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CHAPTER XXVII


THE CHAUFFEUR OF THE TOURING CAR


"Let us run the biplane down the road a way and then into another field and down among the trees," suggested Tom. "No use of leaving it too near here—some of that gang might come and ruin it."

Tom's advice was considered good, and once more the three Rover boys hurried to the Dartaway. As there was still no wind, it was an easy matter to roll the machine along on its wheels. They found a field where the fence was down, and ran the biplane across this and in among some trees and bushes.

"Are you going to take the lantern?" asked Sam. "It seems to me it won't be wise to let them see us, at first."

"I'll take it along unlit," answered his big brother. "It may come in handy later."

"Let us get some clubs," suggested Tom. "They may come in handier than the pistols."

"Right you are!" cried Dick. "We don't want any shooting if it can be avoided."

"Evidently you think they are close at hand," remarked Sam, while they were cutting stout sticks from among the brushwood.

"They can't have gone so very far, in that dense woods," answered Tom. "Why, the auto couldn't get through."

At last the boys were ready to continue the search, and stick and lantern in hand, Dick led the way, with Tom and Sam close behind. They had to bend close to the ground, to make sure that they were following the tracks of the touring car.

The trail led among the trees onto what was evidently a road used for hauling out timber. Following this for about a quarter of a mile, the youths discovered a dark object, resting near what looked to be the end of the road.

"It's the auto!" whispered Dick.

"Anybody around?" questioned Tom, in an equally low voice.

"I don't know. Be careful and we'll see."

With extreme caution the boys walked closer to the touring car and then all around it. Nobody was at hand, and not a sound broke the silence of the night.

"Deserted!" whispered Sam. "Where did they go to, I wonder?"

"Hush!" returned Dick. "They may be close enough to hear you."

With strained ears, the Rover boys listened for some sound that might indicate the presence in that vicinity of those they were after. But they heard nothing but the call of a night bird and the far-off hoot of an owl.

"They have gone on," said Dick, at last. "We'll have to find the trail and follow. Maybe I'll have to light the lantern."

"Say, let us fix the auto first—so they can't use it, if they come back!" exclaimed Tom.

"A good idea, Tom," answered his big brother. And, as soon as Dick had lighted the lantern, Tom and Sam set to work to render the touring car unuseable for the time being by turning off the flow of gasoline from the tank and disconnecting the spark plugs.

"That will keep 'em guessing for a while, if they try to run it," was Sam's comment.

In the meantime Dick was examining the ground, and soon he found the mark of many footprints in the moss and leaves. They led along a well-defined footpath running through the Woods and up something of a hill.

"They went this way," he said. "The fact is, I don't see how they could go any other, the brushwood is so thick."

"Maybe there's a house back there," suggested Tom.

"I shouldn't be surprised. That path must lead to somewhere."

The boys had just started to move along the footpath when from out of the darkness came an unexpected hail:

"Hello, there! Who are you?"

The call came from ahead, and at a turn of the trail the lads saw, by the dim rays of the lantern, the form of a man, wearing a fur coat and an automobile cap.

"The driver of the car!" burst out Dick.

"I say, who are you?" called the man, coming to a halt. Evidently he was coming back to take care of the automobile, or run it away.

"Hello, yourself!" answered Dick, boldly. "What are you doing here this time of night?"

"Humph! Is that any of your business?" growled the man. He was evidently a rough customer and not pleased at being thus surprised.

"I don't know; perhaps," answered Dick, drawing closer. "Don't let him get away," he whispered to his brothers.

The boys made a rush forward, raising their sticks as they did so, and before the man could think of retreating they had him surrounded.

"Say, look here, what does this mean?" demanded the fellow, trying to put on a bold front, although he was much disturbed.

"You'll find out what it means before we are done with you," cried Tom, hotly. "More than likely it means state's prison for you."

"State's prison!" The man shrank back. "Why—er—I haven't done anything wrong."

"Oh, of course not!" returned Dick, sarcastically. "Abducting two young ladies isn't wrong I suppose!"

"I didn't abduct anybody," growled the man.

"Somebody hired my car, that's all I know. Now the job is done, and I'm going about my business."

"Not just yet," said Dick, quietly but firmly. "Tell me, what have they done with the two young ladies?"

"That ain't my business," commenced the chauffeur, savagely. "You let me go, or I'll—— Oh!"

He stopped short and let out a yell of pain and fright. He had tried to push Dick out of his path. The oldest Rover boy had dropped the lantern and struck out fairly and squarely with his fist, and the blow had landed on the man's jaw, nearly taking him from his feet.

"Now behave yourself and come along!" cried Dick, and caught the man by the arm. "Don't let him escape!" he cried, to his brothers. "Use your sticks, and your pistols, too, if it is necessary."

The boys closed in, and the sight of the sticks and the pistols frightened the chauffeur greatly. He saw that he was trapped, and that resistance might put him in a worse hole.

"I didn't do it!" he whined, as the boys hurried him back towards the automobile. "I was hired for a certain job, that's all. The men said they had a right to carry the young ladies off—that one of 'em was the old man's stepdaughter, and that both of 'em had run away from a girls' school and wouldn't learn their lessons."

"And you mean to tell me that you believe such stuff!" snorted Tom.

"Well, that's what they told me," answered the man doggedly. "They hired the car first without telling me what sort of a job it was. Then they told me they wouldn't give me a cent if I didn't do what I was told to do. I'm a poor man, and——"

"You tell it well, but I don't believe a word of it," interrupted Dick. "You have committed a serious crime, and the only way in which you can help yourself at all is by helping us."

"Will you let me go if I help you?" demanded the chauffeur, eagerly.

"We'll see about that later," answered Dick, briefly. "For the present we intend to keep you a prisoner."

"A prisoner! You haven't any right——"

"We'll take the right."

"That's the talk!" put in Tom.

By this time the party had reached the automobile. As Dick had surmised, several straps and ropes lay in the box under the back seat, and with these they bound the man's hands behind him. Once he started to resist, but when Tom raised his shining pistol he wilted.

"Now you tell me where they took the young ladies," said Dick, after the fellow had been strapped fast to his own automobile.

"They took 'em up to the house."

"What house?"

"The old mansion back there on the hill."

"Who was in the crowd?"

"The old man and the old lady, and the two young ladies, and the three young men, and the doctor."

"The old lady!" cried Dick. "Who was she? What was her name?"

"I think they called her Sobber, same as one of the young fellows. They had her along to look after the girls."

"It must be the one from Boston!" cried Sam. "Tad's aunt, or whatever she is."

"Where did they pick her up?" asked Dick.

"Down at Fremville. She was waiting with one of the young men, a chap they called Koswell."

"Are they all up at that old mansion now?"

"I suppose so. They were there when I left."

"Who lives at the place?"

"I don't know,—I didn't see anybody."