2. At The Sanderson House
 

When the Rover boys reached the head of the train they found an excited crowd beginning to collect. The locomotive of the express had cut into the last freight car a distance of several feet, smashing a number of boxes and barrels and likewise the headlight of the engine. Nobody had been hurt, for which everybody was thankful. But the engineer of the express was very angry.

"Why didn't you send a man back with a flag or put a torpedo on the track?" he demanded of the freight train conductor.

"Did send a man back," was the answer, "but he didn't go back far enough--hadn't time. This happened only a few minutes ago."

"You can't expect me to stop in a hundred feet," growled the engineer. As a matter of fact he had not stopped in many times that distance.

"Well, I did what I could," grumbled the freight conductor.

By making inquiries the Rover boys learned that the freight train had jumped a frog at a switch and part of the cars were on one track and part on another. Two trucks were broken, and nobody could tell how long it would take to clear the track upon which the express stood.

"May be an hour, but more likely it will be six or eight," said one of the brakemen to Tom. "This section of the road is the worst managed of the lot."

"And how far is it to Ashton?" asked Dick.

"About twelve miles by the railroad."

"Then walking is out of the question," came from Sam. "I shouldn't mind hoofing it if it was two or three."

"The railroad has to run around the hill yonder," went on the train hand. "If you go up the tracks for a quarter of a mile you'll come to a country road that will take you right into Ashton, and the distance from there isn't more than seven or eight miles."

"Any houses on that road?" asked Tom.

"Of course--farmhouses all along."

"Then come on," went on Tom to his brothers. "We can hire a carriage to take us to Ashton and to the college. Some farmer will be glad of the chance to earn the money."

"Let us wait and see if the train moves first," answered Dick.

"She won't move just yet," answered the brakeman with a sickly grin.

The boys stood around for a quarter of an hour and then decided to walk up to the country road that had been mentioned. Their trunks were checked through, but they had their dress-suit cases with them.

"We'll have to carry these," said Sam dolefully.

"Let us see if we can't check them," returned his big brother. But this was impossible, for the baggage car was locked and they could not find the man who had charge of it.

"Oh, well, come on," said Tom. "The cases are not so heavy, and it is a fine day for walking," and off he started and his brothers followed him.

It was certainly a fine day, as Tom said. It was early September, clear and cool, with a faint breeze blowing from the west. On the way they passed an apple orchard, laden with fruit, and they stopped long enough to get some.

"I declare this is better than sitting in that stuffy car," remarked Sam as he munched on an apple. "I am glad to stretch my legs."

"If we don't have to stretch them too long," remarked Dick.

"Say, I wonder if we'll pass anywhere near Hope Seminary!" cried Tom, "It may be on this road."

"What of it?" returned his younger brother. "The girls are not here yet--won't be for two weeks."

"Oh, we might get a view of the place anyway, Sam."

"I want to see Brill first," came from Dick. "If that doesn't suit us--" He ended with a sigh.

"Oh, it will suit, you can bet on it!" cried Sam. "Father wouldn't send us there if he wasn't sure it would be O.K. He's as much interested as we are."

Walking along the highway, which ran down to a little milk station on the railroad, the three boys soon discovered a farmhouse nestling between some trees and bushes. They threw their baggage on the grass and walked up to the front door.

They had to knock several times before their summons was answered. Then an old lady opened the door several inches and peeped out.

"What do you want?" she demanded in a cracked voice.

"Good afternoon," said Dick politely. "Can we hire somebody to drive us to Ashton? We were on the train, but there has been a smash-up, and we--"

"Land sakes alive! A smash-up, did you say?" cried the old lady.

"Yes, madam."

"Was my son Jimmie killed?"

"Nobody was killed or even hurt."

"Sure of that? My son Jimmie went to Crawford yesterday an' was coming back this afternoon. Sure he wasn't on that train?"

"If he was he wasn't hurt," answered Dick. "Can we hire a carriage to take us to Ashton?"

"How did it happen--that accident?"

"The express ran into the end of a freight train."

"Land sakes alive! The freight! Maybe it was the one we sent the cows away on. Was there any cows killed, do you know?"

"I don't think so."

"Well, tell me the particulars, will you? I don't go out much an' so I don't hear nuthin'. But an accident! Ain't it awful? But I always said it was risky to ride on the railroad; I told Jimmie so a hundred times. But he would go to Crawford an' now maybe he's a corpse. You are sure you didn't see a tall, thin young man, with a wart on his chin, that was cut up?"

"What do you mean, the wart or the young man?" asked Tom, who was bound to have his fun.

"Why, the young man o' course; although I allow if he was cut up the wart would be, too. Poor boy! I warned him a hundred--"

"Can we hire a carriage here or not?" demanded Dick. The talk was growing a little tiresome to him.

"No, you can't!" snapped the old lady. "We never hire out our carriage. If we did it would soon go to pieces."

"Is there anybody who can drive us to Brill College? We'll pay for the service, of course."

"No. But you might get a carriage over to the Sanderson place."

"Where is that?" asked Sam.

"Up the road a piece," and the old lady motioned with her head as she spoke. "But now, if my son Jimmie was in that accident--"

"Good day, madam," said Dick and walked away, and Sam and Tom did the same. The old lady continued to call after them, but they paid no attention.

"Poor Jimmie! If he isn't killed in a railroad accident, he'll be talked to death some day," was Sam's comment.

"Don't you care. We know that Jimmie's got a wart, anyway," observed Tom, and he said this so dryly his brothers had to laugh. "Always add to your fund of knowledge when you can," he added, in imitation of his Uncle Randolph.

"I hope we have better success at the next farmhouse," said Sam. "I don't know that I want to walk all the way to Ashton with this dress- suit case."

"Oh, we're bound to find some kind of a rig at one place or another," said Dick. "All the folks can't be like that old woman."

They walked along the road until they came in sight of a second farmhouse, also set in among trees and bushes. A neat gravel path, lined with rose bushes, ran from the gate to the front piazza.

"This looks nice," observed Sam. "Some folks of the better sort must live here."

The three boys walked up to the front piazza and set down their baggage. On the door casing was an electric push button.

"No old-fashioned knocker here," observed Dick as he gave the button a push.

"Well, we are not wanting electric push buttons," said Tom. "An electric runabout or a good two-seat carriage will fill our bill."

The boys waited for fully a minute and then, as nobody came to answer their summons, Dick pushed the button again.

"I don't hear it," said Sam. "Perhaps it doesn't ring."

"Probably it rings in the back of the house," answered his big brother.

Again the boys waited, and while they did so all heard talking at a distance.

"Somebody in the kitchen, I guess," said Tom. "Maybe we had better go around there. Some country folks don't use their front doors excepting for funerals and when the minister comes."

Leaving their dress-suit cases on the piazza, the Rover boys walked around the side of the farmhouse in the direction of the kitchen. The building was a low and rambling one and they had to pass a sitting- room. Here they found a window wide open to let in the fresh air and sunshine.

"Now, you must go, really you must!" they heard in a girl's voice. "I haven't done a thing this afternoon, and what will papa say when he gets back?"

"Oh, that's all right, Minnie," was the answer in masculine tones. "You like us to be here, you know you do. And, remember, we haven't seen you in a long time."

"Yes, I know, Mr. Flockley, but--"

"Oh, don't call me Mr. Flockley. Call me Dudd."

"Yes, and please don't call me Mr. Koswell," broke in another masculine voice. "Jerry is good enough for me every time."

"But you must go now, you really must!" said the girl.

"We'll go if you'll say good-by in the right kind of a way, eh, Dudd?" said the person called Jerry Koswell.

"Yes, Minnie, but we won't go until you do that," answered the young man named Dudd Flockley.

"Wha--what do you mean?" faltered the girl. And now, looking through the sitting-room window and through a doorway leading to the kitchen, the Rover boys saw a pretty damsel of sixteen standing by a pantry door, facing two dudish young men of eighteen or twenty. The young men wore checkered suits and sported heavy watch fobs and diamond rings and scarf-pins.

"Why, you'll give us each a nice kiss, won't you?" said Dudd Flockley with a smile that was meant to be alluring.

"Of course Minnie will give us a kiss," said Jerry Koswell. "Next Saturday I'm coming over to give you a carriage ride."

"I don't wish any carriage ride," answered the girl coldly. Her face had gone white at the mention of kisses.

"Well, let's have the kisses anyway!" cried Dudd Flockley, and stepping forward, he caught the girl by one hand, while Jerry Koswell grasped her by the other.

"Oh, please let me go!" cried the girl. "Please do! Oh, Mr. Flockley! Mr. Koswell, don't--don't--please!"

"Now be nice about it," growled Dudd Flockley.

"It won't hurt you a bit," added Jerry Koswell.

"I want you to let me go!" cried the girl.

"I will as soon as--" began Dudd Flockley, and then he gave a sudden roar of pain as he found himself caught by the ear. Then a hand caught him by the arm and he was whirled around and sent into a corner with a crash. At the same time Jerry Koswell was tackled and sent down in a heap in another corner. The girl, thus suddenly released, stared at the newcomers in astonishment and then sank down on a chair, too much overcome to move or speak.