is missing,— and he had that extra key made to get into the room during father's absence."
"But where is dad? Do you imagine Crabtree had anything to do with his disappearance?" came from Tom.
"I certainly do. Maybe Crabtree is holding him a prisoner."
"Then Pelter, Japson & Company haven't anything to do with it?"
"I wouldn't say that, Tom. The whole crowd may be working together."
"You think Crabtree knows those other men?"
"It may be so— I am not sure. But I am sure of one thing," went on Dick, decidedly. "Dad didn't meet with any accident. His disappearance is due to Crabtree, and, likely, to some of his other enemies."
"Well, that clears up one corner of the mystery," said Sam. "But it doesn't get us any nearer to finding dad."
"I think it does, Sam. If we can locate Crabtree, I think we can locate father."
"But how are we going to locate Crabtree?"
"I don't know. But if we keep our eyes and ears open we may learn something. In the morning some of us can call on those brokers and see what they have to say," continued the big brother.
"Some of us? I thought we were all going?" remarked Tom.
"I've got a new plan, Tom; I'll tell you about it in the morning. Now, as there is no use of watching that room any longer, let us try to get a little sleep."
"It will be very little," murmured Sam, consulting his watch. "It is nearly five o'clock already!"
"We'll sleep until eight o'clock. Those brokers don't get to business until nearly ten."
Once more the boys retired, and, after much turning, all dropped into slumber. Dick had made up his mind to awaken at eight o'clock and promptly at that hour he opened his eyes. His brothers were still asleep and he allowed them half an hour longer, for he knew they needed it.
"Now then, Dick, what's your programme?" asked Tom, while he was dressing.
"My programme is this," answered the big brother. "Instead of the three of us calling on Pelter, Japson & Company I think one is enough— and that ought to be me, for I have already met Mr. Pelter, once, when I came to New York with dad."
"But what do you want to leave us out for?" grumbled Sam.
"I don't want to leave you out— I want you to be doing something else, for we have no time to lose in this matter. I want you, Sam, to come with me, and when I go into the offices, I want you to hang around outside and watch for old Crabtree. If he is in league with the brokers he may be looking for a chance to interview them, but he will be on his guard, knowing that we are here."
"What am I to do?" asked Tom.
"I think you had better go up to Central Park, Tom, and see if you can find out anything there about Crabtree. Maybe some of the night prowlers around there saw him last night. Anyway, I don't want you to be seen at the offices with me— for I've got another plan in my head— if this one fails," went on Dick.
"All right, Dick, we'll do what you say," was Tom's reply.
The boys went below and obtained breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Then they went to the desk, to ask for letters, and then to the telegraph office, to send a brief message to the farm.
"Have you discovered anything?" questioned the hotel manager, as he came up to them.
"Not a great deal," answered Dick. "But we hope to get on the track of something to-day."
"Hope you do. What about those two rooms?"
"We'll keep them for the present, Mr. Garley."
"And I want you to watch out, so that no outsider gets into them," went on Dick.
"Leave that to me, Mr. Rover. My men have their instructions. We can't afford to leave our guests go unprotected."
"Good! If anybody tries to get into our rooms I want you to have him arrested and held."
"He'll be held, don't worry about that," answered the hotel manager, grimly.
A little later the three Rover boys separated, Tom walking over to Fifth Avenue, to take an auto bus going uptown, as that would land him close to the Park entrance.
"We might as well take a Broadway car down to Wall street," said Dick, to Sam. "We have plenty of time, and I don't like the air in the subway."
"I like the street cars better anyway," responded the younger brother. "A fellow can see more."
As was to be expected, the car was crowded, and the boys had to take "strap seats," as Sam called them— standing up in the aisle, holding on to a strap to keep from falling or sitting down suddenly into somebody's lap when the car made a turn. They swept down past Union Square and block after block of tall business buildings.
"My, what a big place New York is!" remarked Sam. "It's a regular bee hive and no mistake."
"We are coming down to the Post Office," said Dick, a little later.
"Gracious! See the building opposite!" gasped Sam. "It's higher than a church steeple! Wonder how many stories it is?"
"Fifty stories," answered a young man standing beside him.
Soon the car was in lower Broadway, and the boys watched out for Wall street, that narrow but famous thoroughfare opposite Trinity church. It was soon reached, and, in company with several men and boys, they left the car.
Dick had the address of the brokers in his pocket and the place was easily found. The offices were located in an old building— one of the oldest on the street, and also one of the shabbiest. But it was five stories in height and boasted of two elevators, and was, from appearances, filled with prosperous tenants. In Wall street rents are so high that many a person doing business there is willing to take whatever quarters he can get.
"Now you hang around in the street here until I come back," said Dick to Sam. "Keep out of sight all you can, so that if Crabtree comes along he won't see you. I'll go up and see what Pelter, Japson & Company have to say."
"How long will you be gone, Dick?"
"Not more than half an hour at the most— and maybe not half that," responded the big brother.
Sam dropped behind and Dick entered the dingy office building. From the directory on the wall the oldest Rover boy learned that the brokers were located on the fourth floor, rooms 408 to 412,— the numerals really meaning offices 8 to 12 on floor 4. He got into one of the narrow elevators and soon reached the fourth floor.
The offices of Pelter, Japson & Company were located in the rear, overlooking the roof of a restaurant on the street beyond. Dick entered a tiny waiting room and an office boy came to ask what he wanted.
"I wish to see Mr. Pelter," said Dick.
"Not in yet."
"When do you expect him?."
"Ought to be here now."
"Then I'll wait," and Dick dropped on a chair. He had hardly done so when the door opened and a burly individual hurried in. He gave Dick an inquiring look.
"Wants to see you, Mr. Pelter," said the office boy. "Just came in."
"Want to see me? What is it?" and the head of the brokerage firm stepped up to Dick.
"You are Mr. Pelter?"
"I am Richard Rover— Anderson Rover's son."
"Ah! indeed!" cried Jesse Pelter, and gave a slight start. "Glad to meet you, Mr. Rover," and he held out his hand. "Will you— er— step into my office?"
He led the way through two offices to one in the extreme rear. This was well furnished, with a desk, a table, several chairs and a bookcase filled with legal-looking volumes. In one corner was a telephone booth, and a telephone connection also rested on the desk.
"I came to see about my father," said Dick, as he sat down in a chair to which the broker motioned.
"You mean, about your father's business, I suppose."
"No, about my father. Do you know where he is, Mr. Pelter ?"
"Know where he is? What do you mean? Isn't he in New York?" The broker pretended to arrange some papers on his desk as he spoke and did not look at Dick.
"He has disappeared and I thought you might know something about it."
Dick looked the man full in the face. He saw the broker start and then try to control himself.
"Well that— er— accounts for it," said Jesse Pelter, slowly, as if trying to make up his mind what to say.
"Accounts for what?"
"Why, he didn't come back here as he said he would."
"He has been here then?"
"Yes, a number of days ago. We had quite some important business to transact. He said he would come back the next day and sign some papers, and fix up some other matters. But he didn't come."
"Did he say he would be here sure?"
"He did. So he has disappeared? That is strange. Perhaps some accident happened to him."
"I hope not. I knew he came to New York to see you and your partners. I thought you could tell me something about him."
"I don't know any more than that he called here one day and said he would come in again the next, Mr. Rover. If he is— er— missing you had better notify the police,— unless you have some idea where he went to," continued the broker.
"I have no idea further than that he came to New York to see you— and that he came here from his hotel."
"See here! Do you mean to insinuate that we— er— may know where he is— why he is missing?" demanded Jesse Pelter, sharply.
"I insinuate nothing, Mr. Pelter. But if you expected him the next day after he was here, and he didn't come, why didn't you telephone to him?"
"I— er— I didn't know where he was stopping. If I had known, I might have telephoned to him. Although he had a right to stay away from here if he wanted to."
"He is transacting quite some business with you, isn't he?"
"We have done quite some business together in the past, yes," answered the broker, coldly.
"And matters were not going very well, were they?" questioned Dick, sharply.
"They were going as well as could be expected."
"You owed my father a great deal of money, didn't you? "
"We did owe him something. But we don't owe him anything now. We settled up with him in full," was the reply, which filled Dick with new astonishment.
"You settled up with him in full?" gasped Rick.
"Yes— some time ago."
"Not for that stock in the Sunset Irrigation Company."
"I was not talking about the Irrigation Company. That is another affair. Your father was to see us about that on the morning when he— er— when he failed to come here. I— er— I thought he had gone back home to get certain documents which he stated he did not have with him."
"And you haven't seen or heard of him since?"
"Not a word, Mr. Rover— I give you my word."
"Did he leave any of his papers with you when he was here last?"
"No." Jesse Pelter took up the telephone on his desk. "Give me 2345 River!" he said to Central. He turned to Dick. "You will have to excuse me, Mr. Rover, I have some important business to transact."
"It isn't as important as finding my father,". answered Dick, bluntly.
"I do not know how I can aid you."
"Perhaps you don't care to try," returned Dick, pointedly, as he arose.
"What do you mean?" demanded the broker, and hanging up the telephone receiver, he, too, arose.
"Never mind what I mean, Mr. Pelter. If you will give me no aid, I'll find my father alone," and having thus spoken, Dick marched from the offices, leaving the broker staring after him curiously.
"Hum! Looks like a smart young man!" murmured Jesse Pelter, to himself. "And I thought Anderson Rover's boys were all school kids! This lad has grown up fast. I wonder what he'll do next? I guess I had better keep my eye on him."
When Dick reached the street he saw nothing of Sam. He looked up and down, and then walked slowly in the direction of Broadway. On the corner he came to a halt.
"He must be somewhere around," he mused. "Perhaps I'd better go back and wait for him."
"Dick!" The cry came from Sam, as he arrived on a run. "Did you learn anything?"
"Not much. But you look excited, Sam. What's up?"
"I think I saw Crabtree!"
"You did! Where? Why didn't you collar him?"
"I didn't get the chance," returned the youngest Rover, answering the last question first. "It was on the corner below here. I was standing in a doorway, watching up and down, when I saw a tall man come along slowly. He halted at the corner and presently another man came out of the side street and touched him on the arm. The second man wore a heavy beard and a slouch hat and colored eyeglasses, but I am almost sure it was Josiah Crabtree."
"Why didn't you go up and make sure? You could have pulled the beard from his face— if it was false."
"Just what I thought. But I decided that first I would listen to what the two men had to say. When I got closer to the pair I made another discovery.
"What was that."
"The first man had a pointed chin and the heaviest pair of eyebrows I ever saw."
"What!" ejaculated Dick, and his mind ran back to the jail at Plankville, and to what had been said about the man who had visited Josiah Crabtree. And then he thought of the mysterious automobile and its driver.
"Yes, I know what you think, Dick— and I think the same— that that man was the one who aided Crabtree to escape from jail," said Sam.
"What did the men say, Sam?"
"I didn't get a chance to listen. As I was coming up I saw the first man give the second man some money. Then the second man looked up and saw me, and shoving the money into his pocket, he dove across the street and into the crowd. That made me feel sure it was Crabtree, and I ran after him pell-mell. I followed him for about half a block. But the crowd was too much for me, and he got away. I was going to tell a policeman, but then I thought he couldn't do any more than I could, and I made up my mind I'd wait for you."
"What became of the other fellow— the man with the pointed chin?"
"I don't know. He went off somewhere while I was after Crabtree— if it was Crabtree," answered Sam.
"Show me which way Crabtree went," said Dick, and the brothers walked in the direction the fugitive had taken. But, though they spent over an hour in looking for the man, not a trace of him could be found.
"Well, this proves one thing anyway," said Dick, as he and Sam started on the return to the hotel. "Crabtree is in league with Pelter, Japson & Company. If he wasn't, he wouldn't show himself so close to their offices."
"Just what I think," returned his brother. "And another thing, Dick; I think that man with the pointed chin is in with the brokers, too."
"More than likely. For all we know he may be one of the firm!" went on Dick suddenly. "Wait, I've got an idea. I think I'll go back to those offices."
"And see if the man with the pointed chin is there?"
"All right. Want me to go back, too?"
"You might hang around as you did before. I don't know of anything else to do."
The boys walked back, and while Sam stationed himself in the street Dick walked into the office building which he had before visited. He was just in time to see a boy come from the elevator, some letters in his hand.
"Their office boy," he thought. "Maybe I can get something out of him."
He walked up to the youth and nodded pleasantly.
"You're the boy from Pelter, Japson & Company, aren't you?" he asked.
"Yep," was the laconic reply.
"I want to find a man connected with your concern— I don't know his name," continued Dick. "He has a pointed chin and very heavy eyebrows."
"Oh, you mean Mr. Japson," said the boy, quickly.
"Is that Mr. Japson?" repeated Dick, scarcely able to suppress his astonishment.
"Sure it is. He's got a very long chin, and his eyebrows is so heavy they come right down over his eyes. I don't see why he don't cut 'em off some— I would quick enough," went on the office boy.
"Is Mr. Japson in the offices now?"
"Are you sure of that? He was coming down."
"I know it. But he just telephoned to Mr. Pelter that he couldn't come— something important,"
"How long ago was this?"
"Oh, just a couple of minutes ago."
"Is Mr. Pelter there yet?"
"No, he went out as soon as he got the message. Nobody there but a clerk."
"When will Mr. Pelter be back?"
"I dunno— maybe not till late— or maybe not till to-morrow," answered the office boy, and hurried away.
In a thoughtful mood Dick rejoined Sam, and the pair this time hurried to the subway, to get a train uptown.
"I've found out who the second man was," said the oldest Rover boy. "It was Japson, of Pelter, Japson & Company. Sam, I begin to think this is some deep game. This fellow Japson aided Crabtree to escape from the Plankville jail and in return Crabtree is aiding these brokers in their efforts to get the best of father!"
"If we can prove that, we ought to have the brokers arrested."
"But we can't prove it, absolutely. But I am convinced that I am right. The office boy told me that Japson telephoned to Pelter that he could not come in. More than likely Japson was afraid you would be on guard and spot him. As soon as Japson telephoned in Pelter went out— most likely to meet his partner."
"And maybe to hunt up Crabtree, Dick."
"But what of father?" went on the youngest Rover, anxiously.
"I can't answer that question, Sam. But it is going to be answered sooner or later— if I have to have all those men arrested. I am certain in my own mind that they are responsible for dad's disappearance. They got him out of the way so that they could get the best of him in that Sunset Irrigation Company scheme."
"I think we ought to watch the men and see where they go."
"So do I. But, now they know we are on guard, they will be very careful."
"Do you think they had father abducted?"
"That is just what I do think. If you'll remember, that is one of Crabtree's favorite tricks. He would not dare to put father out of the way— take his life, I mean— and that would be the only other thing he could do."
"Where could they take him to, in such a city as this?"
"Oh, there are a dozen places— empty stores and basements, vacant flats and apartments. And then they may have taken him away from New York, in an automobile, or on some vessel in one of the rivers."
"I'd give a good deal to know where he is now!" cried Sam, bitterly.
"So would I, Sam. Well, we'll do what we can," added Dick, with determination.
It did not take the boys long to return to the Outlook Hotel. They looked around for Tom, but he was not in sight. However, he arrived a few minutes later. His face showed that his quest had been an unsuccessful one.
"I talked to everybody around that end of Central Park," he said. "One man saw Crabtree, but he couldn't tell where the rascal went to. Did you learn anything?"
"We did," answered Dick. "Come on to dinner and we'll tell you."
While the three ate a hasty midday meal, Dick and Sam told of their discoveries. Tom listened with interest.
"I think you are right!" he cried. "Crabtree is in with the brokers, and the whole bunch is a bad one. I think they are holding dad a prisoner somewhere. The question is, Where? And how can we get to him and rescue him?"
"We might watch those offices," suggested Sam. "But those fellows will be on guard, and we may not learn anything for days and days."
"We could have them arrested," suggested Tom. "But it won't do any good without positive evidence."
"There is something about this whole affair that I can't understand," said Dick. "That man Pelter claims that he settled up with father for everything excepting this Irrigation Company project. Father never told me that he settled up— and I think he would have said something if it was so."
The three boys talked the affair over from every possible standpoint, but could arrive at no satisfactory conclusion. All were sorry that they had not captured Josiah Crabtree.
"Let me get my hands on him and I'll make him tell what has become of dad," said Dick.
The meal concluded, they went up to their rooms, to talk the matter over further.
"I suppose Aunt Martha and Uncle Randolph are as anxious, almost, as we are," said Sam. "Hang the luck! I wish old Crabtree was back in jail, and Pelter, Japson & Company were with him!"
There was a knock on the door and a boy appeared with a telegram. It was addressed to Dick.
"Maybe it's from dad!" cried Sam and Tom, in a breath.
Dick tore open the envelope and read the message rapidly. His brow darkened and he shook his head slowly.
"What does it say?" asked Sam.
"Who it is from?" added Tom.
"It is from Uncle Randolph," answered Dick. Listen!" And he read as follows:
"Important news. Your father's signature demanded on important documents inside of three days, or great financial loss and dishonor to all of us.
AN IMPORTANT TELEPHONE MESSAGE
"There's the answer!" cried Tom.
"It's as plain as day!" added Sam.
"You are right," came from Dick. "I see it all now." He signed for the telegram and dismissed the boy, closing the door after him. "They are keeping father a prisoner somewhere, so that he cannot sign those documents."
"And it means a big financial loss and dishonor to all of us," went on Tom. "That must mean Uncle Randolph as well as dad."
"I wish Uncle Randolph had sent some particulars," sighed Sam.
"They may come in by mail— most likely they will," answered Dick. "It would be just like him to send a letter and then telegraph afterwards."
"Well, one thing is clear," remarked Tom. "We have got to find dad, and do it pretty quickly, too. We know— or, at least, we are pretty sure of it— that he is in the power of Crabtree and Pelter, Japson & Company. Now the question is, What are we going to do about it?"
"I said this morning I had an idea, Tom," answered his big brother. "I don't know whether it will work out or not, or if you'll care to try it. You know I told you to go to Central Park while Sam and I went down to those offices. I did that so that those brokers wouldn't see you. They don't know you, and you can go down and interview them as a stranger. Do you catch the idea?"
"I do!" cried Tom, eagerly. "And I'll do it! But what shall I say?" he asked, suddenly sobering.
"You might state that you had heard of the Sunset Irrigation Company and thought of investing, or something like that. Maybe they might give you some information that would be valuable for us. And, while there, you may hear something about Crabtree, or something about where father may be."
"I'll go this afternoon," cried Tom. The idea of playing the spy pleased him greatly.
"But you want to be careful," warned his older brother. "If cornered, those brokers may prove to be desperate men."
"I'll be on my guard, Dick."
"Sam and I can go down part of the way with you, and when you go in, we can hang around outside, one at the upper and one at the lower street corner. Perhaps by doing that, we'll catch another sight of Crabtree, although I think, for the present, he'll keep away from Wall street and meet those brokers somewhere else, or telephone to them."
It was not long after this when the three Rover boys set out for the lower part of the great metropolis. They took the subway, that being the quickest way to get there. Dick gave Tom directions how to find the brokers' offices, and then the brothers separated as agreed.
Tom had fixed himself up for the occasion, wearing a slouch hat and a flowing tie, in the manner of a young man from the West or South. He carried a pocket full of timetables and another pocket full of legal-looking documents. He also carried half a dozen visiting cards, with the name and address:
Roy A. Putnam Denver, Colo.
With eyes on the alert for the possible appearance of somebody who might know him, Tom walked into the office building where Pelter, Japson & Company did business and entered the elevator. He was the only passenger, and arriving at the fourth floor, he found himself alone in the corridor leading to the brokers' offices.
"Guess I'll listen a bit and see if I can hear anything," he told himself, and tiptoed his way to one of the doors.
He listened intently, but the only sound that broke the stillness was the click of a typewriter and the occasional shifting of some papers. Then he tiptoed his way to the next door, that marked Private.
Straining his ears, Tom caught the scratching of a pen and then a deep sigh, as if somebody had just completed an important bit of work. Then he heard the footsteps of a man, walking from the inner to the outer office.
"If he comes out, I'll have to show myself," thought the youth. But the man did not appear, instead Tom presently heard him return to the inner office. Then the telephone rang and the man answered it.
"Yes," Tom heard him say. "All right. Wait a second," And then the man kicked shut a door between the offices, to assure himself of privacy.
There followed a long wait, during which time the man in the office was probably receiving some message.
"To-morrow morning?" Tom heard him ask "What time? Ten o'clock. That is rather early, but I can go there directly from my home." There came another pause. "Leave that to me," cried the man. "I'll make him do it!" He paused again. "I am not afraid of those boys," he added. "I'll be there, sure." Another pause. "Yes, the boat is the best place. Nobody can disturb us there. Good-bye." And then the man hung up the telephone receiver.
Tom had taken in every word that the man said. If it was Pelter he must be talking to Japson, or Crabtree, or somebody else in the affair. And Tom did not doubt but what by "those boys" the man had meant himself and his brothers.
"And when he said, 'I'll make him do it,' he must have been speaking of father," he reasoned. "And he mentioned a boat. Maybe they have dad on a boat."
Tom waited for some time longer in the corridor, but nothing of importance occurred. Then he stepped loudly to the main door of the offices and entered.
The same boy Dick had met was there and asked him what he wanted.
"I want to see about some shares in the Sunset Irrigation Company," answered Tom. "Anybody in I can talk to?" And he handed out one of the cards he had fixed up.
"I'll see," answered the office boy, and disappeared into the inner office with the card.
A moment later Jesse Pelter appeared, holding the card in his hand. He smiled pleasantly.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Putnam," he said, bowing. "I am Mr. Pelter. I'll be glad to let you know all about our Irrigation Company and its prospects."
He ushered Tom into his private office and offered him a chair.
"Want to make an investment for yourself?" he said, suggestively.
"If it's a good one," returned Tom, with an assumed grin. "A fellow who comes into a fat legacy has got to do something, hasn't he?"