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When old Ricks saw his neighbor approaching he could not at first believe his eyes. Then he ran up to the man, who was a particularly sour individual.

"Say, I thought you was dead," he gasped.

"Dead?" returned Ham Ludd. "Do I look like I was dead?" And he glared savagely at Ricks. "I ain't dead, not by a jugful!"

"Humph! Well, if you ain't dead, mebbe you'll explain about that cat, an' dog," went on old Ricks.

"Wot about 'em?"

"You told folks I poisoned the cat and starved the dog to death."

"I did not."

"You did it was in the newspapers!" bawled old Ricks, commencing to dance around.

"I didn't! Where's them newspapers?" asked Ham Ludd, also growing excited.

"I ain't got 'em, but Tom Rover said——"

And then suddenly old Ricks stopped short. He was commencing to "smell a mouse," as the saying is.

"Wot did Tom Rover say?" demanded Ham Ludd.

"Never mind wot he said," grumbled the stationmaster. "Only you be careful o' wot you say about me in the future, Ham Ludd, thet's all!"

"Huh! I guess that Rover boy has been a'jokin' you ag'in, Ricky," said Ludd, with a grin. "How about thet busted-up bonfire, an' that snaky cigar? Ha! ha! he had you them times, didn't he?"

"You shet up, Ham Ludd!" roared the stationmaster. "Don't you say another word!"

"I'll say all I please! An' you'll put up that fence, too, or I'll have the law on ye!" retorted Ham Ludd; and then went on his way.

"Hang them Rover boys anyway!" muttered old Ricks, as he gritted his teeth. "I'll be glad when they go off to college ag'in. Wish they would stay away!" And he went about his work.

"Ricks and Ludd will have it in for each other from now on," remarked Dick, as he and his brothers got into the automobile to go home.

"Yes, and he'll have it in for us me especially," returned Tom, with a broad grin. "Never mind; I can stand it," he added, carelessly. Troubles, past or to come, never set heavily on that fun-loving youth's shoulders.

The boys had given the biplane one trial in carrying two passengers, Dick and Sam going up together while Captain Colby was present. On the day following the departure of Hans, they rearranged the seats on the Dartaway and got ready to go up three strong, provided the biplane would carry the load.

"I know she will do it if we get a more powerful engine," said Dick.

"Then we'll get the engine," returned Sam.

They made the start with care, all the others at the homestead being present to witness the trial. The Dartaway went up slowly, with Dick in the center, at the wheel, and Sam on one side of him and Tom on the other.

""Hurrah! we are going to make it!" cried Tom, as the biplane arose like some big bird.

"It's a strain though," answered Dick. "We won't be able to fly very high nor very long."

"But it's great to be up together!" murmured Sam.

They flew for nearly ten minutes, making wide circles and a big figure eight. They went over the house and the barn, and in plain sight of several surrounding farms, men, women and children coming out to look at them. Once more the Rover boys were the talk of the whole country-side.

"Ain't nothing they can't do," said one of the farmers living near. "If they tackle a thing it's plumb bound to go through, every time!"

"It's because they are so full of grit and push," answered his wife. "Wish our Jed was like 'em," she added, wistfully.

"Jed ain't never had no chanct, Mirandy."

"Boys like them Rovers make their own chances, Silas," she retorted.

That evening it was Tom who made a proposal that met with instant approval from his brothers.

"Let's go to the college in the biplane," he said.

"Hurrah! just the cream!" returned Sam. "Say, won't the fellows stare when they see us!"

"Very nice, but we can't very well fly all the way from here to Ashton," put in Dick, mentioning the town near which Brill College was located.

"Oh, I didn't mean that," explained Tom. "I meant to fly from Ashton to Brill. We could ship the biplane to Ashton in secret, put it together on the sly, and create a big sensation by coming down right on the college campus."

"Tom, you're a wonder!" cried Sam, "It's the best plan ever! Oh, let's do it!"

"Wonder where we could ship it to, so the other fellows wouldn't get on to what was doing?" mused Dick.

"Why not ship it to Mr. Sanderson?" suggested Sam. The man he mentioned was a farmer living some distance from the college. The boys had once done the farmer's daughter Minnie a great favor, saving her from insults at the hands of Jerry Koswell and Dudd Flockley.

"That's the talk!" cried Tom. "He'll take care of it and let us put it together in one of his open fields. Then we can make the fellows at Brill open their eyes."

The new idea pleased all the youths immensely, and the next day a long letter of explanation was sent to Mr. Sanderson, and he was asked to telegraph a reply. The biplane was taken apart and packed up for transportation, and then the boys packed their trunks and dress-suit cases, and got ready to "go back to the greasy grind," as Tom expressed it.

It must not be suppposed that the lads had forgotten to write to the Stanhopes and the Lanings, and to their college friends. Numerous letters 'had been mailed and about an equal number had been received. The girls were all going to Hope, but one week later than the boys would have to depart for Brill. Nothing more had been seen or heard of Crabtree or Sobber, for which all were thankful.

"Here's a letter from William Philander Tubbs," said Tom. "I sent him a letter just for fun, asking him the style in socks this fall. Listen to his reply." And he read the following:

"I have been making diligent inquiries about the shades in socks, my dearest Thomas, but the storekeepers seem to be a little undecided. Some think that Rambler Red will prevail while others favor Nile Green and a new shade called Baby's Breath. Personally I favor Baby's Breath and have purchased one dozen of that shade. If I get any more definite news about shades I will wire you, because I know what a dreadful thing it is not to have the shade that is really and truly fashionable."

"Three cheers for William Philander and his Baby's Breath socks!" cried Sam. "He's the true and only artist!"

"Baby's Breath!" murmured Tom. "Now wouldn't that get your scalp-lock?" And then there was a merry laugh all around.

There was likewise a letter from Max Spangler, and another from Stanley Browne, stating they were already on their way to Brill. Then, just before the boys were ready to leave home, came a letter from Songbird Powell.

"I'll bet it's in verse," said Dick. "Songbird couldn't write prose to save his life."

"We'll soon see," said Sam, who held the communication, and he tore it open. "You win," he added, and then read the following, after the date line:

"My dearest boys
I'm filled with joys
To think that we
Together shall be
In a week or more!
Oh, the fun in store!
And also the work—
Which we can't shirk—
And the pleasant meetings,
And pleasant greetings,——"

"He was thinking of Minnie Sanderson when he wrote that," interrupted Tom.

"Sure thing," returned Dick; for all of the Rovers knew that the would-be poet was deeply smitten with the farmer's daughter. He had written several poems about her, and had also given her several presents.

"Well, there are twelve pages of the doggerel," said Sam, glancing over the sheets. "Here, you can read over my shoulders," and this was done, amid much merriment. Songbird had but little news and promised to be at college when they arrived.

"Oh, I hope the Dartaway carries us there in good shape," murmured Tom. "It will be an arrival worth remembering!"

Before he left home Dick had a long talk with his father and his Uncle Randolph. When he rejoined his brothers he was unusually sober.

"What is it, dad's business affairs?" queried Sam.

"Yes, Sam."

"Are they in bad shape?" questioned Tom, quickly. "What's gone wrong?"

"It's something about those mining shares that dad and Uncle Randolph invested in," answered Dick. "I'll give you the particulars later. They don't want Aunt Martha to know about it, for it will only make her worry without doing any good. I'm afraid dad and Uncle Randolph are in it bad," went on Dick, soberly.

"Can't something be done?" asked Tom.

"Not just now. Dad is going to Chicago about it next week again."

"Does he and uncle stand to lose much?" questioned Sam.

"Yes, a good deal more in fact than they can afford."

"Phew! That's too bad!" murmured the youngest Rover, and Tom shook his head soberly, and forgot all about the parting jokes he had intended to play on Aleck Pop and Jack Ness.

At last came the time for the three Rover boys to leave home. The biplane had been shipped to Ashton by express and their trunks and suit cases had been forwarded on their railroad tickets. They were going a day ahead of time, and Mr. Sanderson had agreed to meet them and take them to his home.

"Good bye, my boys," said the fond father, on parting. "Take good care of yourselves."

"We will," they answered as they shook hands.

"Learn all you can," put in Randolph Rover.

"Take care and don't get into trouble," admonished Mrs. Rover, and then she kissed them tenderly.

"Don't forget to let me know how matters go in Chicago, dad," whispered Dick, to his parent.

"I'll remember, my son."

"And if I can aid you in any way, let me do it,—even if I have to leave Brill," went on Dick.

"There is nothing to do at present, Dick. I must wait for that report."

Soon the boys were in the touring car, with Jack Ness to bring the automobile back from the railroad station, he now being able to run the machine. Dick was at the wheel. Tom had cranked up, and off they sped, with a merry shout and with those left behind waving their hands.

"Let her go, Dick!" sang out Tom.

"Good bye! "yelled Sam.

"Good bye!" came back faintly from the homestead.

Then a turn of the road shut out the house from view. Once again the Rover boys were off for college. Little did they dream of the strange adventures in store for them.