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CHAPTER XIX


STARTLING NEWS FROM HOME


"Here the conquering hero comes!"

"Say, but he looks like a real Lord, doesn't he?"

"Don't forget to bow to all the people you pass, Sir Tubbs!"

So the cries rang on, as the carriage and the carryall rolled away from the Ashton depot.

"Say, look here, what does this mean?" stammered the dudish student. "I tell you I'm no lord, or knight, or anything like that! I was over to Paris, not London, don't you know. Weally, this is—er—very embarrassing!" he pleaded, wildly.

"Stand up and make a speech, when you get to the campus, Willie boy!" sang out Tom. "Give 'em something grand on high finance, or railroad building, or cooking beans, or something like that."

"Why, Tom, weally, don't you know, I know nothing of—er—railroads, or—er—beans. Please stop the carriage, I wish to get out. This is—er—awful, don't you know!" fairly panted the dude. He had stood up, but now the carriage gave a jolt and down he sat very suddenly.

On through the town and straight for the college drove the two turnouts, the students yelling themselves hoarse. Many at Brill had been let into the secret, and when the grounds were reached a big crowd was congregated, to take part in the sport.

"Here they are!"

"Hurrah for Lord Tubbs!"

"How are you, Duke William Philander!"

"Do you wear the order of the Red Garter?"

"No, it's the Blue Suspender he was decorated with."

"Speech! speech!" came the cry from every side.

Then the carriage came to a halt and was immediately surrounded by a howling mob. A few had flowers that they threw at William Philander, while others had supplied themselves with stalks of celery, carrot and beet tops, and similar things, which they sent forward with force and directness.

"Here's a bouquet for you!"

"My kindest regards, Tubbs!"

"Oh, isn't it grand to be a real, live Emperor!"

"Hi, let up, will you!" fairly shrieked poor Tubbs, as the things hit him in the head and shoulders. "Let up, I tell you! Oh, what a joke! Let me get out of the carriage! I can't make a speech! Stop throwing at me! Oh, my eye!" he added, as a beet top caught him in the left optic. Then, watching his chance, he leaped from the carriage, dove like a madman through the crowd, and rushed for one of the dormitories, quickly disappearing from view.

"Good bye, my boy, good bye!" sang out several. And then Tom sent the dress-suit case after him; and the fun came to an end.

"Poor William Philander, he won't forget that in a hurry!" was Dick's comment. "Just the same, I am afraid the sport got a little too rough at the end."

"Maybe it did," answered Tom. "If you want it, I'll speak to Tubbs and apologize."

"I see that apology in a gold frame right now!" declared Sam, with a laugh. "Tom, let him alone and he'll be all right."

All of the boys wondered how Tubbs would act when he showed himself. Much to their amazement he called Tom to one side that evening and shook hands cordially.

"It was all a mistake—this report that I had—er—been knighted, don't you know," he lisped. "But it was very nice to get up such a reception in my honor, Thomas, really it was—although it got a bit rough towards the end. But I know it was meant well, and I thank you, honestly I do." And the dudish student shook Tom's hand again.

And then, for once in his life, Tom Rover didn't know what to say. As he afterwards admitted, he was completely "stumped." Poor, innocent Tubbs had really thought it an honor! To Tom that was "the limit."

"I'll never really know that chap," he said to his brothers. "His head must be filled with sawdust and punk."

"Well, let him drop now," advised Dick. "Quit your fooling, Tom, and get at your studies. You know what I told you. We may have to leave Brill before we anticipated. And we want to get all the learning we can."

"Have you heard anything more from dad?" demanded the fun-loving Rover quickly.

"Yes, a letter came this evening. That business affair is in a worse twist than ever. But dad hopes he can straighten it out. But he writes that he isn't feeling as well as he was. If he gets sick, we'll have to jump in—or at least I will—and take his place."

"We'll all jump in," was Sam's comment. "I'd like to do something in a business way."

"Did dad give any particulars?" asked Tom.

"None but what we already know. He felt too ill to write much."

"Has he heard anything more of Crabtree or Sobber?"

"Nothing."

During the following week there was some excitement at Brill because of a football game between that college and another institution of learning. It was a gala occasion, and the Rover boys hired a three-seated carriage and brought Dora, Nellie and Grace to the game. Brill won the contest, and a great jubilee lasting far into the night followed. The Rovers and the three girls had a little feast of their own at the Ashton hotel, and on the way back to Hope the young people sang songs, and had a good time generally. Perhaps some very sentimental things were said—especially between Dick and Dora—but if so, who can blame them? The placing of that engagement ring on Dora's finger by Dick had made them both exceedingly happy.

During those days the boys took several short trips in the Dartaway, once landing in the field on the Dawson farm. They sought out Dan Murdock and asked him if he had seen anything more of Koswell and Larkspur.

"Yes, I see 'em last week, but they got out of sight in the woods, and I couldn't find 'em," answered the farm hand.

"Around here?" asked Dick.

"No, that was on the edge of the big woods back of Hope Seminary. I was driving along, with some crates of eggs for the girls' college, when I see 'em, sitting on a fallen tree, smoking cigarettes. I stopped my hosses and spoke to 'em, and then they up and run into the woods as fast as they could go! I looked for 'em, but I couldn't git on their track nohow."

"What can they be doing up around Hope?" murmured Sam.

"Maybe they are sweet on some of the girls," returned Tom. "I know they used to go up there, when they attended Brill."

"I hope, if they visit Hope, they don't speak to Dora and the others," said Dick, as his face clouded.

"Maybe we better warn the girls," said Sam.

"No, don't do that," said Tom. "You'd only scare them. They know Koswell and Larkspur well enough. Don't say anything." And so the matter was dropped.

Two days later came a special delivery letter from home that filled the three boys with intense interest.


"Josiah Crabtree and Tad Sobber have at last shown their hand," wrote Mr. Anderson Rover. "They have sent an unsigned communication to me demanding fifty thousand dollars. They give me just two weeks in which to get the money together in cash and place it at a certain spot along the road between our home and Oak Run. If the money is not forthcoming they promise to blow up every building on the farm. The communication says, 'You can pay half of this and get the other half from your lady friends.' Which means, of course, the Stanhopes and Lanings."


"Of all the cowardly things!" cried Tom, after listening to the above. "Why, it's a regular sort of Black Hand communication!"

"So it is," added Sam. "What else does dad say," he went on, and Dick continued the reading of the letter:


"At first I was inclined to treat the communication lightly and laugh at it, but then came another letter—a mere scrawl, stating they would give me a taste of what to expect that night. I told the detective of this and he came to the house and remained all night with us. About three o'clock in the morning there was an explosion outside, and when we dressed and ran out we found one of the chicken houses blown to flinders by dynamite or some other explosive. About one hundred chickens were destroyed."


"Just listen to that!" gasped Tom. "Oh, the rascals!"

"And Uncle Randolph's prize stock chickens!' murmured Sam. "That must have made his heart ache!"

"I'll wager Aunt Martha was scared to death," added Tom. And Dick read on:


"Of course there was great excitement, and four of us, the detective, Ness, Pop, and myself, went after the rascals, leaving your Uncle Randolph to look after your aunt and the cook, both of whom were very much frightened. We hunted around until daylight, but without success. Then we went to the old mill in the auto, but the place was deserted. After that I notified the local authorities, and I have hired ten watchmen to guard the farm and every building on it. I have also sent for two more detectives, and I am hoping that, sooner or later, they will be able to tract the scoundrels and run them down."


"Does he say how he is feeling?" questioned Sam, as his brother paused in the reading of the letter.

"Yes, he says he is about the same, but that Uncle Randolph is very much upset over the loss of his chickens and wants to know if they hadn't better pay the money demanded."

"Oh, I hope they don't pay a cent!" cried Tom.

"So do I," added Sam. "But I don't want to see them blown up either," he continued, seriously.

"None of us want that," said Dick. "But I'd not give them a cent—I'd be blown up a dozen times before I'd do it!" he continued, firmly.

"Do they want us home?" asked Tom.

"No, dad says it will do no good for us to come home. He says he will write or telegraph if anything new developes. He thinks, with the extra watchmen on guard, and the detectives at work, Crabtree and Sobber will get scared and leave them alone."

"I hope they do," said Sam. He heaved a deep sigh. "Gracious! it seems to me that no sooner are we out of one trouble than we get into another!"

"That is true."

"It's too bad—to have this piled on poor dad when he's so worried about that business affair."

"Well, you know the old saying, 'troubles never come singly,'" answered the older brother.

After that the three boys watched the mails anxiously for over a week. Then came another letter from their father, in which he stated that nothing new had developed. Then came another wait—until the day after that set by Crabtree and Sobber for the delivery of the fifty thousand dollars,—when Dick got a telegram, as follows:


"All quiet. Received another letter, to which I have paid no attention. Feel almost sure the rascals have left this part of the country. All fairly well."


"Well, that's some comfort," was Tom's comment. "I hope they have gone away, and that we never see or hear of them again."

"Don't comfort yourself that way, Tom," answered Dick. "They are bound to show their hand again, sooner or later. We won't be safe from them until they are in jail."