15. An Automobiling Adventure
 

"What did you run over?" asked Sam.

"Look for yourself," returned his big brother. "This is an outrage! I wish I could catch the party responsible for it," he added bitterly.

Dick had stopped the touring car in the midst of a quantity of broken glass bottles. The glass covered the road from side to side, and had evidently been put there on purpose.

"Say, do you think that chauffeur had anything to do with this?" demanded Tom.

"Hardly," answered Dick. "If his story about the fire was not true he'd know he'd be found out."

"Maybe it was done by some country fellow who is running an auto repair shop," suggested Sam. "I've heard of such things being done-- when business was dull."

"Well, we'll have to fix the tire, that is all there is to it," said the oldest Rover. "Might as well get out while we are doing it," he added to the girls.

"Lucky you stopped when you did," said Tom as he walked around the machine. "If you hadn't we might have had all four tires busted."

"What a contemptible trick to play," said Dora as she alighted,

"Can you mend the tire?" asked Nellie as she, too, got out, followed by her sister.

"Oh, yes, we can mend it--or rather put on another," said Dick. "But we'll examine all the tires first," he added, taking off a lamp for that purpose.

It was found that each tire had some glass in it, and the bits were picked out with care. While this was going on Dick suddenly swung the lamp around so that its rays struck through the trees and bushes lining the roadway.

"Look! look!" he cried. "There is somebody watching us!"

"The fellow who is guilty," added Sam.

"Catch him!" came from Tom, and he made a quick rush forward.

"Say, we've got to get out of here," came in a low voice from among the trees. "Run for all you are worth!"

"I told you to get back," said another voice "Come on this way."

A crashing through the brushwood back of the trees followed. Dick held up the lamp and threw the rays in the direction of the sounds. He and his brothers caught a glimpse of two boys or men hurrying away.

"Stop, or I'll shoot!" cried Tom, although he had no weapon at his command. But this cry only made the fleeing ones move the faster.

"Sam, you stay with the girls," said Dick quickly. "Tom and I can go after those rascals."

"All right, but take care; they may be dangerous," answered the youngest Rover.

Tom had picked up a good sized stone. Now he hurled it ahead into the bushes. A cry of alarm followed, but whether he hit anybody or not he could not till.

Holding the lamp so that it would light up the scene ahead, Dick and Tom ran through the grove of trees and then into the thicket of brushwood beyond. They could hear two persons working their way along, and knew they must be the fellows they were after. Once they caught sight of the rascals, but the evildoers lost no time in seeking cover by running for another patch of undergrowth.

"Say, this is fierce!" cried Tom as he stepped into a hole and tumbled headlong.

"Well, it's just as bad for those fellows," answered Dick grimly.

"Yes, but I reckon they are not dressed up as we are," Tom had on his tuxedo and a white tie, and Dick was similarly attired. But over the dress suit each wore a linen coat, buttoned close up to the neck.

The two youths kept on until, much to their surprise, they came out on a back road that was almost as good as the highway they had left. Here was a rail fence, and as they halted at this Tom pointed down the road a distance.

"Somebody on wheels," he cried. "Turn the light on 'em!"

Dick did as requested, and to their astonishment they beheld two young fellows on bicycles. They had their heads bent low over the handlebars, and were streaking along at top speed. Soon a bend of the road hid them from view.

"Those are the chaps who put that glass in the roadway," said Tom.

"I believe you," answered his brother. "They came up here on their wheels and walked through the woods to do it. The question is, who are they?"

"They are enemies of ours," was the prompt answer.

"Yes; but how did they know we were coming this way, and in the auto?"

"They might have overheard us talking to Songbird or Stanley."

"Can they be Flockley and Koswell?"

"More likely Koswell and Larkspur. Flockley hasn't the backbone to do a thing like this, He's too much of a dude."

Dick and Tom took a look around the vicinity. By the light of the lamp they saw where the others had leaped the fence and mounted their bicycles.

"They are the guilty ones, I am sure of that," said Dick. "I wish we had seen their faces."

The youths went back to the auto and told of their adventure. Sam and the girls listened with interest to what they had to say.

"Those boys must be very wicked," said Nellie. "If we had been running fast we might have had a serious accident."

"Shall you accuse them of it?" asked Dora.

"I don't know. I'll think it over," answered Dick.

"The cut-up tire has got to be paid for," said Tom. "Whoever is guilty ought to be made to foot the bill."

While Dick and Sam jacked up the axle of the automobile and put on a new tire--inner tube and shoe combined--Sam set to work and cleaned up the roadway, throwing all the glass into the bushes. Then the new tire was pumped up and tested.

"Now we are all right again," said Dick.

"I am glad we had to mend but one," said Tom. He felt pretty dirty from the job, but he was not going to tell the girls.

All entered the touring car again, and Dick turned on the power. He ran slowly at first to test the new tire.

"All O.K.," he announced presently, and then they went spinning along as before. But the "edge" had been taken off the ride, and they did not seem as free-hearted and full of fun as they had been before the mishap.

It was after ten o'clock when the seminary was reached, and the girls found one of the under teachers waiting for them.

"Young ladies, you were told to be in at ten," said the teacher severely. "It is now half after."

"We had an accident," answered Dora, and told what it was.

"You must not stay away later than the time originally allowed," said the teacher severely. "Remember that after this, please," and then she dismissed the girls.

When the boys got to the garage where the automobile belonged they told the man in charge about the chauffeur and of what had happened on the road. The garage manager could hardly believe the story about the broken glass.

"You'll have to pay for that tire," he said coldly. "You can't expect to make me stand the loss."

"I suppose not," answered Dick "You can have the old tire repaired and send the bill to me. And now I want somebody to take us up to Brill just as quickly as it can be done. It is getting late."

"I'll get a man right away," said the manager in a relieved tone, and two minutes later the three Rover boys were being whirled toward the college.

"Do you think those fellows are back yet?" questioned Sam as they sped along the road.

"That's what I want to find out," returned Dick. "That is, provided they came from here,"

They left the car at the entrance to the grounds, and the chauffeur at once turned around and started back for Ashton.

"We'll take a look around the gymnasium first," said Dick. "That is where they keep the bicycles and such things."

They hurried in the direction of the gymnasium, and finding the door unlocked, entered. The building was dark and deserted, for it was now after eleven o'clock.

"Hello there!" called a voice from a distance, and a watchman appeared, lantern in hand. "What's wanted?"

"We want to look at the bicycles, Pinkey," answered Dick.

"The bicycles? Ain't goin' for no ride this time o' night, are you?" asked the watchman.

"No. We want to see if any of them have been used."

"Think somebody has been usin' your machine on the sly?"

To this question the Rovers did not reply, for the reason that they had no bicycles at Brill. The watchman led the way to the bicycle room. Here were about twenty bicycles and half a dozen motor cycles, all belonging to various students.

"Ain't half as many as there used to be," remarked Pinkey. "When the craze was on we had about a hundred an' fifty. It's all automobiling now."

The boys looked over the various wheels and felt of the working parts and the lamps. Presently Sam found a hot lamp and Dick located another.

"Who do these machines belong to?" asked Dick.

"There's the list," said the watchman, pointing to a written sheet tacked on the wall "They are No. 15 and No. 9."

The boys looked at the sheet, and read the names of Walter d. Flood and Andrew w. Crossley, two juniors, whom they knew by sight only.

"They wouldn't play this trick on us," whispered Dick to his brothers. "They must have loaned their bicycles to others."

"Right you are," answered Tom. "We'll have to question them."

"Do you know where they room?"

"No; but we can find out from the register."

They entered their dormitory and found out that Flood and Crossley were in the next building, occupying Room 14 together.

"That's luck," said Sam "We won't have to wake up anybody else"

It was against the rules to be prowling around the dormitories so late at night, so the Rovers had to be cautious in their movements. They mounted the stairs to the second floor and had to hide in a corner while a proctor marched past and out of hearing. Then, aided by the dim light that was burning, they located No. 14

Dick knocked lightly on the door, and receiving no answer, knocked again. Still there was silence.

"Must be pretty heavy sleepers," murmured Tom. "Try the doorknob."

Dick did so, and found the door locked. Then he knocked again, this time louder than before.

"You'll knock a long time to wake them up," said a voice behind them, and turning they saw Frank Holden grinning at them.

"Hello," said Dick softly. "Why, what's wrong?"

"Nobody in that room, that's all," answered the sophomore.

"Don't Flood and Crossley sleep here?" asked Sam.

"Yes, when they are at college, but they got permission to go home yesterday, and they went, and they won't be back until Monday."

At this Dick whistled softly to himself.

"It's all up, so far as finding out who used the wheels is concerned," he said to his brothers. "Whoever took them did so, most likely, without permission."

"I guess you are right," returned Tom.

"Anything I can do for you?" asked Frank Holden pleasantly.

"Nothing, thank you," replied Dick; and then he and his brothers withdrew and made their way to their own rooms as silently as possible. On the way they stopped at the doors of the rooms occupied by Koswell and Larkspur and listened. The students within were snoring.

"No use," said Tom softly. "We'll have to catch them some other way-- if they are guilty," And his brothers agreed with him.