"Hullo, Aleck!" cried Tom rushing up and grabbing the colored man by the hand. "How are you—pretty well? I'm first-rate, never was better in my life!" And he gave the hand a hard squeeze.
"Stop, wot yo' up to, Massah Rober!" roared the waiter, leaping off his feet. "Wot yo' got in yo' hand?"
"Why, nothing, Aleck, my boy. Yes, I'm feeling fine. I've gained fifteen pounds, and—"
"Yo' lemme go, sah-yo' is stickin' pins in my hand!" howled Pop. "Oh, deah, now de term's dun begun we'll all be dead wid dat boy's tricks!" he moaned, as Tom ran off, throwing away several tiny tacks as he did so.
"So you've come back, have you?" observed Mrs. Green, as Tom stopped at the kitchen door. "Well, just you mind your P's and Q's, or there will be trouble, I can tell you that, Tom Rover."
"Why, we never had any trouble, Mrs. Green," he said soberly. "Did we?"
"Oh, of course not! But who stole that can of peaches right after the Christmas holidays, and who locked one of the cows in the back hall and nearly scared the washwoman to death? Oh, dear, you never did anything, never!" And Mrs. Green shook her head warningly.
"Do you mean to say I would take a can of peaches, Mrs. Green?" asked Tom, and then his face fell. "Oh, dear, you always did put me down as the worst boy in the school, when—I—I—do—my—very best," and, almost sobbing, Tom put his face up against his coat sleeve. Mrs. Green was very tender-hearted in spite of her somewhat free tongue, and she was all sympathy immediately.
"There, there, Tom, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," she said soothingly. "I—I was only fooling. Will you have a piece of hot mince pie? It's just out of the oven."
"I—I don't know!" sobbed Tom. "You treat me so awful meanly!"
"I didn't mean it—really I didn't. Come, sit down and have the pie, that's a good boy. I'm glad you are back, and you are better than lots of the other cadets, so there!" And Tom slid into a seat and devoured the generous slice of pie dealt out to him with keen relish.
"It's really like home," he murmured presently.
"Mrs. Green, when you die, they ought to erect an awfully big monument over your grave."
"But I'm not dying just yet, Tom—pray don't speak of it."
"By the way, my aunt was dyeing when I left home," went on the boy, as he moved toward the door.
"Indeed. Didn't you hate to leave her?"
"Not at all. She didn't seem to mind it."
"What was her trouble, Tom—consumption?"
"No, she had an old brown dress that had faded out green and she was dyeing it black," was the soft answer, and then Tom ran for his life. Mrs. Green did not speak to him for almost a week after that. And yet with it all she couldn't help but like the boy.
Of course Peleg Snuggers came in for his full share of attention, and the utility man had all sorts of jokes played on him until he was almost in despair.
"Don't, young gents, don't!" he would plead. "Oh, my! An' to think the term's just begun!" And he mopped his brow with his red bandanna handkerchief.
"Peleg, you are getting handsomer every day," remarked Sam. "It's a wonder you don't go into the beauty show in New York."
"Wot kind of a joke is that, Master Rover?"
"Oh, it's no joke. You are handsome. Won't you let me take your photograph?"
"Have you got a camera?"
"To be sure. Here it is." Sam drew a tiny box from his pocket.
"Now stand still and I'll take a snap shot."
Snuggers had wanted to have his picture taken for some time, to send to a certain girl in Cedarville in whom he was much interested. To have a photograph taken for nothing tickled him greatly.
"Wait till I brush up a bit," he said, and got out a pocket comb, with which he adjusted his hair and his stubby mustache.
"Now stand straight and look happy!" cried Sam as a crowd collected around. "Raise you right hand to your breast, just as all statesmen do. Up with your chin—don't drop your left eye—close your mouth. Now then, don't budge on your life!"
Peleg Snuggers stood like a statue, his chin well up in the air and his eyes set into a steady stare. Sam elevated the tiny box and kept the man standing for fully half a minute, while the boys behind Snuggers could scarcely keep from roaring.
"There you are," said Sam at last. "Now wait a minute and the picture will be finished."
"Don't you have to print 'em in the sun?" asked Snuggers.
"No, this is a new patented process." Sam drew a square of tin from the box. "There you are, Peleg, and all for nothing."
"I don't see any picture," growled Snuggers, looking at the square blankly.
"You must breathe on it, Peleg; then the picture will come out beautifully. It's a little fresh yet."
Peleg Snuggers breathed on the square of tin as directed, and then there slowly came to view the picture of a donkey's head! The boys gathered around set up a shout.
"Hurrah, Peleg, what a fine picture!"
"You've changed a little in your looks, Peleg, since you had the last taken, eh?"
"Your girl will fall in love with that picture, Peleg, I'm certain of it."
"Sam Rover, I'll git square, see if I don't!" roared the utility man, as he dashed the square of tin to the ground. "I knowed you was goin' to play a joke on me." And he started to walk off.
"Why, what's the matter?" demanded Sam innocently. "Isn't it a good picture?'
"I'll picture you!"
"I thought I was doing my best."
"Show me off for a donkey! If it wasn't against the rules I'd—I'd wollop you!"
"A donkey! Oh, Peleg, I did nothing of the kind! Here is your picture, on my word of honor."
"It's a donkey's head, I say."
"And I say it's your picture. I'll leave it to anybody in the crowd."
"I guess I know a donkey's head when I see it, Master Rover. I didn't expect no such joke from you, though your brother Tom might have played it."
"Boys, isn't this a good picture?" demanded Sam, showing up the other side of the tin square.
"Why, splendid!" came from the crowd.
"Peleg, there is some mistake here."
"Oh, you can't joke me no more!" returned the utility man.
"But just look!" pleaded Sam. "Isn't that a good picture of you? If you don't say so yourself I'll give you five dollars."
He handed the tin over again, this time with the opposite side toward Snuggers. He had just breathed on it heavily.
"Now blow on it," he continued, and Snuggers did as directed. The moisture cleared away, revealing the face of the utility man in a bit of looking-glass!
"Oh, you're tremendously smart, you are!" muttered Snuggers, and walked off. But he was not half as angry as he had been a few minutes before.
DICK VISITS DORA STANHOPE
"Battalion, fall in. Attention! Carry arms!"
It was several days later, and the cadets were out for their first parade around the grounds. Dick still retained his position as second lieutenant of Company A, having been re-elected the term previous. Tom was first sergeant of Company B, while Sam was still "a high private in the rear rank," as the saying goes.
The day was an ideal one in the early autumn, and Captain Putnam and George Strong were both on hand to watch the drilling. Major Bart Conners had graduated the year before, and his place was now filled by Harry Blossom, formerly captain of Company A.
"Shoulder arms!" came the next order. "Battalion, forward march!"
Tap! tap! tap, tap, tap! went the drums, and then the bass drum joined in, and the two companies moved off. Soon the fifers struck up a lively air, and away went the cadets, down the road, around grounds, and to the mess hall for supper.
The boys felt good to be in the ranks once more, and Captain Putnam congratulated them on their soldierly appearance.
"It does me good to see that you have not forgotten your former instructions in drilling and marching," he said. "I trust that during the present term we shall see even better results, so that the work done here may compare favorably with that done at West Point."
The school had now begun to settle down, and inside of a few days everything was working smoothly.
"What a difference it makes to have Dan Baxter and Mumps absent!" observed Tom to Dick. "We don't have any of the old-fashion rows any more."
"I'd like to know what Mumps and Josiah Crabtree were up to," put in the elder Rover. "It's queer we didn't hear any more of them. I'm going to get off soon and try and see Dora Stanhope. Perhaps she knows what Crabtree is doing."
On that day Frank Harrington received a letter from his father, in which the senator stated that nothing more had been heard of the men who had looted Rush & Wilder's safe. "I fancy they have left the State, if not the country," was Mr. Harrington's comment.
The three Rover boys got off the next day and took a walk past the cottages where resided the Lanings and the Stanhopes. At the Lanings' place Nellie and Grace came out to greet them.
"So you are back!" cried Nellie, blushing sweetly. "Father said you were. He saw you come in at Cedarville."
"Yes, back again, and glad to meet you," answered Tom, and gave the girl's hand a tight squeeze, while Sam and Dick also shook hands with both girls.
"And how do you feel?" asked Grace of Dick. "Wasn't that dreadful the way Mr. Baxter treated you on that train?"
"Well, he got the worst of it," answered Dick.
"Oh, I know that! And now they suspect him of a robbery in Albany. Papa was reading it in one of the Ithaca papers."
"Yes, and I guess he's guilty, Grace. But tell me, does Josiah Crabtree worry Mrs. Stanhope any more?" continued the boy seriously.
"Why to be sure he does! And, oh, let me tell you something! Dora told me that he was terribly angry over having been sent to Chicago on a wild-goose chase."
"I wish he had remained out there."
"So do all of us," said Nellie Laning. "He seems bound to marry aunty, in spite of our opposition and Dora's."
"How is your aunt now?"
"She is not very well. Do you know, I think Mr. Crabtree exercises some sort of a strange influence over her."
"I think that myself. If he could do it, I think he would hypnotize her into marrying him. He is just rascal enough. Of course he is after the money Mrs. Stanhope is holding in trust for Dora."
"He can't touch that."
"He can—if he can get hold of it. I don't think Josiah Crabtree cares much for the law. Is Dora home now?"
"I believe she is. She was this morning, I know."
"I'm going over to see her," went on Dick. "I promised to do all I could for her in this matter of standing Crabtree off, and I'm going to keep my word."
As Sam and Tom wished to converse with the Laning girls a bit longer, Dick went on ahead, telling them to follow him when they chose.
It did not take Dick long to reach the Stanhope homestead. As he approached he heard loud talking on the front piazza.
"I want nothing to do with you, Dan Baxter, and I am astonished that you should come here to see me," came in Dora Stanhope's voice.
"That's all right, Dora; don't get ugly," was the reply from the former bully of Putnam Hall. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"I want you to go away and leave my mother and me alone."
"Will you come and see Mr. Crabtree, as he wanted?"
"No. If, Mr. Crabtree wants to see me let him come here."
"But you told him you didn't want him here," said Dan Baxter.
"Neither I do—to see mamma. But I won't go to see him; so there! Now please leave me."
"You're a strong-minded miss, you are," sneered Dan Baxter. "You want taking down."
"What's that you say?" demanded Dick, as he strode up. "Baxter, you deserve to be knocked down for insulting this young lady."
"Oh, Dick, is that you?" burst out Dora, her pretty face brightening instantly. "I'm glad you came."
"Dick Rover!" muttered the bully, and his face fell. "What brought you here?"
"That is my business, Baxter, So Josiah Crabtree sent you to annoy Miss Stanhope."
"It's none of your affair if he did."
"I say it is my affair."
"Do you want to get into another row with me, Dick Rover?" And Dan Baxter clenched his fists.
"If we fought, the battle would end as it did before—you would be knocked out," answered Dick. "You have no right to come here if these people want you to stay away, and you had better take yourself off."
"I'll go when I please. You can't make me go—nor the Stanhopes neither," growled Dan Baxter.
At these words Dick grew white. Dora, as old readers know, was his dearest friend, and he could not stand having her spoken of so rudely. For a moment the two boys glared at each, other; then Baxter aimed a blow at Dick's face.
The elder Rover ducked and hit out in return, landing upon Baxter's neck. Dora gave a scream.
"Oh, Dick! Don't fight with him!"
"I won't—I'll run him out!" panted Dick, and leaping behind the bully, he caught him by the collar and the back. "Out you go, you brute!" he added, and began to run Baxter toward the open gateway. In vain the bully tried to resist. Dick's blood was up, and he did not release his hold or relinquish his efforts until the bully had been pushed along the road for a distance of fifty yards.
"Now you dare to come back!" said Dick, shaking his fist at the fellow. "If you come, I'll have you locked up."
"We'll see about it, Dick Rover," snarled Dan Baxter. He paused for an instant. "He laughs best who laughs last," he muttered, and strode off as fast as his long legs would carry him, in the direction of the lake.
When Dick returned to Dora he found that the girl had sunk down on the piazza steps nearly overcome.
"Don't be afraid, Dora; he's gone," he said kindly.
"Oh, Dick, I'm so afraid of him!" she gasped.
"Was he here long before I came up?"
"About ten minutes. He brought a message from Mr. Crabtree, who wants to see me in Cedarville. I told him I wouldn't go—and I won't."
"I shouldn't either, Dora. Perhaps Crabtree only wants to get you away from the house so that he can come here and see your mother."
"I never thought of that."
"Where is your mother now?"
"Lying down with a headache. She is getting more nervous every day. I wish Mr. Crabtree was—was—"
"In Halifax, I suppose," finished Dick.
"Yes, or some other place as far off. Every time he comes near mamma she has the strangest spells."
"He is a bad man—no doubt of it, Dora. I almost wish we had him back to the Hall. Then I could keep my eye on him."
"I'm glad you are back, Dick," said the girl softly. "If there is any trouble, you'll let me call on you, won't you?"
"I shall expect you to call on me, Dora—the very first thing," he returned promptly. "I wouldn't have anything happen to you or your mother for anything in the world."
By this time Sam and Tom were coming up, and they had to be told about Dan Baxter.
"He and his father are a team," said Sam.
"I wonder if he knows what his father has done. If I meet him I'll ask him."
Dick had expected to pay his respects to Mrs. Stanhope, but now thought best not to disturb her. All the boys had a short chat with Dora, and then set out on the return to school.
On the way the three boys discussed the situation, but could get little satisfaction out of their talk.
"Something is in the wind," was Dick's comment. "But what it is time alone will reveal."
And he was right, as events in the near future proved.
THE FIRE AT THE HALL
Sam had been right when he said that Dan Baxter was like his father. Parent and son were thoroughly bad, but how bad the Rover boys and their friends were still to learn.
On Saturday the cadets had a half-holiday, and some of them went over to the lake to fish, Sam and Tom accompanying the party.
While the boys were waiting for bites they espied a large sail-boat skimming along the lake shore. As it came closer Tom and Sam were much astonished to see that the boat contained Dan Baxter, Josiah Crabtree, and Mumps.
"By jinks, there is Mumps' yacht!" ejaculated Tom. "How in the world did he get her up here?"
"Brought her by way of the canal and the river, I suppose," answered Sam.
"Hullo there!" called out Larry Colby, who was in the crowd. "Mumps, you might be in better company."
"You keep your mouth shut!" retorted Fenwick.
"If you talk to me, I'll come ashore and give you a thrashing," put in Baxter.
"I dare you to come ashore!" burst out Tom. "You'll stay where you are if you know when you are well off."
No more was said, and presently the boat sped out of sight around a bend of the lake shore. Fishing proved to be good, and in the excitement of the sport Baxter and the others were, for the time being, forgotten.
It was late when the boys packed up. Sam had six fish, Tom as many more, and all of the others a fair catch.
"We'll have fish tomorrow for breakfast, sure," said Larry. "Hurry up, or we'll be late."
The party started off, but had only gone a short distance when Sam remembered that he had left his knife sticking in the stump of a tree, and ran back to get it, in the meantime turning his fish over to Tom.
The fishing place was behind a grove of trees, and when Sam reached it again he was much surprised to see Dan Baxter on shore, he having just left the yacht, which was cruising some distance away.
"Hullo! so you came back to have it out with me, eh?" cried Baxter, and before Sam could say a word, he was hurled flat and the bully came down on top of him.
Sam fought bravely, but was no match for the big fellow, who began to hammer him unmercifully. Realizing how matters were turning, the youngest Rover began to cry for help.
"You shut up!" stormed Dan Baxter. "Shut up, or I'll give it to you worse than ever!"
But Sam had no intention of taking such a drubbing quietly, and he yelled louder than ever. His cries reached Tom, who had dropped behind to allow his brother to catch up.
"Something is wrong," he muttered, and hanging the fish on a bush, he ran back at the top of his speed.
Dan Baxter heard him coming and tried to get away, but as Tom called out, Sam's courage rose, and he grabbed the bully by the foot and held him.
"Let go!" roared Dan Baxter, but Sam would not, and in a second more Tom was at hand and hit the bully such a stinging blow in the face that Baxter went down in a heap.
A rough-and-tumble scrimmage ensued, and it must be said that the bully got by far the worst of it. Tom hit him again and again, and Sam also, and when at last he staggered to his feet, one eye was almost closed and his nose was bleeding profusely.
"Now I guess you won't tackle any of us again," said Tom.
"I'll get even—mark my words!" roared Baxter, and ran down the lake shore in the direction the Falcon had taken.
When Baxter reached the yacht he was so weak he could scarcely stand. It was a long while before he could stop his nose from bleeding, and his eye stung with a pain that was maddening.
"Did little Sam Rover do that?" asked Mumps, while Josiah Crabtree looked on in curious silence.
"Sam Rover?" snorted Baxter. "Not much! Why, the whole crowd piled on me six or seven of them at a time. They tried to kill me!"
"Didn't you defend yourself, Daniel?" asked Crabtree.
"Of course I did. I knocked two of them down and another fellow had two of his teeth broken. But I couldn't fight all six single handed."
"Oh, I presume not—especially such brutes as Captain Putnam is now raising."
"It's a pity we can't get square with them," said Mumps.
"Oh, I'll get square! You just wait," answered the bully cunningly. "I'm not done with them yet by any means."
"What will you do?"
"Just you wait and see."
"I don't wish to have you interfere with our plans," put in Josiah Crabtree.
"I won't interfere with the other plans. But I am going to get square."
"We've had delay enough," continued Josiah Crabtree.
"Well, that wasn't my fault. Mumps got sick, and that's all there is to it," growled Dan Baxter, and then went to dressing his swollen eye once more.
In the meantime Sam and Tom had rejoined their fellows and told their story. All of the others were indignant at Baxter's doing and glad to learn he had been given a sound drubbing.
"I don't see why he hangs in this neighborhood," said Larry. "It's a wonder he doesn't try to join his father."
"They are probably on the outs since Dan took that two hundred dollars," answered Tom.
The boys were all tired that night, and the occupants of Dormitory No. 6 retired early in consequence.
It was a little after midnight that Dick awoke with a cough. He sat up in bed and opened his eyes to find the room almost filled with smoke.
"For gracious sake!" he muttered. "What's the matter here? Sam! Tom!"
"What's this?" came from Larry Colby. "Is the house on fire?" He leaped from his bed, and so did Dick. By this time the smoke in the dormitory was getting thicker and thicker. It was coming through the door, which stood partly open.
"Wake up, boys; the Hall is on fire!"
"Fire! Fire! Fire!" came from all parts of the building.
One after another the cadets roused up. Some were completely bewildered and did not know what to do.
"We had better get out as soon as we can!" exclaimed Dick, as he slipped into his trousers. "Come, Tom! come, Sam!"
He ran for the hallway, to find it so thick with smoke that escape in that direction seemed cut off.
"We can't go down that way!" came from Frank. "We'd be smothered to death."
"Let's jump from the windows," put in Larry, who was more frightened than any of the others.
"No, no; don't jump yet!" cried Tom "You'll break a leg, and maybe your neck."
"But I don't want to be burnt up," returned Larry, his teeth chattering.
"Hold on, we have that rope we used when we had the feast last summer," said Sam. "Let us tie that to the window and get down on it."
Sam ran to the closet and found the rope just where it had been left, on a hook in the corner. Soon they had it out and fastened to a bed-slat braced across the window frame.
"Down you go, Larry!" said Dick. "Be careful; I reckon we have plenty of time."
Larry slid down in a jiffy, and one after another the others came after him, Dick being the last. As the youth turned around on the window sill he saw the fire creeping in at the door. Their escape had taken place none too soon.
Down on the parade ground they found a motley collection of half-dressed cadets, instructors, servants, and others who had been sleeping in the burning Hall.
In the midst of the group was Captain Putnam, pale but comparatively cool, considering the excitement under which he was laboring.
"Are all the boys out?" he asked of George Strong. "Line them up and call the roll."
The roll-call was put through in double-quick order. Only two lads were missing, a boy named Harrison and another named Leeks.
"Here comes Harrison!" cried Harry Blossom, and the boy limped forth from the opposite side of the burning building.
"I sprang from the east wing," he explained. "I guess my ankle is sprained." And then he dropped down and was carried away from the scene to a place of safety.
"Where can Leeks be?" questioned Captain Putnam. "Leeks! Leeks! Where are you?" he cried with all the power of his lungs.
At first the only reply that came back was the roaring of the flames, as they mounted from one section of the Hall to another. Then, however, came a shriek from the rear end of the western wing.
"Help me! Save me! I don't want to be burnt up!"
"It is Leeks!" cried Tom. "See, he is on the gutter of the roof!"
He pointed in the direction, and all saw the cadet, dressed in nothing but his white gown, clinging desperately to the slates of the roof above the gutter. He had run from the second floor to the third and sought safety by crawling out of a dormer window.
"Don't jump!" cried a dozen in concert. "Don't jump, Leeks!"
"What shall I do? The flames are coming up here as fast as they can!" groaned the cadet. "Oh, save me, somebody!"
"Let's get the ladder," said Dick, and started for the barn, with a score of cadets at his heels and George Strong with them. In the meantime Captain Putnam again urged Leeks to remain where he was. "We will save you, don't fear," he added.
The fire below now made the scene as bright as day, and already the neighbors were rushing to the scene, followed by the Cedarville volunteer fire department, with their hose cart and old style hand-pump engine.
Soon the ladder was brought out of the barn and rushed to the spot directly below where Leeks stood. Willing hands raised it against the building. And then a loud groan went up. The ladder was too short by ten feet—and it was the only ladder to be had!
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF DORA STANHOPE
"We can't reach him with that! He'll be burnt up before we can get to him. See, the flames are already coming out of the window beside him!"
"Save me! Push the ladder up higher!" shrieked Leeks. "I can't get down to it!"
"Wait, I've got an idea," put in Dick, and ran behind the barn to the garden patch.
Soon he came back armed with a long and knotty beanpole. George Strong was already on the ladder, and the beanpole was shoved up to him.
"That's all right!" came the cry. "Leeks, can't you get hold?"
"I'll try," said the terrorized boy.
As quickly as he could George Strong mounted to the very top of the ladder. Then the teacher raised the beanpole, heavy end upward, until Leeks managed to grasp it.
"Can you steady it against the gutter?" asked the teacher.
"I—I don't know. If I had a cord—"
"There is a string on the window blind. Tie the end of the pole to that."
With trembling hands Leeks did as directed. The cord was not a stout one, but it was sufficiently strong to keep the beanpole in position, and that was all that was required, since the teacher steadied it and held it up from below.
But getting over the edge of the gutter was no easy movement, and those on the ground held their breath as Leeks crawled to where he could grasp the beanpole. Then the cadet came down on the run to where his feet struck the top of the ladder. In a minute more he and the head teacher came to the ground.
A cheer went up. "Hurrah! Leeks is safe! Good for Mr. Strong!" In the midst of the cries Leeks fainted and had to be carried to the gymnasium for treatment.
The fire had evidently started in the lower hallway of the building, in a closet under the broad stairs. It was burning furiously in all of the halls and toward the rear.
As soon as Captain Putnam felt assured that the scholars and all others were safe he organized the boys into a bucket brigade. In the meantime Mrs. Grow, with more forethought than seemed possible to her nature, had turned on the water pipes leading from the water tower on the Hall roof. Thus a dozen small streams were thrown on the fire, to which the boys soon added their buckets of water. Then the Cedarville fire department added their services, and fighting the fire began in earnest, while Captain Putnam directed the removal of all furniture and other things which could be gotten out with safety.
"Say, but this is work!" panted Tom, as he struggled along with a big bucket of water in each hand.
"I only hope we succeed in saving the building."
"We won't save all of it," replied Sam, who was laboring as hard as anybody. "And I guess all of our clothing will be burnt up."
"Don't say a word about dat!" put in Alexander Pop. "I dun gone an' buy me a new pair ob checked pants las' week—an' a new silk hat, too!" And the negro was almost ready to cry with vexation at the thought that those new clothes, with which he had hoped to cut such a dash, would go down in the ruin.
It was a good two hours ere the fire was gotten under control, and not until after sunrise was the last spark put out. Then Captain Putnam and several of the others surveyed the damage that had been done.
All of the stairways had been burned away, and the plastering from top to bottom of the three hallways was down. In the rear, two dormitories and the garret floor had been burned out.
"A nasty fire," said the captain to his head assistant. "I'm afraid I will have to close down the school, at least for a while."
"I don't know as I would do that, captain," replied George Strong. "The classrooms are not touched, neither are some of the dormitories. We can bunch the boys up a bit—and I think they would rather be bunched up than be sent home."
The matter was talked over at some length, and in the end put to the boys themselves, and all declared that they would rather remain, and some added that during their spare hours they would do all they could to put the place into shape again.
"That will be unnecessary," said Captain Putnam. "The insurance companies will have to do the repairing, and I shall notify them without delay. As to the clothing that has been lost, I will make that good to each of you."
The fire was not yet out when Dora Stanhope appeared, in company with John Laning and Nellie and Grace.
"I am so afraid somebody had been burnt up!" cried Dora to Dick. "I'm awfully glad you and your brothers are all right!"
"We got out easily, answered Dick, but he gave Dora a bright smile for the interest she had shown in him.
"How did the fire start?" questioned John Laning.
"Nobody knows," answered Tom. "Captain Putnam says it is a complete mystery."
"I believe the Hall was set on fire," put in Sam. "And I believe I can point out the party who is guilty."
"Dan Baxter?" put in Larry.
"Would he be wicked enough to do that?" cried Dora in horror.
"Yes, I guess Dan is bad enough to do anything," said Dick.
"He was terribly mad over the way we mauled him," came from Tom. "He was just about ready to kill us."
"If that's the case Captain Putnam had better have Baxter arrested," suggested John Laning. "He is a dangerous boy to be at large."
Captain Putnam came up and was soon told of what had occurred. He had not heard of the fight down at the lake, but was not greatly surprised.
"I do not blame you boys, since Baxter began the attack," he said. "And I agree, he is a thoroughly bad fellow. Yes, I'll have him arrested—providing we can locate him."
Word had already been sent to a clothier, and a gentlemen's outfitter, both of whom had stores in Cedarville, and before noon these men came to the Hall, and the students were fitted out temporarily—that is, the portion who had lost the majority of their clothing. Then a gang of laborers and scrub-women were sent to work to clean up the mess and make the classrooms and unburned dormitories fit for occupation. In two days Putnam Hall was once more in full sway, as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened, the burnt section being boarded entirely off from the other.
The search for Dan Baxter began at once, but nothing could be ascertained concerning him. A search was also made for the Falcon, but that craft had disappeared from the lake.
"Well, I hope we never hear or see anything more of Baxter," said Sam. "I declare, he is worse than a snake in the grass."
"I'd rather see him locked up," answered Dick grimly. "Then I'd know he was out of the way of harming us further."
Several days slipped by and the boys were deep in their studies, when, late one afternoon, Dick was greatly astonished by being told that Mrs. Stanhope was in the parlor waiting to see him.
"She seems very much agitated," said Captain Putnam. "I am afraid something is wrong."
"Can you say what it is, Richard?"
"No, sir; excepting Dan Baxter or Josiah Crabtree may have been worrying them again."
"Do you mean to tell me that Baxter goes to their house?"
"He has been there several times to my knowledge. He's as sweet on Dora Stanhope as Josiah Crabtree is anxious over Mrs. Stanhope—and neither person deserves any encouragement."
"I thought the engagement between Mrs. Stanhope and Crabtree was off."
"It was—for the time being. But it seems Mr. Crabtree isn't going to give her up—he is too anxious to get hold of Dora's money," and with this remark Dick hurried to the parlor.
"Oh, Dick Rover!" cried Mrs. Stanhope, when he entered, "do tell me what has become of Dora."
"Dora!" he repeated in bewilderment. "I don't know, I am sure. Has she left home?"
"She hasn't been home since she answered your note yesterday afternoon."
"My note? I sent her no note."
"But I found it lying on the dining-room table last evening, when I came from my room. You see, I had been lying down with a headache."
"Mrs. Stanhope, I sent Dora no note. If she got one that was signed with my name it was a forgery."
"Oh, Dick Rover!" The lady had arisen on his entrance, now she sank back into a faint.
The youth was greatly alarmed, and at once rang for one of the servants and also for Captain Putnam.
"What is the matter?" asked the master of the Hall.
"Something is very much wrong, sir," replied Dick. "Dora Stanhope has disappeared."
"Yes, sir. She received some sort of a note signed with my name."
No more was said just then, Dick, the captain, and the servant doing all they could to restore Mrs. Stanhope to consciousness. When the lady finally came to her senses she could not keep from crying bitterly.
"Oh, where can my Dora be?" she moaned. "Something dreadful has happened to her—I feel certain of it."
"Where is that note?" asked Dick.
"I left it on the mantelpiece in our dining room. It said: 'Dear Friend Dora: Meet me as soon as you can down at the old boathouse on the lake. I have something important to tell you,' and it was signed 'Richard Rover.'"
"Mrs. Stanhope, as true as I stand here, I never wrote that note or sent it."
"I believe you, Dick. But who did send it?"
"Some enemy who wanted to get her away from the house—Dan Baxter or—" Dick paused.
"Well, Josiah Crabtree, if you must know. He hates her and he wants to separate her from you."
At the mention of Josiah Crabtree's name a curious shiver passed over Mrs. Stanhope. "We—we'll not talk about Mr. Crabtree," she faltered. "But, oh, I must have my Dora back!" And then she came near to fainting again.
"I would like to go over to the Stanhope cottage and investigate," said Dick, after the lady had been placed in Mrs. Green's care. "To my mind it won't do to lose time, either."
"You can go, Richard," answered Captain Putnam. "But be careful and keep out of trouble."
"Can I take Tom and Sam with me?"
At this the master of Putnam Hall smiled broadly. "Always like to be together, eh? All right, I don't know but what it will be safer for the three of you to go together," he said; and Dick lost no time in telling his brothers. In a few minutes the trio set off for the Stanhope cottage, little dreaming of the long time that was to elapse before they should see Putnam Hall again.
DICK'S BRAVERY AND ITS REWARD
The three Rover boys reached the Stanhope cottage on a run, to find nobody in charge but a washwoman, who was hanging up some clothing in the back yard.
Explaining the situation so far as was necessary, they went inside and hunted up the note Mrs. Stanhope had mentioned.
"I believe that is Dan Baxter's writing," said Dick slowly.
"It is," came from Sam. "I know it from the flourishes on the capitals. He was always great on flourishes."
"We won't waste time here," went on Dick. "Let us go down to the old boathouse."
They were soon on the way, along a road lined with brush and scrubby cedars, the trees which in years gone by had given Cedarville its name.
At the old boathouse everything was quiet and not a soul was in sight. Walking to the end of the house float they gazed out on the lake.
"Not a boat anywhere," murmured Dick. "Now, what could have become of Dora, do you suppose?"
"It's ten to one that Baxter took her off in Mumps' boat!" cried Tom. "By jinks, I think I see through this. Don't you remember the plot Josiah Crabtree and Mumps were hatching? I'll wager they are all in this, to get Dora away from her mother."
"I believe Tom is right," came from Sam. "And if that is true, Dora was taken off on a boat beyond a doubt.'
"If she was it won't take very long to find her," returned Dick. "Let us go to Cedarville and see if anybody has seen the Falcon."
Dick had scarcely spoken when a small steam tug hove into sight, bound up the lake.
"There's a tug now!" exclaimed Tom. "Hi there! Hi!" he yelled. "Stop!"
The captain of the tug heard him and saw him waving his hand, and, slowing up, made a half circle toward shore.
"What's wanted, young man?" he asked. "Anything wrong?"
"Yes, a good deal is wrong," replied Tom. "Have you seen a yacht named the Falcon today?"
"No, but I saw her late yesterday afternoon," was the reply.
"No, further down the lake. I think she was bound for Cayuga."
"Did you notice who was on board?"
"You seem to be very particular about it."
"We are particular. A young lady has disappeared, and we think she was taken away on that yacht," explained Dick, as the steam tug came to a halt.
"Is that so? Yes, I did see a young lady on board of her. She called to our boat as we passed, but I thought it was only in fun."
"I guess she wanted you to help her," said Dick bitterly. Then he continued suddenly: "Have you anything to do just now?"
"No; I was going up to Ithaca to look for a tow."
"What will you charge to take us down to Cayuga?"
The captain of the tug thought for a moment. "Three dollars. It ought to be worth that to find the young lady."
"We'll go you," answered Dick promptly. "Swing in and we'll jump aboard."
Captain Lambert did as requested, and in a moment more the three Rover boys were on board of the Cedar Queen, as the craft was named. The captain proved to be a nice man and became thoroughly interested in the story the lads had to tell.
"I hope we spot the rascals," he said. "I'll certainly do all I can for you."
The Cedar Queen was a little craft and somewhat slow, and the boys fretted a good bit at the long time it took to reach Cayuga.
When they ran into the harbor of the town at the foot of the lake they looked in vain for the Falcon.
"We'll take a sail around," said Captain Lambert; and this they did, continuing the hunt until long after dark.
"It's no use!" groaned Dick. "We've missed her."
It took nearly all the money the boys could scrape up between them to pay off the captain of the tug, and when they had been landed at one of the docks they wondered what they had best do next.
"We've got to stay here over night," said Dick.
"We may as well telegraph to Captain Putnam for cash," and this they did, and put up at one of the hotels.
The place was crowded, for there was a circus in the town and a public auction of real estate had also taken place that day. The boys could get only a small room, but over this they did not complain. Their one thought was of Dora and of the rascals who had carried her off.
"We must get on the track somehow," said Dick. But how, was the question. He could not sleep and after the others had retired took a long walk, just to settle his nerves.
Dick's walk brought him to the lot where the circus had held forth, and for some time he watched the men as they worked under the flaring gasoline torches, packing up what still remained on the grounds. The tent men had to labor like slaves in rolling up the huge stretches of canvas and in hoisting the long poles into the wagons, and he shook his head grimly as he turned away.
"No circus life in mine," he mused, "at least, not that part of it."
Dick had moved away from the grounds but a short distance when his attention was attracted to the strange movements of two rough-looking individuals who were hurrying off with a third man between them.
"I don't want to go, I tell you," the middle man muttered; "I don't want more to drink."
"That's all right, Mr. Castor," said one of the other men glibly. "Just have one more glass, that's a good fellow."
"I won't take it, so there!" cried the man called Castor. "I know when I've had enough."
"You've got to come along with us," put in the third man savagely. "You owe us some money."
"I don't owe you a cent, Fusty."
"Yes, you do—and I'm bound to have it. Hold him, Mike, till I go through him."
Of a sudden there was a struggle, and the man called Castor found himself helpless, while the fellow called Fusty began to go through his pockets with great rapidity.
The scene alarmed Dick, and he wondered what he had best do. Then he made up his mind to go to Castor's assistance, and ran forward.
"Here, let that man alone!" he cried, as he picked up a fence picket which happened to lie handy. "Leave him alone, I say!"
"The Old Nick take the luck!" muttered one of the other men. "Who's this?"
"Help! Help!" cried Castor.
"Let him alone, I say!" repeated Dick, and then struck at one of the men and hit him on the arm.
Seeing himself thus re-enforced, Castor also struck out, and continued to call for help.
"We might as well give it up, Fusty!" cried one of the rascals, and took to his heels, and then there was nothing to do for the other man but to follow him.
"Are you hurt?" asked Dick as he helped the man who had been assaulted to his feet.
"Not much," was the slow reply. "Young man, you came in time and no more."
"Do you know those fellows who just ran away?"
"I met them at the circus this afternoon. We had several drinks and they became very friendly. I believe they were after my money."
"I think so too, Mr."
"My name is George Castor. And who are you?"
"I am Dick Rover, sir."
"Rover, I must thank you for your services. I shan't forget you, not me!" and George Castor held out his hand cordially. "I think I made a mistake by drinking with those fellows."
"I haven't any doubt of it, Mr. Castor."
"Do you reside in town?"
"No, sir; I am stopping at the hotel with my brothers. We just came into town tonight on rather a curious errand."
"Indeed, and what was that?"
In a few words Dick explained the situation. He had not yet finished when George Castor interrupted him.
"My boy, you have done me a good turn, and now I think I can return the compliment."
"Do you mean to say you know something of this case?" demanded Dick eagerly.
"Perhaps I do. Describe this Dan Baxter as well as you can, will you?"
"Certainly." And Dick did so.
"It is the same fellow. I met him last night, down near the lumber wharves. You see, I am a lumber merchant from Brooklyn, and I have an interest in a lumber company up here."
"You saw Baxter? Was he alone?"
"No, there was another man with him, a tall, slim fellow, with an unusually sour face."
"Josiah Crabtree to a T!" burst out Dick. "Did you notice where they went?"
"I did not. But I overheard their talk. They spoke about a boat on the Hudson River, the Flyaway. They were to join her at Albany."
"Who was to join her?"
"This Baxter, if it was he, and somebody else—a man called Muff, or something like that."
"Mumps! You struck them, sure enough! But did they say anything about the girl?"
"The tall man said that he would see to it that she was there—whatever he meant by that."
"I can't say any more than you, Mr. Castor. But I guess they are going to carry Dora Stanhope through to Albany from all appearances."
"Then perhaps you had better follow."
"I'd go at once if I had the money that I have telegraphed for. You see, my brothers and I came away in a hurry, for the Stanhopes are close friends of ours."
"Don't let the matter of money worry you. Do you know how much I have with me?
"I haven't the slightest idea, sir."
"Nearly eleven hundred dollars—and if those rascals had had the chance they would have robbed me of every dollar of it."
"I shouldn't think you would carry so much."
"I don't usually; but I was paid a large bill today, and went to the circus instead of the bank—not having seen such a show in years. But to come back to business. Will a hundred dollars see you through?"
"You mean to say you will loan me that much?"
"Perhaps I had better give it to you, as a reward for your services."
"I won't take it, for I don't want any reward. But I'll accept a loan, if you'll make it, and be very much obliged to you," continued Dick.
"All right, then, we'll call it a loan," concluded George Castor, and the transfer of the amount was made on the spot. Later on Dick insisted upon returning the money.
THE SEARCH FOR THE "FLYAWAY"
"Tom! Sam! Get up at once!"
"What's the row now, Dick?" came sleepily from Tom. "Have you discovered anything?"
"Yes! I've discovered a whole lot. Get up if you want to catch the next train."
"The next train for where?" demanded Tom, as he hopped out of bed.
"The next train for Albany."
"Have they taken Dora to Albany?" questioned Sam, as he too arose and began to don his garments.
"I think so," was the elder brother's reply, and while the pair dressed, Dick told of what had occurred and what he had heard.
"This is getting to be quite a chase," was Tom's remark. "But I reckon you are right, and we'll land on them in the capital."
"If we aren't too late," answered Dick.
"I'd like to know how they are going to take Dora to Albany if she doesn't want to go?" came from Tom, when they were dressed and on their way to the railroad station.
No one could answer this question. "Josiah Crabtree is a queer stick and can do lots of queer things," was what Dick said.
The train left at half past two in the morning, and they had not long to wait. Once on board, they proceeded to make themselves as comfortable as possible, each having a whole seat to himself, and Sam and Tom went to sleep without much trouble. But Dick was wide awake, wondering what would be the next move on reaching Albany.
"Poor Dora!" he murmured. "Oh, but that crowd shall be punished for this! If she comes to harm it will almost kill Mrs. Stanhope." And his heart sank like a lump of lead as he thought of his dearest friend in the power of her unscrupulous enemies.
It was just getting daylight when the long train rolled into the spacious depot at the state capital. Only a few working people and newsboys were stirring. Tom and Sam pulled themselves together with long yawns.
"Sleeping in a seat doesn't come up to a bed, by any means," remarked Tom. "Which way now?"
"We'll go down to the river and look for the Flyaway," answered his elder brother.
"It will be like looking for a needle in a hay-stack," said Sam. "The boats are pretty thick here."
"That is true, but it is the best we can do," replied the elder Rover.
Once along the river front they began a careful inquiry concerning the boat of which they were in search.
"Not much progress," remarked Tom, after two hours had been spent in vain. "This climbing from one dock to the next is decidedly tiring."
"And I'm hungry," put in Sam. "I move we hunt up a restaurant." An eating place was not far away, and, entering, they ordered a morning meal of ham and eggs, rolls, and hot coffee.
While they were eating a man came in and sat down close by them. It was Martin Harris, the fellow who had come to their assistance after the collision between the Spray and the Falcon.
"Hullo, how are you?" he said heartily. "Still cruising around in your yacht?"
"No, we just got back to Albany," replied Dick. "We've been to school since we left you."
"I see. How do you like going back to your studies?"
"We liked it well enough," put in Tom. "But we left in a hurry!" he went on, thinking Martin Harris might give them some information. "Have you been out on the river yet this morning?"
"Yes; just came up from our place below to do a little trading."
"Did you see anything of a yacht called the Flyaway?"
"The Flyaway? What sort of a looking craft is she?"
"I can't tell you that."
"One boat there attracted my attention," said Martin Harris slowly. "I saw two boys and a girl on board of her."
"How was the girl dressed?" cried Dick.
"She had on a light-blue dress and a sailor hat."
"And the boys?"
"One was dressed in gray and the other in dark-blue or black."
"That was the boat! Where did she go?" ejaculated Dick, who remembered well how Mumps and Baxter had been attired, and the pretty dress and hat Dora was in the habit of wearing.
"She was bound straight down the river."
"We must follow her."
"That's the talk!" burst out Tom. "But how?"
"What do you want to follow the Flyaway for?" asked Martin Harris curiously.
"Those two boys are running away with that girl!"
"No, it isn't. One of the fellows—the fellow in dark clothing—is the chap who ran into us that day."
"Well, now, do you know I thought it looked like him," was Harris' comment. "And, come to think of it, that boat got as far away from me as she could."
"Do you think you would know her again? I mean the Flyaway—if we got anywhere near her?" asked Dick.
"I think I would, lad. She had a rather dirty mainsail and jib, and each had a new patch of white near the top. Then, too, her rig is a little different from what we have around here. Looked like a Southern boat."
"Have you your boat handy?"
"Yes, she's right at the end of this street. Do you want me to follow up that crowd?"
"Could your boat catch the Flyaway, do you think?"
"My boat, the Searchlight, is as good a yacht as there is anywhere around, if I do say it myself," answered Martin Harris promptly. "It you don't believe it, try her and see."
"We will try her," came promptly from Dick. "And the sooner you begin the chase the better it will suit me."
"All right; we'll start as soon as I've swallowed this coffee," answered the skipper of the Searchlight. "But, hold on, this may prove a long search."
"Do you want to make terms?"
"I wasn't thinking of that. I'll leave it to you as to what the job is worth, after we're done. I was thinking that I haven't any provender aboard my yacht, if we want to stay out any length of time."
"I'll fix that," answered Dick. "Come, Sam. You say the yacht is at the foot of the street?"
"We'll be there in less than five minutes."
"Where are you going—to buy provisions?"
Dick made off, followed not only by Sam, but likewise by Tom. He found a large grocery close at hand, and here purchased some coffee, sugar, canned meat and fish, a small quantity of vegetables, and also several loaves of bread and some salt. To this Tom added a box of crackers and Sam some cake and fruit, and with their arms loaded down they hurried to the Searchlight.
Martin Harris was on hand, and ready to cast off. "Hullo, you did lay in some things?" he grinned. "I reckon you calculate this chase to last some time."
"We've got enough for several days, anyway—that is, all but—water," returned Dick.
"I've got a whole barrel full of that forward, lad."
"Then we are ready to leave. I hope, though, we run the Flyaway down before noon," concluded the elder Rover, as he hopped on board.
Leaving Sam to stow away the stores as he saw fit, Dick and Tom sprang in to assist Martin Harris, and soon the mainsail and jib were set, and they turned away from the dock and began the journey down the Hudson. As soon as they were clear of the other boats, the skipper set his topsail and flying jib, and they bowled along at a merry gait, the wind being very nearly in their favor and neither too strong nor too slack.
"Now I'd like to hear the particulars of this case," remarked Martin Harris, as he proceeded to make himself comfortable at the tiller. "You see, I want to know just what I am doing. I don't want to get into any trouble with the law."
"You won't get into any trouble. Nobody has a right to run off with a girl against her will," replied Dick.
"That's true. But why are they running off with her?"
"I think they have been hired to do it by a man who wants to marry the girl's mother," went on Dick, and related the particulars of what had occurred.
Martin Harris was deeply interested. "I reckon you have the best end of it," he said, when the youth had finished. "And you say this Dan Baxter is a son of the rascal who is suspected of robbing Rush & Wilder?"
"Evidently a hard crowd."
"You are right—and they ought all of them to be in prison," observed Tom. "By the way, have they heard anything of those robbers?"
"The detectives are following up one or two clues. One report was that this Baxter and Girk had gone to some place on Staten Island. But I don't think they know for certain."
IN WHICH DORA IS CARRIED OFF
Perhaps it will be as well to go back a bit and learn how poor Dora was enticed into leaving home so unexpectedly, to the sorrow of her mother and the anxiety of Dick and her other friends.
Dora was hard at work sweeping out the parlor of the Stanhope cottage when she saw from the window a boy walking up the garden path. The youth was a stranger to her and carried a letter in his hand.
"Is this Mrs. Stanhope's place?" he questioned, as Dora appeared.
"Here's a letter for Miss Dora Stanhope," and he held out the missive.
"Whom is it from?"
"I don't know. A boy down by the lake gave it to me," was the answer, and without further words the lad hurried off, having received instructions that he must not tarry around the place after the delivery of the communication.
Tearing open the letter Dora read it with deep interest.
"What can Dick have to tell me?" she mused. "Can it be something about Mr. Crabtree? It must be."
Dropping her work, she ran upstairs, changed her dress, put on her hat, and started for the boathouse.
It took her but a short while to reach the place, but to her surprise nobody was in sight.
"Can I have made some mistake?" she murmured; when the Falcon hove into view from around a bend in the shore line.
"Is that Miss Stanhope?" shouted a strange man, who seemed to be the sole occupant of the craft.
"Yes, I am Dora Stanhope," answered the girl.
"Dick Rover sent me over from the other side of the lake. He told me if I saw you to take you over to Nelson Point."
Nelson Point was a grove situated directly opposite Cedarville. It was a place much used by excursionists and picnic parties.
"Thank you," said Dora, never suspecting that anything was wrong. "If you'll come in a little closer I will go with you."
The Falcon was brought in, and Dora leaped on board of the yacht.
She had scarcely done so when Mumps and Dan Baxter stepped from the cabin.
"Oh, dear!" she gasped. "Where—where did you come from?"
"Didn't quite expect to see us here, did you?" grinned the former bully of Putnam Hall.
"I did not," answered Dora coldly. "What—where is Dick Rover?"
"Over to Nelson Point."
"Did he send you over here for me?"
"Of course he did," said Mumps.
"I do not believe it. This is some trick!" burst out the girl. "I want you to put me on shore again."
"You can't go ashore now," answered Baxter.
"Ease her off, Goss."
"Right you are," answered Bill Goss. "What's the course now?"
"Straight down the lake."
"You are not going to take me down the lake!" cried Dora in increased alarm.
"Yes, we are."
"I—I won't go!"
"I don't see how you are to help yourself," responded Baxter roughly.
"Dan Baxter, you are a brute!"
"If you can't say anything better than that, you had better say nothing!" muttered Baxter.
"I will say what I please. You have no right to carry me off in this fashion!"
"Well, I took the right."
"You shall be locked up for it."
"You'll have to place me in the law's hands first."
"I don't believe Dick Rover sent that letter at all!"
"You can believe what you please."
"You forged his name to it."
"Let us talk about something else."
"You are as bad as your father, and that is saying a good deal," went on the poor girl bitterly.
"See here, don't you dare to speak of my father!" roared the bully in high anger. "My father is as good as anybody. This is only a plot against him—gotten up by the Rovers and his other enemies."
Dan Baxter's manner was so terrible that Dora sank back on a camp stool nearly overcome. Then, seeing some men at a distance, on the shore, she set up a scream for help.
"Here, none of that!" ejaculated Mumps, and clapped his hand over her mouth.
"Let me go!" she screamed. "Help! Help!"
"We'll put her in the cabin," ordered Dan Baxter, and also caught hold of Dora. She struggled with all the strength at her command, but was as a baby in their grasp, and soon found herself in the cabin with the door closed and locked behind her.
It was then that her nerves gave way, and, throwing herself on a couch, she burst into tears.
"What will they do with me?" she moaned. "Oh, that I was home again!"
It was a long while before she could compose herself sufficiently to sit up. In the meantime the Falcon was sailing down the lake toward Cayuga with all speed.
"This must be some plan of Josiah Crabtree to get me away from home," she thought. "Poor mother! I wonder what will happen to her while I am away? If that man gets her to marry him what will I do? I can never live with them—never!" And she heaved a deep sigh.
Presently she arose and walked to the single window of which the cabin boasted. It was open, but several little iron bars had been screwed fast on the outside.
"They have me like a bird in a cage," she thought. "Where will this dreadful adventure end?"
Hour after hour went by and she was not molested. Then came a knock on the cabin door.
"Dora! Dora Stanhope!" came in Dan Baxter's voice.
"Will you behave yourself if I unlock the door?"
"It is you who ought to behave yourself," she retorted.
"Never mind about that. I have something for you to eat."
"I don't want a mouthful." And Dora spoke the truth, for the food would have choked her.
"You had better have a sandwich and a glass of milk."
"If you want to do something, give me a glass of water," she said finally, for she wished a drink badly, the cabin was so hot and stuffy.
Baxter went away, and presently unlocked the door and handed her the water, of which she drank eagerly.
"Where are you going to take me?" she questioned, as she passed back the glass.
"You'll learn that all in good time, Dora. Come, why not take the whole matter easy?" went on the bully, as he dropped into a seat near her.
"How can I take it easy?"
"We won't hurt you—I'll give you my word on that."
She was about to say that his word was not worth giving, but restrained herself. If she angered Baxter, there was no telling what the fellow might do.
"Is this a plot of Josiah Crabtree's?" she asked sharply.
Baxter started. "How did you—" he began, and stopped short. "You had better not ask any questions."
"Which means that you will not answer any?"
"You can take it that way if you want to, Dora."
"It was a mean trick you played on me."
"Let's talk of something else. We are going to leave the Falcon soon, and I want to know if you are going with us quietly?"
"Leave the Falcon?"
"Yes, at Cayuga."
"Are we there already?" gasped Dora in dismay.
"We soon will be."
"I don't wish to go with you."
"But we want you to go. If you go quietly all will be well—and I'll promise to see you safe home in less than twenty-four hours."
"You wish to keep me away from home that length of time?"
"If you must know, yes."
"And why? So Josiah Crabtree can—can—" She did not finish.
"So that Mr. Crabtree can interview your mother—yes," put in Mumps, who had just appeared. "Baxter, there's no use in beating around the bush. Crabtree is bound to marry Mrs. Stanhope, and Dora may as well know it now as later."
STILL IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY
"That man will never marry my mother with my consent!" burst out the unhappy girl.
"She probably won't ask your consent," sneered Mumps.
"She would not marry him if I was with her. He only has an influence over her when I am away."
"Exactly—and he knows that," put in Baxter.
"Do you mean to say Josiah Crabtree is going to marry her now?" demanded Dora, springing to her feet.
"More than likely."
"Then he—he hired you to carry me off?"
"We'll talk about something else," said the bully. "Will you leave the Falcon quietly?"
"Where do you want me to go?"
"To the home of an old lady who will treat you as nicely as she possibly can."
Dora shook her head. "I don't wish to go anywhere excepting home, and I won't submit a bit longer than I have to."
"Don't be foolish!" exclaimed Mumps. "We might treat you a good deal worse if we were of a mind to do so. Crabtree told us to bind and gag you."
"Yes. He says you are a perfect minx."
A few words more followed, and then both of the boys left the cabin.
"She won't submit," whispered Mumps.
"What had we best do?"
"Use the drug Crabtree gave us," answered Baxter. "It's a lucky thing I brought that vial."
"Yes—if we don't have any trip-up in the matter," answered the toady, with a doubtful shake of his head. Mumps had gone into the whole scheme rather unwillingly, but now saw no way of backing out.
A little later the Falcon ran into the harbor of Cayuga and came to anchor close to one of the docks. Then Baxter appeared with some sandwiches and a glass of milk.
"You might as well eat; it's foolish not to," he said, and set the food on a little stand.
By this time Dora was very hungry, and as soon as the bully had left she applied herself to what had been brought. Poor creature, she did not know that both sandwiches and milk had been doctored with a drug calculated to make her dull and sleepy!
She had hardly finished the scant meal when her eyes began to grow heavy. Then her brain seemed to become clouded and she could scarcely remember where she was.
"Here's news!" cried Baxter, coming in an hour later. "We are to join your mother and Mr. Crabtree at Albany."
"At Albany?" she repeated slowly. "Have—have they gone there?"
"Yes; they are going on a honeymoon on the yacht Flyaway. Your mother wants you to join her and forgive her."
Dora heaved a long sigh. "I cannot! I cannot!" she sobbed, and burst again into tears.
Nevertheless, she allowed herself to be led off the Falcon and to the depot. "Your face is full of tears," said Baxter. "Here, put this veil over it," and she was glad enough to do as bidden, that folks might not stare at her.
What happened afterward was very much like a dream to her. She remembered entering the cars and crouching down in a seat, with Baxter beside her. A long ride in the night followed, and she slept part of the way, although troubled with a horrible nightmare. She wanted to flee, but seemed to lack both the physical and mental strength to do so.
The ride at an end, Baxter and Mumps almost carried her to the river. Here the Flyaway was in waiting. Bill Goss had gone on ahead and notified his wife that she was wanted. It may as well be added here that Mrs. Goss was as coarse and unprincipled as her husband.
When Dora's mind was once more clear she found herself in a much larger cabin than that she had formerly occupied. She lay on a couch, and Mrs. Goss, a fat, ugly-looking creature, sat beside her.
"Are you awake, dear?" asked the woman as smoothly as she could.
"Who—who are you?" asked Dora feebly.
"I am Mrs. Goss."
"I don't know you. Where—where is my mother—and Mr. Crabtree?"
"You'll have to ask Mr. Baxter or Mr. Fenwick about that."
"Do you belong on this boat?"
"I do, when I go out with my husband."
"Was he the man who was with those boys?"
"Where are we now?"
"On the Hudson River, just below Albany."
"Where are they going to take me next?"
"You had better ask Mr. Baxter. I was only brought on board to wait on you."
"Then that means that they wish to take me quite a distance!" cried Dora, and ran on deck.
Mumps and Baxter were talking earnestly together near the bow. At once she ran to them.
"Where is my mother?"
"You'll see her soon," answered the former bully of Putnam Hall.
"It was another trick of yours!" burst out Dora. "And I think you gave me something last night to make me sleepy."
"What if we did?" came from Mumps.
"You are all right now."
"I do not want to go another step with you." Dora looked around and saw a strange boat passing. "Help! help!" she screamed.
At once there was another row, in which not only the boys, but also Bill Goss and his wife, took a hand. In the end poor Dora was marched to the cabin and put under lock and key.
If the girl had been disheartened before, she was now absolutely downcast.
"They have me utterly in their power!" she moaned over and over again. "Heaven alone knows where they will take me!" And then she sank down on her knees and prayed that God might see her safely through her perils.
Her prayer seemed to calm her, and she felt that there was at least one Power that would never desert her.
"Poor, poor mamma, how I wish I knew what was happening to her!" she murmured.
Slowly the hours went by. Mrs. Goss came and went, and Dora was even allowed to go on deck whenever no other boat was close at hand. Thus Martin Harris saw her; but, as we know, that meeting amounted to nothing.
It was Mrs. Goss who served the meals, and as Dora could not starve, she was compelled to eat what was set before her, the fare being anything but elaborate.
"Sorry, but we haven't got a hotel chef on board," observed Dan Baxter, as he came in during the supper hour. "But I'll try to get something better on board at New York."
"Do you mean to say you intend to take me away down to that city?" queried Dora.
"Humph! we are going further than that."
"And to where?"
"Wait and see."
"Are you afraid to tell me?"
"I don't think it would be a wise thing to do."
"We are just going to take a short ocean trip—" began Mumps, when Baxter stopped him.
"Don't talk so much—you'll spoil everything," remarked the bully.
"An ocean trip!" burst out Dora. "No! No! I do not wish to go on the ocean."
"As I said before, I think you'll go where the yacht goes."
"Does my mother know anything of this?"
"She knows you are away," grinned Mumps.
"You need not tell me that!" exclaimed Dora. "You are a mean, mean boy, so there!" And she turned on her heel and walked off.
She wished she had learned how to swim. They were running quite close to shore, and she felt that a good swimmer could gain land without much effort. Then a man came out from shore in a large flatboat.
"Help! Help!" she cried. "Save me, and I will reward you well! They are carrying me away from home!"
"What's that?" called out the man, and Dora repeated her words before any of the others could stop her.
"All right, I'll do what I can for you," said the man, and running up beside the yacht, which had become caught in a sudden calm, he made fast with a boathook.
DORA TRIES TO ESCAPE
"Now we're in a pickle!" whispered Mumps. "That man may cause us a whole lot of trouble."
"You let me do the talking," answered Dan Baxter. "Help Goss get her back to the cabin."
"I won't go back!" screamed Dora. "Let me be!" And she ran for the rail.
But Mumps caught hold of her and dragged her back. Then Bill Goss approached, followed by his wife.
"You must go below, miss," said the sailor.
"Come, Nancy, give us a lift."
Poor Dora found herself at once surrounded and shoved back. She tried to call out again, but Mumps checked her with that ever-ready hand of his.
"Be careful!" shouted Baxter, for the benefit of the man on the flatboat. "Treat her with care, poor girl."
"All right," grinned Mumps. "Come, down you go," he went on, to Dora, and literally forced her down the companionway.
Once in the cabin she was left in Mrs. Goss' care. The door was locked, and Goss and Mumps went on deck to learn what Baxter was doing.
"What does this mean?" asked the man in the flatboat. He was a farmer, who had just been taking a load of hay across the stream.
"Oh, it's all right," answered Baxter carelessly. "That's my sister."
"What's the row?"
"No row at all—excepting that I am trying to get her back to the asylum."
"Is she crazy?"
"A little bit; but not near as bad as she used to be. She got out of the asylum in Brooklyn yesterday, and I've had my hands full trying to get her back. She imagines she is a sea captain and always runs off with my uncle's yacht."
"I see. That's putty bad for your family."
"Oh, yes; but we are getting used to it. Take care, we are going to swing around."
Never suspecting that he had been regaled with a string of falsehoods, the farmer let go with his boathook, and yacht and flatboat speedily drifted apart.
It was with a big sigh of relief that Dan Baxter saw the flatboat recede in the distance.
"That was a narrow shave," he muttered. "If that fellow had insisted on talking to Dora there would have been a whole lot of trouble."
In vain Dora waited for the man to come on board. He had said that he would do what he could for her. Surely he would not desert her!
But as the time slipped by her heart failed her and she gave herself up to another crying spell. This caused Mumps and Goss to withdraw, and she was left alone again with Mrs. Goss.
"Where are we now?" she asked at length.
"We are approaching New York," was the answer.
"And that man, what of him?"
"Oh, he didn't come an board."
It was night when the Flyaway came to a landing near the upper portion of the metropolis. The boys and Bill Goss went ashore, leaving Dora in Mrs. Goss' care.
"Be careful and don't let her escape," cautioned Dan Baxter. "We won't be gone very long."
Baxter had left for a telegraph office, expecting to receive a message from Josiah Crabtree.
For half an hour Mrs. Goss sat in the cabin watching Dora, who was pacing the floor impatiently.
"Make yourself comfortable, miss," said the woman. "It won't do you any good to get all worked up over the matter."
"You do not understand my situation, Mrs. Goss," faltered Dora. "If you did understand, I am sure you wouldn't keep me a prisoner in this fashion."
"I am only obeying orders, miss. If I didn't my Bill would almost kill me."
"Is he so harsh to you?"
"He is now. But he didn't used to be—when he didn't drink."
"Then he drinks now?"
"Yes; twice over what is good for him."
"Where have they gone?"
"To a telegraph office."
"Didn't they say they would be back soon?"
Dora said no more, but sank down on the couch. Then an idea came to her mind, and lying back she closed her eyes and pretended to go to sleep.
The woman watched her closely for a while; then, satisfied that the girl had really dropped off, gave a long sigh of relief.
"I guess I can get a little sleep myself," she muttered. "I think I deserve it."
She locked the cabin door carefully and placed the key in her pocket. Then she stretched out in an easy chair with her feet on a low stool.
Dora watched her out of the corner of her eye as a cat watches a mouse.
Was the woman really sleeping?
Soon Mrs. Goss' breathing became loud and irregular.
"She must be asleep," thought Dora, and stirred slightly.
Mrs. Goss took no notice of this, and with her heart in her throat the girl slipped noiselessly from her resting place and stood up.
Still the woman took no notice, and now Dora found herself confronted by a most difficult task.
Without the key to the cabin door she could do nothing, and how to obtain the much coveted article was a problem.
With trembling hands she sought the pocket of Mrs. Goss' dress only to find that the woman was sitting on the key!
"Oh, dear, this is the worst yet!" she murmured.
As she stood in the middle of the cabin in perplexity, her captor gave a long sigh and turned partly over in her chair.
The pocket was now free and within easy reach, and with deft fingers Dora drew the key forth and tiptoed her way to the cabin door.
She was so agitated that she could hardly place the key in the keyhole.
The lock had been used but seldom, and the action of the salt air had rusted it greatly.
As the key turned there was a grating sound, which caused Mrs. Goss to awaken with a start.
"What's the matter? Who is there?" she cried, and turned around to face the cabin door.
"Come back here! Come back!"
She started after Dora, who now had the cabin door wide open. Away went girl and woman up the low stairs. But Dora was the more agile of the two, and terror lent speed to her limbs.
On the deck, however, she came to a pause. The Flyaway was a good six feet from the dock, and between lay a stretch of dark, murky water the sight of which made her shiver. What if she should fall in? She felt that she would surely be drowned.
But as Mrs. Goss came closer her terror increased. She felt that if she was caught she would be treated more harshly than ever for having attempted to run away.
"I'll take the chances!" she though, and leaped as best she could. Her feet struck the very edge of the string piece beyond and for an instant it looked as if she must go over. But she clutched at a handy rail and quickly drew herself to a place of safety.
And yet safety was but temporary, for Mrs. Goss followed her in her leap and struck the dock directly behind her.
"Come back, you minx!" she cried, and caught Dora by the skirt.
"I won't come back! Let me be!" screamed the girl, and tore herself loose, ripping her garment at the same time. Then she started up the dock as swiftly as her trembling limbs would carry her.
But fate was against her, for as she gained the very head of the dock, Bill Goss appeared, followed by Baxter and Mumps.
"Hullo, who's this?" cried the sailor. "The gal, sure as you are born!"
"She is running away!" called out Mrs. Goss. "Stop her!"
"Here, this will never do," roared Dan Baxter. "Come here, Dora Stanhope!" and he made a clutch at her.
Soon the two boys were in pursuit, with the sailor close behind. Fortunately for the evildoers the spot was practically deserted, so that Dora could summon no assistance, even though she began to call for help at the top of her lungs.
The girl had covered less than a half-block when Baxter ranged up alongside of her.
"This won't work!" he said roughly. "Come back," and he held her tight.
"Let me go!" she screamed. "Help! Help!"
"Close her mouth!" put in Mumps. "If this keeps on we'll have the police down on us in no time!"
Again his hand was placed over Dora's mouth, while Baxter caught her from behind. Then Goss came up.
"We'll have to carry her," said the former bully of Putnam Hall. "Take her by the feet."
"Wot's the meanin' o' this?" cried a voice out of the darkness, and the crowd found themselves confronted by a dirty-looking tramp who had been sleeping behind a pile of empty hogsheads.
"Help me!" cried Dora. "Bring the police! Tell them I am Dora Stanhope of Cedarville, and that I—"
She could get no further, for Mumps cut her short.
"Dora Stanhope," repeated the tramp.
"If you forget this, my man," said Baxter, "here's half a dollar for you. This lady is my cousin who is crazy. She just escaped from an asylum."
"T'anks!" came from the tramp, and he pocketed the money in a hurry. Then he ran off in the darkness.
"He's going to tell the police anyway!" cried Goss. "You had better get away from here."
"You are right," responded Mumps. "Hurry up; I don't want to be arrested."
As quickly as it could be done they carried Dora aboard of the yacht and bundled her into the cabin.
"Now keep her there!" cried Baxter to Mrs. Goss. "After we are off you can explain how she got away."
"She hit me with a stick and knocked me down," said the woman glibly. "She shan't get away a second time."
Once again poor Dora found herself a prisoner on board of the Flyaway. Then the lines were cast off, the sails set, and they stood off in the darkness, down New York Bay and straight for the ocean beyond.
A LONG CHASE BEGUN
As they journeyed down the Hudson the boys and Martin Harris scanned the river eagerly for some sign of the Flyaway.
"It's ten to one she put down a pretty good distance," remarked Dick. "They wouldn't bring Dora over here unless they were bound for New York or some other place as far or further."
"I believe you," said Tom. "But she may be delayed, and if what Harris says is true the Searchlight ought to make better time than Baxter's craft."
Several miles were covered, when, Sam, who had just come up from the cabin, called attention to a farmer who was ferrying a load of hay across the river.
"If he's been at that sort of work all day he may know something of the Flyaway," he suggested.
"We'll hail him, anyway," said Tom. "It won't do any harm, providing we don't lose any time."
So the farmer was hailed and asked if he had seen anything of the craft.
"Waal now, I jest guess I did," he replied. "They war havin' great times on board of her—a takin' care of that crazy gal."
"A crazy girl!" cried Dick. "Who said she was crazy?"
"One of the young men. He said she was his sister and had escaped from some asylum. She called to me to help her. But I don't want nuthin' to do with crazy gals. My wife's cousin was out of his head and he cut up high jinks around the house, a-threatenin' folks with a butcher knife."
"That girl was not crazy, though, as it happens," said Dick coldly. "That villain was carrying her away from home against her will. She was no relation to him."
"By gosh!" The farmer's face fell and he stared at the youth blankly. "You are certain of this?"
"Yes. We are after the crowd now. If we catch them we'll put them in prison, just as sure as you are the greatest greeny we ever met," continued Dick, and motioned to Harris to continue the journey.
The farmer wanted to "talk back," as the saying is, but could find no words. "Well, maybe I deserved it," he muttered to himself. "I was tuk in, no doubt on't." And he continued to ferry his hay load along.
"Well, we are on the right track, that's one satisfaction," said Tom. "That farmer couldn't have done much against a man and two big boys."
"He could have gone ashore and got help," replied Dick. "But he was so green he took in all that was told to him for simple truth. How Dan Baxter must have laughed over the way his ruse worked!"
"Yes, and Mumps too," added Sam. "Say, we ought to punch their heads well for them when we catch them."
"Let us get our eggs before we cook them," said Tom. "By the way, I'm getting hungry."
"Ditto," came from Harris. "Will you boys see what you can offer? I don't like to leave the tiller, for I know just how to get the best speed out of the Searchlight."
"I'll get up some kind of a meal," said Sam, who had played cook on many previous occasions.
Inside of half an hour he had the table set and Harris was called down, Dick taking his place. By the time all hands had been served they were in sight of upper New York City.
"Now we had better take in some sail," said the old sailor. "The yachts are pretty thick around here and we will miss the Flyaway without half trying unless we are careful."
By the time it was dark they were pretty well down the water front of the metropolis. A consultation was held, and it was decided to lower the mainsail and topsail and leave only the jib flying.
"We can't go much further tonight, anyway," said Harris. "I don't know but what it may be as well to tie up somewhere."
"We'll have to do that unless we can catch some sort of clue," responded Dick gloomily. "If they have taken her to some place in New York we'll have a big job to find her."
A half-hour passed, and they were on the point of turning in at a dock when Tom gave a cry. "Look! Look!"
"What's up, Tom!" came from Dick and Sam simultaneously.
"Is that the Flyaway?"
All gave a look and saw a large yacht moving away from a dock just below where they had thought to stop.
"Call Harris!" cried Dick, and Sam ran to the cabin for the sailor, who had just gone below.
"I reckon that's our boat," said Martin Harris, after a quick look.
"Hark!" cried Dick, and held up his hand. "That's Dan Baxter's voice, just as sure as fate."
"I believe you," returned Sam. "Come, we can run her down in no time."
As quickly as it could be accomplished the course of the Searchlight was changed. But the tall buildings of the city cut off a good deal of wind, and it took several minutes before they could get their sails filled.
"Boat ahoy!" shouted Tom, before Dick could stop him. "Is that the Flyaway?"
"That's Tom Rover!" came back, in Mumps' voice. "They have tracked us, after all!"
"Tom, what made you call?" demanded Dick in disgust. "We might have sneaked upon them unawares."
"Never mind, I reckon we can catch them any how," returned Tom, but he was crestfallen, nevertheless, as he realized the truth of his elder brother's observation. "Crowd on the sail, Harris."
"That's what I am a-doin'," came from the sailor. "We'll catch 'em before they gain the Battery."
"Yes, but we must be careful," said Dick. "We don't want to have a collision with some other boat."
"No, indeed," put in Sam. "Why, if one of those big ferryboats ran into us there would be nothing left of the Searchlight."
"You jest trust me," came from Martin Harris, "I know my business, and there won't be any accidents."
"The other yacht is making for the Jersey shore," cried Sam, a little later. "If we don't look out we'll lose her. There she goes behind a big ferryboat."
"She's going to try to bother us," grumbled Martin Harris, as he received a warning whistle from the ferryboat and threw the yacht over on the opposite tack. "The fellow who is sailing that boat knows his business."
"It's that Bill Goss, I suppose," said Tom. "There they go behind another ferryboat."
"It won't matter, so long as we keep her in sight," said Harris. "We are bound to run her down sooner or later."
Inside of half an hour the two boats had passed the Statue of Liberty. The course of the Flyaway was now straight down the bay, and the Rover boys began to wonder where Dan Baxter and his crowd might be bound.
"They must have Dora a close prisoner," mused Dick, with a sad shake of his head. "That is if they didn't leave her in New York," he added suddenly.
"Do you suppose they did that?" asked Sam.
"Perhaps—there is no guessing what they did."
"We missed it by not telegraphing back to the authorities at Cedarville to arrest Josiah Crabtree," said Tom. "I think we can prove that he is in this game before the curtain falls on the last act."
"We'll telegraph when we get back," answered Dick, never thinking of all that was to happen ere they should see the metropolis again.
Gradually the lights of the city faded from view and they found themselves traveling down the bay at a rate of five to six knots an hour.
"We don't seem to be gaining," remarked 'Tom, after a long silence. "I can just about make her out and that's all."
"But we are gaining, and you'll find it so pretty soon," answered Martin Harris. "They had the advantage in dodging among those other boats, but now we've got a clear stretch before us."
On and on went the two yachts, until the Flyaway was not over five hundred feet ahead of the Searchlight.
"What did I tell you?" said Harris. "We'll overtake her in less than quarter of an hour."
"This is a regular yacht race," smiled Dick grimly. "But it's for more than the American Cup."
"Keep off!" came suddenly from ahead. "Keep off, or it will be the worse for you!"
It was Dan Baxter who was shouting at them. The former bully of Putnam Hall stood at the stern rail of the Flyaway and was using his hands like a trumpet.
"You had better give up the race, Baxter!" called Dick in return. "You can't get away from us, no matter how hard you try."
"Keep off," repeated Baxter. "We won't stand any nonsense."
"We are not here for nonsense," put in Tom. "What have you done with Dora Stanhope?"
"Don't know anything about Dora Stanhope," came back from Mumps.
"You have her on board of your boat."
"It's a falsehood."
"Then you left her somewhere in New York."
"We haven't seen her at all," put in Baxter. "If you are looking for her you are on the wrong trail. She went away with Josiah Crabtree."
"Did he take her to Albany?"
"No. They went West."
"We do not believe you, Baxter," said Dick warmly. "You are one of the greatest rascals I ever met—not counting your father—and the best thing you can do is to surrender. If you don't you'll have to take the consequences."
"And we warn you to keep off. If you don't we'll shoot at you," was the somewhat surprising response.
"No, no; please don't shoot at them!" came in Dora's voice. "I beg of you not to shoot!"
She had escaped from Mrs. Goss' custody and now ranged up alongside of Dan Baxter and her other enemies who were handling the Flyaway. Her hair was flying wildly over her shoulders and she trembled so she could scarcely stand.
THE MEETING IN THE BAY
"There is Dora now!" cried Dick, and his heart leaped into his throat at the sight of his dearest friend.
"Dick Rover, are you there?" came from the girl in nervous tones.
"Yes, Dora, I am here, with my brothers and a sailor friend."
"Save me, please!"
"We will!" came from all of the Rover boys in concert.
"Take her below!" roared Baxter angrily, as he turned to Mrs. Goss, who had followed Dora to the dock. "Didn't I tell you to keep a close eye on her?"
"She said she wished to speak to you," answered the woman. "I thought she wanted to make terms with you."
Mrs. Goss caught Dora by the wrist and, assisted by Mumps, carried her below. She struggled and tried to fight them off, and her cries, reaching Dick, made the youth long to be at her side.
"Let her alone, Baxter!" he cried hotly. "If you harm her you shall pay dearly for it, remember that!"
"Talk is cheap, Dick Rover," came back with a sneer. "Now keep off, or I'll do as I threatened."
"You won't dare to fire on us."
"Won't I? Just come a little closer and you'll see."
By this time the two yachts were not over a hundred feet apart, the Searchlight to the starboard of her rival. So, far the countless stars had brightened up the bosom of the ocean, but now Martin Harris noted a dark mass of clouds rolling up from the westward.
"We'll have it pretty dark in a few minutes," he cautioned. "If you want to haul up close, better do it at once."
"All right, run them down," ordered Dick, half recklessly. "I don't care how much their boat is damaged, so long as I save the girl. Mumps ran me down, remember."
"I reckon I can sheer 'em all right enough," grinned Harris, who by this time had entered fully into the spirit of the adventure. "But will they shoot?"
"I don't believe they have any firearms," said Tom. "And if they have I don't think Baxter could hit the side of a house at fifty yards."
"Are you going to keep off or not?" yelled Baxter. "I'll give you just ten seconds in which to make up your mind."
"By jinks! He has got a gun!" whispered Sam, as he caught a glint of the polished barrel. "The villain!"
"Baxter, you are playing a foolish game," answered Dick. "What do you intend to do with Dora Stanhope?"
"That's my business. I shan't harm her—if you'll promise to leave me alone."
"Did you run off with her on Crabtree's account?"
"It's none of your business," put in Mumps, who had just returned to the deck, after making sure that Dora should not get away from Mrs. Goss again for the time being.
"It is my business."
"You're awfully sweet on her, ain't you?"
"Do you know it's a State's prison offense to abduct anybody?"
"I haven't abducted anybody. She came of her own free will—at first. It's not my fault if she's sick of her bargain now."
"I don't believe a word you say."
"Do as you please. But are you going to keep off or not?"
"We'll not keep off."
"Then I'll fire on you."
"If you do so, we'll fire in return," said Sam. "Maybe we can scare him too," he added, in a whisper.
"I don't believe you've got any weapon," came from Mumps, in a voice that the toady tried in vain to steady. If there was one thing Mumps was afraid of it was a gun or a pistol.
"Try us and see," said Tom. Then he raised his voice. "Harris, bring up that brace of pistols you said were in the locker."
"All right," answered the sailor, catching at the ruse at once; and he hurried below, to return with two shining barrels, made of the handles of a dipper and a tin pot. He held one of the tin barrels out at arm's length. "Shall I fire on 'em now?" he demanded at the top of his voice.
"Don't!" shrieked Mumps, and dropped out of sight behind the mainmast of the Flyaway.
The toady had scarcely uttered the word when a loud report rang out, and a pistol bullet cut its way through the mainsail of the Searchlight. Baxter had fired his gun, but had taken good care to point the weapon over the Rover boys' heads. The bully now ran for the cabin, expecting to receive a shot in return, but of course it did not come.
By this time the two yachts were almost side by side and running along at a high rate of speed. Harris got out his boathook to catch fast to the Flyaway, when a cry from Tom made him pause.
"Help me! Don't leave me behind!"
"Great Caesar!" gasped Sam. "Tom's overboard!"
"Down with the mainsail!" roared Harris.
"How did he fall over the side?"
"He tried to jump to the other boat," said Dick, who had seen the action. "I was just thinking of doing it myself."
With all possible speed the big sheet of the Searchlight was lowered, and then they turned as fast as the wind would permit, to the spot where unlucky Tom was bobbing up and down on the swells like a peanut shell.
"Catch the line!" cried Dick, and let fly with a life preserver attached to a fair-sized rope. His aim was a good one, and soon Tom was being hauled aboard again with all possible speed.
"Oh, what a mess I made of it!" he panted when he could catch his breath. "I'm not fit to hunt jack rabbits."
"It's lucky you weren't run down by the yacht and killed," said Dick. "I was going to jump, but when I saw you go down I thought better of it."
Ten minutes of precious time had been lost, and now the Flyaway was once more far in the distance. She was heading for shore, and soon the oncoming darkness hid her from view.
"Now what's to be done?" questioned Sam.
"She'll slip us sure."
"She can't go very far," answered Harris. "The water-line around here is rather dangerous in the dark."
"Is that a storm coming up?" asked Dick.
"I wouldn't be surprised."
With care they continued on their way, taking the course they surmised their enemies had pursued.
"There is some kind of land!" cried Sam, who was on the watch. "What place is that, Harris?"
"Becker's Cove, so they call it," answered the old tar. "It's not far from Staten Island."
"Do you think they came in here?"
"If they did I reckon they calculate to stay over night."
"Because they'll want a pilot otherwise. It's rather dangerous sailing about here—especially in the dark."
Five minutes later found them close to shore, and the sails were lowered and the anchor cast out.
"I'm going to land," said Dick, and, after a consultation, it was decided that he should take Sam with him, leaving Tom and Martin Harris to keep watch from the yacht. If either party discovered anything, a double whistle twice repeated was to notify the others.
Now that Dan Baxter had actually opened fire on them, Dick wished he had a firearm of some sort. But none was at hand, nor did he know where to obtain such a thing in that vicinity, and the best he and Sam could do was to cut themselves clubs out of some brush growing not far from the shore line.
The spot at which they had landed was by no means an inviting one. It looked like a bit of dumping and meadow ground, and not far away rested the remains of half a dozen partly decayed canal boats which the tide had washed up high in the bogs years before.
"If they landed around here I'd like to know where they went to," grumbled Sam, after he and his big brother had trudged around for half an hour without gaining any clue worth following. "It begins to look as if we had missed it, doesn't it?"
"Never give up, Sam. We have got to find them, you know."
"Yes, if we don't break our necks before that time comes, Dick," and as Sam spoke he went down into a meadow hole up to his knees. Dick helped him out, and as he did so the sound of two voices broke upon their ears.
"You needn't come if you don't want to, Mumps," came out of the darkness, in Dan Baxter's voice. "I only thought you would be glad of the chance."
"There they are," whispered Dick. "Lie down, and we'll see where they are bound, and if Dora is with them."
He threw himself to earth, and Sam followed. In another moment Baxter and his toady came into plain view, although still some distance away.
"I'll come," came from Mumps. "But I didn't expect to meet your father here."
"I did. He's been here for several days. That's the reason why I had Goss bring the Flyaway over. I'm going to kill two birds with one stone."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm going to carry Dora Stanhope off, just as old Crabtree wanted, and I'm going to give my father a lift."
"You mean that you are going to help him to escape from the authorities?"
"I didn't put it that way. He wants to keep out of sight."
"It amounts to the same thing, Dan."
"As you will. Will you come, or do you want to go back to the yacht?"
"I—er—I guess I'll come," faltered the toady. "But we must be careful."
"To be sure. I reckon I have as much at stake as you."
The two passed out of hearing, and Dick touched his brother on the arm.
"Did you hear that, Sam?" he asked excitedly.
"I did. What can it mean?"
"Mean? It means that Dan Baxter's father is in the neighborhood and Dan is going to call on his parent."
"I know that, but—"
"You are surprised that father and son are equally bad? I'm not; I thought it all along."
"What will you do?"
"Will you whistle for Tom and Martin Harris?"
"No; that might arouse suspicion. Let us follow them alone. When they return to their yacht we can tell the others," concluded Dick.
THE BAXTERS MAKE A NEW MOVE
As silently as possible Dick and Sam came after Baxter and his toady John Fenwick. The pair of evildoers left the stretch of meadow as fast as they could, and hurried up a narrow path leading to a half-tumbled-down brick factory.
At the corner of the dilapidated building they paused, and Dan Baxter emitted a long, low whistle. A silence of several seconds followed, and then a man appeared out of the darkness.
"Who's dat?" came the question.
"It's me, Girk—Dan Baxter," replied the former bully of Putnam Hall with small regard for the grammar that had been taught to him.
"Who's dat with you?"
"Mumps. He's all right."
"I don't know about dat. Yer father t'ought yer would come alone," growled the tramp thief.
"I've got a new movement on, Buddy. Take us to my father without delay."
"Is dat fellow to be trusted?"
"Yes, you can trust me," replied Mumps with considerable nervousness. His steps in the direction of wrong were beginning to frighten him.
At the start he had thought of nothing but to aid Josiah Crabtree in his suit with Mrs. Stanhope, and had calculated that after the marriage the running off with Dora would be overlooked. But here he was taking the girl miles from her home and associated with two men who had robbed a firm of bankers of many thousands of dollars. The outlook, consequently, worried him very much.
"All right, den," muttered Buddy Girk. "Follow me."
He disappeared within the ruined factory, and Baxter and Mumps went after him. Listening intently at a broken-out window, Dick and Sam heard them ascend to an upper floor.