The Rover Boys at School/10
SETTLING DOWN AT THE HALL.
"It's a boy!" cried the tall, slim man.
"One of the boys!" came from the tramp known as Buddy.
"You don't say! The tall man turned to Tom. How did you get here?"
"Walked," answered Tom as calmly as he could, although this is not saying much, for he realized that the pair before him were desperate characters and that he was no match for them.
"Have you been spying on us?" demanded the fellow called Nolly.
"I've been spying on this man?" answered Tom, pointing to the other fellow. "He stole my brother's watch. What have you done with it?"
"Never stole a watch in me life?" returned Buddy quickly.
"I say you did, and it will do no good to deny it."
"If you say I stole any watch I'll—I'll knock yer down," cried Buddy fiercely.
And he rushed at Tom and aimed a blow at the boy's head with his stick.
Nolly also ran forward with his sandbag; and, seeing this, Tom leaped back, and was soon making tracks as fast as his legs could carry him.
The two men did not pursue him far. Instead, they turned and ran in the opposite direction.
Tom hurried on until he came within sight of a large farmhouse. Reaching the front door, he used the brass knocker vigorously.
Soon an upper window was raised, and the head of a middle-aged man was thrust out.
"Who is there?" he demanded.
"I want help, sir," answered Tom. "I am a pupil at Putnam Hall, and I have just spotted a fellow in this neighborhood who robbed my brother of a gold watch."
"Is that so!"
"Oh, papa, is it one of the boys Grace and I were telling you about?" came in the voice of Nellie Laning. "Aren't you Tom Rover?"
"Yes. This must be Mr. Laning."
"Yes, my boy, I am John Laning," answered the farmer. "I will be down in a moment. We are in the habit of retiring early."
In a few minutes Tom was let into the house, and he told his story to John Laning, his wife, and the two girls, all of whom listened with interest.
Then a hired man was aroused, and the two men and the boy hurried to where the campfire had been located.
But, as stated before, Buddy and Nolly had made good use of their time, and no trace of them was to be found.
"They have skipped out," said Mr. Laning. "To look for them will be worse than looking for spiders in a corn stack. I suppose you'll be getting back to Putnam Hall now?"
"If it is all the same, I would like to engage a room at your farmhouse for the night," answered Tom, and told his tale.
At the mention of Josiah Crabtree's name John Laning's face grew dark.
"I don't wonder you had a row with that man," he said. "I know him only too well. You can stay at my house if you will, and it shall not cost you a cent."
"Hullo, here is luck!" thought Tom, and thanked the farmer for his offer.
When they got back to the farmhouse Tom's story had to be told to Grace and Nellie, while Mrs. Laning went off to prepare a room for the youth.
"Oh, Josiah Crabtree!" cried Nellie. "Why, don't you know he is trying to court our Aunt Lucy?"
"Your Aunt Lucy? Who is she?"
"Dora Stanhope's mother. Dora's father is dead, you know."
"Great Cæsar!" burst from Tom; "I hope Dora never gets him for a stepfather!"
"So do all of us, Tom; but I'm afraid he has made quite an impression on Aunt Lucy. She is rich; and my own idea is that Josiah Crabtree is after her money."
"He's none too good for it," was Tom's blunt comment.
The girls and the lad chatted together for half an hour, and then all retired for the balance of the night.
"They're awfully sweet," thought the boy—"these two, and Dora too."
He slept soundly, and did not arise until after seven. On coming below he found a hot breakfast awaiting him, to which it is perhaps needless to state he did full justice.
While he was talking to the girls, and finishing up at the same time, Mr. Laning came in.
"Thought I would tell you that Captain Putnam just drove down the Hall road on his way to the school," he announced.
"Then I'll get back at once," said Tom, and bade the various members of the family good-by. "Hope we meet again soon," he whispered to the girls, and this made both blush.
Mr. Laning would have driven the lad to the academy, but Tom declined the offer and set off on foot. It did not take him long to cover the distance, and he entered the grounds as unconcernedly as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
"Hullo!" cried several cadets as they noticed him. "Where did you come from? Mr. Crabtree has been looking all over for you."
"I don't wish to see him. I wish to see Captain Putnam? Where is he?"
"Gracious, but you're a cool one!" remarked one of the cadets. "The captain is in his office, I think."
"Will you please show me to the place?"
The office was a finely furnished apartment just off the main classroom. Tom knocked on the door.
"Come in," said a cheery voice, and the boy entered to find himself confronted not only by Captain Putnam, but likewise by Josiah Crabtree.
"Ha! here is the young reprobate now!" cried Crabtree, as, rushing up, he grasped Tom by the arm.
"You will kindly let go of my arm, Mr. Crabtree," said Tom steadily.
"You shan't run away again!"
"That's true—now Captain Putnam is here."
"So this is Thomas Rover," said Captain Victor Putnam, with something like a twinkle in his clear eyes. "Rover, I have heard a rather serious report about you and your brother Richard."
"What kind of a report, if I may ask, sir?"
"Mr. Crabtree says you have been impudent to him, and that when he locked you in the guardroom for breaking the rules you attacked him and knocked him down."
"He attacked me first. If anybody attacked you, wouldn't you be apt to knock him down—if you could?"
"That would depend upon circumstances, Rover. If a man attacked me on the street I would certainly endeavor to defend myself to the best of my ability. But you must remember that you are a pupil here, and Mr. Crabtree is one of your masters, appointed by me."
"I am not a pupil yet, sir—although I hope to be very soon."
"Why, what do you mean? " demanded Victor Putnam, and now his voice grew stern. Many a boy would have flinched, but Tom had determined to say just what he thought of Crabtree, and he stood his ground.
"I mean just this, Captain Putnam. I came to Putnam Hall with the best intention in the world of doing my duty as a pupil and becoming a credit to your institution. I hadn't a thought of breaking a rule or being impudent. Before I entered your grounds I thought of a big fire-cracker I had in my pocket, and just for the fun of the thing set the cracker off, as a sort of farewell to the outdoor life so soon to be left behind."
"Captain Putnam, are you going to listen to such tomfoolery?" interrupted Josiah Crabtree.
"I believe I have a right to tell my story," answered Tom. "Unless that right is granted, I shall leave the Hall, go back to my guardian, and tell him that I refuse to become a pupil here."
"You are a pupil already," snarled Crabtree.
"I am not—and that is just the point I am trying to make," went on Tom to the owner of Putnam Hall. "As soon as the firecracker went off, this man rushed up and demanded an explanation. He was going to lock up my brother first, but I said I had fired the cracker, and so he compelled me to go to the guardroom with him. I was locked in and treated to bread and milk for supper, and he wanted to steal the keys of my trunk and valise from me."
"Steal!" ejaculated Josiah Crabtree.
"That is what it amounted to, for the keys and boxes are my property."
"Mr. Crabtree merely wanted to see that your baggage contained nothing improper," put in Captain Putnam. "There are certain things we do not allow boys to bring into the institution."
"Then he had a right to keep my baggage out until I was properly enrolled as a pupil. I did not bring in the trunk and bag myself."
At this Captain Putnam began to smile.
"I see the point you are trying to make, Rover. You are trying to prove that you were placed under arrest, so to speak, before you were under our authority here."
"Exactly. I will leave it to you, Captain Putnam, if I was really a pupil when Mr. Crabtree hauled me off to the guardroom?"
At this plain question the face of the owner of the Hall became a study.
"You make a very fine distinction, Rover," he answered slowly.
"Perhaps so, sir; and I do it because I want to begin right here. If I am to be handicapped at the start of my career, what is the use of my trying to make a record for myself?" and Tom looked the master of Putnam Hall full in the face.
Without a word Captain Putnam held out his hand. "Thomas, you have considerable spirit, but I think your heart is in the right place, and I am willing to try you. Supposing you enroll as a pupil now, and we let bygones be bygones?"
"With all my heart, sir!" cried Tom, glad to have the whole affair settled so easily.
"Why, are you going to let the—the young rascal go?" demanded Josiah Crabtree, in amazement.
"I'm not a rascal, Mr. Crabtree."
"Yes, you are!"
"Mr. Crabtree, I have decided to drop the matter," put in Captain Putnam, in a tone which admitted of no dispute, and the head assistant fell back abashed. "Rover says he wishes to make a record for himself, and I am inclined to help him. He starts his term free and clear of all charges against him—and his brother whom you have locked up shall do likewise. Kindly call Mr. Strong."
"It is a—a most unusual proceeding," growled the head assistant.
"Perhaps; but we will talk that matter over at another time."
Josiah Crabtree went out; and in a minute George Strong appeared, and Tom was turned over to him, to sign the roll of the academy and to join Sam, Fred, and the others in the classroom over which Mr. Strong presided.
"Hullo, you're back," whispered Sam, but no more could be said until recess, when Tom told his story in detail. In the meantime Dick was released.
"So you met the fellow who stole my watch!" cried the elder brother. "I wish you had got the timepiece."
"So do I, Dick."
Dick had been captured by Josiah Crabtree just as he was vaulting the iron fence around the guardroom window. The head assistant had locked him up in the apartment Tom had occupied, and there Dick had remained all night.
"Oh, Crabtree is a—a terror!" said Dick, later on. "I hope Dora Stanhope's mother never marries him."
"I'll wager neither of you have heard the last of Crabtree, even if we are not in his classes," remarked Sam. "He will watch for a chance to get even, mark my words."
"I don't doubt it, Sam," answered Tom. "But let him come on. I intend to do my duty as a cadet, and I am not afraid of him."