The Rover Boys at School/18
"Hurrah, boys, the ice is forming just as fast as it can! We'll have skating in twenty-four hours!"
It was Sam who came rushing into the gymnasium with the news. The place was crowded at the time, for it was too cold to play on the grounds outside.
"Skating! " cried Tom. "That just suits me. I wonder if I brought my skates along?"
"You didn't," answered Sam. "Neither did I."
"I have my skates," said Fred Garrison. "A brand new pair."
"My skates were old," said Tom. I must strike Captain Putnam for a couple of dollars of my allowance and buy a new pair."
"So must I," put in Sam. "Dick, I know, has his skates."
It was early in December, and it had been growing colder steadily. There had been one fall of snow, but it had amounted to but little.
The next day skating in the cove of the lake near Putnam Hall was excellent, the ice being from three to four inches thick. At once Sam and Tom went to Captain Putnam.
"Want to buy some skates?" said the captain. "Well, the money I am keeping is your own, and I presume every boy likes to skate. Here are two dollars for each of you. Show me your purchases when you get back."
"We will," replied the lads, and hurried off, for time was precious, with the smooth ice waiting for them. They knew that a certain hard-ware dealer in Cedarville had a good quantity of skates on hand, and started to walk to the village without delay.
"Baxter is going to buy a pair of skates, too," said Sam, on the way. "I heard him telling Mumps about it."
"Well, we don't want Baxter for company," answered Tom. "He can go alone."
It did not take the lads long to reach Cedarville, but once at the hardware store considerable time was lost in getting just the skates desired.
"It's queer Baxter hasn't shown up," said Tom, when they were ready to leave.
"Perhaps he went elsewhere for his skates," suggested Sam.
The hardware shop was at the end of the village street, and as they passed a number of places of business Tom suddenly caught his brother by the arm.
"There is Baxter now—just entering that tavern!" he exclaimed in a low voice.
"The tavern!" repeated Sam. "Why, it's against the regulations to enter a drinking place!"
"I don't care—I saw Baxter go in," returned Tom. "He was with a tall man."
"If Captain Putnam hears of this, Baxter will be sent away, or at least punished."
"Perhaps, Sam; but I shan't tell him."
"No; we're no tale-bearers. Let us go up to the side windows of the tavern and see if we can see them."
This was agreed to, and the two boys hurried up to first one window and then another.
"They are not in the saloon part, that's certain," said Tom blankly. "But I am certain I saw Baxter go in, and the tall man with him."
"Here is a side room," answered Sam.
"And there they are, at a corner table. The man is giving Baxter some money!"
Tom peeped into the window over his brother's shoulder.
"What's up now, Tom?"
"That tall man is the same fellow I met in the woods. The one that was with the tramp who stole the watch!"
"You don't mean it!"
"But I do! See the scar on his chin?"
"He is that thief's pal, as they call it."
"And he just gave Baxter some bank bills. What does it mean?"
"I give it up. But I know one thing that man ought to be arrested!"
"That's true. Oh! they have seen us! If they—hi! what do you mean by that?" For a burly bartender had suddenly come up behind both of the boys and hurled them backward.
"No spying around this place!" cried the dispenser of liquors roughly. "Take yourselves off!"
"There is a man inside I want to see," said Tom.
"Why don't you come in, then?"
"I will as soon as I can find a policeman or a constable."
"What! going to have a gent arrested?"
"The man inside knows all about a stolen watch."
"You must be mistaken."
"No, I am not. Where can I find a policeman?"
"Down at the steamboat landing, most likely."
"All right. Sam, you stay here and see that that fellow don't make tracks," and Tom prepared to move away.
"See here, we don't want any trouble in our place," said the barkeeper. "We run a respectable house, we do."
"Then you ought to help me bag the pal of a thief," retorted Tom.
"Hold on, Tom!" came from Sam. "They're gone! They slipped through a back door!"
Tom ran up to the window again. It was true—Baxter and the man with a scar had disappeared.
"Come on back!" he cried to his brother, and both ran to the rear of the tavern. Here there was a yard, at the end of which stood a barn and a long, low carriage shed. Only a negro hostler was in sight.
"Perhaps they haven't come out yet," began Sam, when he caught sight of a buggy on a road behind the barn. It was going at a furious rate, the scarred man driving, and lashing his mettlesome horse at the same time.
"There goes the man!"
"That's so. Where is Baxter?"
"I don't know."
They ran after the buggy, but soon gave up the chase, as man and turnout disappeared around a bend leading to the woods back of Cedarville.
"We've lost him!" murmured Tom, when he could get back his breath. "Now, who in the name of Old Nick can he be?"
"Evidently a friend to Baxter. Perhaps he's Baxter's father?" suggested Sam.
"Baxter's father— Gracious! He is!"
"How do you know?"
"I'm not positive, but when I met him and the thief in the woods, the thief, who was called Buddy, started to call that fellow Baxter, but the tall man wouldn't have it, and made him call him Nolly. His right name, I feel certain, is Arnold Baxter."
"Then, if he isn't Baxter's father, he must be some close relative, otherwise he wouldn't give Baxter that money. Now it is easy to see where the bully gets all of his cash. That tall man must be rich."
"Yes, but who knows how he comes by his money? He is the chum of a thief, that's certain."
A search was made for Dan Baxter, but he could not be found. As a matter of fact, he had been in the buggy, hiding under the seat. The boys hung around for quarter of an hour longer, and then resolved to return to Putnam Hall.
"No use of making, a row about it," said Tom. "I remember that policeman at the steamboat landing. He is a terribly fat fellow and evidently a hard drinker. He couldn't help us much. We had better try to work this out on our own account. I'll tackle Baxter the first chance I get."
When the Hall was reached they looked around for the bully, but found he had not returned. They had now to go in for their studies, and for the time being the affair was dropped.
That afternoon found them on the lake, and while enjoying the skating Dick was informed of what had occurred. "A bad crowd," said the elder Rover. "Yes, tackle Baxter, by all means. But be cautious what you say, for you can't prove much, remember."
A race had been arranged between the boys, and Dick was one of the contestants. The distance was from one end of the cove to the other, a little over three-quarters of a mile. There were ten starters, including Fred, Frank, Larry, and Mumps. Mumps had a reputation as a skater gained at his home on the Hudson River.
"All ready?" shouted the starter.
There was a dead silence.
"Go!" came the word, and away went the ten, their skates flashing brightly in the setting sun. Soon Larry Colby was in advance, with Mumps just over his shoulder.
"It is Larry's race!"
"Mumps is a close second!"
"Shake 'em up, Fred! What are you lagging about, Frank? Go it, Leo!"
Skir! skir! skir! went the skate runners, and now a crowd of lads started in pursuit of the racers. Soon the turning point was gained. Larry was in advance still, but now Mumps overtook him, and suddenly the boy from the Hudson who had such a reputation as a racer shot fifteen feet in advance. It looked as if the race was certainly his, and Larry and the others felt much downcast.