12. In Which The Girls Arrive
 

"You may be sure of one thing, Tom," remarked Dick while he and his brothers were walking back to Brill, some time later, "Jerry Koswell has it in for you. You had better watch him closely."

"I intend to do so," answered Tom. "But there is another thing which both of you seem to have forgotten. That's about the dress-suit case. Did Koswell find it, and if so, did he take anything else besides the box of pencils and crayons?"

"He'll never admit it," put in Sam. "Not unless you corner him, as Songbird did about the photo."

"He'll have to tell where he got the box, Sam."

"I doubt if you get any satisfaction."

And Sam was right, as later events proved. When Tom tackled Koswell the latter said positively that he knew nothing of the dress-suit case. He said he had found the box on a stand in the hallway near Professor Sharp's door, and had used it because it suited his purpose.

"But you saw it had my name on it," said Tom.

"No, I didn't. It was rather dark in the hall, and all I saw was that it contained pencils and crayons," answered Jerry Koswell.

"Well, I don't believe you," answered Tom abruptly. "You did it on purpose, and maybe some day I'll be able to prove it." And he walked off, leaving Koswell in anything but a comfortable frame of mind.

Tom was curious to see how Professor Sharp would act after the affair. During the first recitation the instructor seemed ill at ease, but after that he acted as usual. Tom half suspected the professor still thought him guilty.

"Well, it was a pretty mean thing to do," soliloquized the fun-loving Rover. "If anybody did that to a picture of Nellie I'd mash him into a jelly."

All of the Rovers were awaiting the arrival of the girls with interest, and each was fearful that some poor recitation might keep him from going to meet them at the Ashton depot on Wednesday. But, luckily, all got permission to go to town, and they started without delay as soon as the afternoon session was ended.

"Where bound?" asked Songbird, in some surprise, as he saw them driving off in a carriage Dick had ordered by telephone.

"Going to meet Dora and Nellie and Grace," answered Dick. "Do you-- er--want to come along?"

  "If them love me as I love thee,

  How happy thee and I will be!"

"Oh, sure. I'll see them all home myself," answered the would-be poet with a wink of his eye. "No, thank you. I know enough to keep out of somebody else's honey pot. Give them my regards," he added, and strolled off, murmuring softly:

The boys got down to the depot ahead of time, and were then told that the train was fifteen minutes late. They put in the time as best they could, although every minute seemed five.

"Hello! There is Dudd Flockley!" exclaimed Sam presently, and pointed to the dudish student, who was crossing the street behind the depot.

"Maybe he came down to meet somebody, too," said Tom. "More than likely there will be quite a bunch of girls bound for the seminary."

At last the train rolled in, and the three Rovers strained their eyes to catch the first sight of their friends.

"There they are!" shouted Dick, and pointed to a parlor car. He ran forward, and so did his brothers. The porter was out with his box, but it was the boys who assisted the girls to alight, and Dick who tipped the knight of the whisk-broom.

"Here at last!" cried Dick. "We are so glad you've come!"

"Thought the train would never get here," added Sam.

"Longest wait I've had since I was able to walk," supplemented Tom.

"Oh, Tom, you big tease!" answered Nellie merrily, and caught him by both hands.

"Yes, we are late," said Dora a bit soberly. She gave Dick's hand a tight squeeze. They looked at each other, and on the instant he saw that she had something to tell him.

"How long it seems since we saw you last," said Grace as she took Sam's hand. Then there was handshaking all around, and all the girls and boys tried to speak at once, to learn how the others had been since they had separated after the treasure hunt.

"We'll have to look after our trunks," said Dora. "There they are," and she pointed to where they had been dumped on a truck.

"I'll take care of the baggage," said Tom. "Just give me the checks."

"And we've got to find a carriage to take us to Hope," added Grace.

"All arranged," answered Sam. "We are going to take you up. Dick is going to take Dora in a buggy, and Tom and I are going to take you and Nellie in a two-seated. The baggage can go in a wagon behind."

"But I thought there was a seminary stage," began Grace.

"There is, and if you'd rather take it--"

"Oh, no! The carriage ride will be much nicer." And Grace looked at Sam in a manner that made his heart beat much faster than before.

"Do you know, it seems awfully queer to be rich and to be going to a fine boarding school," said Nellie. "I declare, I'm not used to it yet. But I'm glad on papa and mamma's account, for neither of them have to work as hard as they did."

"Papa is going to improve the farm wonderfully," said Grace. "He is going to put up a new barn and a carriage house and a new windmill for pumping water, and he has bought a hundred acres from the farm in the back, and added, oh, I don't know how many more cows. And we've got a splendid team of horses, and the cutest pony you ever saw. And next year he is going to rebuild the wing of the house and put on a big piazza, where we can have rocking-chairs and a hammock--"

"Yum! yum!" murmured Sam. "The hammock for mine, when I call."

"Built for two, I suppose," remarked Dick dryly.

"Dick Rover!" cried Grace, and blushed,

"He'll want it for himself and Dor--" began Sam.

"Here comes Tom," interrupted Dick hastily. "All right about the baggage?" he asked loudly.

"All right. The trunks and cases will go to the seminary inside of an hour," answered Tom, "so we might as well be off ourselves. We can drive slowly, you know."

"Well, you can go ahead and set the pace," answered his elder brother.

The buggy and the carriage were already on hand, and soon the boys and girls were in the turnouts, and Tom drove off, with Dick following.

As they did so they saw Dudd Flockley standing near, eyeing them curiously. They had to drive close to the dudish student, who was attired in his best, and he stared boldly at Dora and the Laning girls.

"What a bold young man!" was Dora's comment after they had passed.

"He's a student at Brill," answered Dick. "Not a very nice kind, either." Dick was much put out, for he did not like any young man to stare at Dora.

Ashton was soon left behind, and carriage and buggy bowled along slowly over a country road lined on either side with trees and bushes and tidy farms. Under the trees Dick allowed his horse to drop into a walk, and managed to drive with one hand while the other found Dora's waist and held it.

"Dick, somebody might see you!" she half whispered.

"Well, I can't help it, Dora," he answered, "It's been such a long time since we met."

"Yes, it seems like years and years, doesn't it?"

"And to think we've got to go through college before--before we can-- "

"Yes, but Dick, isn't it splendid that we are going to be so close to each other? Why, we'll be able to meet lots of times!"

"If the seminary authorities will let you. I understand they are very strict."

"Oh, well, we'll meet anyhow, won't we?"

"If you say so, dear."

"Why, yes, dear--that is--Oh, now see what you've done!--knocked my hat right down on my ear! Now, you mustn't--one is enough! Just suppose another carriage should come up--with somebody in it from the seminary?"

"I've got my eye open," answered Dick. "But just one more--and then you can fix your hat. They've got to make some allowance for folks that are engaged," he added softly, as he pressed her cheek close to his own.

"Are we engaged, Dick?" she asked as she adjusted her hat.

"Aren't we?" he demanded. "Why, of course we are!"

"Well, if you say so, but--but--I suppose some folks would think we were rather young."

"Well, I'm not so young as I used to be--and I'm growing older every day."

"So am I. I am not near as young as I was when we first met--on that little steamboat on Cayuga Lake, when you and Tom and Sam were going to Putnam Hall for the first time."

"No, you're not quite so young, Dora, but you are just as pretty. In fact, you're prettier than ever."

"Oh, you just say that!"

"I mean it, and I'm the happiest fellow in the world this minute," cried Dick, and caught her again in his arms. Once more the hat went over on Dora's ear, but this time she forgot to mention it. Truth to tell, for the time being she was just as happy as he was.

But presently her face grew troubled, and he remembered the look she had given him at the depot.

"Something is on your mind, Dora," he said. "What is it?"

"Dick, do you know that Tad Sobber is alive? That he escaped from that dreadful hurricane in West Indian waters?"

"Yes, I know it. But I didn't know it until a few days ago, when Songbird Powell came to Brill He said he had met Sobber in Ithaca,"

"He came to see mamma."

"I was afraid he would. What did he say?"

"He came one evening, after supper. It was dark and stormy, and he drove up in a buggy. Mamma and I and the servants were home alone, although Nellie had been over in the afternoon. He rang the bell, and asked for mamma, and the girl ushered him into the parlor. He asked the girl if we had company, and he said if we had he wouldn't bother us."

"Guess he was afraid of being arrested."

"Perhaps so. He told the girl he was a friend from New York. I went down first, and when I saw him I was almost scared to death. I thought I was looking at a ghost."

"Naturally, since you thought he had been drowned. It's too bad he scared you so, Dora."

"He said he had come on business, and without waiting began to talk about the treasure we had taken from the isle. He insisted upon it that the treasure belonged to him, since his uncle, Sid Merrick, was dead. When my mother came in he demanded that she give him some money and sign some papers."

"What did your mother do?"

"She refused, of course. Then he got very wild and talked in a rambling fashion. Oh, Dick, I am half inclined to think he is crazy!" And Dora shuddered.

"What did he say after your mother refused to do as he wished?"

"He got up and walked around the parlor, waving his hands and crying that we were robbing him, that the treasure was his, and that the Rovers were nothing but thieves. Then mamma ordered him out of the house and sent the girl to get the man who runs the farm for us. But before the man came Sobber went away, driving his horse as fast as he could,"

"Have you heard from him since?"

"Yes. The next day we got an unsigned letter. In it Sobber said that, by hook or by crook, he intended to get possession of the treasure, and for the Rovers to beware,"