14. William Philander Tubes
 

On the following Saturday the Rover boys went down to Ashton in the afternoon. They had arranged for the hire of a large touring car, with a competent chauffeur, and were to take Dora and the Laning girls out for a ride to another town called Toddville. Here they were to have supper at the hotel, returning to Ashton in the evening.

Lest it be thought strange that the girls could get permission from the seminary authorities to absent themselves, let me state that matters had been explained by Mrs. Stanhope and Mrs. Laning to the principal of Hope, so Dora and her cousins were free to go out with the Rovers whenever they could go out at all.

"We'll have the best time ever!" cried Tom enthusiastically. "I hope you ordered a fine supper over the telephone, Dick."

"I did," was the reply. "Just the things I know the girls like."

"And a bouquet of flowers," added Sam. He knew that Grace loved flowers.

"Yes. I didn't forget them, Sam,"

The boys arrived in Ashton a little ahead of time, and while waiting for the chauffeur of the car to appear they walked down to the depot to see if there would be any new arrivals on the Saturday special.

When the train pulled into the depot a tall, well-dressed youth, with an elaborate dress-suit case and a bag of golf sticks, descended from the parlor car and gazed around him wonderingly.

"Are you--ah--sure this is--ah--Ashton?" he inquired of the porter.

"Yes, sah," was the brisk answer.

"Not a--ah--very large place, is it, now?" drawled the passenger.

"Look who's here!" burst out Tom as he hurried forward.

"Why, it's Tubbs--William Philander Tubbs!" ejaculated Sam.

And sure enough, it was Tubbs, the most dudish pupil Putnam Hall had ever known, and one with whom the cadets had had no end of fun.

"My dear old Buttertub, how are you?" called out Tom loudly, and caught the new arrival by the shoulder. "How are you, and how is the wife, and the eight children?"

"Why--ah--is it really Tom Rover!" gasped Tubbs. He stared at Tom and then at Dick and Sam. "What are you--ah--doing here, may I inquire? But please," he added hurriedly, "don't call me Buttertub, and don't say I have a wife and children, when I haven't." And Tubbs looked around to see if anybody had overheard Tom's remark.

"We go to school here," said Dick as he shook hands. "Brill College."

"Well, I never!" gasped the tall dude. "Brill, did you say?"

"That's it," put in Sam.

"I am going there myself."

"You!" roared Tom. "Hail Columbia, happy land! That's the best yet, Tubblets. We'll have dead loads of fun. Did you bring your pet poodle and your fancywork, and those beautiful red and yellow socks you used to wear?"

"I hope you didn't forget that green and pink necktie you used to have," came from Sam, "and the blue handkerchief with the purple variegated border."

"I--ah--I never had those things," stormed Tubbs. "Oh, say, do you really go to Brill?" he questioned, with almost a groan in his voice.

"Sure as you're born," answered Dick. "We'll be glad to have you there, William Philander. You'll be a credit to the institution. We have a few fellows who dress well, but you'll top them all. I know it."

"Do you--ah--really think I can--ah--I will be as well dressed as the--ah--as anybody?" asked the dude eagerly. He was a fair scholar, but his mind was constantly on the subject of what to wear and how to wear it.

"Oh, you'll lead the bunch, and all the girls at Hope will fall dead in love with you," answered Tom.

"Hope? What do you mean?"

"That's the seminary for girls. Fine lot of girls there, waiting to see you, Philliam Willander."

"William Philander, please. So there is a girls' school here, eh? That's--ah--very nice. Yes, I like the girls--I always did. But, Tom, please don't call me--ah--Buttertub. I think it's horrid, don't you know."

"All right, Washtub, anything you say stands still," answered Tom cheerfully. "I wouldn't hurt your feelings for a million warts."

"There is the carriage for Brill," said Sam, pointing it out.

"Are you going with me?" asked the dude.

"No. We are not going back until this evening," explained Dick. "We'll see you later."

"Only one other student going with you," added Tom mischievously. "He's kind of queer, but I guess he won't hurt you." He had seen an innocent, quiet youth, named Smith, getting into the college turnout.

"Queer?" asked Tubbs.

"Yes. Gets fits, or something like that. He won't hurt you if you keep your hand to your nose."

"My--ah--my hand to my nose?"

"Yes," went on Tom innocently. "You see, he has an idea that folks are smelling things. So if you keep your hand to your nose he will know you are not smelling anything, so he'll keep quiet."

"I don't--ah--know as I like that," stammered William Philander.

"Carriage for the college!" called the driver, approaching, and before he could say anything the Rovers had Tubbs in the turnout.

"Mr. Smith, Mr. Tubbs," said Dick, introducing the students. Smith bowed, and so did Tubbs. Then the hand of the dude went up to his nose and stayed there.

"Good-by! See you later!" cried Tom.

"Be careful," warned Sam, and tapped his nose.

"I--I think I'd--ah--rather walk," groaned Tubbs.

"It's too far," answered Dick. Then the carriage rolled away. As it passed out of sight they saw William Philander with his hand still tight on his olfactory organ.

"Wonder what Smith will think?" remarked Dick after the three brothers had had a good laugh over the sight.

"He'll certainly think Tubblets queer," answered Sam.

"Tubby will be a barrel of fun," said Tom. "I'm mighty glad he's come. It will aid to brighten up our existence considerably."

The Rover boys were soon on their way to where they were to meet the girls, at a point on the road some distance from Hope Seminary. Soon the whole crowd was in the big touring car, and away they skimmed over a road which, if it was not particularly good, was likewise by no means bad.

"And where are we going?" asked Dora, for that had been kept a secret.

"To a town about twenty miles from here," said Dick. "We are to have supper there, at the hotel."

"How nice!" came in a chorus from the girls

"I just love automobiling," said Nellie. "I wish I had a car."

"I'll get you one," said Tom, and added in a whisper, "Just wait till we are settled down We'll have the finest auto rides that--"

"Tom Rover!" cried Nellie, and then blushed and giggled. "Oh, look at the beautiful autumn leaves!" she added, to change the subject. But a second later she gave Tom an arch look that meant a good deal. They seemed to understand each other fully as well as did Dick and Dora.

The ride to Toddville was one long to be remembered. They talked and sang, and the boys told of the meeting with Tubbs and the joke played, and this set the girls almost in hysterics, for they were acquainted with the dude, and knew his peculiarities.

When they arrived at the hotel the spread was almost ready for them, and by the time they had washed and brushed up all felt rather hungry. There was a fine bouquet on the table, and in addition a tiny one at each plate.

"Oh, how nice!" cried Grace.

"Let me pin this on you," said Dora to Dick, and fastened the small bouquet in his buttonhole. The other girls performed a like service for Tom and Sam.

The meal was served in a private dining-room, so all felt free to act as if they were at home. They talked and cracked jokes to their hearts' content, and the boys told their best stories. They also grew serious at times, talking of home and their folks.

"Mamma hasn't heard another word from Tad Sobber," said Dora to Dick.

"And I hope he never appears again," answered the oldest Rover.

The meal was about half finished when one of the waiters came to Dick and said the chauffeur would like to speak to him.

"Very well," answered the oldest Rover, and excusing himself to the others, he went out into the hallway.

"I've just got a telephone message from Raytown," said the chauffeur. "My brother has been hurt at a fire there, and they want me. I don't know what to do. I might send for another man to run the car, but you'll have to wait until he comes. Would you be willing to do that?"

"I might run the car myself," answered Dick. He could see that the chauffeur was much worried over the news he had received.

"Could you do that, sir? If you could it would help me out a whole lot. My brother has a wife and two little children, and she'll be scared to death if Bill is injured."

"Then go right along. Only see to it that the car is in good working order," answered Dick. And then he followed the chauffeur to the shed where the automobile was stored, and had the peculiar working of that make of car explained to him. As my old readers know, Dick had driven a car before, and understood very well how to do it.

As there was no particular need for hurrying, and as it promised to be a fine moonlight night, the Rover boys and their company did not leave the hotel until nearly eight o'clock. Then Dick lit the lamps of the machine and ran it around to the piazza, and the others bundled in.

"Are you sure you can run this car, Dick?" asked Dora a bit timidly.

"Oh, yes, Dora. It is of a make that I have run before, only the other was a five-seat instead of a seven. But this one runs the same way."

"Dick is a born chauffeur," said Sam. "Wait till you see him let the car out to sixty miles an hour."

"Mercy! I don't want to run as fast as that!" cried Grace.

"We'd all be killed if anything should happen," added Nellie.

"Don't you worry. Dick will crawl along at three miles per," drawled Tom. "The moonlight is too fine to run fast. Besides, Dora is going to sit in front with him."

"I'll make the run in about an hour and a half," said Dick, "and that is fast enough. We don't want to get back too early."

"Might go around the block," suggested Sam.

"Around the block would mean about fifteen miles extra," said Dora, who knew all about country "blocks."

"I don't know the roads, so I'll keep to the one we came on," answered Dick. "All ready? Then off we go," he added, and started on low speed, which he soon changed to second and then high. "This is something like!" he cried as he settled back with his hands on the wheel.

"Keep your eyes on the road, and not on Dora," cautioned Tom.

"Say another word and I'll drag you from Nellie and make you run the car," retorted Dick, and then Tom shut up promptly.

Mile after mile was covered, and Dick proved that he could run the big automobile fully as well as the regular driver. The moon was shining brightly, so that it was very pleasant. The party sang songs and enjoyed themselves immensely.

They were still two miles from Ashton when they came to a turn in the road. Here there were a number of trees, and it was much darker than it had been. Dick slowed up a trifle and peered ahead.

Suddenly the front lamps of the machine shone down on something in the roadway that sent back a strange sparkle of light. Dick bent forward and uttered an exclamation of dismay. He turned off the power and jammed on both brakes.

"What's the matter?" cried Sam and Tom in a breath, and the girls gave a scream of fear.

Bang! came a report from under the car.

One of the tires had burst.