The Rover Boys at School/17
DICK AT THE STANHOPE COTTAGE.
Such were the words which sprang involuntarily to Dick's lips as he gazed at the scene before him. He was filled with bitter indignation and could hardly resist the temptation to break in the window and leap to Dora's assistance.
As he paused, he saw Dora push Crabtree back and leap to the opposite side of the center table.
"Don't you dare to touch me, Mr. Crabtree!" came loud enough for Dick to hear quite plainly.
"I want you to behave yourself, young lady," stormed Josiah Crabtree.
"I know how to do that without your advice."
"No, you don't. You have set your mother against me. If it hadn't been for you, we would be married long ago."
"I believe a daughter has a right to advise her mother concerning a stranger, Mr. Crabtree."
"Well, an outsider—if you like that better."
"I am no outsider. I've known your mother for years. I might have married her, instead of your father doing so, if he hadn't played an underhanded trick which——"
"Stop, sir. You shall not say a word against my father."
"Good for Dora!" thought Dick. "She's the right kind."
"Your mother is quite willing to marry me, and as a dutiful daughter you should bow to her wishes."
"Mother is not herself, Mr. Crabtree. Ever since father died she has been upset by business matters, and you have pestered the life out of her. If you would only go away for a month or so and give her time to think it over, I am sure she would end this matter between you."
"Tut, tut, child, you do not know what you are talking about! Your mother has given me her word, and you ought to bow to the inevitable."
"She has not yet married you, sir, and until she is actually bound to you there will still be hope for her."
"This is—is outrageous!" cried Josiah Crabtree wrathfully. "Do you think I will allow a mere slip of a girl to stand between me and my plans? Just wait until I am your father——"
"You shall never take the place of my dear dead father, Mr. Crabtree—never!" and now Dora's eyes filled with tears. "He was ten thousand times better than you can ever be!"
"I must admit I can't see it. He had not half the education I possess," answered Josiah Crabtree conceitedly.
"Perhaps not, but he had an honest, warm heart, and that counts for more than a mere book education. I fancy many men are smarter, even in book learning, than Mr. Josiah Crabtree, who tried last week for an opening at Columbia College and failed to meet the requirements."
"Ha! who told you that?"
"Mother told me."
"She is foolish to take you into her confidence. It was not my fault that I failed of the opening—merely the pigheadedness of those having the matter in charge. However, I do not care much. As soon as your mother and I are married, I shall make some changes here, put up a fine brick building, and open a rival school to Putnam Hall."
"Gracious, here is news!" thought Dick. "I wonder what Captain Putnam will say to that?"
"Will you?" ejaculated Dora. "And who will give you permission to make alterations here?"
"Mrs. Crabtree—that is soon to be."
"Do you know that she holds this property in trust for me, Mr. Crabtree? It will be hers only if I should die before I become of age. Her own share of papa's estate is situated further up the lake, at Berryport."
At this announcement Josiah Crabtree started back. "You—you are not telling the truth," he faltered.
"But your mother is the executrix of your father's will."
"Exactly. Consequently she has full control of all the property until you are twenty-one."
"She has—but certain changes suggested by you or her would be subject to the approval of the court or the surrogate, so I have been told," answered Dora quietly.
Josiah Crabtree glared at the girl, and then began to pace the floor impatiently.
"Dora, see here," he said finally. "Let us come to terms."
"Your mother and I are bound to get married. Remove your opposition to this, and I will promise not to interfere with you in the least. You can do as you please and go where you please, and you shall have all the spending money from time to time that the estate can afford."
At this the girl's lip curled proudly.
"I do not thank you for your offer, Mr. Crabtree. The whole difficulty is just here—I do not like you; and my mother shall never marry you so long as I can prevent it."
"You—you saucy minx!" he snarled and leaping around the table caught her by the wrist again. "I'll tame you before I am done with you, mark my words! If you dare to talk to your mother again—— Hullo, who is this?"
"Dick Rover!" cried Dora in amazement and in delight.
For Dick had suddenly thrown up the window sash, which was unlocked, and leaped straight into the sitting room.
"Let her go, Josiah Crabtree!" ordered the young cadet. "Don't you dare to strike her, or I'll knock you flat!"
"One of the Rover boys!" muttered the ex-teacher. "What business have you here at this hour of the evening? Have you run away from the Hall?"
"Since you have been discharged, I do not feel called upon to answer your question," answered Dick. "But you must let Dora alone, or there will be a broken head around here, I can tell you that!"
At Dick's plain words Josiah Crabtree grew pale. He had dropped the girl's wrist, and now he fell back several steps.
"I was not harming the girl, only trying to reason with her."
"Oh, I know you well enough. I've heard you were the most pigheaded teacher they ever had at Putnam Hall," rejoined Dick warmly. "I shall take pains to let Mrs. Stanhope know what they think of you, too."
"Was he discharged?" asked Dora. "He told mamma that he had left of his own accord."
"He was discharged," answered Dick, who had got word through Peleg Snuggers.
"It is not true!" stormed Josiah Crabtree. "This is a—a plot to injure me in the eyes of Mrs. Stanhope, and you shall pay dearly for it, boy!" and he shook his fist in Dick's face.
"Don't do that again, Mr. Crabtree, or we may have a set-to right here—begging Dora's pardon," answered Dick, his eyes flashing fire.
"That's all right—don't give in an inch to him, Dick," whispered Dora. "I hate him—oh, more than words can tell!" and she caught the youth's arm.
"I am not afraid of you, boy!" was the short return, but now the ex-teacher turned to the hallway. "I was on the point of leaving, and now I will go, Dora. But I will be back in a day or two," and he strode from the room. A moment later he had secured his hat and overcoat and taken his departure.
"Oh, what a dreadful man!" sobbed Dora, when he was gone. "Dick Rover, what shall I do?" and she looked at him pleadingly.
"It's a puzzle to me, Dora—worse than an example in cube root in algebra!" He smiled sadly. "But if I was you I'd hold out and never let him marry my mother."
"Oh, I will never consent to that—never! But he may marry her anyway."
"If he does, you can apply to the courts for another guardian—if Crabtree doesn't treat you fairly."
"But I do not wish to separate from my mother."
"Well, the only thing to do is to keep fighting him off. In the meantime I'll try to get some folks who know Crabtree well to tell your mother just what a mean, crabbed fellow he is. Undoubtedly he is after the money your father left."
"So I always supposed—but mother does not think so."
"How is your mother?"
"She is doing nicely, and may be out in a week or two. I am keeping her in as long as possible, so that Josiah Crabtree cannot argue her into going off and getting married."
"You certainly have your hands full, Dora," answered the young cadet. "I wish I could take this burden off your shoulders, indeed I do!" and impulsively he caught up her plump hand and kissed it.
"Oh!" She snatched the hand away and blushed prettily, but was not angry. "I—I—it's something to know one has a friend, Dick," she said softly. Can I come to you if I—that is—if I want something done?"
"To be sure, Dora—I'll—I'll do anything in the wide world for you—there!" and he kissed her hand again.
At that moment an elderly lady who had been hired to wait on Mrs. Stanhope came in, and the conversation was changed. Dora asked about life at the Hall, and Dick told of the football game and of the parts Tom and Sam had played in it.
"You are a great set of boys!" Dora smiled. "I wish I had a couple of sisters."
"You have your two cousins, Nellie and Grace."
"Yes, but they are not as intimate as sisters would be—although they are the best of cousins."
"What does Mr. Laning say of Crabtree?" Dick whispered, as the nurse left the room for a moment.
"Uncle does not like him, but he says the whole matter is none of his affair—and mother must do as she thinks best."
It was now growing late, and Dick took his departure, kissing Dora's hand a third time as they stood in the darkness of the porch. "You're terrible!" she murmured, but it is doubtful if she meant anything by it. Girls and boys are about the same the world over, and Dick's regard for Dora was of the manly sort that is creditable to anybody.