11. How Tom Escaped Punishment
 

Dick and Sam were good walkers, so it did not take them long to reach Ashton. While covering the distance they talked over Tom's dilemma, but failed to reach any conclusion concerning it.

"It's too bad," said Sam, "especially when the term has just opened. It will give Tom a black eye."

"I don't think he'll stand for too much punishment, being innocent, Sam. He'll go home first."

"I was thinking of that. But we don't want to be here with Tom gone."

Arriving at Ashton, the boys hurried to the post-office. The mail for the college was in, and among it they found several letters from home and also epistles from Dora Stanhope and the Laning girls.

"Here's one for Tom--that will cheer him up a bit," said Dick, holding up one addressed in Nellie Laning's well-known hand.

The boys sat down in an out-of-the-way corner to read their letters. Dick had a communication of ten pages from Dora, and Sam had one of equal length from Grace. Then there was one for all the boys from their father, and another from their Aunt Martha.

"The girls are coming next Wednesday," said Dick. "I hope we can get down to the depot when they arrive."

"Don't forget poor Tom, Dick,"

"Yes. Isn't it too bad?"

"Nellie will cry her eyes out if he is sent away."

"Oh, we've got to fix that up somehow."

Having read the letters carefully, the boys went to one of the stores to make some purchases, and then drifted down to the depot. A train was coming in, but they did not expect to see anybody they knew. As a well-dressed young man, carrying a suit case, alighted, both gave an exclamation:

"Dan Baxter!"

The individual they mentioned will need no introduction to my old readers. During their days at Putnam Hall the Rover boys had had in Dan Baxter and his father enemies who had done their best to ruin them. The elder Baxter had repented after Dick had done him a great service, but Dan had kept up his animosity until the Rovers imagined he would be their enemy for life. But at last Dan, driven to desperation by the actions of those with whom he was associating, had also repented, and it was the Rovers who had set him on his feet again. They had loaned him money, and he had gotten a position as a traveling salesman for a large wholesale house. How he was faring they did not know, since they had not seen or heard of him for a long time.

"Hello! You here?" cried Dan Baxter, and dropped his suit case on the depot platform. "Thought you were at the college."

"Came down for an airing," answered Dick. He held out his hand. "How goes it with you, Dan?"

"Fine! Couldn't be better." Baxter shook hands with both boys, and they could not help but notice how clean-cut and happy he appeared, quite in contrast to the careless, sullen Dan of old.

"Come on business?" inquired Sam.

"Yes."

"What are you selling?" asked Dick.

"I am in the jewelry line now, representing one of the biggest houses in the United States. I was going through to Cleveland, but I made up my mind to stop off here and see you. I heard from one of the old boys that you were here."

"I am sure I am glad to see you, Dan," said Dick, "and glad to know you are doing well."

"Maybe you'll be a member of the firm some day," added Sam with a smile.

"I don't know about that. I'm willing to work, and the traveling suits me first-rate. They pay me a good salary, too--thirty dollars per week and all expenses."

"Good enough!" cried Dick.

"I came to see you fellows," went on Dan Baxter in a lower voice. "I haven't forgotten what you did for me when I was on my uppers. It was splendid of you. I realize it more every day I live. My father is with me now--that is, when I'm home. We are happier than we ever were before."

"That's good," murmured Sam.

"I want to see you all. Where is Tom?"

"Up to the college." Sam did not deem it necessary to go into particulars.

"I'd like to see him, too. I've got something for each of you."

"What is that?"

"Before I tell you I want you to promise you'll accept it. And by the way, you got that money back, didn't you?"

"Yes."

"Well, will you accept what I want to give you? I want to show you I appreciate your kindness."

"We didn't expect anything, Dan," said Dick.

"Oh, I know that, Dick, but please say you'll take what I have for you. It isn't so very much, but it's something."

"All right, if you want it that way," answered the oldest Rover, seeing that his former enemy was very much in earnest.

Dan Baxter put his hand in an inner pocket and brought forth three small packages.

"This is for you, Dick, and this for you, Sam," he said. "The other is for Tom. They are all alike."

The two Rovers undid the packages handed to them. Inside were small jewelry cases, and each contained a beautiful stickpin of gold, holding a ruby with three small diamonds around it.

"Say, this is fine!" murmured Sam.

"Dan, we didn't expect this," said Dick.

"But you said you'd accept," pleaded Baxter. "They are all alike, as I said before. I had the firm make them to order, so there is nothing else like them on the market. The three diamonds represent you three brothers, and the ruby--well, when you look at that you can think of me, if you want to. And another thing," went on Baxter, his face flushing a trifle, "the pins are settled for. They didn't come out of my stock. I mention this because--because--" The young traveling salesman stopped in some confusion.

"Dan, we know you are not that kind," said Dick hastily.

"Well, I was, but I'm not that kind any longer--everything I do is as straight as a string. I paid for those stickpins out of my wages. I hope you will all wear them."

"I certainly shall," said Dick. "I shall prize this gift very highly."

"And so shall I," added Sam.

Dan Baxter had heard something about their search for the fortune on Treasure Isle, and as they walked over to the hotel for lunch the Rovers gave him some of the details. In return he told them of some of his experiences on the road while representing a carpet house and another concern, as well as the jewelry manufacturers. He told them of several of the former pupils of Putnam Hall, including Fenwick better known as Mumps, who he said was now working in a Chicago hotel.

"You boys can rest assured of one thing," said Dan Baxter during the course of the conversation, "if I can ever do you a good turn I'll do it, no matter what it costs me."

"That is very kind to say, Dan," answered

Dick. "And let me say, if we can do anything more for you we'll do it."

The three youths spent several hours together and then Sam and Dick said they would have to get back to college. Secretly they were worried about Tom.

"Well, please give the pin to Tom," said Baxter, "and if you feel like it, write me a letter some day," and he told them of the cities he expected to visit during his next selling tour. Then the Rovers and their one-time enemy separated.

"Not at all like the old Dan Baxter," was Sam's comment,

"He is going to make a fine business man, after all," returned Dick. "Well, I am glad of it, and glad, too, that he and his father are reconciled to each other."

Sam and Dick had covered about half the distance back to Brill when they saw a figure striding along the country road at a rapid gait.

"Why, say, that looks like Tom!" cried Sam.

"It is Tom," returned his big brother.

"Do you suppose he has run away?"

"I don't know. Perhaps the doctor has suspended him."

"Hello!" called Tom as he came closer. "Thought I'd find you in town yet. Come on back and have some fun."

"What does this mean, Tom?" demanded Dick, coming to a halt in front of his brother. He saw at a glance that Tom looked rather happy.

"What does what mean, my dear Richard?" asked the fun-loving Rover in a sweet, girlish voice.

"You know well enough. Did you run away?"

"No. Walked away."

"Without permission?" asked Sam.

"My dear Samuel, you shock me!" cried Tom in that same girlish voice.

"See here, let us in on the ground floor of the Sphinx," cried Dick impatiently.

"I will, kind sirs," answered Tom, this time in a deep bass voice. "I went to the room and remained there about an hour. Songbird went out on a still hunt, Max with him. The two overheard Jerry Koswell and his cronies talking, learned Jerry did the trick, came back and told me, and--"

"You told the president," finished Sam.

"Not on your collar button," answered Tom. "I waited. The president sent for me. I went. He tried to get me to confess, and then the telephone rang, and that did the biz."

"Say, Tom, are you crazy?" demanded Dick.

"Crazy? Yes, I'm crazy with joy. Who wouldn't be to get free so easily?"

"But explain it," begged Sam.

"I can't explain it. As I said, the president tried to make me confess, and of course I had nothing to confess. When the telephone rang I heard one voice and then two others, one after another. I think they belonged to Koswell, Flockley and Larkspur, but I am not sure. The voices talked to Doctor Wallington about ten minutes. He got mad at first and then calmed down. I heard him ask, 'In Professor Sharp's room?' and somebody said 'Yes.' Four times he asked for names, but I don't think he got them. Then he went out of the office and was gone about a quarter of an hour. When he returned he said, 'Now, on your honor, for the last time, Rover, did you mar that photograph?' and I said 'No,' good and hard. Then he said he believed me, and was sorry he had suspected me, and he added that I could go off for the rest of the day and enjoy myself, and here I am."

"And you didn't squeal on Koswell & Company?" asked Sam.

"Nary a squeal."

"Do you imagine they confessed?"

"I think they told the president over the 'phone that I was innocent, maybe the three swore to it, but I don't think they gave their names."

"What did they mean about Sharp's room?"

"I was curious about that, and I found out from one of the servants. Sharp found an envelope under the door. It contained a five-dollar bill, and on it was written in a scrawl, 'For a new photograph.'"

"Koswell & Company got scared mightily," mused Dick. "Well, I am glad, Tom, that you are out of it."

"And as a token of your escape we'll present you with this," added Sam, and brought forth the package from Dan Baxter. Tom was much surprised, and listened to the story about the former bully of Putnam Hall with interest.

"Good for Dan!" he cried. "I'll write him a letter the first chance I get."

"And here's a letter from Nellie," said Dick, "and one from father, and another from Aunt Martha."

"Hurrah! That's the best yet!" exclaimed Tom. "I've got to read 'em all. Sit down and rest." And he dropped down on a grassy bank and his brothers followed suit.