The Rover Boys at School





 

CHAPTER IX

 

A STRANGE MEETING IN THE WOODS.

 

 

To go back to Tom, at the time he was left alone by the head

assistant of Putnam Hall, after refusing to give up the keys to

his satchel and trunk.

 

"I've put my foot into it now," thought the boy dismally.  "I

wonder what Captain Putnam will say to all this when he hears of

it?  Of course old Crabtree will make out the worst possible case

against me."

 

It was too dark to see much, and he dropped on the couch.  He was

worried a good deal, yet he was not one to take anything too

deeply to heart.

 

Before long a waiter appeared with a tray containing a big bowl of

bread and milk.  Had Josiah Crabtree had his own way, he would

have sent only bread and water for the lad's supper, but such a

proceeding would have been contrary to Captain Putnam's rule.  The

kind captain realized that his pupils were but boys and should not

be treated as real prisoners, even when they did break the academy

rules.

 

"Here’s your supper, sir!" announced Alexander, the waiter, as he

set the tray on the table.  "Sorry I can't leave the light."

He referred to a lamp, also, on the tray, which he now removed.

 

"What have you got there?" asked Tom, sitting up.

 

"Bowl of bread and milk."

 

"Is that what they give visitors for supper?"

 

"Gracious, are you a visitor?"

 

"I consider myself as such until I am placed on the muster roll."

 

At this Alexander scratched his head.  "Well, I don't

know nothin’ about that.  I do obey Mr. Crabtree's orders."

 

"Has Captain Putnam come back yet?"

 

"No, an' he sent word that he didn't think he could get back, before morning."

 

"Humph!  Then I'll have to stay here until that time."

 

"I reckon so."

 

"It's a jolly shame."

 

"That's right." and Alexander grinned.

 

"Well, leave the bread and milk.  It's better than nothing.  But

hold on.  Who are you?"

 

"Alexander Pop, at your service, sir," and again the friendly

man grinned.  He was a short, fat fellow, the very embodiment of

good nature.

 

"Well, Alexander, if you are at my service, supposing you get me

something else to eat beside this bread and milk."

 

"Oh, say, I couldn't do that."

 

"Yes, you could.  Here is a quarter for your trouble."  And Tom held out the silver piece.

 

"Mr. Crabtree would have me discharged if he caught me, Master

Robert."

 

"Then don't let him catch you."

 

At this the old man laughed.

 

"You is just the boy I liked to meet," he said.  "Just wait

and I'll do what I can for you but mum's the word, eh?"

 

"I never peach, Aleck; it's only a coward that does that,"

concluded Tom.

 

Alexander disappeared from the room, but reappeared in less than

ten minutes with something done up in a napkin.

 

"There you are," he said, "two tongue sandwiches and a big

piece of layer cake, is all I could get, for Mrs. Green is very

sharp.  And here is a bit of candle, for a light.  But please

don't let 'em know I brought you these things."

 

"Never a word, Aleck, thank you," answered Tom, and handed over

the quarter.

 

Left again to himself, Tom lost no time in making way, not only

with the sandwiches and cake, but also some of the bread and milk,

for his day's traveling had left him tremendously hungry.  The bit

of candle was less than two inches long, and began to splutter

just as the meal was finished.

 

A rattle at the door caused the lad to sweep the cake crumbs out

of sight, blow out the candle, and pocket the tiny bit left.  Then

the light of a lamp lit up the guardroom, and Josiah Crabtree came

in.

 

"Well, Rover, have you enjoyed your supper?" he asked coldly, as

he glanced at the half empty bowl.

 

"Very much," was the youth's equally cold reply.

 

"You like bread and milk, then," was Crabtree's sarcastic

rejoinder.

 

"Nothing better, sir, for supper."

 

The head assistant bit his lip, and then set down the lamp.

 

"Rover, don't you think, you are making a bad beginning?" he said

after a pause.

 

"I don't understand you, Mr. Crabtree."

 

"Any other boy on joining a school would wish to make his entrance

as creditable as possible."

 

"But I haven't joined this school yet."

 

"I won't argue that point."

 

"I wasn't even on your grounds, but in the public highway--and

there shot off--what?  A simple firecracker.  And for that you

hauled me to this place, and treat me like one who has broken half

the laws of the land.  If Captain Putnam upholds you in this

matter, do you know what I shall do?"

 

"Make an additional fool of yourself, I presume."

 

"I shall write home to my guardian that I do not consider Putnam

Hall a proper boarding academy for any boy, and that I want to be

put somewhere else."

 

At these outspoken words Josiah Crabtree grew pale.  His great

unpopularity was already having its effect upon Captain Putnam,

and he was afraid that if he should be the means of losing a pupil

it might cost him his place, as much as he knew that the captain

did not favor changes in his staff of instructors.

 

"Don't be unreasonable, my lad," he said, but his tone was much

milder than before.

 

"I don't think I am unreasonable."

 

"The road is one belonging to this institution--in brief, a

private road.  You became a pupil here when you entered our

carriage, that, which brought you here."

 

"Does everybody who rides in that carriage become a Putnam Hall

pupil?" demanded Tom.

 

He saw that he was worrying Crabtree, and resolved to keep it up.

 

"Well--er--we won't argue that point."

 

"Then supposing we don't argue anything until Captain Putnam comes

back?  In the meantime if you will release me I'll go to

Cedarville and put up at the hotel for the night."

 

"I shall not release you."

 

"All right, then.  But if my guardian takes me away, mark my

words, you shall stand a personal lawsuit for having locked me up

here without having any right to do so."

 

"Why--er--this to me--me, the head assistant here?" screamed

Josiah Crabtree.

 

In his rage he ran over to Tom and caught him by the ear.

 

He had scarcely done so than Tom put out one foot, gave the

teacher a shove, and down went Crabtree flat on his back.

 

"You villain!" gasped the head assistant, as he scrambled to his

feet.

 

"Don't you pinch my ear again," retorted Tom.

 

The door was open, and before Crabtree could stop him he ran out

into the hallway.

 

"Hold on!"

 

"Not much!"

 

"It will be the worse for you!"

 

"I'll risk that."

 

"Stop him, somebody!" screamed Josiah Crabtree at the top of his

voice.

 

Without waiting, Tom ran down the hallway.  He knew not where he

was going, and, coming, to a door, slipped through.  He now found

himself in the rear of the Hall and a few seconds later ran across

the back garden and dove into the farm lands.

 

"Free once more," he thought.  "And I shan't go back until I am

certain Captain Putnam is on hand to receive me.  I wonder how

Dick and Sam are faring?"

 

Thinking that his brothers would soon learn of his escape, and not

wishing to be caught, he hurried on until the farm lands were

passed and he found himself in a woods.

 

"I'll sweep around in a circle and make for that road leading to

Cedarville," he concluded, and trudged on rapidly, for the woods

were dark and lonely and not particularly to his liking.

 

Tom had covered the best part of half a mile: when he saw a light

ahead.  At first he thought it must shine from the window of some

farmhouse, but soon made it out to be from a campfire, situated in

something of a hollow and not far from a spring.

 

"Hullo!  Tramps or charcoal burners," he thought.  "I wonder if

they would be friendly?"

 

He slackened his pace and approached cautiously until within ten

yards of where two men sat in earnest conversation.  One man was

tall and thin and had a scar on his chin.  The other fellow was

the thief who had robbed Dick of his watch.

At first Tom was not inclined to believe the evidence of his

eyesight.

 

"Perhaps I'm mistaken," he mused.

 

He resolved to draw nearer and hear if possible what the two men

were saying.

 

A clump of bushes grew close to the spring before mentioned, and

he crawled up behind this, thus getting within fifteen feet of the

campfire.

 

"You are certain you saw the boys, Buddy?" he heard the tall man

with the scar say.

 

"I'm as sure of it as I'm sure your name is Arnold Baxt--"

 

"Hush, Buddy, how many times must I tell you that I want that name

dropped, especially around here?"

 

"There ain't anybody around here to hear us!"

 

"Well, I don't want the name mentioned.  I call you Buddy.  You

must call me Nolly."

 

"All right, Nolly."

 

 "Now, you are dead sure you saw the boys on their way to Putnam

Hall?"

 

"I am."

 

"How much have you drank today?"

 

"Only two glasses, this morning.  Oh, it was them," went on Buddy,

with a total disregard for grammar.

 

The tall man muttered something under his breath.

 

"It's too bad," he said aloud.

 

"What's too bad?"

 

"That they are going to Putnam Hall.  Still, I don't know as it

will amount to anything.  But I reckon you had best get out of the

neighborhood."

 

"I'm going to get out."

 

"What brought you here?"

 

"I wanted to see you again, as I said before."

 

"About what?"

 

"That mining deal."

 

"I can't do anything at present."

 

"Why not?"

 

"There are some papers missing, Buddy.  As soon as I get those

I'll be in a condition to go ahead.  You know, I've got to move

slowly."

 

"Well, what brought you here?"

 

"That is my business."

 

"Every few months or so you come up to Cedarville, Baxt---- Nolly,

and on a secret mission."

 

"Well, who has a better right?  Come, let us talk about something

else.  If you--  Hullo, what's that?"

 

Both men leaped to their feet as a sound from the bushes back of

the spring reached their ears.

 

Tom had been lying as quiet as a mouse when a pinching-bug, as

they are commonly called, had dropped from one of the bushes onto

his neck.

 

The bug was as big as a walnut shell, and had fine nippers, and

when he took hold of the skin Tom could not help but make a slight

noise as he tried to throw the bug off.

 

Before the boy could arise to his feet the two men were rushing

upon him, Buddy with a stick and the tall man with something which

he had drawn from his pocket. It was a sand-bag, a favorite weapon

used in our large cities by footpads.

 

 

 



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