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The Rover Boys out West
by Arthur M. Winfield
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A couple of hours later Tom and Dick took the colored man down to the Stanhope cottage. Mrs. Stanhope already knew the man well, as did Dora, and both were glad that he had come to stay with them. Pop had brought along a pistol, and also a war club he had picked up in Africa, and declared himself ready to meet any and all comers.

"I'se dun learned how to shoot putty straight," he remarked. "So de fellers wot prowls around bettah look out fo' demselbes."

"Crabtree is in jail, so you will only have Dan Baxter to guard against," said Dick. "And I hardly think he will show up in a hurry."

That night Dick and Tom had a long conversation with Mrs. Stanhope. The lady was very nervous, and when asked if she would appear against Josiah Crabtree she shivered from head to foot.

"I—I cannot do it," she said brokenly. "Do not ask it of me! He— he— I cannot face him without he makes me feel as if I were in his power."

"He is something of a hypnotist," said Tom. "Cannot you remember that, and nerve yourself against coming under his spell?"

But the lady only shivered again. "No! no! I have tried it—for Dora's sake—but I cannot do it! I am horrified at his influence, but I cannot withstand it."

"Then you will keep away from the court room when he is tried?"

"Yes, I must. I will get my doctor to issue a certificate that I am ill."

"Will you let Dora testify? If she wishes to do so."

There the matter rested, and the two boys sought out Dora.

"It is too bad," said Dick, on the way. "Mrs. Stanhope is on the verge of a nervous collapse, and I believe it is all on account of Crabtree's doings."

"Yes, and I am afraid she will never get away from his influence. If he hadn't been something of a hypnotist I don't believe she would ever have taken to him at the start as she did."

When Dora was told of what her mother had said, she felt like crying, and the tears stood in her eyes.

"I know it all only too well," she said. "I am glad mamma mill not face him. Why, he would influence her into declaring that he was innocent!"

"But you will testify, won't you?" asked Dick earnestly.

"If you wish it, Dick. But I hate the publicity."

"Crabtree ought to be put where he can do your mother no further harm."

"Yes, I feel that, too."

"And you must remember how he helped to abduct you."

"I haven't forgot that."

Vick and Tom remained until it was quite late, and then almost ran back to the Hall, for the captain had told them not to be out after eleven o'clock.

For several days matters ran smoothly at the Hall. Then came Josiah Crabtree's trial, and all of the Rover boys went to the county seat, to remain several days. With them went Dora and her uncle, John Laning.

The former teacher's trial lasted longer than expected, and the jury were out the best part of a night before arriving at a verdict. In the end, much to the Rover boys' surprise, Crabtree was sentenced to six months in the county jail, instead of to several years in the State's prison.

"I can't understand it," muttered Dick, when, they were on the way back to the Hall. "He must have hypnotized the judge who tried the case." The verdict was a disappointing one, yet it was something to know that Crabtree would be out of the way even that long.

"Before he gets out you can be on your trip to Buffalo and the Great Lakes," said Dick to Dora. "And perhaps you can hide your whereabouts from him, so that he can't get at your mother, to try on his game again."

"I will certainly try to throw him off the track," answered the girl. "I never want to see him again."

Captain Putnam was anxious to learn how the trial had ended, and came from the academy on horseback to meet the boys.

"Well, it is something," he said, half-smiling. "But you are right, he deserved more."

"I knew he was no good," said Tom. "Knew it from the first time I met him, when he was head assistant here, and placed me under arrest for shooting off a fire-cracker at the gate."

At this Captain Putnam laughed outright.

"You have a good memory, Thomas, I must say! Well, you are square now, as you boys call it."



CHAPTER XII

WINTER DAYS AT PUTNAM HALL

After the trial of Josiah Crabtree the days flew by swiftly at the Hall. Bound to make a good showing, each of the Rover boys applied himself diligently to his studies, and all made rapid progress.

Thanksgiving came and went, and a week later there came a fairly heavy fall of snow.

"Hurrah! winter is knocking at the door at last!" cried Sam joyfully. "Now for some snowballing, skating, and all the rest of the winter fun."

Snowballing was already going on, and the white balls were flying in all directions. Dick had his hat taken off by Frank, and in return filled Frank's ear with snow. Tom and Fred got into a regular war at close quarters, and in the end Tom threw his opponent flat and stuffed snow down his neck. But then Larry came up with a huge cake of snow and nearly smothered Tom, and then a dozen leaped in, and a good-natured melee resulted, lasting for the rest of the playtime.

It was very cold that night, and two days later the ice on the lake was two inches thick. Still the captain made the boys wait until the following Saturday, when the ice was strong enough to bear a horse.

In the meantime skates had been brought out and polished up, and soon the edge of the lake was alive with skaters, all moving swiftly from one spot to another, and shrieking and laughing at the top of their voices. George Strong, the assistant master, also came down and showed some of the older boys how to cut fancy figures. Dick was a good skater, and took to the fancy figures with ease. As for Tom and Sam, they preferred straight skating, and entered half a dozen trials of speed down the lake to the old boathouse and back.

"If it gets much colder, so that the ice thickens, I am going to build an ice-boat," said Frank to Dick that night. "Captain Putnam said I could have all the old lumber I want. You know the carpenters left a lot when they fixed over that burnt part of the Hall."

"Hurrah, an ice-boat!" cried Dick. "Just the thing. Let me help, you, Frank. Perhaps the captain will let us have an old camping-out tent for a sail."

"Yes, I've asked him about that already, and he told Mrs. Green to get me one from the storehouse."

"And what about nails and runners?"

"Peleg Snuggers is going to give me the nails and lend me the tools. The runners I will have to buy down to the blacksmith shop."

"There is an old cask down at the boathouse. We can take the hoops from that and have the blacksmith straighten them out, and they will do first rate for runners."

So the talk ran on, and on the following Monday, as the cold continued, the boys set to work, during the off-time, to build the ice-boat. Tom, Sam, and Hans joined in, and as soon as the frame was put together the boat was christened the Fiver, because, as Frank declared, it was built to hold just five and no more.

There was a class devoted to manual training at the Hall, so all of the boys were acquainted with the use of tools. The building of the iceboat progressed rapidly, and soon all that were wanting were the sail and the runners. Frank and Dick procured the hoops and had the blacksmith straighten them out and punch holes into them, and Mrs. Green kindly transformed an old tent into a mainsail of no mean proportions. As a matter of fact it would have been better for the boys had the sail been smaller.

It was a rather cloudy Saturday half-holiday when the boys placed the ice-boat on rollers and rolled it down to the lake front. All of the other cadets watched the proceedings with interest, and were sorry they could not go on the proposed trip. But Frank promised that all should have their turns later on.

A fair breeze was blowing, and no sooner was the mainsail raised than the Fiver, moved off in such a lively fashion that Tom, who had lingered behind, had all he could do to run and get on board.

"We're off! Hurrah!" yelled Sam, and the others took up the cry, and both those on board and those left behind waved hats and caps in the air and set up a cheer.

"And now where shall we go?" asked Frank, as they whizzed along.

"That will depend upon the wind," came from Tom. "Remember, we must get back before seven o'clock."

"Yah, der vint is eferydings," put in Hans. "Supposin' ve git far avay und der vint sthops plowing, vot den?"

"Then we'll set you on the rear seat to blow the sail yourself," replied Frank. "This wind is good for all day, and I know it," he added emphatically.

"Let us follow the shore for the present," said Tom. "Perhaps the Pornell students are skating below here and we can show them what we are up to."

So on they went along the shore, until the wind began to change and carry them out into the lake. Here the ice was, however, far from safe, and they began to tack back.

"It's snowing!" cried Sam presently. He was right, and ere long the flakes were coming down thickly. With the coming of the snow the wind died out utterly.

"Here's a pickle," muttered Tom, in disgust. "Frank, I thought you said this wind was good for all day?"

"Frank must haf had his schleepin' cap on ven he said dot," put in Hans, and the others set up a laugh.

"Well, I did think the wind would hold out," replied Frank, with a wry face. "This is going to spoil everything. Did anybody bring his skates?"

Nobody had, although all had calculated to do so. In the excitement every pair had been forgotten.

"Now we can't even skate home," said Dick.

"And I rather think it will be a long walk—at least three miles."

"That's not the worst of it," came from his youngest brother. "Look how heavily it is snowing."

"Poch! who's afraid of a little snow?" blustered Tom.

"Nobody, but if we can't see our way—"

"By Jove! I never thought of that!" groaned Frank. "Just look around, boys. It's awful, isn't it?"

Much startled, all looked around. On every hand the snow was coming down so thickly that they could not see a distance of two rods in any direction.

"We seem to be cut off," observed Dick soberly. "I reckon the best thing we can do is to make for shore."

"And leave the Fiver behind?"

"No. Let us lower the sail and push her in front of us."

This was considered good advice, and much put out over the sudden termination of their sport, the five cadets lowered the sail and tied it up, and then leaped to the ice.

"Now then, all together!" cried Frank, but to his surprise Tom and Hans pushed in a different direction to the others.

"Why, Tom, that's not the way!" cried Frank.

"Isn't it?" burst out Tom. "Why not?"

"Because it isn't."

"Of course dot is der vay," cried Hans. "Der shore vos ofer dare."

"Yes, the other shore. But not the one we left and the one we want to get back to."

A long discussion followed, and it was soon realized that either Tom and Hans, or else the others, were sadly mixed up. "The majority rules," said Frank. "So let us go this way."

"All right, I will," grumbled Tom. "But I still think you are wrong."

"And I vos sure of him," added Hans.

However, they took hold willingly enough, and soon the whole party were moving slowly through the snowstorm, shoving the Fiver in front of them. The snow had now become blinding, and absolutely nothing was to be seen around them.

A half hour had passed, and they were wondering why the shore did not appear, when suddenly Dick uttered a warning cry.

"Look out! We are going into the open water! Back all of you!"

They leaped back, fairly tumbling over each other in their efforts to escape the water, which crept up to their feet without warning. As they pushed themselves back they naturally sent the Fiver flying forward, and an instant later they heard a crashing of ice and saw the ice-boat topple over into the water and disappear from view!



CHAPTER XIII

LOST IN THE SNOW

"The ice-boat's gone!"

"Get back, boys, or we'll all be in the water!"

Ca-a-ac-ck! A long warning sound rang through the snow-laden air and the party of five felt the surface of the ice parting beneath them. They turned and sped away from the water with all the speed at their command, and soon the dangerous spot was left behind, but not before poor Hans had lost his cap and Sam had gotten his left foot wet to the ankle.

"By jinks! but that was a narrow shave!" gasped Dick, when they were safe. "A little more and all of us would have been under the ice."

"And that would have cost us our lives!" said Frank solemnly. "Boys, I don't believe I'll ever want to go ice-boating again."

"Mine cap vos gone," growled the German cadet dismally. "How vos I going to keep mine head from freezing, tole me dot, vill you?"

"That's rough on you," said Tom. "Here, take my tippet and tie that around your head and ears." And he took the article in question and handed it over.

"Dank you, Tom, you vos a goot feller. But vot you vos do to keep your neck varm, hey?"

"Here's a silk handkerchief, he can wear that," said Dick. "But I say, fellows," he went on. "I think we are mixed up now and no mistake."

"I am sure I am," answered Frank. "I haven't the least idea where the shore is."

"Nor I," came from Tom. "We'll have to go at it in a hit-or-miss fashion."

"No miss for me," put in Sam. "I am not prepared for a watery grave just now."

"We must be cautious," said Dick. "I've got an idea. Has anybody a rope with him?"

"I've got a heavy cord," answered Frank.

"Then let us tie that to each fellow's right wrist. Then we can string out in a line, like the Swiss mountain climbers, and if the boy in front gets into trouble the others can haul him out."

"Hurrah! Dick, has solved the problem of how the lost cadets are going to get to safety," cried Sam. "Let us have the cord by all means."

It was quickly produced and proved to be about forty feet in length. Dick tied himself fast to one end and Sam the other, and the others came between.

"Now then, forward march!" shouted Dick. And on they moved, in Indian file.

"Route step!" shouted Frank. And they broke up as ordered—that is each walking to suit himself, so that their feet should not come down on the ice at the same time, something which might have cause another cracking.

The snow still came down as hard as ever—indeed, to Dick it appeared to come down harder. The wind was beginning to rise again and blew the blinding particles directly into their faces.

"What's the use of walking right in the teeth of the wind," grumbled Tom. "Why not try the other way?"

"I think the wind comes from off shore, that's why," answered his elder brother.

"I don't. I think it's coming down the lake."

"I believe Dick is right," ventured Frank. "The wind came that way before—that is why we were blown out so far."

The matter was put to a vote and all but Tom agreed that they must be heading for the western shore of the lake. So the weary tramp was resumed.

It was not without its incidents. Once Hans' feet went from under him and he went flat on his back, taking Tom with him. This caused the line to tighten and all went on top of the pair and a grand melee resulted. Then Tom playfully filled Sam's neck with snow, and Hans let a little snowball drop into Tom's ear, and in a second all were at it in a snow fight which lasted several minutes.

At last Dick arose and shook himself. "Hi! this won't do!" he cried, brushing himself off. "Unless we hurry we'll be late in getting back."

"Late in getting back?" repeated Frank. "I shall count myself lucky if we don't have remain here all night."

"Great Caesar, Frank, do you mean that?" came from Sam.

"I do. Here we have been tramping I don't know how long, and we seem to be as far from shore as ever."

"Exactly so," grumbled Hans. "I dink ve must pe moving around in a ring, hey?"

"Can that be possible?" asked Tom.

"I don't think so," answered Dick, "for I have been watching the ice very closely and I haven't seen the first sign of our doubling our steps."

"Let us keep out in a straight line," said Tom. "That will keep us away from the circle business."

Once more they pushed on, but the snow was now several inches deep, and the ice very slippery and all of the party could scarcely drag one foot after the other. It was Sam who called another halt.

"I'm getting winded!" he panted. "Boys, I guess we are lost in the snow."

"That's true, Sam," said Frank. "The shore seems to be as far off as ever."

"I told you that you were wrong," put in Tom. "If we had been walking toward shore we would be on land long ago."

"I don't know but what Tom's view is correct," said Frank slowly,

"Unless we've been moving in a crooked line, as Hans suggested," said the elder Rover.

One and another of the little party gazed at his companions and then at the desolate scene around them. Yes, they were lost in the snowstorm, and what the end of the adventure would be they could not imagine.

"Well, we can try Tom's course," said Dick, after another careful look around which is not saving much as the snow was coming down as thickly as ever.

"I notice that it is getting dark," observed Frank, as they trudged on. "I wonder what time it is?"

A watch was consulted and they learned to their chagrin that it was half-past four.

"I vos gitting hungry," came from Hans.

"Don't say a word!" cried Tom. "I could eat a doughnut a month old."

"Don't speak about it," put in Dick dryly. "It will only make you feel more hungry."

Darkness was coming on rapidly, and all of the boys were beginning to despair when suddenly Dick gave a shout of joy.

"The shore, boys! The shore at last!"

"Where?" came from all of the others.

"Over to our left. Come on!"

The others followed Dick willingly and in less than half a minute found themselves on solid earth once more, but at some point where the ground was little more than a stretch of flat meadow land.

"Hurrah!" shouted Sam. "How good to be on land once more!"

"Perhaps we might have been on land long ago if we had turned to the left," observed Frank. "We may have been skirting the shore for half the afternoon!"

"Never mind, we are here at last so don't let's grumble," said Tom. "What's that ahead, a barn?"

"Some kind of a building," answered Dick. "Let us go forward and investigate."

They did so, and found a half tumbled down building, which had once been used for the storage of meadow hay and also as a boathouse. The door was gone and the window broken out, and the snow lay on the floor to the depth of an inch or more.

But still it was more pleasant inside than out, for the wind was rising and the large flakes of snow had given place to fine hard particles which came swishing down like so much sharp salt, so Dick said. It cut into their faces and made them thankful that some shelter had been found, no matter how humble.

It was too dark now to see anything, and sitting on some old hay in the most sheltered corner of the building the five boys held a consultation.

"I move we stay here until morning," said Tom. "If we go out again we may be lost and frozen to death."

"That is true," commented Frank. "But what will Captain Putnam say?"

"He can't blame us for what has happened," said Dick. "We tried our best to get back."

"Yah, und he vos know ve ton't stay here nildowit suppers for noddings," was the manner in which the German cadet expressed himself.

"Oh, Hans, how can you!" broke from Tom, who could eat at any time, and who now felt more hungry than any of them. "Do you mean to say we'll have to remain here all night without our suppers!"

"Vell, vot else you vos going ter do, hey?"

"We'll have to go without something to eat, unless we can find something close at hand," said Frank.

One after another went out to the doorway and to the open window and gazed forth. But the howling wind and blinding snow soon made all glad enough to get back to the sheltered corner. It was now pitch dark.

"We are in for it, so make yourselves as comfortable as possible," observed Frank. "My, how the wind does blow!"

"It's like a hurricane in an African forest," said Sam. "I believe it's almost strong enough to take a fellow off his feet."

The wind kept increasing in violence, until the old barn seemed to rock back and forth. It arose in a low moan and mounted steadily to a shriek, gradually dying away in the distance, followed by the slish-slishing of the fine snow across the rotted shingles of the roof.

"It's a tempest not to be forgotten," said Frank. "I can't remember when I've heard the wind make such a noise before. If it gets any worse it—"

Frank got no further, for the shrieking of the wind drowned out every other sound. Then came a strange grinding and creaking overhead, and the barn rocked more than ever.

"Get out, boys," yelled Tom. "The old shebang is going to pieces!"

Tom had scarcely spoken when the shock came, and beams, boards, and shingles flew in all directions. It was a terrifying occurrence and not knowing what else to do the five boys dug into the loose hay and threw themselves flat. Each felt as if the end of the world had come.



CHAPTER XIV

A FEW SPRING HAPPENINGS

Luckily for the boys the barn was blown clean over on its side, its roof falling some distance away, so that none of the wreckage came down on top of the crowd.

But the sounds of the beams and boards breaking were so terrifying that for several minutes after the damage was done none of the crowd dared to move. Each felt as though the next second might be his last.

At length Dick pulled himself together and peered forth.

"Any—anybody hurt?" he panted.

"I'm not," came from Tom. "But, say, wasn't—"

A splutter, coming from Hans, interrupted him. In his eagerness to escape the fall of the barn the German cadet had plunged into the hay open-mouthed, and now some of the stuff had entered his throat and was almost choking him.

"Clap him on the back!" cried Dick, and Tom did as requested. Then came several gulps and Hans began to cough. But the danger from strangulation was over.

All were soon out of the wreckage, and thankful that they had escaped thus easily.

"But we won't have the barn to shelter us," said Frank ruefully. "What will we do next?"

"Push on until another shelter appears," said Dick. "We can't remain here, to be frozen to death."

"Yes, but be careful that we don't get on to the lake again," cautioned Sam.

"No fear of that, Sam."

After the terrific blow which laid low the old barn, the wind appeared to let up a bit, and consequently moving was not so difficult. They struck out across the meadow, and presently gained a clump of trees.

"Dis vos besser as noddings," said Hans. "Supposing ve stay here for der night?"

"I'm going to see what's on the other side of the woods first," replied Dick, and stalked off, Tom at his heels. Presently the others heard both Rover boys set up a shout.

"A house, fellows! Come on!"

They made a rush forward, and soon they reached a stone fence. On the other side was what had been a planted field, and beyond this a house and several outbuildings.

With hearts greatly lightened they climbed over the fence and made for the house. They were still some distance from the dwelling when they heard the bark of a dog.

"Hullo! I hope he isn't loose," cried Frank.

"But he is," ejaculated Tom; "and he is coming this way too!"

"Du meine zeit!" shrieked Hans. "He vill chew us all up! Vot shall ve do?" And he looked ready to collapse.

"Perhaps we can snowball him—" began Sam, when Dick set up another cry.

"It's Laning's dog, boys. What fools we are! This is Mr. Laning's place."

"Laning's place," burst out Tom. "Why, to be sure it is. And that is Leo! Leo! Leo! old boy, don't you know us?" he cried.

On bounded the dog, and then began to bark again, but this time joyously. He came up to Tom and leaped all around him, wagging his brush as he did so. Then he came to Sam and to Dick, for he knew them all very well.

"It's a good thing the old barn blew down," said Tom, for he could not help but think of the greeting the Laning girls would give him.

They were soon at the back door of the farmer's cottage. It was opened by Mrs. Laning, who stared at them in astonishment.

"Can we come in?" asked Dick. "We are nearly frozen."

"Well, I never! Out in all this storm! It's a wonder the captain would allow it. Why, come in of course, and get thawed out by the fire." And then they went in to meet Mr. Laning, and also the two girls.

Their story was soon told, and meanwhile the lady of the house prepared a hot supper for them. As they sat eating they discussed the question of whether it would be better to return to Putnam Hall that night or wait until morning.

"I would say stay here," said Mr. Laning, "but Captain Putnam will be worried about you and start out in search of you."

"That's just it," answered Dick. "I think one of us, at least, ought to return."

"Let us draw straws for it," said Frank, and so it was agreed.

From the Laning place each knew the road well, so there was no danger of going astray. Besides, the storm was now letting up in violence.

It fell to Frank's choice to go, and as he was about to leave Hans decided to keep him company. The pair was soon off, and this left the Rover boys and the Lanings to themselves.

Satisfied that all was now right, the three brothers made the most of the evening thus afforded them, and so did the two girls, and all played, sang, and went in for various games until eleven o'clock. Then the lads retired to a room assigned to them.

"I say," said Tom, as he prepared to turn in. "That adventure started queer-like, but we came out of it all right."

"Yes, it couldn't be better," added Sam.

At this Dick winked. "Especially as we landed at the Lanings' home," he observed.

"What a pity it wasn't Dora's home, too," drawled Tom, and then as Dick shied a shoe at him he turned over and dropped off into the land of dreams.

Early the next morning they started for Putnam Hall, John Laning driving them thither in his sleigh. It was a ride they enjoyed. The farmer dropped them at the door, and Captain Putnam stood ready to receive them.

"I am glad you are safe back," he said, with some display of emotion. "Harrington and Mueller have given me the particulars of your night's adventure. Hereafter I want all of the cadets to remain off the lake during a snowstorm."

"You may be sure we will remain off, captain," answered Dick. "One such adventure is enough for any fellow."

After this happening nothing of special interest occurred until Christmas. Then the cadets gave their usual entertainment, including a little domestic drama called "Looking for a Quiet Boarding House." In this drama Tom and Larry acted the parts of two old maids who were taking boarders, while Dick, Sam, and eight others were the so-called boarders, or those looking for board. The play was filled with humorous situations, and the audience, in which were the Stanhopes and the Lanings, enjoyed it hugely.

"If you fail in everything else, you had better go on the stage, Tom," said Nellie to that youth. "You make a splendid actor—or I should say actress," and she laughed.

"How would you like to have me for a sister?" minced Tom, in the voice he had used in acting.

"Thank you, but I don't want an old maid for a sister."

"Then perhaps you don't want to be an old maid yourself," he retorted. "All right, I'll see to it that you are spared that annoyance." And then she boxed him playfully on the ears. She could not help but think a good deal of this open-hearted, fun-loving fellow.

After the entertainment the boys went home, to remain over New Year's Day. Jack Ness, the hired man, met them at the railroad station in Oak Run and drove them through Dexter's Corners to Valley Brook farm.

"It's good fer sore eyes to see ye back," said the hired man. "The folks is waitin' fer ye like a set o' children."

When they came in sight of the farmhouse there were Mr. Rover, Uncle Randolph, and Aunt Martha all on the porch to receive them. Anderson Rover could not help rushing forward to embrace his sons, and the greetings of uncle and aunt were scarcely less affectionate.

"My own boys!" was all that Anderson Rover said, but the manner of speaking meant a good deal.

"The house is yours, boys," said their Aunt Martha. "I used to think you were a bother, but now I'd rather have the bother than miss you," and she smiled so sweetly that Dick gave her an extra hug.

"Yes, yes, do what you please, lads," put in Randolph Rover. "I shall not be annoyed. We understand each other a great deal better than we did before we went to Africa, eh?"

"Right you are, uncle!" cried Tom. "We found you out to be a regular brick."

Christmas presents were numerous, including some jewelry for all of the boys and a ring to replace the one Tom had lost, and some games, and half a dozen story books, not to mention other things more useful, as, for instance, some socks Mrs. Randolph Rover had, herself, made. For the aunt there was a new breastpin from the three boys, and for the uncle a set of scientific works just to his liking. For their father the lads had purchased a gold-headed cane, the stick of which was made of some wood they had brought with them from the banks of the Congo.

The time at home passed all too quickly, and soon it was necessary for the boys to return to Putnam Hall. Dora Stanhope and the Laning girls had not been forgotten, and now these young folks sent gifts of dainty embroidered handkerchiefs, of which the boys were very proud. Tom and Sam had sent Nellie and Grace two elegant Christmas cards. What Dick had sent Dora he would not tell. Being behind the scenes we may state that it was a tiny gold locket, heart-shaped, and that Dora treasured the gift highly.

The second week after New Year found them at the Hall once more, pegging away at their studies harder than ever, for they were bound to make the record their father desired of them.

But the time spent at school was not without its sport and fun, for there was plenty of sleighing and skating, and the gymnasium was always open during the off hours.

"No enemies at the Hall this season," remarked Fred Garrison, "no Baxters or Cavens, or fellows of that sort."

"No, and I am glad of it," answered Dick. "It's a big relief."

"Have you any idea what became of Baxter?"

"Not the slightest."

"And of Mumps, the fellow who used to be his toady?"

"Oh, Mumps reformed, after that chase on the ocean, and I've since heard that he went West, struck some sort of a job as a bookkeeper, or something like that."

"Well, old Crabtree is safe. He won't bother you any more," concluded Fred, and there the subject dropped.

The weeks glided by quickly, until spring was at hand, and the green grass began to cover the bills and fields surrounding Cayuga Lake. Still the Rover boys pegged away, and it must be admitted that even Captain Putnam was astonished at their progress.

"They are whole-souled fellows," he said to George Strong. "They put their whole mind into everything they go into."

"And those are the boys who afterward make their mark in the world," answered the head assistant. "The Rover boys are all right."



CHAPTER XV

HOW ARNOLD BAXTER ESCAPED

"Well, I never!"

It was Dick Rover who uttered the remark, as he leaped from the chair in which he had been sitting, newspaper in hand.

"Never what, Dick?" drawled Tom lazily, looking up from a kite he was mending.

"Never saw anything to equal those Baxters. What do you think? Arnold Baxter has escaped from prison."

"What!" ejaculated Tom, and on the instant the kite was forgotten, and Tom smashed it directly through the middle with his foot as he came to his brother's side.

"Yes, he has escaped, and in the slickest manner I ever heard of. I tell you, Tom, he is a prize criminal, if ever there was one."

"But how did he get out?"

"How? Why, just shook hands with his jailers, thanked them for their kindness, and then left."

"Oh, pshaw, Dick, is this a joke? Because if it is, I want to remind you that we had the first of April last week."

"It's no joke, although Baxter ought to have played his trick on the first, true enough."

"Well, what is the trick? You said he shook hands with his jailers and walked off. Of course, he couldn't do that, unless his time was up."

"But it wasn't up—not by several years."

"Then how did he do it?"

"By a trick, Tom—the neatest, cleverest, slickest ever performed in this State."

"Oh, stow your long-winded speeches, Dick," cried the younger brother half angrily. "Boil it down and serve the extract in short order."

"Very well, I will. Firstly, Arnold Baxter is in jail. Secondly, he states his friends are going to ask the governor for a pardon. Thirdly, a friend in disguise comes to the jail with the supposed pardon. Fourthly, great joy of Baxter. Fifthly, he thanks his jailers and bids them good-by, as I said before. Sixthly, after he and his friend are gone the jailers inspect the so-called pardon. Seventhly, the jailers telephone to the governor. Eighthly, the pardon is pronounced a forgery, signatures, seal, and all. Ninthly, all the powers that be are as mad as hornets, but they can do nothing, for Baxter the elder has gone and has left no trace behind him."

"Phew!" Tom emitted a long, low whistle.

"Say, but that runs like the half-dime novels I used to stuff myself with in my green days, doesn't it?"

"That's right, Tom, excepting that this is strictly true, while the half-dime novels used to be as far from the truth as a howling dog is from the moon. But seriously, I don't like this," went on the elder Rover earnestly.

"Neither do I like it."

"Baxter at liberty may mean trouble for father and for us."

"I begin to see now what Dan Baxter meant," ejaculated Tom suddenly. "I'll wager he knew all along what his father and the friend were up to."

"I wonder who the stranger was? He must have been a very skillful forger to forge the governor's signature and the other signatures too."

"He must be some old pal to Baxter. Don't you remember father said Baxter was thick with several fellows in the West before he came out here?"

"Let us write to father about this at once."

This was agreed to, and Dick began to pen the letter without delay. While he was at work Sam came in and was acquainted with the news.

"It's just like the Baxters," said the youngest Rover. "After this, I'll be prepared to expect anything of them. I'd like to know where he has gone? Perhaps out West."

"Out West?" cried Dick and Tom simultaneously.

"Certainly. Didn't he swear to get the best of us regarding that mine matter?"

"By gum!" murmured Tom. "Dick, we can't send that letter any too quick. Perhaps we had better telegraph."

"Oh, father may have the news already." Dick glanced at the newspaper again. "Hullo, I missed this," he cried.

"Missed what?" came from both of the others.

"The paper says Baxter's escape occurred several days ago. The prison' officials kept it to themselves at first, hoping the detectives would re-capture the criminal."

"And that paper was printed yesterday morning. At any rate, Baxter has had his liberty for at least five days. I must say I don't like this at all. We'll telegraph to father without delay."

Looking out of the window Dick saw Captain Putnam walking on the parade ground. He ran down to interview the master of the Hall.

"Why, yes, you can go to Cedarville at once, if you deem it important," said the captain. "Peleg Snuggers can drive you down."

"Thank you, captain," said Dick, and ran to the stables. He found the utility man at work cleaning out a stall, and soon had Snuggers hitching up. Inside of ten minutes Dick was on the way to town. As he bowled along, little did he dream of how long it would be before he should see dear old Putnam Hall again.

While passing the Stanhope cottage Dick saw Dora at work over a flower bed in the front garden.

"Just going to Cedarville on a little errand," he shouted, and waved his hand to her, and she waved in return. In the back garden was Aleck, and the negro, flourished a hoe as a salute.

The telegraph office at Cedarville was not a large place, and but few private messages were received there. As Dick drove up the operator looked at him and at Snuggers.

"Hullo, I was just going to send a message up to your place," he said to the utility man.

"All right, I'll take it," replied Snuggers. "You can pay me for the messenger service," he added with a grin.

"Whom is the message for, if I may ask?" questioned Dick quickly.

"For Richard Rover."

"That's myself. Let me have it at once."

"You are Richard Rover?" queried the operator, and looked at Snuggers, who nodded. "You came here just in time, then."

The telegraph operator brought the message forth, and Dick tore it open with a hand that trembled in spite of his efforts to control it. He felt instinctively that something was wrong.

The telegram was from Mrs. Randolph Rover, and ran as follows:

"Come home at once. Your father and uncle attacked by unknown rascal who tried to ransack house. Uncle seriously hurt.

"Martha Rover."

Dick's heart seemed to stop beating as he read the lines. "Attacked by rascal who tried to ransack the house," he murmured. "It must have been Arnold Baxter."

"No bad news, I trust, Master Dick," observed Snuggers.

"Yes, Peleg, very bad. Take this back to the Hall and give it to my brothers, and tell them I am going to Ithaca by the first boat, and there take the midnight train for home. Tell them to explain to Captain Putnam and then to follow me. Do you understand?"

"Well—I—er—I guess I do," stammered the workingman. "Be you going home, then?"

"At once." Dick turned to the operator.

"The boat for Ithaca is almost due, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir, in five minutes."

"Take me to the wharf, Peleg, and hurry up about it."

"Got to go, then?"

"I have," and Dick leaped into the carriage. Peleg Snuggers saw that the young cadet was in earnest, and made the boat landing in less than three minutes.

The Sylvan Dell, a companion boat to the Morning Star, was on time, and Dick soon found himself on board and bound for Ithaca. He was too excited to keep quiet, and began to pace the boat from stem to stern.

"What's up, my lad?" asked the captain, as he looked at the youth curiously.

"I am in a hurry to get home, sir."

"Well, I'm afraid tramping around won't hurry matters any," and Captain Miller smiled broadly.

"Do you object to my walking around?" asked Dick, somewhat sharply.

"Oh, no; go ahead. I hope you haven't heard any bad news," went on the captain kindly.

"But I have heard bad news. My father and my uncle were attacked by some man who tried to ransack the house. My uncle was seriously hurt."

"That's bad. I trust they collared the villain."

"No; I guess he got away, for the telegram I received said he was unknown."

"It's too bad. Do your folks live in the city?"

"No; at a country place called Valley Brook."

"Then I doubt if they catch the rascal who did the deed. The country offers too good a chance to escape."

"I mean to catch him if I can," said Dick earnestly, and then the captain left him once more to himself. He thought that the boy had rather a large opinion of himself, but did not know that Dick already had a first-class clew to work on.



CHAPTER XVI

SOMETHING ABOUT THE ECLIPSE MINE

"Dick! Oh, how glad I am that you have come!"

Mrs. Randolph Rover rushed out to the porch to greet the boy as he came bounding up the steps, two at a time.

"I came as soon as I received the telegram," he answered, as he embraced his aunt. "And how are father and Uncle Randolph?"

"Your father is not seriously hurt,—only a twist of his left ankle, where the burglar kicked him. But your Uncle Randolph—"

Mrs. Rover stopped and shook her head bitterly.

"Not dangerously hurt, I hope," cried Dick, his heart leaping into his mouth, for as we already know, his eccentric old uncle was very dear to him.

"Yes, he is seriously hurt, Dick. He was struck in the head, and a fever has set in."

"Can I see him?"

"Not yet. The doctor says he must be kept very quiet."

"But he will recover, aunt?"

"I—I hope so, Dick. Oh, it was dreadful!" And the tears rolled down the woman's pale face.

"I'm so sorry for you!" he exclaimed, brushing the tears away with his handkerchief. "So sorry. Where is father?"

"Up in the bedroom in the wing of the house."

"I can see him, can't I?"

"Oh, yes."

Dick waited to hear no more, but ran up the stairs quickly, yet making no noise, for fear of disturbing his uncle, who was in a front room on the same floor.

"Father, can I come in?" he asked in a low voice.

"Yes, Dick," was the reply, and he went into the room, to find his father in a rocking chair, with his left foot resting on a stool. Mr. Anderson Rover's face showed plainly that he had suffered considerable pain.

"Father, I am so glad it is no worse," he said, as he took his parent's hand. "Aunt Martha tells me Uncle Randolph is seriously hurt."

"Yes, he got the worst of it," returned Anderson Rover. "The blow was meant for me, but your uncle leaped in and caught its full force."

"And do you know who the robber was?"

"No; he had his face well covered."

"I think I can tell you."

"You, Dick? Ah, you are thinking of that Dan Baxter. It was a man, not a boy; I am sure of that much."

"Yes, it was a man, father. It was Arnold Baxter."

"Arnold Baxter! You must be dreaming. He is in jail"

"No, he has escaped; he escaped about a week ago."

"Escaped?" Anderson Rover raised himself up, and would have leaped to his feet hid not his sprained ankle prevented him. "You are certain of this?"

"Yes," and Dick related the particulars.

"You must be right. The man did look like Baxter, but I thought it impossible that it could be the same." The elder Rover gave a groan. "Then the fat is in the fire for a certainty. And after all my work and trouble!"

"What are you talking about now, father?"

"That mining claim in Colorado—the Eclipse Mine, as Roderick Kennedy christened it."

"But I don't understand?"

"It's a long story, Dick. You have beard parts of it, but not the whole, and to go into the details would do you small good."

"But I would like to know something, father."

"You shall know something, Dick." Mr. Rover drew up his injured foot. "Oh, if only I could go after Arnold Baxter without delay!"

"It's too bad you are hurt. Does it pain you very much?"

"When I try to stand on it the pain is terrible. The doctor says I must not use the foot for a month or six weeks."

"That will make tedious waiting for you."

"Yes, and in the meantime Baxter will try to cheat me out of that mining property, if he can."

"But he won't dare to show himself."

"He will do the work through some other party—probably the man who helped him to escape from prison."

"Did he get anything of value—papers, for instance?"

"Yes, he got most of the papers, although I still retain one small map, a duplicate of one which was stolen. You see, Dick, years ago Roderick Kennedy and myself were partners out in Colorado, owning half a dozen claims."

"Yes; I've heard that before."

"Well, one day Kennedy went off prospecting and located a very rich find, which he christened the Eclipse Mine. The claim was never worked, but he made a map of the locality, which he kept a secret. As his partner I was entitled to half of all of his discoveries, just as he was entitled to half of my discoveries.

"At that time Arnold Baxter worked for both of us. He was thick with Kennedy, and I soon saw that he was trying to break up the partnership, so that he could form a new deal with Kennedy. But Kennedy was true to me, and in the end we caught Baxter stealing from us, and gave him twenty-four hours' notice to quit camp.

"Baxter was enraged at this, and went off vowing to get square. About a month after that happened Kennedy tumbled off a cliff, and died of his injuries. In his will he left me all of his mining properties, including the Eclipse claim, which I have never yet seen.

"After Kennedy was buried Arnold Baxter came forward and claimed part of the property, and produced papers to substantiate his claims. But the papers were proved by a dozen miners to be of no value, and in the end he was again drummed out of camp.

"I was making money fast just then, and for the time being paid no attention to Baxter. But he continued to annoy me, and I am pretty certain that on one or two occasions be tried to take my life. But at last he disappeared, and I heard no more of him until you boys brought me back from Africa, and told me that you had had trouble with both him and his good-for-nothing son. He seems bound to shadow me wherever I go."

"But the Eclipse Mine—" broke in Dick.

"I am getting to that. Kennedy had left his interest in it to me, but Baxter claimed the whole discovery as his own, saying he was out on his own hook when the mine was located, which was a falsehood. But though Baxter claimed the mine he could not locate it, nor could I do so. It was along a creek which a certain Jack Wumble had called Bumble Bee, but we could not locate this creek, and Jack Wumble had departed for fresh fields. But I have located the old miner, and he has told me that Bumble Bee Creek was in reality one of the south branches of the Gunnison River, and is now called the Larkspur. You must remember that in those, early days matters were very unsettled in Colorado, and names changed almost weekly."

"So this Eclipse Mine is on Larkspur Creek?"

"Yes, at a point three hundred yards above a white cliff which the old miners used to call Rooney's Ghost, because a miner named Rooney once committed suicide there."

"And what about Baxter, father? If he has those papers, do you think he or his confederate will go up the Larkspur to locate the Eclipse Mine?"

"Undoubtedly—under another name—that is, if it proves as valuable as my old partner anticipated."

"But if we can get there before him and locate for ourselves?"

"Ah, if I could do that, Dick, then I would not fear Baxter or anybody else. But if he gets in ahead of me—well, you know, 'possession is nine points of the law,' and he can at least make me a lot of trouble."

Dick sprang from the seat into which he had dropped.

"He shan't do it, father!" he exclaimed.

"But how are you going to help it, my son? I cannot go West with this sprained ankle."

"I'll go West myself and locate that claim in spite of what Arnold Baxter has done."

"You go West?"

"Yes."

"Without me? That would be, a—well—"

"Remember, father, I went to Africa to find you."

"I shall never forget it, Dick. But you had others with you—your Uncle Randolph, and Tom, and Sam, and Aleck."

"Well, I can take Tom and Sam with me again, if it comes to that."

"It is a wild country out there among the mining camps of the mountains."

"It's no wilder than in the heart of Africa."

Mr. Anderson Rover shook his head doubtfully. "And then if Baxter found out what you were trying to do he would—" He could not finish, but Dick understood.

"I shall be on my guard, father. I know what a scoundrel he is, and will give him no chance to get at me."

At that point the conversation was interrupted by the hired girl, who came to call Dick to a late supper. The lad was hungry, so he did not refuse. By the time he had finished, Mr. Rover had gone to bed, so his son also retired, without probing the Eclipse Mine affair any further. But it was a long time before Dick got to sleep, so full was his head of the suddenly proposed trip to the West.



CHAPTER XVII

BOUND FOR THE WEST

On the following morning Tom and Sam arrived, as anxious as Dick had been to learn the particulars of what had occurred. They listened to their father's story with interest, as he told of how he had heard a noise and gone below to grapple with the midnight intruder who was ransacking the library desk, and of how Randolph Rover had come to his assistance and been seriously wounded, and how all were now certain that the unwelcome visitor had been Arnold Baxter—that is, all but Randolph Baxter, who lay semi-unconscious, in a high fever, and who knew nothing.

The doctor came in at noon, and pronounced Randolph Rover but little better.

"He must be kept very quiet," said the medical man. "Do not allow anybody to disturb him. If he should become in the least excited I would not answer for his life." So the boys kept away from his bed-chamber and walked about on tiptoes and spoke in whispers.

It was Dick who called together a council of war, out in the barn, late in the afternoon, after he had had another long talk with his father.

"Here's the whole thing in a nutshell," he said. "Arnold Baxter has those papers—or the best part of them—and he means to stake that claim if he can."

"But he won't dare to show himself," said Sam. "If he does, we can turn him over to the police."

"Of course he won't show himself, but he'll get somebody else to stake the claim and whack up," replied Dick.

"We won't let him do it," interposed Tom bluntly. "I'll go to Colorado myself and stop him."

"Good for you, Tom! You've struck the nail's head first clip," said his elder brother.

"Father was going out there this spring, anyway—and he was going to take us."

"True. Father would go to-day if he could, but he can't, on account of that hurt ankle," went on Dick.

"Then let us go for him," came from Sam. "We can do nothing here but worry Uncle Randolph, and I don't feel like going back to Putnam Hall while this excitement is on."

"I told father that I wanted to go, lout he is afraid the trip would be too dangerous."

"Pooh! we went to Africa," was Tom's comment. He was awfully proud of that trip to the Dark Continent.

"It isn't the trip so much as it is the fact that we may fall in with Arnold Baxter and his confederates."

"By the way, I wonder if Dan has joined his father?" mused Sam.

"Like as not. Certainly Dan knew what his parent was up to— otherwise he wouldn't have written that letter Josiah Crabtree dropped."

"Then you can be sure the two Baxters have gone to Colorado," said Tom.

"And the three Rovers will go, too," said Sam.

"Will you?" asked Dick. "I wanted to say so, but—"

"Yes, we'll go, and that settles it," cried Tom. "And the sooner we get off the better. But we must get father to explain everything a little more closely before we leave."

It was easy to get Anderson Rover to explain, but not so easy to get him to consent to their going out to Colorado. At last he said that if they could get Jack Wumble to go with them they might go.

"Jack Wumble is all right, and if he says he will stick to you I know he will keep his word. He is a crack shot, and besides he knows Larkspur Creek from end to end, and it will save you a lot of hunting around to have him by to give information."

"And where can we find Jack Wumble?

"The last I heard of him he was in Chicago. He is rather a reckless man, and when he has money is apt to spend it in gambling. But his heart is true blue and honest to the core."

"Do you know where he was stopping?"

"At a hotel called the Western Palace. It is a great resort for mining men, and you will be sure to find out all about him if you ask for him there," concluded Mr. Rover.

A great deal more had to be talked about and considered, but we will pass that over. It was decided that the boys should leave for Chicago early on the following Monday morning. The spare time was used up in getting ready for the trip. The boys had their trunks shipped home from Putnam Hall, and wrote to the master and their friends telling of what was going on, but entering into no particulars. By Saturday night they were all ready, and on Sunday went to church at their aunt's request.

"I hate to see you go," said Mrs. Rover, with a sad smile. "It is a big risk. Be sure and come back safe and sound."

"We will," answered Tom. "And you be sure and have Uncle Randolph up and well when we do come back," he added. Poor Tom! little did he think of the grave perils that waited for him in the far West!

The day was a perfect one when they left, the air full of bright sunshine and the music of the birds which had made Valley Brook their summer home for many years. Mrs. Rover saw them to the carriage, while Anderson Rover waved them a serious adieu from his bedroom window. Poor Randolph Rover was as feverish as ever, and knew nothing of their coming or their going. All of the boys were half afraid they would never again see their uncle alive.

But youth is strong and hopeful, and by the time they had entered the cars and made themselves comfortable the scenes around them engrossed their attention, and the past was forgotten for the time being. The train was an express, and flew along at the rate of sixty miles an hour.

"We'll be in Chicago by this time to-morrow," said Dick. "It's quick traveling, isn't it?"

"I hope we are fortunate enough to catch Jack Wumble," said Tom. "I don't want to lose time in Chicago hunting him up."

The car was but half filled, so that the boys had several seats all to themselves. They had brought with them a map of Colorado, and they spent much of the day in studying this.

When it came time for dinner they entered the dining car. They could not get seats together, and so Tom was compelled to sit opposite to a burly fellow whose appearance did not strike him as altogether favorable.

"Bound for Chicago?" asked the man, after passing the time of day.

"Yes, sir," answered Tom. "Are you bound there?"

"I am going through that city. You belong there, I suppose?"

"No, sir, I've never been there before."

"Is that so. Going on a pleasure trip, or to try your luck? Or perhaps you are on business?"

"Yes, I am on business."

"You are rather young to be out on business, it strikes me," went on the burly stranger, after a pause.

"Oh, I've been around a little before," said Tom coolly.

"Yes, you look like a lad who has seen some thing of the world. Well, I've seen something of the world myself."

"Are you a Western man?" asked Tom, who thought it would not hurt to do a little questioning on his own account.

"Yes, I was born and brought up in Colorado."

The reply interested Tom.

"But you have traveled, you say?"

"Yes, I've been to San Francisco and to New York, and also up in the mining districts of the Northwest Territory, and in the mines of Mexico. I've been what they call a rolling stone." And the burly man laughed lightly, but the laugh was not a pleasant one.

"Then you ought to know a good deal about mining," Tom ventured. "I am interested in the mines of Colorado. In what part of the State were you located?"

"Well, I lived in Ouray some time, and also in Silverton, but I went here, there, and everywhere, prospecting and buying up old claims cheap."

"I hope you struck it rich."

"Oh, I'm fairly well fixed," was the careless answer. "So you are interested in our mines, eh? Got a claim?"

"No, sir, but I am going out there to look up a claim—if I can."

"Take my advice and leave mining alone unless you have had experience. The chance for a tenderfoot, as we call 'em, getting along has gone by."

"I shan't waste much time in looking around."

"And don't waste your money either. Nine mines out of ten that are offered for sale are not worth buying at any price. I've been all through the miff and I know."

"I suppose you know a great many of the old time miners?" said Tom, after another pause.

"Oh, yes, loads of them, Quray Frank, Bill Peters, Denver Phil, and all the rest."

"Did you ever meet a man by the name of Jack Wumble?"

The burly man started and spilled a little of the coffee he was holding to drink.

"Why—er—confound the rocking of the train," he answered. "Why, yes, I met Wumble once or twice, but never had any business with him. Are you going to buy a mine from him?"

"No, I am going to try to get him to help locate one that is missing," answered Tom, before he had thought twice.

"Indeed! Well, I've heard Jack is a good man at locating paying claims. Do you know him personally?"

"I do not."

A gleam of satisfaction lit up the burly man's face, but Tom did not notice it.

"Wumble used to hang out in Denver. Going to meet him there, I suppose."

"No, I'm going to meet him in Chicago, if I can."

"I see."

So the talk ran on until the meal was finished. Then the burly man bowed pleasantly and the two separated.

When Tom rejoined his brothers Sam asked him about the man.

"I'm sure I've seen him before," he said. "But where is more than I can say."

"I think I've seen him, too," said Dick. "And I must say I don't much like his looks."

When Tom told of the conversation that had been held, Dick shook his head seriously.

"I wouldn't talk so much, Tom," he remarked. "It won't do any good, and it may do harm, you know."

"I'll be more careful hereafter, Dick. I am sorry myself that I had so much to say," returned Tom.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE ROVER BOYS IN CHICAGO

"Chicago! Change cars for St. Louis and the West!"

The long express had rolled into the great depot and the porters were busy brushing up the passengers in the parlor cars and gathering together their baggage—and incidentally, the tips which were forthcoming.

The Rover boys were soon out on the platform and making for the street.

"Cab, sir; coupe?"

"Mornin' papers! All de news! Have a paper, boss?"

The crowd of newsboys and hackmen made Dick smile. "It's a good deal like New York, isn't it?" he observed.

"Yes, indeed," replied Sam. "Where shall we go—to the Western Palace?"

"We might as well. The sooner we find this Jack Wumble the better."

At that moment the burly man who had talked to Tom in the dining car brushed up to them.

"Good-morning, my young friend," he said to Tom. "Can I be of any assistance to you?"

"It I don't know as you can," replied Tom coldly. "I guess we can find our way around."

"Glad to help you if I can," went on the man.

"We want to get to the Western Palace," put in Sam, before his brothers could stop him.

"That is quite a distance from here." The man hesitated a moment. "I was going there myself. If you don't mind riding on a street car I'll show you the way."

"A street car is good enough for us," returned Sam. He was anxious to see more of the stranger, for he wished if possible to recollect where he had seen the fellow before.

A passing car was hailed and they all got on board, each carrying a valise, for the Rover boys had decided that trunks would be too cumbersome for the trip. They sat close together, and during the ride the stranger endeavored to make himself as agreeable as possible.

"My name is Henry Bradner," he said, introducing himself. "Out in the mines they used to call me Lucky Harry, and a good many of my friends call me that still. May I ask your names?"

"My name is Sam Rover," said the boy. "This is my brother Dick, and this my brother Tom."

There were handshakings all around. "Glad to know you," said Bradner. "I hope you find Jack Wumble and that he locates your mine for you."

"I've been thinking that I've seen you before," said Sam bluntly. "But for the life of me I can't place you."

"Perhaps we've met somewhere in the East—New York, for instance. Have any of you been in Chicago before?"

"No."

"It's a great city and there are many sights worth seeing. If you wished I wouldn't mind showing you around a bit this afternoon or tomorrow."

"Thanks, but we won't have time," said Dick shortly. This off-handed invitation made him more suspicious than ever.

The talking continued until at last Henry Bradner stopped the car.

"Here we are," he said. "The Palace of the West is one block down yonder side street."

"The Palace of the West?" repeated Tom. "I thought it was called the Western Palace."

"Well, it's all the same," laughed the man. But it was not the same by any means. While the Western Palace was a first-class hotel in every respect, the Palace of the West was a weak imitation, run by a man who had once been a notorious San Francisco blackleg.

The hotel was soon reached and Bradner led the way into the office, which was filled with rather rough-looking sports, all smoking and talking loudly.

"I know the clerk," said Bradner. "I'll ask him about your friend." And before Dick could stop him he had pushed his way to the desk and was talking in a low tone to the clerk. Dick tried to catch what was said, but was unable to do so.

"You are in luck," said Bradner, on coming back. "The clerk says Jack Wumble has gone off for the day, but said he would be back by to-night sure."

"I'm glad of that," said Tom, and he and his brothers felt much relieved.

"The clerk cautioned me to keep quiet about Wumble," went on Bradner confidentially. "It seems Wumble and another man had a row over a game of cards, and Wumble wants the other man to clear out before he shows up again. The other man is booked for Denver on the afternoon train."

As this statement about cards fitted in with what Mr. Rover had said concerning Jack Wumble, the boys swallowed it without hesitation, and they were inclined to believe that Henry Bradner was all right, after all.

"Will you register here?" went on the man.

"No, I don't like the looks of the place," answered Dick promptly. "We are not of the drinking kind," he added.

The burly man looked dark and disappointed.

"It's a good hotel, when once you get used to it," he said.

But Dick shook his head and said he would go elsewhere, and motioning to Tom and Sam he led the way to the sidewalk once more. Henry Bradner followed them.

"If I see Wumble shall I get him to wait for you?" he said.

"If you wish. We will be around to-night and also to-morrow morning to see him."

"All right."

The boys walked off and around the corner into the street where the cars were running.

"I don't like him at all," exclaimed Dick. "I believe he is tip to some game."

"Oh, you may be too suspicious," declared Sam. "What game can he be up to? He was kind enough to help us hunt up this Jack Wumble."

"I don't care—his manner doesn't suit me at all. He's a sneak, if ever there was one."

The boys walked on for a distance of several blocks, and then coming to a nice-looking restaurant went in for dinner.

While they were eating Dick happened to glance out of the show window of the place and gave a low cry.

"What is it, Dick?" asked Tom.

"I thought as much. That man is watching us."

Sam and Tom gave a look, but by this time Henry Bradner had disappeared from view.

"You are sure that you saw him, Dick?" asked Sam.

"I am positive. Boys, do you know what I think? I think he is a sharper, and imagines he has three green country boys with money to deal with."

"Well, if he thinks that he is much mistaken," was Tom's comment. "In the first place we are not so very green, and in the second our cash account is rather limited."

"We spoke about a mine, and he may imagine that we carry several thousands of dollars with us."

"If he's a sharper why did he try to find Wumble for us?" asked Sam.

This was a poser and Dick did not pretend to answer it.

The dinner finished, they walked forth once more and down into the heart of the city.

They soon found what looked to be a fairly good hotel, and engaged a large room with two beds for the night.

"Now we can take a look around," said Tom.

The best part of the afternoon was spent in sight-seeing, and the boys visited Lincoln Park, Jackson Park, the museum, menagerie, Masonic Temple, and numerous other points of interest.

They were returning to the hotel at which they had registered for the night when suddenly Tom caught his brothers by the arm.

"Well, I never!" he gasped. "What do you think of that?"

They saw he was gazing across the way, and looking in the direction saw an elegant hotel, over the broad doorway of which was stretched the sign:

WESTERN PALACE GEORGE LAVELLE, Proprietor. Established 1871.

"By jinks! That Bradner deceived us!" gasped Dick. "This must be the hotel father mentioned."

"But what about Jack Wumble?" began Sam. "He was registered at the other place."

"Did you see the register?" demanded Dick.

"No, but—"

"We'll soon learn the truth," went on the elder Rover. "Come on." And he made his way through the mass of moving wagons and trucks to the opposite side of the thoroughfare.

All entered the broad hallway together. The floor was of marble, and big mirrors lined every wall. Certainly the place was in sharp contrast to that known as the "Palace of the West."

Walking up to the office counter Dick inspected the register. On the third page from the last written upon he found the entry:

"Jack Wumble, Denver; Room 144."

"There, what do you think of that?" he demanded, as he showed his brothers the entry.

Both were dumfounded, and for the moment knew not what to say. Dick turned to one of the clerks.

"Is Mr. Jack Wumble in?" he asked.

The clerk looked at the row of keys behind him.

"No, sir; he's out."

"Have you any idea when he will be back?"

"I have not. Perhaps he is back already and over in the smoking room."

"I don't know him personally, but I am very anxious to see him."

"I'll have a boy look for him," returned the clerk, and called up a bell-boy, who took Dick's card and went off with it to the smoking room and the dining hall, calling softly as he passed one man and another, "Number 144! Number 144!"

Presently the bell-boy came back, followed by a tall, thin, and pleasant-faced man of sixty, wearing a light-checked suit and a broad-brimmed slouch hat.

"This is the gentleman, sir," he said to Dick.

"Are you Mr. Jack Wumble?" asked Dick curiously.

"That's my handle, lad," was the answer, in a broad, musical voice. "And I see your card reads Richard Rover. Any relation to Andy Rover, as used to be a mining expert?"

"I am his son."

"Well, well! His son, eh? Glad to know you, downright glad!" And Jack Wumble nearly wrung Dick's hand off. Then Tom and Dick were introduced, and more handshaking followed, and the boys felt that they had found a true friend beyond a doubt.



CHAPTER XIX

THE BURLY STRANGER'S LITTLE GAME

"I'm more than glad to have met you as we did," said Dick, a little later, after Jack Wumble had asked the boys about their father. "I think it has saved us from getting into a lot of trouble."

And he related the particulars of the meeting with Henry Bradner, and what the stranger had said and done concerning Wumble.

"The snake!" ejaculated the old miner passionately. "He's a sharp, true as you are born! Why, I never put up at the Palace of the West in my life."

"I wish I knew what his game was," went on Dick.

"You will know Dick—if I can get my hands on him. Do you reckon as how he is over to that other hotel now?"

"More than likely."

"Unless he shadowed us to here," burst out Tom. "If he did that he must know his game is up, and you can be sure he will keep out of sight."

The matter was talked over, and it was decided that Jack Wumble and the boys should go to the other hotel without delay.

On the way Dick told the old miner what had brought them to the West. Jack Wumble took a deep interest in all mining schemes, and listened closely to all the youth had to say.

"Yes, I remember about the Eclipse Mine," he said. "And I remember this Arnold Baxter, too. He was a bad one, and if I and some others had our say he would have dangled from a tree for his stealings, for, you see, we didn't have no jails in those days, and stealing was a capital crime."

"It will you help us to locate the mine before Arnold Baxter or his confederates can get on the ground? We will pay you for your trouble."

"Certainly, I'll do what I can. But I—don't want any of Anderson Rover's pile—not me. Why, your father nursed me through the worst case o' fever a miner ever had—an' I ain't forgittin' it, lads. I'll stick to ye to the end." And the old miner put out his hand and gave another squeeze that made Dick wince.

The Palace of the West reached, Wumble pushed his way into the smoke-laden office and to the desk.

"Say, is there a man named Jack Wumble stopping here?" he demanded.

"Jack Wumble," repeated the clerk slowly.

"That's what I said."

"There is a Jack Wimple stopping here—but he is out—gone to St. Louis."

"Jack Wimple? He's not the man," and the old miner fell back and repeated what had been said to the three boys.

"Perhaps Bradner made a mistake," suggested Tom. "But I don't believe it."

"He tried to make us believe this hotel and the Western Palace were one and the same," put in Sam.

"He's sharp, I tell you," declared Jack Wumble. "Just wait till I get on his trail, I'll make him tell us the truth. More than likely he wanted to clean you boys out."

They waited around for the best part of an hour, but Henry Bradner failed to return, and at last they gave up looking for him, and the boys went back to where they had hired a room for the night, promising to rejoin Jack Wumble early in the morning, when the whole party would take a train for Denver, where Wumble wished to transact a little business before starting out for Larkspur Creek.

The boys had not slept very well on the train, so they were thoroughly tired out. They were on the point of retiring when a bell-boy came up stating that their friend wished to see Dick for a few minutes.

"Wumble must have forgotten something," said Dick. "I'll see what it is," and he took the elevator to the ground floor.

To his surprise it was not Wumble who wished to see him, but Henry Bradner.

"What, you!" cried the youth. "I thought you had skipped out."

"Skipped out?" queried the burly man in pretended surprise. "Why should I skip out?"

"Don't you know that we have found you out?"

"Found me out? You are talking in riddles, young man." And the stranger drew himself up proudly.

"We have found Mr. Jack Wumble, and he tells us that he never stopped at the Palace of the West in his life."

"Mr. Jack Wimple, you mean. Why, he is certainly at the hotel—or was."

"We were looking for Mr. Wumble—and you know it. I care nothing for your Mr. Wimple. And besides, you told us that the Western Palace and the Palace of the West were one and the same. That was a deliberate falsehood."

Bradner turned pale, and looked as if he wished to catch Dick by the throat. "Have a care, young man!" he hissed. "I am not a man to be trifled with. I tried to do you a good turn, but I see I have put my foot into it. Henceforth you can take care of yourself."

So speaking, Henry Bradner turned on his heel and strode off, a look of baffled rage in his eyes. Instantly Dick turned to a bell-boy.

"Run up to room 233 and tell Tom Rover to come down at once and follow his brother," he said hurriedly. "I can't go up—I want to watch that man, for he's a crook."

The boy seemed to understand, and flew for the stairs, the elevator being out of sight. Dick ran to the door, to behold Bradner standing on the sidewalk as if undecided which way to pursue his course. But presently he walked slowly up the street. Dick followed him, and had gone less than half a block when Tom joined him, all out of breath with running.

"What is it, Dick?"

"It was Bradner, who came to smooth matters over. I am following him to see if I can't get on to his game."

"Oh, what nerve! I should think he would have been afraid to come near us."

"He's a bold one, Tom, and we must look out that we don't get bit by him."

Henry Bradner covered half a dozen blocks of the street upon which the hotel was located, and then turned into a narrow thoroughfare running toward the Chicago river.

Here were a number of low drinking places, and in front of one of these he stopped. Instead of entering the resort by the main door he went in through a side hallway, which led to a rear room.

"Perhaps he is stopping here," suggested Tom, as the two lads came to a halt.

"Well, if that is so we had better remember the place," answered Dick.

There was an alleyway alongside of the house, and looking into this the boys saw a light shining out of several windows near the rear of the resort.

"Let us take a peep into the windows," suggested Dick, and led the way.

To let out some of the tobacco smoke the windows were pulled down partly from the top. The bottom sashes were covered with half-curtains of imitation lace, but so flimsy that the boys saw through them without difficulty.

Bradner had just entered this rear room, and was gazing around inquiringly. Now he stalked over to a table near one of the windows, and dropped heavily into a chair.

"I'm afraid the jig is up," he said, addressing somebody on the opposite side of the table.

"What has happened," asked the other person, and now the two Rover boys were amazed to learn that the party was Dan Baxter. The bully had changed his dress and also the style of wearing his hair, and was sporting a pair of nose glasses.

"They have met the real Jack Wumble, and found out that I was fooling them about the hotel."

"That's too bad," cried Dan Baxter. "You must have made a bad break of it, Bradner."

"I did my best, but I couldn't keep them from looking around, although I offered to conduct them. You can bet if I had had them under my care they wouldn't have got near the Western Palace, nor Jack Wumble either."

"Did you have a man ready to play the part of Wumble?" questioned Dan Baxter, after the burly one had ordered drinks for the two.

"Yes, I had Bill Noxton all cocked and primed. But now our cake is dough—and after all the trouble I've taken for your father, too!" And Henry Bradner uttered a snort of disgust.

"Did you warn this Noxton?"

"Oh, yes, and I put a flea into the ear of the hotel clerk, too. But the thing is, what do you suppose your father will want done next?"

"Don't ask me," answered Dan Baxter recklessly. "He don't half trust me any more. He says I'm only good to sponge on him," and the former bully of Putnam Hall gave a bitter laugh.

"Well, I haven't followed these Rovers all the way from Valley Brook farm to here for nothing," went on Henry Bradner. "Your father wanted 'em watched, and I've watched 'em ever since they came home from that boarding academy. It was a big job, too."

"Didn't they suspect you?"

"One of 'em said he thought he had seen me before." And Bradner laughed. "It was at the Valley Brook Church. I followed them to the church just to keep my word to your father."

"And you are certain Mr. Rover isn't coming West?"

"No, he's laid up with a game leg, and won't move for a month. I got that straight from the hired man." There was a pause. "What do you reckon I had best do next?"

"Telegraph to my father at Denver—you know his assumed name, and let him advise you. I suppose the boys and that Wumble will go straight through to the mining district now."

"More than likely."

"Then father and Roebuck will have to stop them out there, although how it's to be done I don't know."

At this juncture a waiter came forward, and closed down the window, and the balance of the conversation was lost to the two Rover boys.



CHAPTER XX

JUST A LITTLE TOO LATE

"What do you think of that?" whispered Dick, as he led the way back to the sidewalk.

"It's all as plain as day," replied his brother. "This Bradner was set to watch the house immediately after the robbery occurred. More than likely he was around at the time of the robbery."

"Do you suppose he is the man who helped Arnold Baxter to escape from prison on that forged pardon?"

"Creation! It may be so!" ejaculated Tom. "I'll tell you one thing: we ought to have them both arrested at once."

"I don't know about that," mused the elder Rover. "If we do that then how are we to find out where Arnold Baxter is, or this fellow they called Roebuck?"

"But they may slip through our fingers if we don't have them locked up."

The two brothers talked the matter ever, and then decided, late as it was, to call upon Jack Wumble for advice.

"You can go for him," said Dick. "I'll continue to watch this place. If they leave I'll throw bits of paper on the sidewalk and you can follow the trail just as if we were playing a game of hare and hounds."

Tom made off at top speed, carefully noting the street and number, so that he would not miss his way when returning.

Left to himself Dick went into the alleyway again and looked through the window as before.

Dan Baxter and Bradner were still conversing, but the youth could not hear what was said.

Presently the pair at the table arose, settled for their drinks and came out of the place.

They walked up the street and around a corner, and Dick followed, scattering bits of an old letter as he went along. When the letter was used up, he tore to bits some handbills which he found in the street.

Eight squares were covered before Dan Baxter and Bradner reached a dingy looking hotel which went by the name of Lakeman's Rest.

It was set in the middle of the block, with brick houses on either side of it.

They entered a narrow hallway, and by the light above the door Dick saw them ascend the stairs to the second floor.

There now seemed nothing to do but to await Tom's return, and the youth retired to the opposite side of the street.

It was late—after midnight, in fact—and the street was practically deserted.

A half hour went by and Dick felt as if his brother would never return, when he heard swift footsteps behind him.

"So this is your game, eh?" cried the voice of Bradner, and of a sudden a club descended upon Dick's head and he went down as if shot.

The man had looked out of the hotel window and spotted Dick, and had gone out by a back way add around the square to make certain of his victim.

"That was a good crack," came from Dan Baxter. "It serves him right for following you."

Bradner was about to bend over his victim to ascertain how badly Dick was hurt when the footsteps of two men approaching made him draw back.

"Come, we don't want to be caught," whispered Dan Baxter nervously. And then, as the footsteps came closer, he darted away, with Henry Bradner at his heels. They did not stop until a long distance away from the scene of the dastardly attack.

The men who were approaching were a couple of bakers who were employed in a neighboring bakery.

"Vas ist dis!" cried one of them, as he stumbled over Dick's body. "A young mans!"

"He is drunk, Carl," said the other. "Let him be or you may get into trouble."

"Maype he vos hurt, or sick," said the German baker, bending down. "I vos know der cop on dis beat and he knows I vos no footpad."

Just then Dick gave a shiver and a groan, and both bakers realized that he was suffering in some way. While the German remained by the boy's side the other ran to the bakery for a lantern and assistance.

Soon a small crowd had collected, and Dick was carried into the bakery and made as comfortable as the means permitted. One of the bakers went on a hunt for a policeman, and presently the officer of the law hove into sight. Dick was just coming to his senses, but was too dazed for several minutes to give an account of what had happened. At last he said a man had struck him down with a club.

"Were you robbed?" asked the policeman.

Dick felt in his various pockets.

"No, sir."

"You were lucky."

"I dink ve scare der rascal avay," said the German baker.

"More than likely. It's a pity you didn't collar him." The policeman turned to Dick.

"Shall I call up an ambulance?"

"I don't think it's necessary, sir. My brother will be along this way soon. I was waiting for him to come when I was struck."

"You were out rather late," remarked the officer of the law, suspiciously.

"I was watching a rascal who tried to make trouble for me."

"Then there must be more to this case than what you just told me."

"There is."

"In that case you had better go to police headquarters with me."

"I am willing. But won't you wait until my brother gets here?"

There was no need to wait, for at that moment Tom appeared on the scene, accompanied by Jack Wumble. They both stared at Dick in horror.

"Oh, Dick, you are hurt?" cried Tom.

"Not very much. Bradner hit me on the head. I am glad I am alive."

"And where is the rascal now?" questioned the old miner.

"Ran away."

"And Dan Baxter?" queried Tom.

"Gone, too, I suppose. They must have been together." And then Dick related what had occurred—so far as he knew—since Tom had left him.

The officer of the law accompanied all three to the police station, and here the boys told their story, and a watch was set for Bradner and Dan Baxter. But nothing came of this, for the pair left Chicago early the next day.

"We had better keep close together after this," said Jack Wumble, as he was seeing the boys back to their hotel. "I reckon you've got a mighty bad crowd to deal with." And he remained with them for the balance of the night.

The express for Denver left at eleven o'clock in the morning, and all of the party of four were on hand to catch it. Soon they were whirling over the fields and through the forests toward the mighty Mississippi River.

"Never been West afore-eh?" remarked Jack Wumble. "Well, you will see some grand sights, I can tell ye that."

"No, we have never been West," answered Sam. "But we have been to Africa," he added proudly.

"Gee shoo! is that so! Well, that's long traveling certainly. But I reckon I'd rather see my own country first."

"We went to Africa for a purpose," said Tom, and told of the rescue of his father. The old miner listened with keen appreciation and at the conclusion clapped Tom on the back.

"You're true blue, Tom!" he cried. "You and your brothers will pull through, I feel sure of it." And then he fell to telling about his own life, and how he had become acquainted with Anderson Rover and his partner Kennedy, and of the various bad things Arnold Baxter had done in those days. "This man seems to be a chip of the old block," he concluded.

The trip to Denver was full of interest, and Dick was sorry he did not have a camera along, that he might take snapshots of the scenery. Yet he was impatient to get to his destination and stake out the missing Eclipse Mine before Arnold Baxter and his confederates should have the chance to do so.

It was the afternoon of the next day when Denver was reached, and a light rain was falling. Jack Wumble wished to put up at a hotel called the Miner's Rest, a favorite resort with men from the mining districts. He had been negotiating for the sale of one of his mines, and thought he could close the deal the next morning.

"And then we'll be off for Larkspur Creek without further delay," was what he told Dick.



CHAPTER XXI

OFF FOR THE MINING DISTRICT

While Jack Wumble was off attending to his private business the three Rover boys took a stroll through Denver.

The city was different from any they had visited, and their walk was full of interest.

Coming to a store in the window of which were exhibited a number of Indian curiosities, the boys halted to examine the objects, when Tom uttered a sudden cry.

"Look, Dick! There is Bradner inside!"

"Yes, and Dan Baxter is with him!" returned the elder brother quickly. "Here's luck, surely!"

"Will you have them locked up?" asked Sam.

"To be sure—if we can."

The boys looked around for a policeman, but none happened to be in sight.

"Run and see if you can find one," said Dick to Sam. "Tom and I can watch the pair."

At once Sam made off. But policemen were not numerous, and it took quite some time to locate one and explain what was wanted.

In the meantime Dan Baxter had caught sight of Tom and told Bradner of his discovery.

Boy and man came out of the store in a great hurry. They were about to run off when Dick caught Bradner by the arm, while his brother halted the former bully of Putnam Hall.

"Let go of me!" hissed Bradner, and as Dick paid no attention he aimed a blow for the youth's head. But Dick "had been there before," and dodged, and the force of his effort nearly took the rascal off his feet. Before he could recover Dick had him down on his back and was sitting on his chest.

Tom was having a lively time with Dan Baxter. The bully hit the boy in the shoulder, and Tom retaliated with a sharp crack that landed straight on Baxter's nose and drew blood.

"A fight! a fight!" yelled a passing newsboy, and as if by magic a crowd began to collect.

Again Baxter struck out, but his blow fell short, and now Tom gave him one in the ear that spun him half around. By this time the bully felt that he had had enough of the encounter, and breaking through the crowd he set off on a mad run down the street and around the nearest comer.

Feeling it would be useless to try to catch Dan Baxter just then, Tom turned his attention to Dick and Henry Bradner. Bradner was struggling hard to get up, but Dick was master of the situation, so Tom had little to do.

"What's the meaning of this?" demanded the policeman, as soon as he came upon the scene.

"I want this man arrested," answered Dick, as he got up, but still kept close to Bradner.

"What has he done?"

"He is a sharper of the worst kind."

"You are sure of this?"

"I am—"

"You will have to go to the station house with us if I take the man in," continued the policeman.

"I am willing," answered Dick quietly.

Muttering angrily to himself, Henry Bradner arose. He wanted to run away, but got no chance to do so. Soon the station house was reached, and here Dick and his brothers told their story.

"The assault happened in another State," said the officer at the desk. "The most we can do is to hold him until the Illinois authorities send for him."

"Why, that's Harry the Crook, from Gunnison!" put in an officer who had just come in. "He is wanted here on half a dozen charges."

At these words Bradner turned deadly pale.

"This is a—a mistake," he faltered. "I know nothing of the man you mention."

"Too thin, Harry; I know you well," replied the officer. "Captain, he is a bad one," he continued to his superior.

An investigation into the records was made, and a picture in the Rogues' Gallery proved that Bradner and Harry the Crook were one and the same beyond a doubt.

"In that case we'll hold him right here," said the police captain.

The matter was talked over with Dick, and the youth decided to let his own charge against the crook drop, as he did not wish to waste time in Denver on the case. An hour later the three Rovers departed, leaving Henry Bradner to a fate he richly deserved.

"That is one of our enemies disposed of," observed Dick, as they walked back to the hotel. "I wish we could do up the Baxters just as easily."

The following day found them on the way to Gunnison. Nothing more had been seen or heard of Dan Baxter, nor had anything turned up concerning Arnold Baxter and Roebuck, the man who was with him and who hid helped him to escape from prison.

The country was now mountainous in the extreme, with here and there a wild, weird canyon thousands of feet deep. Some of the awful pitfalls made Sam fairly hold his breath.

"Gosh!" he murmured. "This beats Africa, doesn't it? Who ever saw such lofty peaks before—and such rivers cut out of the solid rock!"

The boys found Gunnison a small mining city containing perhaps six thousand souls. A few of the buildings were quite up to date, but the majority were little better than shanties. But Gunnison was a center for the trade of many miles around, and business was brisk.

At Gunnison the entire party procured horses from a dealer Jack Wumble knew, beasts that were strong and used to mountain traveling.

"We might go on for twenty miles or so by rail, but this is the best place for fitting out," said the old miner. "We can strike a putty fair trail from here, leading directly, to Larkspur Creek."

"And how far is that mining district from here?" asked Tom.

"As the birds fly about sixty-five miles. But the trail makes it a good hundred miles, and some putty stiff climbin' at that. I'm glad ye are used to roughin' it, for this traveling don't go well with a tenderfoot."

The day was clear and the air bracing, and the boys started off with their friend in the best of spirits. Soon the city was left behind, and then began a journey along the foothills which seemed to have no end.

"If Arnold Baxter is watching us he is taking precious good care to keep out of sight," said Tom, as they rode along in single file, with Jack Wumble in the lead.

"No doubt Dan has joined his father and told him of Bradner's fate," returned Dick. "But we have got to keep our eyes wide open. We all know what a wretch Arnold Baxter is, and out in this wild country almost anything is liable to happen."

On and on they went, first over a stubble of thin grass and then through a forest of tall pine trees. Rocks were everywhere, and the trail wound in and out, with an occasional watercourse to be forded.

"These watercourses are all right now," observed Jack Wumble. "But in the early spring, when the snow on the mountains begins to melt, they become raging torrents, and getting across 'em is out of the question."

"How far are yonder peaks from here?" asked Sam, pointing ahead.

"About twenty miles."

"Gracious, as far as that! I didn't know one could see so clearly for such a long distance. They look to me to be only about three miles."

"The air is very pure and clear out here, lad. No better air in this wide world than that of Colorady."

At noon they came to a halt in a little hollow, protected alike from the breeze and the direct rays of the overhead sun. Their saddle bags were filled with provisions, and Tom and Sam began to prepare their first meal in the open, with Dick and the old miner assisting.

After the meal Jack Wumble took a smoke and a ten minutes' nap, and during that time the three boys strolled off in various directions, Sam going ahead on the trail.

Presently the youngest Rover had his eye arrested by a post set up in the middle of the trail. To the top of the post was tacked a sheet of white paper.

"This is queer," thought Sam, and drew closer to inspect the sheet. On it were written the words, in pencil:

"To the Rovers and their friend:

"If you want to keep out of trouble you will return to Gunnison at once. If you dare to push on to Larkspur Creek it may cost you your lives. We are watching you, and are fully armed, and you had better be warned in time.

"THE RIGHTFUL OWNERS OF THE MINE"



CHAPTER XXI

LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS

"Dick! Tom! Jack! Come here and see what I have found!"

Sam's cry was a loud one, and soon the others came up on a run, Jack Wumble pistol in hand, for his life in the open had taught him to be forever prepared for danger.

"Wot is it, lad?" asked the old miner anxiously.

"It's a quit notice for us," answered Sam soberly. "I can tell you, the Baxters mean to carry matters with a high hand."

All of the others read the notice in silence. Then Dick thrust his hands into his pockets coolly.

"I'll see them hanged before I'll go back," he said.

"I am with you," added Tom. "But we must be cautious after this, or the Baxters will be firing at us from an ambush."

"If only we could catch sight of them," put in Sam. "They ought to be shot on sight!"

The boys looked at Jack Wumble, who had remained silent.

"Do you advise us to go back?" asked Dick hastily.

"I can't say as I do, lads," was the slow response. "Yet it might be better to do that nor to be shot down and have yer body thrown into a canyon," added Wumble, speaking in his old time vernacular. "Perhaps your father would rather have ye back."

"I don't believe it," burst out Tom. "Father never wanted cowards for sons."

Dick caught the paper, tore it down and ripped it in two, throwing it to the wind.

"I say I'm going ahead."

"So am I," came from both of his brothers. "But you need not go Jack." went on Dick. "We don't wish you to run into danger, and—"

"Hold up, Dick, I said I would see ye through, and I will," cried the old miner. "But I want ye to realize what ye are doing, that's all. If you are shot down it will be yer own fault, so to speak."

"But we don't intend to be shot down," interrupted Tom. "We have run up against the Baxters before, so we know how to be careful."

"It aint like as if they were in a city in the East," went on the old miner. "Here some men are mighty free with their shootin'-irons. And they could take a shot at ye from a long distance, with a good rifle."

Thus talking the entire party walked back to their camp and sat down to discuss the situation in detail.

"Perhaps we had better not advance until dark," said Dick. "If we advance now we will simply be making targets of ourselves," and he shivered in spite of himself.

"We won't advance at all," put in Jack Wumble briefly. "We would be wuss nor fools if we did—with them human wildcats a—watchin' of us," and he began to puff vigorously at his short stump of a briarroot pipe.

"But you said—" began Tom, when the old miner waved him to silence.

"Let me think it out, lads, and then I'll tell ye my plan. We'll trick 'em—that's best," and he began to smoke again.

Satisfied that Jack Wumble knew the ground to be covered better than they did, the boys decided to let him have his own way, so long as the object of the expedition should be advanced. They sat down in the shade to rest, and thus several hours passed, and the old miner smoked up half 'a dozen pipefuls of his favorite plug mixture.

"I've got it," he cried at last. "If we kin work the deal we'll keep 'em guessing." And he laughed softly to himself.

His plan was a simple one. Several miles back on the trail there was a fork, the second trail running to the northward. His plan was to ride back to the fork, and then in the darkness of the night to take to the second trail.

"That don't lead to Larkspur Creek," he said. "But it leads to Go Lightly Gulch, and from there I know an old Indian trail which leads to the Larkspur by way of Bender Mountain. It's dangerous trail to ride, but it's safe, too, so far as our enemies are concerned, for they can't cover it from any other part of the mountains. They would either have to be right in front of us or right behind, and in that case we'd have as much of a show at them as they would have at us."

"That's a good plan," exclaimed Dick. "Let us adopt it, by all means."

Slowly the afternoon wore away, until the sun was lost to view behind the great Rocky Mountains in the west. As soon as the shadows became long and deep Jack Wumble arose.

"Now I reckon we can begin to ride on the back trail," he said, with a shrewd smile on his rugged face.

It was an easy matter to saddle the horse again.

The rest had made the animals as fresh as ever and this was a good thing, as the old miner calculated to ride a long distance between sunset and sunrise.

"I suppose our enemies are watching every move we make," said Tom. "But I must say I can't catch a single glance of them."

"I thought I saw a speck or two of something over the hill to the south," said Dick.

Jack Wumble nodded. "You are right, Dick, I saw the specks too, and they were men looking in this direction. But they might not have been our enemies."

"If only we had a good field glass," sighed Sam. "I was going to bring one along, but I forgot all about it."

They rode on slowly, the old miner not wishing to reach the fork in the trail until it was quite dark. Fortunately it was clouding up, so that not even the stars would be left to betray them.

"We are coming to the fork," said Wumble, about eight o'clock. "Keep your eyes peeled, lads, and if you see anything out of the ordinary, let me know at once."

There was a tiny stream to cross, and then the way led around a series of sharp rocks.

"Keep to the grass as much as possible," cautioned the old miner in a voice that was a mere whisper. "And now follow me as fast as you can!"

Away he bounded in the lead, and the three Rover boys followed around the rocks through a stretch of pines and over some fallen firs, and then up and up a rugged trail where the footing was so insecure that the horses slipped continually. The branches of the drooping trees bothered them greatly, and had it not been for Wumble's continual warnings one or another of them would have been seriously hurt. The horses panted for breath, but still the old miner kept the pace until the top of the first range of foothills was gained. Here he called a halt under an overhanging rock beneath which it was as black as a dungeon.

"So far so good," he muttered, as he leaped to the ground and began to pat his heaving and perspiring animal. "I don't believe they know much about where we went to, even if they followed us back to the fork."

"I don't believe they are following us," said Dick, as he placed his ear to the ground and listened. All was as silent as the grave.

They remained under the rock the best part of an hour, allowing their trusty animals to get back their wind and strength. During this time Wumble walked back a short distance and Tom climbed up to the top of the rock, but neither made any discovery of importance.

It was a little after midnight when they moved forward again. Their pace was now little better than a walk, for the trail was a dangerous one, and in many spots they had to leap down and lead their horses. Once they came to a gully six to eight feet wide, without a bridge, and it took a good deal of urging to get Tom's horse to make the leap across.

"If a fellow should tumble in there where would he go to?" asked Sam, with a shudder.

"He'd go out of sight forever," replied Wumble solemnly. "Some of those cuts are a thousand feet deep."

"What a mighty upheaval of nature there must have been here at one time," said Dick.

By three o'clock in the morning Tom was completely fagged out and could scarcely keep his eyes open. Gradually he dragged behind the others, his eyes closing every few minutes in spite of his efforts to keep them open.

"I wish I had a cup of strong coffee to keep me awake," he murmured. "How much further are you going, Jack?"

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