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CHAPTER XIV


IN WHICH JOB HASKERS GETS LEFT IN THE COLD


The boys kept on running for fully a hundred yards, plunging deeper and deeper into the woods which lined the roadway. Tom Atwood had dropped the plank and two of the club members had lost their headpieces, but nobody dreamed of going back for the articles.

"I think I know who that man is," said Phil, when the crowd came to a halt.

"Mike Marcy?" questioned Dave.

"Yes."

"I thought that, too, but I wasn't sure. He called the other fellow Billy."

"He has a boy working for him now and his name is Billy," said Shadow. "I met him on the road several times, driving cows. He isn't just right in his mind. I suppose Marcy got him to work cheap."

"I wonder if Marcy really thought we were ghosts?" mused the senator's son. "Maybe he only said that to scare us. He might have thought we were up to some kind of a job around his farm."

"Well, whether he thought we were ghosts or not, he certainly shot at us," was Phil's comment. "Ugh! I am glad I didn't get a dose of the shot!"

"And so am I," answered several others.

"That is one more black mark against Mike Marcy," said Luke Watson. "We'll have to remember to pay him back."

"Never mind about paying him back just now," answered Roger. "The question is, What's to do next? That run warmed me up and I'll take cold if I stand here long doing nothing."

"We must get back to the boathouse. Remember, the Soden boys are still locked up in that closet. It hasn't much ventilation and we don't want them to smother."

"I'm not going around by the road," said Henshaw.

"Not on your life!" exclaimed Ben. "I'd rather go down to the river and walk over the ice."

It was finally decided to follow Ben's suggestion, and the crowd continued on their way through the brushwood until the Leming River was reached. They saw or heard nothing more of Mike Marcy and his hired boy, for which they were thankful. Reaching the ice, they set off at a dog-trot for the old boathouse.

"If we only had skates this would be fine," declared Dave. "But as we haven't any we've got to make the best of it."

"As the servant girl said, when she told her mistress that she couldn't make sponge cake because they didn't have any sponges," answered the senator's son.

"Say, that puts me in mind of a story about a——" began Shadow. But just then one of the boys put out his foot and down went the storyteller of the school on the ice. "Hi, you!" he roared and pulled the other youth on top of him. Then began a wild scramble on the part of both to see who could get up first, and the story was forgotten.

When the Gee Eyes came in sight of the old boathouse they were surprised to learn it was well past midnight.

"We'll have to rush matters," said Dave. "If we don't, somebody may report us, and the doctor won't let us off very easily if we stay out too late."

"Maybe we'd better postpone the other initiations," suggested Luke.

"Oh, no, go ahead!" cried half a dozen. "We are safe enough."

Entering the old boathouse, the boys lit all the lanterns they possessed, and those who had lost their head-coverings tied masks over their faces. Then some approached the closet in which the Soden twins had been confined.

"Hello!"

"They are gone!"

"What does this mean?"

"They must have broken out and run away!"

Such were some of the exclamations indulged in when it was found that the apartment was empty. A hasty examination was made of the hasp and staple of the door, and they were found intact. A wooden peg had served to keep the hasp in place.

"It looks to me as if somebody had let them out," said Dave, after an examination.

"But who would do that, Dave?" questioned Phil.

"Somebody not a member of the Gee Eyes—some enemy of the club."

"But why should the Soden boys run away?" asked Shadow. "They were willing to be initiated."

"Perhaps they got cold feet—mentally as well as physically," ventured Henshaw. "They may have got to talking things over in the dark and got scared."

"They didn't break out, that's sure," declared the senator's son. "Somebody on the outside removed that wooden peg."

"Well, we didn't do it," said one of the boys.

"Can they be anywhere around?"

Some of the boys began a search, but this was in vain—the twins had disappeared.

"We may as well give up for to-night," said the president at last.

"I move we adjourn to bed," said Ben, and this was put and carried, and without delay the robes, headgears, and stuffed clubs and swords were hidden away, and the students hurried to Oak Hall.

Here another setback awaited them. The side door was locked, and the false key they had put on a convenient nail was missing.

"Somebody is playing us tricks," said Dave. "I thought so before and now I am certain of it. I shouldn't wonder if that somebody had gone and told Mike Marcy to look out for ghosts at the end of his lot."

"Who would do it?"

"Several fellows—Link Merwell, Nat Poole, and their cronies."

"Never mind that crowd now," said Shadow. "How are we to get into the school without waking anybody up?"

"Let us try all the doors and lower windows," suggested the shipowner's son.

This was done, and at last one of the boys found a basement window unfastened. He notified the others.

"I know where that leads to," said Dave. "The laundry."

"Yes, I've been in the laundry, too," added the senator's son.

"Then one of you see if you can get upstairs through the laundry and let us in," said Buster. "And please don't be all night about it either, for I am getting cold."

"Don't say a word," came from Messmer. "My ears are about frozen already."

"I'll go," said Dave.

"I'll go along," returned Roger.

Both climbed down through the basement window, to find themselves in a place that was pitch-dark. Here Dave struck a match and by its faint rays led the way to an open cellar and then to a stairs running up to the kitchen.

Tiptoeing their way up the stairs, they tried the door at the top, and to their joy found it unlocked. They stepped into the kitchen, and just then the match went out, leaving them again in the dark.

"I know the way now, so there is no need to make another light," said Roger.

"Wait,—better have a light," answered Dave. "You don't want to stumble over anything and make a noise."

He found a candle and lit it, and then the chums crept silently from the kitchen, through the pantry and dining room to the side hall. They wanted to stop for something to eat from the pantry, but did not wish to keep their friends waiting out in the cold.

The two youths were just on the point of turning a corner of the hall when a sound struck their ears. Somebody was close at hand, snoring lustily!

"Who can it be?" asked Roger, in a faint whisper, when both realized what the sound meant.

"I'll soon find out," answered Dave, and held up the candle.

"Don't wake him up, or there'll be trouble!"

Step by step they drew closer to the sleeping person. It was a man, wearing an overcoat and a skullcap. He was seated in a comfortable armchair taken from the parlor.

"Old Haskers!" cried Dave.

"He must have been on the watch for us and fallen asleep," was the comment of the senator's son.

"Don't wake him—let him sleep."

"To be sure, Dave—I'd like to chloroform him!"

The boys passed the snoring teacher and reached a side door. Unlocking it, they slipped without, and closed the door again. Then they summoned the members of the Gee Eyes and told them of what they had discovered.

"You'll have to go in as quietly as mice," said Dave. "Otherwise he'll wake up and catch us,—and then the fat will be in the fire."

"Dave, somebody has surely been spying on us," said Phil.

"Exactly—but we can't take that up now. In you go, and take off your shoes before you start upstairs. Maybe——" Dave paused.

"What, Dave?"

"Maybe we can play a joke on Haskers, when we are about safe."

"How?" asked several.

"We might carry him out on the piazza and lock the door on him. Under that overcoat he has on only his night clothes and a pair of slippers."

"If we only could do it!" murmured Phil, gleefully.

One by one the members of the Gee Eyes entered the school building, slipped off their shoes, and went upstairs. Then, wrapping their coats around their heads, Dave, Roger, Phil, and Shadow came back and surrounded Job Haskers.

"Now listen," said Dave, who still held the candle. "If he wakes up, drop him. I'll blow out the candle, and all scoot for the dormitories,—but without noise, remember that!" And so it was agreed.

As carefully as possible they raised up the sleeping man, armchair and all, and carried him to the side door, which Dave opened. Then they took their burden outside and put the chair down in the snow at the foot of the piazza steps. This accomplished, they ran back into the school, closed and locked the door, and threw the key in a dark corner.

"Now for the dormitory!" cried Dave, and blew out the light. "And everybody undress in jig-time!"

All understood, and the way they flew up the stairs was a wonder. Like lightning-change actors they threw off their garments and got into their sleeping clothes. The other boys were already disrobed, and some were at the windows, looking down through shade cracks, to see what might happen below.

They had not long to wait. Job Haskers speedily grew cold and woke up with a start. In the darkness he stared around in perplexity and then leaped to his feet.

"Oh!" the boys heard him mutter, as some of the loose snow got into his slippers. "What can this mean? Where am I?"

He took several steps, and more snow got into his slippers. Then he slipped on a patch of ice and plunged straight into the snow with his arms and shoulders.

"Confound the luck!" the boys heard him say. "Boys, what does this mean? Who put me here? Oh, but won't I make you suffer for this! Oh, my feet!" And then he rushed for the piazza steps. Here he slipped again, and the students heard him yell as he came down on his left elbow. Then he disappeared from sight under the roof of the piazza.

"He won't get in right away!" whispered Roger. "Oh, this is the best yet!"

They heard Job Haskers fumble at the knob of the door. He tried to turn it several times and then shook it violently. Finding the door would not open, he began to pound upon the barrier with his fist.

"He's making noise enough to wake the dead!" whispered Phil.

"Somebody is going below," said Dave, a moment later. "Now I guess there will be more fun!"

"If only we aren't caught!" murmured Shadow, who was a bit afraid that the fun had been carried too far.