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CHAPTER XIV


THE BIRTHDAY FEAST


The two Rover brothers looked at each other in amazement, and for a moment neither spoke.

"What do you suppose he meant?" asked Sam, presently.

"He meant just what he said," returned Tom. "I'm going to tell Dick," and he summoned his big brother without delay.

"I think I can piece this together," said Dick. "I saw Bob Grimes talking to Dudd Flockley this afternoon, and again after supper. Most likely Bob got on the trail of something Dudd thinks of doing. He doesn't want to appear as a tattle-tale and at the same time he doesn't want to see our machine ruined. So that's why he warned you in such a queer fashion."

"You must be right," answered Tom. "What shall we do?"

"Nothing, Tom."

"Yes, but we don't want the machine ruined, of even tampered with!" exclaimed Sam.

"I don't think anybody will touch it," went on the eldest Rover boy. "After you came up here I got to thinking that maybe Flockley, or Koswell, or Larkspur, or somebody else, might try to injure the Dartaway, and so I went to see Filbury, the janitor, about it. His son Abner is helping him around the dormitories, and I hired Abner for fifty cents a night to sleep in the shed and guard the biplane. Abner has got a shotgun, and he isn't afraid of anybody; so I reckon the Dartaway will be perfectly safe."

"Good for you, Dick!" cried Tom. "Say, I hope if anybody does try to injure the machine Abner gives him a dose of shot!"

"I told him not to shoot anybody unless it was necessary," answered Dick. "But he may shoot into the air, just to scare the intruder and raise an alarm."

The next day was such a busy one for the Rover boys that they had no time to do more than look at the biplane and see that it was safe. Abner Filbury reported that he had slept in a hammock slung beside the machine and that nothing had happened to arouse him. Nobody but the Rovers knew that he was on guard. The boys wanted to tell Bob Grimes, but that individual kept out of the way.

After having settled down in their rooms and to their studies, the three Rover boys made several flights in the biplane, including one to the Sanderson farm, where they discovered Songbird calling on Minnie. Both were seated in a hammock between the house and the barn, and both leaped up in confusion when the biplane, manipulated by Tom, sailed directly over their heads. When the Rovers came down in the big field, Minnie ran to greet them, and, later, she treated them to apple pie and some milk. Then they set sail once more, leaving their college chum to finish his interrupted visit.

After this flight the boys ordered a new engine for the Dartaway, one which would make sailing safer, especially in a stiff wind. The makers said they would send the new engine immediately, and a machinist to install it, and they agreed to take the old engine back at cost price, since it was practically new.

It must not be supposed that the Rover boys neglected their studies. As my old readers know, whatever they tackled they went at with all their might, and this applied to their work as well as their play.

"Dad sent us here to get an education," said Dick. "And while I am here I am going to study all I can. There is no telling how long I'll be able to remain here anyway."

"Thinking of dad's western affairs?" asked Sam.

"Yes; I may have to take hold and help him and Uncle Randolph out. Both of them are not as young as they used to be, you know."

"That's true, Dick. I noticed dad's hair getting pretty gray, and uncle's is almost white."

The boys had written home and also to the Stanhopes and the Lanings, and soon came letters in return. One, from Mr. Anderson Rover, was of special importance.


"I have news out of the ordinary," wrote the parent. "That man Crabtree and Tad Sobber have come back to the old mill. I got the word from Peter Marley. He says they act very suspiciously, and that a boy who works for him overheard Crabtree and Sobber talking about us. I have sent for a detective to come out from the city and watch them for a while. If anything new developes I will let you know."


"Now what in the world can old Crabtree and Sobber be up to?" asked Sam, after all had read the communication.

"Up to some trick, I'll bet a new hat," declared Tom. "I am glad dad sent for the detective. I hope he catches them red-handed at something, and locks them up."

"They certainly ought to be locked up," was Dick's comment.

The boys studied hard that evening and by ten o'clock all were tired out and ready to go to bed. But, just as they were on the point of retiring, there came a knock on the door of the room occupied by Tom and Sam, and Stanley appeared.

"You are wanted in Room 14!" said the student, in a loud whisper. "Come right along."

"What's up?" asked both boys.

"Feast—ice-cream and cake. Max and Spud were down to the town and they brought the stuff along. Come on, before it's too late and the ice-cream melts."

"Me for the ice-cream!" cried Tom, and did a handspring over his bed. "Are the others invited?"

"Sure—a round dozen," answered Stanley.

Room 14 was at the end of the corridor and occupied by two students named Lane and Parley, whole-souled fellows who were always ready for a good time. The room was so located that it had much more privacy than the other apartments.

Soon the boys had gathered,—as jolly a crowd as could be found at Brill. Max and Spud had spread themselves, it being the German-American lad's birthday.

"Say, this is certainly fine!" cried Sam, as he surveyed several big cakes, two hands of bananas, some grapes, and several bricks of ice-cream of various flavors.

"How are you going to serve the ice-cream?" asked Dick.

"Oh, we're all prepared!" cried Spud, and exhibited a "nest" of paper saucers and another of paper plates, and then a handful of tin spoons. "I thought these would answer better than the real thing, for when we have finished we won't have to wash anything—we can throw the whole mess away."

"Say, that's Spud," cried the student named Lane "Once he had to wash dishes at a picnic we went to and you ought to see the face he cut."

"Come, git busy alretty!" cried Max, as he flourished a knife and commenced to cut one of the cakes. "Spud, chop the ice-cream up right avay!"

"All right, me for the chopping!" cried Spud cheerfully, and soon the cream was being passed around to the assembled students, and the cake and fruit followed.

"Fine!" cried Tom, as he smacked his lips over the feast. "Max, you have my full permission to have a birthday once a week."

"Yes, and when you miss a week let Spud take your place," added Sam.

"One thing I can't understand, Spud," said Dick, with great seriousness, and everybody present stopped eating to hear what the eldest Rover might have to say.

"What can't you understand?" asked Spud innocently.

"How you could get up a feast like this and forget to supply such an important thing."

"What important thing?" demanded Spud, and he suddenly looked a trifle worried.

"Potatoes," returned Dick.

For an instant there was silence, and then, as the other boys remembered Will's love of potatoes—a love that had given him the nickname of "Spud," there was a wild burst of laughter.

"Say, Spud, that's one on you!"

"Too bad we didn't bring a few praties along, son!"

"We might have fried a few over the light, eh?"

"Don't you worry, dis feast ain't done yet al'retty!" cried Max. "Here is something more!" And going to his bureau he brought out a square box wrapped in white paper. "Spud, he gifes me a big cake,—now I gif him somethings, yes!" And he handed the box over.

"What's this, another joke?" demanded the other student suspiciously.

"Do you think I play a joke?" asked Max, with a hurt look.

"All right then," said Spud, and proceeded to undo the string around the box. Then he took off the paper and opened the box.

What a shout went up! For the box was filled with potatoes—plain white and sweet! There were about a quart of them, mixed.

"Oh, what a sell!" murmured Spud. "I knew you'd do something like this!" he added, grinning sheepishly.

"Better pass 'em around," suggested Tom.

"All right, have one raw!" returned Spud.

"Hi! ton't gif dem avay so kvick!" cried Max, getting excited and talking more brokenly than usual. "Besser examine dem first."

"Examine 'em?" murmured Spud. "Oh, I see!" he added, and took up one of the potatoes. "Why, it isn't a potato at all!" he exclaimed as the article came apart. "It's only a shell, and it's filled with candy!"

"Chocolate drops!" murmured Sam. "Yum! yum!"

"There are salted almonds in this one," went on Spud, opening an imitation of a sweet potato. "And here are stuffed dates, and this had raisins in it—and here are soft gum drops! Say, Max, this is certainly great! How did you happen to think of it?" And Spud looked tremendously pleased.

"Oh, I know you lof potatoes," answered the German-American youth, innocently.

The candy was placed on one of the wooden plates, and the almonds and raisins on another, and then the good things were passed around.

"I'll keep these as souvenirs of the occasion," said Spud, indicating the imitation potatoes.

"How about it, Songbird, can't you rise to the occasion?" asked Dick, who had noticed that the student-poet had been unusually quiet while eating his cake and ice-cream.

"I have—er—just composed a little poem in honor of Max's birthday," answered Songbird. "If you'd like me to recite——"

"Sure thing!"

"Turn on the poetry spigot, Songbird, and let her flow!"

"This is not yet finished. But,—but——"

"Give us what you have," said Spud, and clearing his throat several times, Songbird began.

"Once more a year has rolled around—
As years have rolled before—
Once more we greet our loving friend—
A true friend to the core!
We hope that in the future he
Will win success and fame,
And go down in our history
A noble"

Bang! came the report of a gun, and the shot was so unexpected that Songbird forgot what he was going to say, and all those at the feast sprang to their feet. Bang! came a second report.

"What does that mean?" cried Stanley. "Who is firing a gun this time of night?"

"I think I know what it means!" exclaimed Dick, leaping for the door.

"Come on, if you want to save the Dartaway!" he went on, to his brothers.