"Stop, Flapp! I am bound to catch you sooner or later!" cried Sam.
"You come closer and I'll fix you!" growled the bully. "I'll hammer the life out of you!"
"You've got to spell able first," answered Sam.
The cemetery gained, Lew Flapp ran along one of the paths leading to the rear. Along this path were a number of good-sized sticks. He picked up one of these, and a few seconds later Sam did likewise.
Near the rear of the cemetery was a new receiving vault, which had just been donated to the cemetery association by the widow of a rich stockholder who had died the year before. The vault was of stone, with a heavy iron door that shut with a catch and a lock.
Making a turn that hid him from Sam's view for the moment, Lew Flapp espied the vault, standing with the door partly open.
"He won't look for me in there," reasoned the bully, and slipped into the place with all possible alacrity. Once inside, he crouched in a dark corner behind the door and waited.
Sam, making the turn at just the right instant, saw Flapp disappearing into the vault. Without stopping he ran forward and closed the iron door, allowing the heavy catch to slip into place.
"Now, Lew Flapp, I guess I've got you!" he called out, after he was certain the door was secure.
To this the bully made no answer, but it is more than likely his heart sank within him.
"Do you hear me, Flapp? You needn't pretend you are not in there, for I saw you go in."
Still Lew Flapp made no answer.
"Do you want me to go away and leave you locked in the vault?" continued Sam. "It would be a beautiful place in which to die of starvation."
"Let me out!" came from the bully, and now he got up and showed his face at the small grating near the top of the door. "Let me out, Rover, that's a good fellow."
"Then you don't want to die of starvation just yet?"
"You wouldn't dare to leave me here, you know you wouldn't!"
"Why not? Don't you deserve it, after the trick you played on Dick and Tom and me?"
"I tell you it's all a mistake. Let me out and I will explain everything," went on Flapp, who was now thoroughly alarmed.
"I'll let you out—after I have summoned the town constable."
"Don't have me locked up, I beg of you, Sam. Give me a chance," pleaded the bully.
"You don't deserve any chance. You tried to send me and my brothers to prison, and you have got to suffer for it."
"Then you won't let me out?"
"I'll pay you well for it."
"You haven't got money enough to pay me, Flapp, and you know it."
"If you have me locked up I'll say you helped me in that robbery."
"Ah, so you admit you did it," cried Sam, triumphantly.
"No, I admit nothing," growled the bully.
"Where are you going?"
"I am going after the cemetery keeper and the constable," answered Sam, and walked off without another word.
ATTACKED FROM BEHIND
Lew Flapp watched Sam's departure with much anxiety. As my old readers know, he was a coward at heart, and the thought of being put under arrest for the robbery of Aaron Fairchild's shop made him quake in every limb.
"I must get out of here, I really must," he told himself, over and over again.
He shook the door violently, but it refused to budge. Then he tried to reach the catch by putting his hand through the grating, but found it was out of his reach.
"It's a regular prison cell!" he groaned. "What a fool I was to come in here!"
He tried to reach the catch by using his stick, but that was also a failure.
"Wonder if I can't find a bit of wire, or something?" he mused, and struck a match he had in his pocket.
Now it chanced that the widow who had given the new vault to the cemetery association had a horror of allowing supposed dead folks to be buried alive. As a consequence she had had the vault furnished with an electric button which opened the door from the inside. It had been stipulated that a light should be placed close to the button, but as yet this was not in place.
By the light of the match Lew Flapp saw the button, and these words over it:
To Open the Door and Ring the Bell Push This Button.
"Good! that just suits me," he chuckled to himself, but immediately had something of a chill, thinking that the button might not yet be fixed to work.
With nervous fingers he pushed upon the object. There was a slight click, and he saw the big iron door of the vault spring ajar.
"The trick is done, and I am free!" he murmured, and sprang to the door. But here he paused again, to gaze through the grating. Sam was out of sight and not another soul could be seen. The coast was clear.
"Now good-bye to Oak Run," he muttered to himself. "I was a fool to come here in the first place, even to meet that Dan Baxter!"
In a moment more he was out of the vault and running to the rear of the cemetery as fast as his legs would carry him.
In the meantime Sam made his way as quickly as possible to a house situated at the front corner of the cemetery, where the keeper of the place resided.
A knock on the door brought the keeper's daughter. She knew Sam and smiled.
"What can I do for you, Sam?" she asked.
"Where is your father, Jennie?"
"He just went down to the village to buy a new spade."
"Oh, pshaw! that's too bad."
"What is the matter? I hope you're not going to have a funeral in your family."
"No funeral in this, Jennie. I met a thief in Oak Run and tried to have him arrested. He ran into the cemetery and hid in the new vault and I locked the door on him. Now I want your father or somebody else to help me take him to the lock-up."
"A thief! What did he steal?"
"Some jewelry. It's a long story. Do you know where I can find somebody else?"
"Jack Sooker is working over to the other end of the cemetery—cutting down an old tree. You might get him."
"I'll show you."
Jennie ran to get her hat. She was just putting it on when a bell began to ring in the hall of the cottage.
"Gracious me!" gasped the girl.
"What's the matter now?"
"That's the bell to the new vault."
"I don't understand."
"There is an electric button in the vault. When you push it, it unlocks the door and rings this bell. It was put there in case somebody was in the vault in a trance and came to life again."
"What!" ejaculated Sam. "Then that rascal must have pushed the button and opened the door from the inside."
"I'm off. He is not going to escape if I can help it." And so speaking, the youngest Rover dashed off the porch of the cottage and in the direction from whence he had come.
It did not take him long to reach the new vault and a glance through the open doorway showed him that his bird had flown.
"What a dunce I was not to think of that electric button!" he mused. "I knew Mrs. Singleton had stipulated it should be put in. She has a perfect horror of being buried alive."
Sam looked around in all directions, but could see nothing of Lew Flapp.
But not far away was a pile of loose dirt and in this he saw some fresh tracks, pointing to the rear of the cemetery.
"That's his course," he thought, and set off in that direction. He still carried the stick he had picked up and vowed that Lew Flapp should not get away so easily again.
The end of the cemetery bordered on the Swift River, a stream which has already figured in these stories of the Rover boys. It was a rocky, swift-flowing watercourse, and the bank at the end of the burying ground was fully ten feet high.
"Perhaps he crossed the river," thought the youngest Rover. "But he couldn't do that very well unless he had a boat and then he would run the risk of being dashed on the rocks."
The edge of the river reached, Sam looked around on all sides of him. Lew Flapp was still nowhere to be seen.
"I've missed him," thought Sam. "What next?"
As the youngest Rover stood meditating, a figure stole from behind some bushes which were close at hand. The figure was that of Lew Flapp, who had been on the point of turning back when he had seen Sam coming.
"He will raise an alarm as soon as he sees me," reasoned the bully. "Oh, if only I could get him out of my way!"
He gazed at the youngest Rover and when he saw how close to the water's edge Sam was standing, a sudden thought came into his mind. As silently as a wild beast stealing on its prey, he crept up to Sam.
"There! how do like that, Sam Rover!" he cried, triumphantly, and gave the youngest Rover a shove which sent him over the bank and into the rocky stream below.
Sam gave out one yell and then, with a loud splash, sank beneath the surface.
Lew Flapp gazed for a second in the direction, wondering when Sam would reappear. But then a new fear took possession of him and off he ran, this time harder than ever.
His course was along the river bank for a distance of a hundred yards, and then he came out on a road leading to a small place called Hacknack.
"To Hacknack!" he muttered, after reading a signboard. "That's the place I'm looking for. One mile, eh? Well, I had better lose no time in getting there."
The bully was a fair walker and now fear lent speed to his limbs, and in less than fifteen minutes he reached the hamlet named. He gazed around and presently located a small cottage standing near the edge of a sandpit.
"That must be the cottage," he told himself, and walking to it he rapped on the door four times in succession and then four times again.
There was a stir within and then an old woman, bent with age and with a wicked look in her sharp, yellowish eyes, came to answer his summons.
"Is this Mother Matterson's place?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm Mother Matterson," squeaked the old woman. "Who are you and what do you want?"
"My name is Lew Flapp. I'm looking for a fellow called Si Silvers," he added, for that was the name Dan Baxter had assumed for the time being.
"It's all right, old woman; tell him to come in," said a voice from inside the cottage, and Lew Flapp entered the house. Immediately the old woman closed the door after him and barred it.
FLAPP AND BAXTER PLOT MISCHIEF
The cottage which Mother Matterson occupied was a much dilapidated one of a story and a half, containing three rooms and a loft. Some of the windows were broken out and the chimney was sadly in need of repair.
Many were the rumors afloat concerning this old woman. Some said she was little short of being a witch, while others had it that she was in league with tramps who had stolen things for miles around. But so far, if guilty, she had escaped the penalty of the law.
"So you've come at last," went on the person in the cottage, as Lew Flapp came in, and a moment later Dan Baxter came into view. He was tall and lanky as of old, with a sour look on his face and several scars which made him particularly repulsive. "I had almost given you up."
"I've had my own troubles getting here," answered Flapp. "At first I couldn't locate Hacknack and then I had the misfortune to fall in with Sam Rover"
"Sam Rover! Is he on your track now?"
"I rather guess not," and the bully of Putnam Hall gave a short laugh. "He has gone swimming for his health."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll tell you," answered Lew Flapp, and in a rapid manner he related all that had occurred since he had met Sam in the Oak Run barber shop.
"Well, all I can say is, that you are a lucky dog," came from Dan Baxter, at the conclusion of the recital. "You can thank your stars that you are not at this moment in the Oak Run lock-up."
"I shouldn't have run any risk at all if it hadn't been for you," growled Flapp.
"Oh, don't come any such game on me, Flapp. I can read you like a book. You know you don't dare to go home—after that trip-up at White Corners. Your old man would just about kill you—and you'd be locked up in the bargain."
At these words Lew Flapp winced, for he knew that Dan Baxter spoke the truth. He was afraid to go home, and had come to Hacknack simply because he knew not where else to go and because Baxter had promised him some money. The amount he had realized on the sale of the stolen jewelry had been spent.
"See here, what's the use of talking that way?" he grumbled. "I didn't come here to get a lecture."
"I'm not lecturing you," came hastily from Dan Baxter. "I'm merely telling you things for your own good, Flapp. I want you to pull with me. I know we'll get along swimmingly."
"You said you'd let me have some money."
"And I'll keep my word."
"I need at least fifty dollars."
"You'll need more than that, Flapp. You've got to stay away from home until this matter blows over, or until your old man patches things up with that Aaron Fairchild and the White Corners authorities. I've got a plan, if you care to listen to it."
"Sure, I'll listen—if you'll only let me have that money."
"I'll let you have all you want—providing you'll agree to help me."
"Well, what is your plan? But first tell me, how about this woman?" And Flapp nodded his head toward Mother Matterson.
"Don't you worry about her," grinned Dan Baxter. "I've got her fixed. She won't squeal."
"Then go ahead."
"As I said before, the best thing you can do is to stay away from home until this unpleasantness blows over. Write to your father and tell him it is all a mistake, and that you are not guilty but that you can't prove it. Ask him to square the thing with Aaron Fairchild and the others, and tell him you are going on an ocean trip and won't be back until you know you are safe. Then you come with me, and we'll have a jolly good time, besides squaring up matters with the Rovers."
"Where are you going and how are you going to square matters with them?
"I've learned a thing or two since I came here. At first I was going to try to fix them while they were at home, but now I've learned that they are going away on a houseboat trip on the Ohio and the Mississippi. I propose to follow them and give them more than they want the first opportunity that presents itself."
"You are certain about this houseboat trip?"
"And who is going?"
"The three Rover boys and some of their school chums."
"Humph! I'd like to get square with the whole crowd!" muttered Lew Flapp. "I'd like to sink them in the middle of the Ohio River!"
"We'll square up, don't you worry," answered Dan Baxter. "I'm not forgetting all they've done against me in the past. If I had the chance I'd wring the neck of every one of them," he added, fiercely.
"I don't think it is safe to stay around here any longer," said Lew Flapp, after a pause. "Somebody may spot us both."
"I'm not going to stay any longer. We can get out on the night train. By the way, supposing Sam Rover doesn't get out of the river."
"What do you mean?" questioned Flapp, with a shiver, although he knew well enough.
"Maybe Sam Rover was drowned."
"Oh, don't say that!"
"Bah! Don't be chicken-hearted, Flapp."
"I—I—didn't mean to—to—kill him."
"I know you didn't. Just the same that is a dangerous river. The current is swift and it's full of rocks."
"You're making me feel very uncomfortable."
"Oh, don't worry. Those Rover boys are like cats—each has nine lives. Sam Rover will be hot-footed after you before you know it."
"Have you got that money with you, Baxter?"
"To be sure I have. I never travel without a wad."
"Then let me have some."
"You won't need it, if we are to travel together."
"We may become separated," urged Lew Flapp. He did not altogether trust his companion.
"Well, I reckon that's so, too. I'll let you have twenty-five dollars. When that's gone you can come to me for more. But remember one thing: you've got to help me to down the Rovers."
"I'll help you to do that. But—but—"
"We mustn't go too far."
"Oh, you leave that to me. You've heard how they treated my father, haven't you?"
"They say Dick Rover was kind to him."
"Bah! That's a fairy story."
"But your father says the same—so I have been told."
"The old man is out of his head—on account of that fire. When he gets clear-headed again he won't think Dick Rover—or any of the Rovers, for the matter of that—is his friend."
There was another pause.
"Where do you propose to go to?"
"Philadelphia, on a little business first, and then to Pittsburg, and to that place where they have their houseboat."
"And after that?"
"I'm going to be guided by circumstances. But you can rest assured of one thing, Flapp—I'll make those Rover boys wish they had never undertaken this trip."
Dan Baxter brought out a pocketbook well filled with bank bills and counted out five five-dollar bills.
"My, but you're rich!" cried the bully of Putnam Hall.
"Oh, I've got a good bit more than that," was the bragging answer. "I want you to know that once upon a time my father was as rich as the Rovers, and he would be as rich now if it wasn't that they cheated him out of his rights to a gold mine," went on Dan Baxter, bringing up something which has already been fully explained in "The Rover Boys Out West." The claim belonged to the Rovers, but the Baxters would never admit this.
"Did they really cheat him?" questioned Lew Flapp, with interest.
"They certainly did."
"Then why didn't you go to law about it with them?"
"They stole all the evidence, so we couldn't do a thing in law. Do you wonder that I am down on them?"
"No, I don't. If I were you, I'd try to get my rights back."
"I'm going to get them back some day," answered Dan Baxter. "And I am going to square up with all the Rovers, too, mind that!"
CHIPS AND THE CIRCUS BILLS
It is now time that we return to Sam and find out how he fared after being so unexpectedly hurled into the river by Lew Flapp.
The youngest Rover was taken so completely off his guard that he could, for the moment, do nothing to save himself. Down he went and his yell was cut short by the waters closing over his head.
He was dazed and bewildered and swallowed some of the water almost before he was aware. But then his common-sense returned to him and he struggled to rise to the surface.
As he neared the top, the current carried him against a sharp rock. Instead of clutching this, he hit the rock with his head. The blow almost stunned him, and down he went once more, around the rock and along the river a distance of fully a hundred feet ere he again appeared.
By this time he realized that he was having a battle for his life, and he clutched out wildly for the first thing that came to hand, It was a tree root and by its aid he pulled himself to the surface of the river and gazed around him.
He was under the bank, at a point where the current had washed away a large portion of the soil, exposing to view half of the roots of a tree standing above. To get out of the stream at that spot was an impossibility, and he let himself go once more, when he had regained his breath and felt able to take care of himself.
In a few minutes more Sam reached a point where to climb up the bank was easy, and he lost no time in leaving the river. Once on the bank he squeezed the water out of his garments. He had lost his cap, but spent no time in looking for the head covering.
"Oh, if only I had Lew Flapp here!" he muttered over and over again. But the bully had, as we already know, made good his escape, and Sam found it impossible to get on his track. Soaked to the skin he made his way back through the cemetery.
"Hullo, so you have fallen into the river!" sang out a man who saw him coming. It was Jack Sooker, the fellow mentioned by the cemetery keeper's daughter.
"No, I was pushed in," answered Sam, who knew Sooker fairly well.
"How did it happen, Sam?"
"I was after a rascal I wanted to have locked up. But he shoved me into the river and got away."
"You don't tell me! Where is he now?"
"I don't know."
"That's too bad. Do I know him?"
"No, he is a stranger around these parts."
"A young fellow?"
"Yes, about Dick's age."
"Can't say as I've seen him. What are you going to do about it?"
"I don't know yet. I've got to get some dry clothes first:"
Sam walked up to the cottage at the corner of the cemetery. Jennie, the keeper's daughter, saw him coming and gave a cry at his wet garments.
"Can I dry myself here?" he asked, after he had explained the situation.
"To be sure you can, Sam," she answered, and stirred up the fire in the kitchen stove. "If you wish I'll lend you a suit of my brother Zack's clothes—that is, if you are in a hurry."
"Thanks, I'll borrow the suit. I want to report this; and I'll send the suit back to-morrow."
"You needn't hurry. Zack isn't home just now, so he doesn't need the suit."
The clothes were found, and Sam slipped into a bedchamber of the cottage and made the change. Then, after thanking Jennie once more for her kindness, the youngest Rover set off for Oak Run as fast as he could.
A train was just coming into the depot and the first person to hop off was Fred Garrison.
"Hullo, I thought you'd meet me!" sang out Fred. "How are you?"
"Pretty well, considering," answered Sam, with a quiet smile. "But I've had a whole lot of happenings since I drove down to the depot."
"What's the matter, horse run away?"
"No, I met Lew Flapp."
"Nonsense! Why, what is he doing around here?"
"I give it up, Fred. But he was here and we have had a lively time of it," answered Sam, and told his story.
"Well, I'll be jiggered! What do you propose to do next?"
"I don't know what to do. I might get the village constable to hunt for him, but I don't think it will do any good."
"Why don't you tell your folks first?"
"Yes, I reckon that will be best. Jump in the carriage and I'll drive you over to our home."
Fred had but little to tell out of the ordinary. His folks had wanted him to go to the seashore for the summer, but he had preferred to take the houseboat trip with the Rovers.
"I am sure we shall have a dandy time," he said. "I was on a houseboat trip once, down in Florida, and it was simply great."
"What do you think about the Lanings and the Stanhopes going with us?"
"That will be nice. We certainly ought to have a bang-up time," answered Fred, enthusiastically.
Sam had driven over with the best horse the Rover stable afforded, a magnificent bay, which Anderson Rover had purchased in Albany at a special sale early in the spring. Sam had pleaded to take the steed and his parent had finally consented.
"That's a fine bit of horseflesh you have," observed Fred, as they sped along the level road leading to Valley Brook farm. "I like the manner in which he steps out first-rate."
"Chips is a good horse," answered Sam. "There is only one fault he has."
"And what is that?"
"He is easily frightened at a bit of paper or some other white object in the road."
"That is bad."
The conversation now changed and the boys spoke of the good times ahead. Farm after farm was passed, until they were almost in sight of Valley Brook.
"What a beautiful stretch of country," observed Fred, as he gazed around. "I don't wonder that your uncle settled here while your father was in Africa."
"We used to hate the farm, Tom especially. We thought it was too dead slow for anything. But now we love to come back to it, after being at school or somewhere else."
They were just passing the farm next to that of the Rovers when a man came driving up to them at a rapid gait. He was seated on a buckboard and had behind him a box filled with showbills.
"Visit the circus day after to-morrow! Biggest show on earth for a quarter!" he shouted, and flung a couple of bills at them.
"A circus!" began Fred, when, without warning, Chips made a wild leap that nearly threw him and Sam into the road. Scared by the sight of the showbills the horse made a plunge and then began to run away.
"Whoa, Chips, whoa!" sang out Sam.
"Don't—don't let him get away, Sam!" came from Fred, as he gripped the side of the carriage.
"He shan't get away if I can help it," was the answer, from between Sam's shut teeth. "Whoa, Chips, whoa!" he went on.
But Chips wouldn't whoa, and the sight of another white handbill in the middle of the road caused him to shy to one side. Both boys were unseated, and Sam would have gone to the ground had not Fred held him fast.
"Whoa!" yelled Sam, and now he pulled in tighter than ever on the reins. But on and on went the bay steed, straight through the lane leading to the Rovers' barn.
"He'll smash us up!" gasped Fred.
"Hi! hi!" came from the barnyard and then Dick Rover came into view. His quick eye took in the situation in an instant and he made a grand dash to reach Chips' head. He was successful, and in spite of the steed's efforts to throw him off, held on until at last the bay was brought to a standstill, trembling in every limb and covered with foam.
"How did this happen, Samuel?" asked his uncle, as he too came forward.
"A fellow with circus bills scared him," answered Sam, and he added: "I'd just like to catch that fellow and give him a piece of my mind!"
"And so would I," added Fred.
"Are either of you hurt?"
"Let us be thankful for that," said Mr. Rover; and then had the horse taken to the stable by Jack Ness.
FUN AT THE SHOW
As soon as the family were assembled and Fred had been greeted all around, Sam told of what had happened since he had started out to have his hair cut.
"Well, you've had your share of happenings," declared Mrs. Rover. "It is a wonder you are alive to tell of them."
"We ought to go after Lew Flapp," said Dick. "He ought to be arrested by all means."
"Yes, but where are you going to look for him?"
"Perhaps he will take the late train to-night from Oak Run."
"That's an idea," came from Tom. "Let us watch the train."
This was decided upon, and he and Dick, accompanied by their father, went to Oak Run that evening for that purpose. But Lew Flapp and Dan Baxter took the train from a station three miles away, so the quest was unsuccessful.
"I guess he didn't let the grass grow under his feet," said Sam, the next morning. "No doubt he was badly scared."
"What could he have been doing in this neighborhood?" asked Dick.
"I give it up."
During the day Sam got his hair cut and also returned the clothing loaned to him by the cemetery keeper's daughter. While in Oak Run he met the fellow who was distributing circus bills.
"You want to be more careful when distributing bills," said he to the man.
"What's the matter with you?" growled the circus agent.
"You scared my horse yesterday and made him run away."
"Oh, go tumble over yourself," growled the fellow, and turned away.
The manner of the man angered Sam, and likewise angered Tom, who happened to be along.
"Some of those circus chaps think they own the earth," was Tom's comment. "I've a good mind to go to his old circus and have some fun with the outfit."
"Just the thing, Tom! Let us ask the others to go too. I haven't seen a circus in a long time."
"Well, this won't be much to look at. But we may get some fun out of it," added Tom, with a sly wink.
"Yes, there is sure to be fun when you are around," added his younger brother, with a laugh.
When the circus was mentioned at home Dick said he would be glad to go and so did Fred.
"It is Frozzler's Grand Aggregation of Attractions," said Tom, looking over one of the showbills. "The Most Stupendous Exhibition on Earth. Daring bareback riding, trained elephants and a peanut-eating contest, likewise an egg-hunting raffle. All for a quarter, twenty-five cents."
"What is an egg-hunting raffle?" questioned Fred.
"He's fooling you, Fred," answered Sam. "You mustn't believe all Tom says."
"Thus doth mine own flesh go back on me," came from Tom, with an injured look. "Never mind, it is put and carried that we go and see Frozzler's outfit, occupying reserved orchestra chairs, close to the family circle and adjoining the second gallery west."
As soon as it was settled Tom and Sam laid their heads together to have all the fun they could at the circus, "just to get square with that agent," as Sam expressed it.
None of the older folks wanted to go, for which the boys were thankful.
"Say, I'd like to see dat show, Tom," said Aleck Pop, when he got the chance. "Ain't seen no circuses since I was a little boy."
"Then you must go by all means, Aleck. But don't you get too close to the monkey cage."
"Why not, Tom?"
"They might take you for a long-lost brother."
"Yah! yah! Dat's one on me!" Aleck showed his ivories in a broad grin. "Maybe da will take yo' for a long-lost brudder, too—yo' is so full ob monkey shines," and then Tom had to laugh at the sally.
At the proper time the four boys drove over to the circus grounds, taking Aleck Pop with them. Aleck was arrayed in his best, and from his broad expanse of shirt bosom sparkled an imitation diamond which looked like a small electric light.
Tickets were procured for all by Dick, and the boys and the servant pressed their way into the first of the tents, in company with one of the largest crowds ever gathered in that vicinity.
Now, as it happened, Frozzler's Grand Aggregation of Attractions was largely so only in name. Frozzler was himself the man who had given out the showbills, his regular agent having refused to work because his salary had remained unpaid for three weeks. The circus was fast going to pieces.
"Here is where I am going to make a bunch of money," said Frozzler to himself, as he saw the crowd coming in. "This day will put me on my feet again." But he never saw the "bunch" of money in question, for before the show was over a sheriff came along and levied on the receipts, in behalf of several tradespeople and some performers.
The exhibition was held in two tents, one for the wild animals and the other for the ring performance. The wild animals were in exactly eight wagon cages and consisted of a sickly-looking lion, a half-starved tiger, several raccoons, two foxes, a small bear, and about a dozen monkeys. There were also two elephants, one so old he was blind and could hardly stand.
"Well, this is a sell, if ever there was one," murmured Tom, after looking into the various cages.
"I feel like going out to the butcher shop and buying something with which to feed that tiger," answered Dick. "He looks as if he hadn't had a square meal for a week."
"I'm going to give the monkeys some peanuts, that's the best I can do for them," put in Sam.
"If the ring show isn't better than this we are stuck sure," was Fred's comment.
"Hullo, there's that handbill man now," cried Tom, as Giles Frozzler came into the tent. "Won't he laugh when he sees how Sam and Fred have been stuck?"
Two of the circus employees were near by and from their talk Fred learned that the showbill man was the proprietor of the circus.
"He certainly must be a one-horse fellow, or he wouldn't be throwing out his own showbills," said Sam, on hearing this.
Frozzler wore a soft hat, and as he stood near the monkey cage Tom threw some peanuts into the crown of the head covering.
Instantly the monkeys crowded forward. One seized a peanut and another, to get the rest of the nuts, caught hold of the hat and pulled it into the cage.
"Hi! give me my hat!" roared Giles Frozzler, and put his hand into the cage to get the article in question.
The monkeys thought he had more peanuts and, being half starved, they grabbed his hand and pulled it this way and that, while one gave the man a severe nip.
"Oh! oh!" screamed the circus man. "Let go my hand, you pesky rascal!"
"Hullo, dat monkey am got a limb dat don't belong to no tree," sang out Aleck.
"You shut your mouth!" growled Frozzler "Hi! give me my hat!" he went on to the monkeys. But the animals paid no attention to him. They ate up the peanuts as fast as they could and then one began an investigation by pulling the band from the hat.
The head covering was a new one, purchased but two days before, and to see it being destroyed made Giles Frozzler frantic.
"Give me that, you rascals!" he roared, and began to poke at the monkeys with a sharp stick. But two of them caught the stick and, watching their chance, jerked it away from him.
"Hurrah! score one for the monks!" sang out Tom, and this made the crowd laugh.
"If you don't shut up I'll have you put out," came angrily from Giles Frozzler.
"Why don't you buy hats for the pool' dear monkeys?" went on Tom. "Then they wouldn't want yours."
"Oh, you keep quiet!"
"Those monkeys are about starved," said Sam. "Let us get up a subscription for their benefit. I don't believe they have had a square meal in a year."
"All of the animals look starved," said Dick, loudly.
"Dat am a fac'," added Aleck.
"This is a bum show," cried a burly farmer boy standing close by. "Why, they have more animals nor this in a dime museum."
"Will you fellows shut up?" cried Giles Frozzler. "This show is all right."
"Of course you'd say so—you're the feller wot put out them bills," said the burly country boy.
"If you don't like the show you can get out."
"All right, Mr. Billman, give me back my quarter."
"Yes, give me my quarter and I'll go too," put in one of the shopkeepers of Oak Run.
"And so will I go," added a woman.
"Me, too," came in a voice from the rear of the crowd.
"Oh, you people make me tired," grumbled Giles Frozzler, and then, fearing that the people would really demand their money back he sneaked off, leaving the monkeys to continue the destruction of his head covering.
ACTS NOT ON THE BILLS
It was now almost time for the ring performance to begin. Dick had purchased so-called reserved seats for the crowd, paying an additional ten cents for each seat, but when they reached the tent with the ring they found that the reserved seats were merely a creation of fancy on the part of the circus owner. Giles Frozzler had had imitation chair bottoms painted on the long boards used for seats and each of these buttons was numbered.
"This is a snide, sure," said Sam.
"Well, there is one thing about it, they can't crowd you," answered Dick. And that was the one advantage the "reserved seats" afforded. On the common seats the spectators were crowded just as closely as possible, until the seats threatened to break down with the weight put upon them.
There was a delay in opening the ring performance and for a very good reason. In the dressing tent Giles Frozzler was having great difficulty in persuading his leading lady rider and his clown to go on. Both wanted their pay for the past two weeks.
"I shall not ride a step until I am paid," said the equestrienne, with a determined toss of her head.
"And I don't do another flip-flap," put in the clown.
"Oh, come, don't talk like that," argued Giles Frozzler. "I'll pay you to-morrow, sure."
"I'll pay you to-night—just as soon as the performance is over. Just see what a crowd we have—the money is pouring in."
At this the lady bareback rider hesitated, and finally said she would go on. But the clown would not budge.
"I may be a clown in the ring, but not in the dressing room," said he, tartly. "I want my pay, or I don't go on."
"All right then, you can consider yourself discharged," cried Giles Frozzler.
He had started in the circus business as a clown and thought he could very well fill his employee's place for a day or two. In the meantime he would send to the city for another clown whom he knew was out of a situation.
At last the show began with what Frozzler termed on his handbills the Grand Opening Parade, consisting of the two elephants, two ladies on horseback, two circus hands on horseback, the little bear, who was tame, and several educated dogs. In the meantime the band, consisting of seven pieces, struck up a march which was more noise than harmony.
"Here's your grand circus," whispered Sam. "Beats the Greatest Show on Earth to bits, doesn't it?"
"I'll wager a big tomato against a peck of clams that I can get up a better show myself, and do it blindfolded, too," returned Tom.
The grand opening at an end, there was a bit of juggling by a juggler who made several bad breaks in his act, and then came the lady bareback rider. At the same time, Frozzler came out, dressed in a clown's suit and painted up.
"Hullo, there's that chap again!" cried Dick. "He must be running half the show himself."
"How are you to-morrow?" sang out the clown. And after doing a flip-flap, he continued: "Mr. Ringmaster, what's the difference between your knife and me?"
"I know!" shouted Tom. "His knife is a jack-knife, while you are a jack-of-all-trades!"
At this sally there was a loud laugh.
"What is the difference between my knife and you?" queried the ringmaster, as soon as he could make himself heard.
"I don't know."
"I told you!" shouted Tom.
"The difference between your knife and me," answered Frozzler, "is that you can shut your knife up but you can't shut me up," and then he made a face and did another tumble.
"His knife is sharper than you, too," cried Sam. A roar followed, which made Frozzler so angry he shook his fist at the youngest Rover.
"Why is that boy like a fish?" cried Frozzler.
"Because he's too slippery for a clown to catch," put in Fred, loudly, and this created such a laugh that Frozzler's answer was completely lost on the crowd. Again he shook his fist at our friends, but they merely laughed at him.
"I had a funny dream last night," went on the clown. "What do you think I dreamed?"
"That you had paid all your bills," called out Dick.
This brought forth another laugh at Frozzler's expense, in which even some of the circus hands joined.
"Say, those boys are sharp," said the clown who had been discharged. "I shouldn't care to run up against them."
"Three of them are the Rover boys," answered a man sitting near. "Nobody can get the best of them."
"I dreamed a whale came along and swallowed me," went on Frozzler.
"Hullo, I knew you were a Jonah!" sang out Tom. And once more the crowd roared.
"In the whale I met my old schoolmate, Billy Black," continued the clown.
"That was a black moment for poor Billy," was Sam's comment.
"Did you give Billy a whaling?" asked Tom.
"Did dat whale git a stummick ache from swallerin' yo'?" came loudly from Aleck. "I t'ink any whale would, 'less his insides was copper-lined."
Aleck said this so gravely that it brought forth a roar which did not subside for a full minute. Poor Frozzler could do nothing, and to save himself made half a dozen tumbles. Then he started to run from the ring, but tripped over one of the ropes and pitched headlong on his nose.
"Hullo, there a tumble extra!" sang out Tom. "Thank you; nothing like giving us good measure!"
"I'd like to wax that boy good!" growled Giles Frozzler, as he shot into the dressing tent. "Those youngsters spoiled my act completely." And then he hurried to a pail of water to bathe his nose.
The next act was fairly good and put the crowd in good humor once more. But that to follow was so bad that many began to hiss. Then came a race which was as tame as it could possibly be, and many began to leave.
"This is the worst circus yet," said one man. "If anybody comes to-night he'll be sold."
"I'm going to let all my friends know what a flat thing it is," said another. "It isn't worth ten cents, much less a quarter."
The circus was to wind up with the riding of a trick mule,—the animal being brought out by the clown.
As it happened the regular clown and the mule were friends, but the mule hated Frozzler, for the circus owner had on more than one occasion mistreated the animal.
"Be careful of that mule," said one of the hostlers, as he turned the trick animal over to Giles Frozzler. "He's ugly this afternoon."
"Oh, I know how to manage him," growled Frozzler. "Come on here, you imp!" and he hit the mule in the side.
Instantly the mule made a bolt for the ring with Frozzler running after him.
"One hundred dollars to anybody who can ride Hanky-Panky!" sang out Giles Frozzler. "He is as gentle as a kitten, and it is a great pleasure to be able—"
The clown got no further, for just then the mule turned around and gave him a kick which sent him sprawling. Then, like a flash Hanky-Panky turned around, caught Frozzler by the waist and began to run around the ring with him.
"Hi! let go!" screamed the thoroughly frightened circus owner. "Let go, I say! Help! he will kill me! Help!"
"Hurrah! the mule has got the best of it!" sang out Tom. "He knows how to run a circus even if that fellow don't."
"I'll bet on the mule," put in Dick. "He's a nose ahead in this race!"
"Save me!" yelled Frozzler. "Drat that beast! Stop him, somebody!"
There was intense excitement, and several employees rushed forward to rescue Frozzler. But before this could be done, the mule left the ring tent and dashed into the dressing room, where he allowed the circus owner to drop into a barrel of water which was kept there in case of fire. At this the crowd yelled itself hoarse; and this scene brought the afternoon performance to an end.
ALECK BRINGS NEWS
"I reckon we got square," was Tom's comment, after the fun was over and they were on their way to the farm. "My, but wasn't that circus owner mad!"
"I don't think he'll have another such crowd to-night," said Fred, and he was right. The evening performance was attended by less than a hundred people, and a week later the show failed and was sold out completely.
By the end of the week word was received from both the Stanhopes and the Lanings that all would be glad to join the Rovers in their houseboat vacation. They would take a train for Pittsburg direct on the following Wednesday morning and would there await their friends.
"This suits me to a T!" cried Dick, after reading the communication Dora had sent him. "If we don't have the best time ever then it will be our own fault."
"Just what I say," answered Sam, who had received a long letter from Grace.
There were many articles to pack and ship to Pittsburg. The boys also made out a long list of the things to be purchased for the trip, and in this their father and their aunt helped them.
Sunday passed quietly, all of the boys attending both church and Sunday school. It was a hard matter for Tom to keep still on the Sabbath day, but he did so, much to his aunt's comfort.
Aleck Pop was highly delighted to think that he was to be taken along, especially as cook.
"I'se gwine to do ma level best fo' yo' an' fo' de ladies," said the colored man. "Yo' is gwine to hab reg'lar Waldorf-Astoria feed."
"Don't feed us too good, Aleck, or we'll all die of dyspepsia," said Sam.
"I'll take care of dat, Massah Sam. Don't yo' remember how I used to cook when we was out in de wilderness ob Africa?"
"Indeed I do, Aleck. Yes, I know you'll take care of us," answered Sam.
On the day before the start the boys were surprised to see Hans Mueller appear, with a big trunk and a dress-suit case. The German boy came over from Oak Run in a grocery wagon, having been unable to find a cab.
"How you all vos?" said he, shaking hands. "I dink first I go py dot Pittsburg und den I dinks me I got lost maybe—so I come here."
"That's right, Hans," said Dick. "But what made you bring such a big trunk?"
"Shsh!" answered Hans, putting a finger to the side of his nose. "Dot is a secrets alretty!"
"Dot's him. You vos going to haf der ladies along, hey?"
"Yes, they are all going."
"I got me dree dress suits py mine drunk in."
"Three dress suits!" roared Dick. "Oh, Hans!"
"Ain't dot enough?" questioned the German cadet, dubiously.
"Three dress suits!" repeated Dick. "Oh, somebody hold me, or I'll have a fit!" And he nearly doubled up with laughter.
"What's the funeral about?" came from Tom, who was standing near.
"Hans is to become a real ladies' man, Tom."
"I don't solve the riddle."
"He has got three dress suits in his trunk."
"Phew! He'll leave us in the shade entirely. Say, Hans, have you got any patent leathers?"
"Yah, I got two pairs of batent-leather shoes."
"Hope you brought your pumps," put in Sam, who had come up.
"Bumps?" queried Hans, with a puzzled look. "Vy I pring me a bump? Does der poat leak?"
"Well, that's the limit!" roared Dick.
"Sam means your dancing pumps?" said Fred. "You mustn't forget them, you know—not if you want to be a really and truly society man."
"I got a pair of slippers for dot," answered Hans. "How many dress suits you vos dake along, hey?"
"Oh, about seven," answered Tom, carelessly.
"You ton't tole me dot, Tom! Maybe I haf to puy some more, hey?"
"Well, I shouldn't—not just yet," answered Dick. "Wait till the new fall styles come out. What you want for a starter is some everyday clothes, a sweater or two, and a pair of rubber boots, in case we have to walk ashore in the mud some time."
"Veil, I got dem too," answered Hans.
A letter had already been sent to Captain Starr, asking him to have the houseboat brought up to Pittsburg. The captain was also told to have the Dora thoroughly cleaned and put in proper trim for he outing.
"We want the ladies to be satisfied with her appearance," said Dick.
"And especially since she is named the Dora," grinned Tom.
"Oh, you're only piqued because she isn't named the Nellie," retorted his older brother, with a laugh.
"Never mind, Dick; some day you can use the houseboat on a honeymoon," answered Tom, and then ran off.
At last came the time for the boys to leave the farm. Jack Ness took all the trunks and suit cases to the depot and then transported the boys in the family carriage, with Aleck on the seat beside him.
"Good-bye to Valley Brook farm!" cried Tomb waving his hat.
"Take good care of yourselves, boys!" shouted Anderson Rover.
"Don't get drowned," put in the aunt. And then with final adieux they were off. The drive to Oak Run was a quick one, and ten minutes later the train came in and they went aboard.
The run to Pittsburg was to occupy several hours, so the boys made themselves as comfortable as possible. They had dinner on the train and ordered the best of everything to be had.
It had been arranged that all bound for the houseboat trip should meet at the American House, and thither the boys made their way on reaching the Smoky City, as Pittsburg is often called, on account of its numerous manufactories.
"Here we are!" cried a voice, as soon as they entered, and Songbird Powell hurried up to them. "I thought you'd get here about this time."
"Have you seen anything of the ladies?" queried Dick.
"Yes, they are all in the ladies' parlor. I told them I'd keep a lookout for you."
They made their way to the parlor, where a great handshaking took place. Mrs. Stanhope and Dora were there, and also Grace and Nellie with Mrs. Laning. The latter was not used to traveling and was in quite a flutter.
"The girls insisted upon my coming," said Mrs. Laning. "I didn't think I could do it at first, but they wouldn't take no for an answer."
"And we are real glad to have you," answered Dick.
Aleck had been sent off to hunt up Captain Starr and the houseboat, and in the meantime all of the party obtained rooms for the night and then went to supper.
"This puts me in mind of the time we took dinner at Ithaca," said Dick to Dora, on the way to the dining hall. "Do you remember?"
"Indeed I do," she answered, with a pretty blush. "But please do not steer me into the smoking room again," she added, mischievously.
"Don't you think we are going to have a good time, Dora?"
"If I hadn't thought that I shouldn't have come," answered the miss.
It was a happy gathering, and Hans Mueller kept the young folks convulsed by his odd speeches.
"And you ton't vos put no salt py mine coffee in dis dime, Tom," said Hans, referring to a trick which had once been played on him.
"All right, Hansy," answered Tom. "And please don't you pour any coffee down my back," he added, for he had not forgotten how he had been paid back for that joke.
The supper lasted a long time, and after it was over all went to one of the rooms upstairs, where they spent a couple of hours very agreeably.
"We can be thankful that it is such pleasant weather," said Mrs. Stanhope. "An outing on a houseboat during a wet spell would not be so nice."
"Oh, we'd try to make things pleasant," said Tom. "There is a piano on board, and we could have music and singing—"
"A piano! Oh, Tom!" cried Nellie. "How nice! It must be a regular little palace!"
"I haven't seen the boat yet. Uncle Randolph said there was a piano on board."
"And I've got a guitar," came from Songbird Powell.
"With which he will sing to the moon on dark nights," came from Tom.
"I haf got some musics py mine drunk in too," said Hans.
"What have you got, Hansy?" asked Sam—"a tin whistle?"
"No, a music pox vot mine fadder brought from Chermany. He vos a fine pox, too, I can told you."
"That's splendid, Hans," said Dora. "I love a good music box."
So the talk ran on until there was a knock at the door and Aleck appeared. The look on his black face showed that he was excited.
"Say, Massah Dick, I would like to see yo' in private a minute," he said.
"Certainly," replied Dick. "Excuse me," he added, to the others, and went out into the hall with the colored man.
"I didn't want fo' to alarm de ladies," explained Aleck. "But I wanted to tell you as soon as I could."
"Tell me what, Aleck?"
"Dat I dun seen dat rascal, Dan Baxter, less dan half an hour ago," was the answer.
A QUEER CAPTAIN
"You saw Dan Baxter, here in Pittsburg?" ejaculated Dick.
"You are sure you were not mistaken, Aleck? I thought that rascal was miles and miles away."
"Dat's jess wot I dun been thinkin' too. But it was Dan Baxter, suah. I knows him too well to make any mistake about his ugly face."
"Where was he?"
"Dat's de alarmin' part ob it, Massah Dick. Yo' know yo' tole me to find de houseboat."
"Well, I found de boat wid dat dar Cap'n Starr on board, an' we made all dem 'rangements wot you spoke about. Den I started to leave de boat. Dar was an eleckric light on de dock an' a man standing near it, a-watchin' de houseboat. I almost run into him, an' den I discobered it was dat good-fo'-nuffin Dan Baxter."
"He was watching the houseboat?"
"Did he recognize you, Aleck?"
"Not till I spoke to him. I said, 'Wot yo' doin' heah, Dan Baxter?' When he heard dat he 'most jumped a foot. Den he mutters sumthing wot I couldn't make out an' runs away."
"Did you go after him?"
"Yes, but I couldn't cotch him nohow. Dar was big piles ob boxes an' barrels on de dock and he got away befo' I know wot I was at. I hunted an' hunted, but I couldn't git on his track."
"This is certainly unpleasant, to say the least," mused Dick, biting his lip. "If he is watching us he is doing it for no good purpose."
"Dat's de way. I reasoned. But I didn't want de ladies to heah. Mrs. Stanhope am a powerfully narvous woman."
"Yes, Aleck, you were wise in keeping them in ignorance. But I'll have to tell Tom and Sam and the other fellows, and we'll have to keep our eyes open."
"Is you' goin' to report dis to de police?"
"I may. I'll think it over first. Now, how about the houseboat? Has Captain Starr done as directed?"
"What kind of a man does he seem to he?"
"All right, Massah Dick, only—"
"Only what?" asked the eldest Rover, as he saw the colored servant hesitate.
"Well, to tell de truf, he seems kind of funny to me."
"Here," and Aleck tapped his forehead.
"Do you mean that he is crazy?"
"Not dat persackly, Massah Dick, but he said sum mighty funny t'ings when we was talkin' acted like he was t'inkin' ob sumt'ing else."
"Humph! Well, if he isn't the sort of fellow we want we'll have to let him go and get another captain."
Dick returned to the apartment he had left and told the others that Aleck had made the necessary arrangements. Then he gave Tom and Sam a wink which meant a good deal. Soon after this the party broke up, and the boys retired to the connecting rooms they had engaged for the night.
"So Aleck saw Dan Baxter!" cried Tom, when told of the news. "That must mean the rascal is on our trail."
"Just what I am thinking, Tom," returned Dick.
"We ought to have the authorities arrest him," put in Sam.
"Perhaps, but we've got to locate him first. Now that he has been discovered he will do his best to keep shady. Maybe he has already left the city."
They talked the matter over for an hour, but could reach no satisfactory conclusion.
"Better take matters as they come," said Powell. "He won't dare to molest you openly."
"No, but he will molest us in secret, which will be worse," replied Sam.
"None of the ladies or the girls must hear of this," said Tom. "It would spoil their whole trip, even if Baxter didn't show himself again."
"I ton't oben mine mouds apout noddings," declared Hans. "I vos so quiet like an ellerfaunt in a church!"
Bright and early the boys were astir on the following morning, and Dick, Tom, and Sam went off to interview Captain Starr before breakfast. They found the captain a thick-set fellow, with a heavy mustache and big, bushy whiskers. He had eyes of the dreamy sort, which generally looked away when speaking to anybody.
"This is Captain Starr?" said Dick, addressing him.
"I'm your man."
"I am Dick Rover, and these are my brothers, Tom and Sam."
Dick put out his hand, but the captain merely nodded.
"Is everything ready for the trip, captain?" asked Tom.
"You had the boat cleaned up?" said Sam.
"We'll look her over," said Dick.
They walked over the houseboat from end to end. The craft was certainly a beauty and as clean as a whistle. There was a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and eight sleeping rooms—four of the latter downstairs and four upstairs. Each sleeping room contained two berths. There was also a bunk room below, for the help, and a small room for the captain. In the living room, was the piano and also a bookcase containing half a hundred choice novels.
"This is certainly great," said Tom.
"Better than I thought it would be," answered Sam. "It's a perfect palace."
"And see how the brasswork shines," went on Tom. "The captain certainly had things cleaned up.
"But he is a queer stick, if ever there was one." came from Dick, in a whisper. "I must say, I don't half like him."
"He acts as if he was asleep," was Tom's comment.
"Or else as if he had something on his mind."
"Anyway, he comes highly recommended," said Sam.
When they came out on the deck they found Captain Starr sitting on a bench smoking a corncob pipe.
"She is in fine shape and I congratulate you, captain," said Dick, pleasantly.
"Thank you," was the short answer.
"You will be ready to have us taken down the river as soon as we get our things on board?"
"Confound him," thought Dick. "Why doesn't he say something else? He is a regular automaton."
"By the way, captain," put in Tom, "have you noticed a stranger watching the Dora the last night or two?"
At this question Captain Starr leaped to his feet, allowing his corncob pipe to fall to the ground.
"What made you ask that question?" he demanded.
"We have an enemy, named Dan Baxter. We suspect he is following us and is spying on us."
"Yes, I have seen a young fellow around half a dozen times. In fact, I caught him on the houseboat once."
"You did!" cried Dick. "What was he doing?"
"Going through the stuff in the living room."
"What did you do to him?"
"I yelled at him, demanding to know what he wanted. As soon as he heard me he ran ashore and disappeared."
"Did you try to find him?"
"No, because I didn't want to leave the houseboat alone."
"Did you see him last night—while our colored man was here?"
"I saw somebody, but it was too dark to make out exactly who it was."
ON BOARD THE HOUSEBOAT
After questioning Captain Starr as closely as possible all three of the Rover boys came to the conclusion that it must have been Dan Baxter who had visited the Dora on the sly.
"I don't like this at all," said Sam. "He is going to make trouble for us—no two ways about that."
"The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to get away without delay," said Tom. "He won't find it so easy to follow us then."
"I'm going to throw him off the scent," said Dick.
"By pretending to go to one place, while we can really go to another."
"That's a scheme."
A small tug had been chartered to tow the houseboat, and the captain of this was ordered to be ready for moving at eleven o'clock.
"We shall go to Camdale first," said Dick, naming a place about forty miles away.
"All right, sir—wherever you say," said the tug commander.
Returning to the hotel, the boys found the others finishing breakfast and sat down to their own. They said the Dora was in perfect trim and that the trip down the Ohio was to begin without delay.
"Well, I am sure I am ready," said Nellie. "I am just dying to see the houseboat."
Aleck hurried around to buy the necessary stores, which were taken to the Dora in a wagon, Then two carriages brought down the ladies and the boys and a truck brought along the baggage.
"What a beautiful boat!" cried Dora after going on board. "And how tidy everything is!"
"Then you are not ashamed to have her called the Dora?" said Dick, well satisfied.
"Ashamed? Oh, Dick, I am delighted!"
"This boat is a gem," was Songbird Powell's comment. "Say, folks on the Ohio will take us, to be millionaires."
"Dis ship is besser dan a ferrypoat," was Hans' comment.
"A ferryboat!" shrieked Grace. "Oh, Hans!"
"I mean von of dem double-decker ferrypoats vot runs from New York to Chersey City—dem kind vot has got blate-glass vinders und looking-glasses der sthairs on," explained the German cadet. "Da vos peauties, too."
"If we don't enjoy this trip it will be our fault," said Fred.
The lines were cast off, the steam tug puffed, and in a moment more the houseboat had left the dock and the voyage down the Ohio was begun.
"I'll not be sorry to leave Pittsburg behind," said Nellie. "There is so much smoke."
"Well, they have to have smoke—in such a hive of industry," answered Dick.
By noon Pittsburg and Allegheny were left behind and once more the sky was clear and blue above them. The sun shone brightly and there was just enough breeze to keep the air cool and delicious. All sat on the forward deck, under a wide-spread awning, watching the scenery as they floated onward.
After a consultation it was decided that the first stop should be made at a small village on the river called Pleasant Hills. Mrs. Laning had a friend there whom she had not seen for years, and she said she would be pleased to make a call.
"All right," said Dick, "Pleasant Hills it is." And he called to the tug captain and gave the necessary directions.
"That will throw Dan Baxter off the track a little," whispered Sam.
Aleck Pop was highly pleased with the cooking arrangements. There was a first-class gasolene stove, and the kitchen was fitted with all sorts of appliances for rendering cooking easy.
"I'se gwine to do my best fo' you," said the colored man, and dinner, which was served at one o'clock, proved to be little short of a genuine feast, with oxtail soup, breast of lamb, mashed potatoes, green peas, lettuce, coffee, pudding and cheese.
"Why, Aleck, this is a surprise," said Dora. "Some day they will want you to become the chef in a big hotel." And this compliment tickled the colored man greatly.
"T'ank yo' Miss Dora," he answered. "But I don't want to be no chef in a hotel. All I wants to do is to stay wid de Rober boys so long as I lib."
During the afternoon the boys tried their hands at fishing and caught quite a mess. By four o'clock Pleasant Hills was reached and they tied up in a convenient spot. All of the girls and Mrs. Stanhope went ashore with Mrs. Laning, to visit the friend that had been mentioned.
"Bring them down to the houseboat to-night, if they care to come," said Dick.
"Thank you, Dick, perhaps we will," answered Mrs. Laning.
"Let us take a swim while they are gone," suggested Tom. "That water is too inviting to resist."
"Agreed!" shouted the others, and ran to their rooms, to get out their bathing suits. Soon Tom was ready, and leaping to the end of the houseboat, took a straight dive into the river. Sam followed and Fred came next, and then Dick, Songbird, and Hans came down in a bunch. The water was just cold enough to be pleasant, and they splashed around in great sport.
"This is what I call living!" yelled Tom and diving under, he caught Hans by the big toe.
"Hi, hi! let go mine does!" shrieked the German lad. "Somedings has me py der does cotched!"
"Maybe it's a shark," suggested Fred.
"A shark! Vos der sharks py der Ohio River?"
"Tons of them," came from Sam. "Look out, Hansy, or they'll swallow you."
"Du meine Zeit!" gasped the German cadet. "Vy didn't you tole me dot pefore, hey? I guess I don't schwim no more." And he started to climb up a rope ladder leading to the deck of the houseboat.
"Don't go, Hans!" sang out Songbird. "They are fooling you."
"Dere ton't been no sharks in der river?"
"No, nothing but sawfish and whales."
"A vale! Dot's chust so bad like a shark."
"No, not at all. A shark bites. A whale simply swallows you alive," put in Sam, with a grin.
"Swallows me alife, hey? Not on your life he ton't!" returned Hans, and started again for the rope ladder. But Sam pulled him back and ducked him, and was in turn ducked by Fred, who went under by a shove from Dick; and then followed a regular mix-up, the water flying in all directions.
"By golly, dat's great!" cried Aleck, from the deck. "I dun' t'ink a lot ob eels was dancin' a jig down dar!"
"Come down here, Aleck, and get some of the black washed off!" shouted Tom, gleefully.
"Not fo' a dollah, Massah Tom—leasewise, not while yo' is around."
"What are you afraid of?" asked Tom, innocently.
"Yo' is too full ob tricks fo' dis chile. When I wants a baf I'se gwine to take dat baf in a tub, an' when yo' ain't around," answered Aleck. "Yo' am—Oh—wough!" And then the colored man retreated in great haste, for Tom had sent up a shower of water all over him.
"Here comes a big river boat!" cried Songbird, presently. "Let us go out and catch the rollers!" And out they swam and waited until the swells, several feet high, came rolling in. It was immense fun bobbing up and down like so many corks.
"Wish the steamers would continue to come past," said Fred. "This suits me to death."
"Here comes another pretty big boat," answered Tom. "And she is closer to shore than that other craft, so we'll get the rollers at their best."
"Don't get too close," cried Songbird. "I knew a fellow who did that once and got sucked under."
On came the river boat and was soon opposite to where the houseboat lay. She carried only a few passengers, but a very large quantity of freight.
"Here she comes!" cried Fred. "Now for some more fun."
"Don't get too close!" repeated Songbird, but Tom did not heed him and went within fifty feet of the steamboat's side. The rollers here were certainly large, but all of a sudden Tom appeared to lose interest in the sport.
"Hullo, Tom! What are you so quiet about?" sang out Dick in alarm.
"Perhaps he has a cramp," put in Sam. "Tom, are you all right?" he cried.
"Yes, I'm all right," was the answer, and then Tom swam to his brothers with all speed. The steamboat was now well on its way down the Ohio.
"What is it?" asked Dick, feeling that something was wrong. "If you have had even a touch of a cramp you had better get out, Tom."
"I haven't any cramp. Did you see them?"
"The two fellows at the stern of that boat?"
"No. What of them?"
"One was Dan Baxter and the other was Lew Flapp."
WORDS AND BLOWS
"Baxter and Flapp!"
The cry came from several at once, and all climbed to the deck of the houseboat after Tom.
"Are you certain of this, Tom?" asked Dick.
"Yes, I saw them as plain as day. They were looking at the houseboat."
"Did they see you?"
"I think they did, and if so they must have seen the rest of our crowd too."
"We ought to go after them," came from Fred. "The name of that steamboat was the Beaver."
"Wonder where she will make her first stop?"
For an answer to this question Captain Starr was appealed to, and he said the craft would most likely stop first at a town which we will call Penwick.
"How far is that from here?" asked Sam.
"About six miles."
"Can we get a train to that place?"
"Yes, but I don't know when."
A time-table was consulted, and it was found that no train could be had from Pleasant Hills to Penwick for two hours and three-quarters.
"That is too late for us," said Dick. "If they saw Tom they'll skip the moment the steamboat touches the landing."
"If you want to catch them why don't you follow them up in the tug?" suggested Songbird.
"Dot's the talk!" came from Hans. "I would like to see you cotch dot Flapp and Paxter mineselluf."
"I'll use the tug," said Dick.
He summoned the captain and explained the situation. It was found that steam on the tug was low, but Captain Carson said he would get ready to move down the stream with all possible speed.
"I would like you to stay on the houseboat," said Dick, to Songbird, Fred, and Hans. "I don't want to leave Captain Starr in charge all alone."
So it was agreed; and fifteen minutes later the tug was on the way after the Beaver, with Dick, Tom, and Sam on board.
"Can we catch the steamboat, captain?" questioned Tom, anxiously.
"We can try," was the answer. "If I had known you wanted to use the tug again to-night I should have kept steam up."
"Well, we didn't know."
The Beaver was out of sight and they did not see the steamboat again until she was turning in at the Penwick dock.
"There she is!" cried Sam.
"Hurry up, Captain Carson!" called out Dick. "If you don't hurry we will lose the fellows we are after, sure."
"I am hurrying as much as I can," replied the captain.
In five minutes more they gained one end of the dock and the Rovers leaped ashore. The Beaver was at the other end, discharging passengers at one gang plank and freight at another.
"See anything of them?" asked Sam.
"Yes, there they are!" shouted Tom, and pointed to the street beyond the dock.
"I see them," returned Dick. "Come on!" And he started for the street, as swiftly as his feet could carry him.
He was well in advance of Sam and Tom when Dan Baxter, looking back, espied him.
"Hi, Flapp, we must leg it!" cried Baxter, in quick alarm.
"Eh?" queried Lew Flapp. "What's wrong now?"
"They are after us!"
"The three Rover Boys. Come on!"
The former bully of Putnam Hall glanced back and saw that Dan Baxter (and he too had been a bully at the Hall) was right.
"Where shall we go to?" he asked in sudden fright.
"Follow me!" And away went Dan Baxter up the street with Flapp at his heels. Dick, Tom, and Sam came after them, with a number of strangers between.
"Do you think we can catch them?" asked Tom.
"We've got to catch them," answered Dick. "If you see a policeman tell him to come along—that we are after a couple of criminals."
Having passed up one street for a block, Baxter and Flapp made a turn and pursued their course down a thoroughfare running parallel to the river.
Here were located a number of factories and mills, with several tenement houses and low groggeries between.
"They are after us yet," panted Flapp, after running for several minutes. "Say, I can't keep this up much longer."
"Come in here," was Dan Baxter's quick reply, and he shot into a small lumber yard attached to a box factory. It was now after six o'clock and the factory had shut down for the day.
Once in the lumber yard they hurried around several corners, and presently came to a shed used for drying lumber. From this shed there was a small door leading into the factory proper.
"I reckon we are safe enough here," said Dan Baxter, as they halted in the shed and crouched down back of a pile of boards.
"Yes, but we can't stay here forever," replied Lew Flapp.
"We can stay as long as they hang around, Flapp."
In the meantime the Rover Boys reached the entrance to the yard, and Dick, who had kept the lead, called a halt.
"I am pretty certain they ran in here," he declared.
"Then let us root them out," said Tom. "And the quicker the better."
The others were willing, and they entered the small lumber yard without hesitation. As there were but three wagonways, each took one, and all presently reached the entrance to the drying shed.
"See anybody?" questioned Dick.
"No," came from his brothers.
"Neither did I. I see there is a big brick wall around this yard. If they came in here they must have gone into this shed or into the factory itself."
"That's it, Dick," said Tom. He pushed open the door to the shed. "I'm going to investigate."
"So am I," said both of the others.
In the shed all was dark and soon Sam stumbled over some blocks of wood and fell headlong.
"Confound the darkness," he muttered. "We ought to have brought a light."
"I've got one," answered Dick, and feeling in his pocket he produced one of the new-style electric pocket lights. He pushed the button and instantly the light flashed out, as from a bull's-eye lantern.
"Hurrah, that's a good thing!" cried Tom. "By the way, isn't it queer there is no watchman here?"
"Maybe the night watchman hasn't got around yet," answered Dick, and struck the truth.
They began to move around the shed, much to the alarm of both Dan Baxter and Lew Flapp.
"I don't see any trace—" began Dick, when of a sudden the light landed fairly and squarely on Baxter's face. Then it shifted to the face of Lew Flapp.
"The old Harry take you, Dick Rover!" yelled Baxter, in a sudden rage, and throwing his whole weight against the pile of boards on which the eldest Rover was standing, he caused it to go over, hurling Dick flat on his back on the floor.
"Dick, are you hurt?" called out Tom. The electric light had been broken, and all was pitch-dark.
"I—I guess—not," answered Dick. "But it was a close shave."
"They are getting out!" came from Sam, as he heard a scuffling of feet.
"No—they are going into the factory," shouted Tom. "Stop, Baxter! Stop, Flapp! If you don't—Oh!"
Tom's cry came to a sudden end, for without warning a billet of wood struck him fairly on top of the head and he went down as if shot.
By this time Dick was on his feet.
"What's up, Tom?"
"I—I—oh, my head?"
"Did somebody hit you?"
Sam was running after Baxter and Flapp. But they reached the factory first and banged the door full in the face of the youngest Rover.
"Open that door, Dan Baxter!" called out Sam.
"All right!" was the sudden reply, and open flew the door. Then down on poor Sam's head came a heavy billet of wood and he pitched backward unconscious. Then the door was closed once more and locked from the inside.
DAYS OF PLEASURE
"Sam! Sam! Speak to us!"
It was Dick who uttered the words, as he knelt beside his youngest brother and caught his hands. Tom was just staggering up.
But Sam was past speaking, and made no reply.
"What's the matter, Dick?" asked Tom.
"Poor Sam is knocked out completely. I don't know but what they have killed him."
"Oh, don't say that!"
"Have you got a match? I've lost that electric pocket light."
"Yes." Tom struck the match and lit a bit of pine wood that was handy, and found the light. "Dick, don't tell me he is dead."
"Oh!" came in a deep gasp from poor Sam, and he gave a shiver from head to feet.
"He isn't dead, but they must have hit him a terrible blow. Let us carry him out into the open air."
This they did, and laid the youngest Rover on some boards. Here he presently opened his eyes and stared about him.
"Don't—don't hit me again!" he pleaded, vacantly.
"They shan't hit you again, Sam," answered Dick, tenderly. He felt of his brother's head. On top was a lump, from which the blood was flowing.
"This is the worst yet," said Tom. "What had we best do next?"
"Call a policeman, if you can find any."
"That's rather a hard thing to do around here."
However, Tom ran off, and while he was gone Dick did what little he could to make Sam comfortable. At last the youngest Rover opened his eyes again and struggled to sit up.
"Where—where are they, Dick?"
"Gone into the factory."
"Oh, my head!"
"It was a wicked blow, Sam. But keep still if your head hurts."
When Tom came back he was accompanied by a watchman from a neighboring yard and presently they were joined by the watchman of the box factory, who had been to a corner groggery, getting a drink.
"What's the row?" questioned the first watchman, and when told, emitted a low whistle.
"I think those fellows are in the factory yet," continued Dick.
As soon as the second watchman came up both went into the box factory and were gone fully ten minutes. Then Dick followed them, since Sam was rapidly recovering.
"Can't find them," said one of the watchmen. "But yonder window is open. They must have dropped into that yard and run away."
"Is the window generally closed?"
"Then you must be right."
"Why don't you call up the police? You can do it on the telephone."
"Have you a telephone here?"
Dick went to the telephone and told the officer in charge at the station what had occurred.
"I'll send two men at once," said the officer over the wire; and in five minutes the policemen appeared.
Again there was a search, not only of the box factory, but also of the whole neighborhood, but no trace of Dan Baxter or Lew Flapp could be found.
Having bathed their hurts, both Sam and Tom felt better, and all three of the Rovers walked to the police station with the policemen, and there told the full particulars of their story.
"You were certainly in hard luck," said the police captain, who happened to be in charge. "I'll do what I can to round these rascals up." But nothing came of this, for both Baxter and Flapp left Penwick that very night.
When the Rover boys returned to the houseboat, it was long after midnight, but none on board had gone to bed. The Stanhopes and Lanings had come back, bringing their friends with them, and all had been surprised to find the Rovers absent. After remaining on the houseboat a couple of hours the friends had gone home again.
"Something is wrong; I can see it in your looks, Dick," said Dora, as she came to him.
"Sam, where did you get that hurt on your head?" questioned Grace, in alarm.
"Oh, we had a little trouble, but it didn't amount to much," answered the youngest Rover as bravely as he could.
"Yes, but your head is in a dreadful condition."
"And Tom has a cut over the left eye," burst in Nellie. "Oh, you have had a fight of some kind, and I know it!"
"A fight!" cried Mrs. Stanhope. "Is it possible that you have been fighting?"
"We had a brush with a couple of rascals in Penwick," said Dick. "We tried to catch them, but they got away from us. That is all there is to it. I'd rather not talk about it," he went on, seeing that Mrs. Laning also wanted to ask questions.
"Well, you must really be more careful in the future," said Mrs. Stanhope. "I suppose they wanted to rob you."
"They didn't get the chance to rob us," put in Tom, and then the Rovers managed to change the subject. The Stanhopes and the Lanings did not dream that Dan Baxter and Lew Flapp had caused the trouble. Perhaps, in the light of later events, it would have been better had they been told the truth.
Dick gave orders that the Dora should be moved down the river early the next day, and before the majority of the party were up, Pleasant Hills was left behind.
"I sincerely trust we have seen the last of Baxter and Flapp," said Sam.
"So do I, Sam," answered Dick.
"I'd like to meet them and punch their heads good for them," came from Tom.
After that a week slipped by with very little out of the ordinary happening. Day after day the houseboat moved down the river, stopping at one place or another, according to the desires of those on board. The weather continued fine, and the boys and girls enjoyed themselves immensely in a hundred different ways. All had brought along bathing suits and took a dip every day. They also fished, and tramped through the woods at certain points along the stream. One night they went ashore in a field and camped out, with a big roaring fire to keep them company.
"This is the way it was when the cadets went into camp," said Dick. "I can tell you, we had lots of sport."
"It must have been very nice, Dick," answered Dora. "Sometimes I wish I was a boy and could go to Putnam Hall."
"Not much! I'd rather have you a girl!" declared Dick, and in the dark he gave her hand a tight squeeze.
During those days Dick noticed that Captain Starr acted more peculiar than ever. At times he would talk pleasantly enough, but generally he was so close-mouthed that one could scarcely get a word out of him.
"I believe he is just a wee bit off in his upper story," said the oldest Rover. "But I don't imagine it is enough to count."
"If he had any ambition in him he wouldn't be satisfied to run a houseboat," said Tom. "It's about the laziest job I know of."
The Monday after this talk found the Dora down the Ohio as far as Louisville. To avoid the falls in the stream, the houseboat had been taken through the canal, and during the middle of the afternoon was taken down the stream a distance of perhaps eighteen miles, to Skemport,—so named after Samuel Skem, a dealer in Kentucky thoroughbreds.
Fred Garrison had a friend who came from Skemport and wanted to visit him. The others were willing, and Fred went off with Tom and Sam as soon as the boat was tied up. When they came back, late in the evening, the others were told that the friend had invited all hands to visit a large stock farm in that vicinity the next afternoon to look at the horses there.
"That will be nice!" cried Dora. "I love a good horse."
Two large carriages were hired for the purpose, and Aleck was allowed to drive one, a man from the local livery stable driving the other.
"How soon will you be back?" sang out Captain Starr after them.
"Can't say exactly," replied Dick.
The distance to the stock farm was three miles, but it was quickly covered, and once there the Rovers and their friends were made to feel perfectly at home.
"I'd like to go horseback riding on one of those horses," said Dora, after inspecting a number of truly beautiful steeds.
"You shall," said the owner of the stock farm; and a little later Dora, Nellie, Dick, and Tom were in the saddle and off for a gallop of several miles, never once speculating on how that ride was to end.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE HOUSEBOAT
Never was a girl more light-hearted than was Dora when in the saddle on the Kentucky thoroughbred. And her cousin was scarcely less elated.
"Let us have a little race, Nellie," cried Dora. "It will be lots of fun."
"Oh, we don't want the horses to run away," answered Nellie.
"I don't think they will run away."
The race was started, and to give the girls a chance, Dick and Tom dropped to the rear. Soon a turn of the road hid the two girls from view.
"Wait a minute—there is something wrong with my saddle," said Tom, a moment later, and he came to a halt and slipped to the ground.
Dick would have preferred going on, but did not wish to leave his brother alone, so he also halted. A buckle had broken and it took some time to repair the damage, so Tom could continue his ride.
"The girls have disappeared," said Dick, on making the turn ahead in the road.
They came to a spot where the road divided into three forks and halted in perplexity.
"Well, this is a nuisance," declared Tom, after scratching his head. "I suppose they thought we were watching them."
"More than likely."
"Which road shall we take?"
"Bless me if I know."
"Well, we can't take all three."
They stared at the hoofprints in the road, but there were too many of them to make anything of the marks.
"Stumped!" remarked Tom, laconically.
"Let us wait a while. Perhaps, when the girls see we are not following, they will turn back."
"All right; but we've made a fine pair of escorts, haven't we, Dick?"
"We are not responsible for that buckle breaking."
"That's so, too."
They waited for several minutes, but the girls did not appear.
"Supposing I take to one road and you to the other?" said Dick. "If you see them, whistle."
"What about the third road?" And Tom grinned.
"We'll leave that for the present."
Off they set, and as ill-luck would have it took the two roads the girls had not traveled. Each went fully a mile before he thought of coming back.
"Well, what luck?" asked Dick, as he rode up.
"Nothing doing, Dick."
"Then they must have taken to the third road."
"That's it,—unless they rode faster than we did."
"Shall I try that other road?"
"You can if you wish. I'll stay here. If they come back, we can wait for you," added the oldest Rover.
Once more Tom set off. But he had pushed his horse so fast before the animal was now tired and had to take his time in traveling.
The third road led down to the river front, and before a great while the water's edge was reached. Here there were numerous bushes and trees and the road turned and ran some distance along the bank.
"Well, I'm stumped and no mistake," murmured the fun-loving Rover, "I felt sure—"
He broke off short, for a distance scream had reached his ears.
"Was that Nellie's voice?" he asked himself, and then strained his ears, for two more screams had reached him. "Nellie, and Dora too, as sure as fate!" he ejaculated. "Something has happened to them! Perhaps those horses are running away!"
He hardly knew how to turn, for the trees and bushes cut off his view upon every side. He galloped along the road, which followed the windings of the Ohio. But try his best he could locate neither girls nor horses.
It was maddening, and the cold sweat stood out upon Tom's forehead. Something was very much wrong, but what was it?
"Nellie! Dora! Where are you?" he called out. "Where are you?"
Only the faint breeze in the trees answered him.
"I've got to find them!" he groaned. "I've got to! That is all there is to it." He repeated the words over and over again. "What will Mrs. Laning and Mrs. Stanhope say, and Grace?"
Again he went on, but this time slower than before, looking to the right and the left and ahead. Not a soul was in sight. The road was so cut up he could make nothing of the hoofmarks which presented themselves.
"This is enough to drive one insane," he reasoned. "Where in the world did they go to? I'd give a thousand dollars to know."
At last he reached a point where the road ran close to the water's edge. He looked out on the river. Only a distant steamboat and a small sailboat were in view.
"Wonder if they rode down to where we left the houseboat?" he asked himself. "She must be somewhere in this vicinity. Maybe they have only been fooling us."
Although Tom told himself this, there was no comfort in the surmise. He moved on once more. It was now growing dark and there were signs of a coming storm in the air.
At last he reached a spot which looked somewhat familiar to him. He came down to the water's edge once more.
"Why—er—I thought the houseboat was here," he said, half aloud. "This looks like the very spot."
But no houseboat was there, and scratching his head once more, Tom concluded that he had made a mistake.
"I'm upset if ever a fellow was," he thought. "Well, no wonder. Such happenings as these are enough to upset anybody."
Tom knew of nothing more to do than to return to where he had left Dick, and this he did as quickly as the tired horse would carry him.
"No success, eh?" said the oldest Rover. "What do you make of it, Tom?"
When he had heard his brother's tale he grew unusually grave.
"You are sure you heard them scream?" he questioned, anxiously.
"I'm sure of nothing—now. I thought I was sure about the houseboat, but I wasn't," answered Tom, bluntly. "I'm all mixed up."
"I'll go down there with you," was the only answer Dick made.
It did not take long to reach the spot. It was now dark and a mist was rising from the river.
"This is certainly the spot where we tied up," declared the oldest Rover. "Why, I helped to drive that stake myself."
"Then the houseboat is gone!"
"That's the size of it."
"And the girls are gone too," went on Tom. "Yes, but the two happenings may have no connection, Tom."
"Don't be so sure of that!"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm thinking about Dan Baxter and Lew Flapp. They wouldn't be above stealing the houseboat."
"I believe you there."
"And if those girls happened to go on board—Look there!"
Tom pointed out in the darkness on the road. Two horses were coming toward them, each wearing a lady's saddle and each riderless.
"There are the horses," said Dick. "But the girls? You think—"
"The girls came down here on their horses and dismounted, to go on board of the houseboat."
"Well, where is the houseboat?"
It was a question neither of them could answer. They looked out on the river, but the mist hung over everything like a pall.
"Dick, I am afraid something serious has happened," came from Tom, ominously. "Those screams weren't uttered for nothing."
"Let us make a closer examination of the shore," answered the oldest Rover, and they did so. They found several hoofprints of horses, but that was all.
"I can't see any signs of a struggle," said Tom.
"Nor I. And yet, if those rascals ran off with the houseboat and with the girls on board, how would they square matters with Captain Starr?"
"And with Captain Carson? The tug is gone, too."
"Yes, but the tug went away when we did, and wasn't to come back until to-morrow morning. Captain Carson said he would have to coal up, over to one of the coal docks."
"Then some other tug must have towed the houseboat away."
"Either that or they are letting the Dora drift with the current."
"That would be rather dangerous around here,—and in the mist. A steamer might run the houseboat down."
The brothers knew not what to do. To go back to the stock farm with the news that both the girls and the houseboat were missing was extremely distasteful to them.
"This news will almost kill Mrs. Stanhope," said Dick.
"Well, it will be just as bad for Mrs. Laning, Dick."
"Not exactly,—she has Grace left, while Dora. is Mrs. Stanhope's only child."
Once again the two boys rode up and down the' Ohio for a distance of nearly a mile. At none of' the docks or farms could they catch the least sign of the houseboat.
"She may be miles from here by this time," said Dick, with almost a groan. "There is no help for it, Tom, we've got to go back and break the news as best we can."
"Very well," answered Tom, soberly. Every bit of fun was knocked out of him, and his face was as long as if he was going to a funeral.
Dick felt equally bad. Never until that moment had he realized how dear Dora Stanhope was to him. He would have given all he possessed to be able to go to her assistance.
The mist kept growing thicker, and by the time the stock farm was reached it was raining in torrents. But the boys did not mind this discomfort as they rode along, leading the two riderless saddle horses. They had other things more weighty to think about.