20. Days Of Waiting
 

Eight o'clock that evening saw the three Rovers on their way to Hope Seminary. Tom was the leader, and it had taken a good half hour's arguing on his part to get Dick and Sam to accompany him.

"You'll make a fool of yourself, and make fools of us, too," was the way Sam expressed himself.

"Most likely they won't want to see us," was Dick's opinion.

"If they don't want to see us, really and truly, I want to know it," answered Tom bluntly. "I don't believe in this dodging around the bush. There is no sense in it." It had angered him to think Nellie had been seen in the company of Flockley and his cronies, and he was for "having it out" without delay.

"Well, you'll have to lead the way," said Dick. "I'm not going to make a call and have Dora send down word that she can't see me."

"She won't do that," said Tom. "I know her too well."

"Well, you call on Nellie first."

"I'm not afraid," retorted Tom. He was so "worked up" he was willing to do almost anything.

The nearer the three students got to the seminary the slower they walked. Even Tom began to realize that he had undertaken what might prove a very delicate mission.

"I think it would have been better to have sent a letter," suggested Sam. "Let's go back and write it before we go to bed."

"And put down something in black and white that you'd be sorry for afterward," grumbled Dick.

At the entrance to the seminary grounds they halted again, but then Tom caught each brother by the arm and marched them up to the front door and rang the bell.

A maid answered their summons and led them to a reception-room. A minute later one of the teachers appeared.

"Why, I thought you young gentlemen knew the young ladies had gone away," said the teacher after they had mentioned the object of their visit. "They said they were going to send you a note."

"Gone away!" echoed Dick.

"Yes. The three left for home on the late afternoon train. Mrs. Stanhope and Mrs. Laning said it was a matter of business. Then you didn't get their note?"

"We did not," answered Tom.

"That is too bad. I am sure they spoke of sending it. Wait, I will ask Parks, our messenger, about it."

The teacher left the room, and the Rover boys looked speculatively at each other.

"They must have been getting ready to leave when Tubbs saw them," said Dick.

"And we never knew they were going," added Sam bitterly.

"The matter of business must refer to that Sobber case," said Tom. "I don't know what else could take them home."

"Maybe they have lost the case and must give the treasure up," said Sam. "In that case, Mr. Laning would have to take the girls away from such an expensive place as this."

In a few minutes the lady teacher came back.

"Parks says he took three notes, addressed to Richard, Thomas and Samuel Rover. He says he went over to Brill this morning with them and gave them to a man named Filbury."

"Filbury, eh?" said Dick, naming an old man who worked around the dormitories. "Well, we didn't get them, and I am very sorry."

"So am I, Mr. Rover," said the teacher.

"Do you know how long the young ladies will be gone?"

"They could not tell. They said they would send letters after they arrived home."

This was all the seminary teacher could tell, and a minute later the Rovers said good night and left. All hurried from the grounds in deep thought.

"We must find Filbury and see what he did with those letters," said Tom, and his brothers agreed with him.

When they reached Brill they located the man they were after fixing a light in one of the halls.

"Where are those letters you got for us this morning, Filbury?" asked Dick sternly.

"Letters?" asked the old man, who was rather absent minded. "I don't remember no letters, Mr. Rover."

"I mean the three letters which Parks of Hope Seminary gave you for me and my brothers."

"Oh, them. I remember now. Let me see. Yes, I got them, and one for Mr. Flockley, too. I gave him all the letters. He said he'd hand 'em to you." And apparently satisfied, Filbury resumed his work on the light.

"When was this?" demanded Sam.

"About eleven o'clock. I hope it's all right. I would have delivered the letters myself, only I had a lot of work to do."

"It is not all right, and we are going to look into the matter at once," said Dick; and hurried off with Tom and Sam at his heels. They went straight to the room occupied by Flockley and Koswell, and knocked on the door. There was a stir within, a few whispered words, and then the door was opened.

"What do you want?" asked Jerry Koswell. Flockley was sitting by the table, reading.

"Flockley, what did you do with those letters you got from Filbury for us?" demanded Dick, striding into the room.

"Letters?" asked the dude carelessly. "Oh, I put them on the table in Tom and Sam's room."

"When?"

"This morning."

"They weren't there after dinner," said Sam.

"Nor after supper, either," added Tom.

"Look here, do you accuse me of stealing your letters?" demanded Flockley, rising as if in anger.

"No; but we want to know where they are," answered Tom.

"I told you what I did with them. I wouldn't have touched the letters, only Filbury asked me to do the favor. If they are not on the table maybe the wind swept them to the floor. Did you look?"

"No."

"Then you had better."

"You might have spoken about them, Flockley," said Dick coldly. "Any other student would have done so."

"Or you could have handed us the letters at lunch," added Sam.

"I am not your hired man!" cried Dudd Flockley. "Next time I'll not touch the letters at all!" And then he dropped back into his chair and pretended to read again.

"If we don't find the letters you'll hear from us again," said Dick. And then he and his brothers retired.

They entered the room occupied by Sam and Tom and lit up. The notes were not on the table.

"Here they are!" cried Sam, and picked them up from the floor, under the edge of Tom's bed. They looked rather mussed up, and all of the Rovers wondered if Flockley had opened and read them.

"I don't think he'd be any too good to do it," muttered Tom as he opened the note addressed to himself.

It was from Nellie, and rather cool in tone. It said all were called home on account of the case at court, but did not give any particulars. At the bottom was mentioned the time of departure from Hope and also from Ashton. The notes from Dora and Grace contained about the same information, and Grace added that she wanted Sam to write to her.

"If we had had these letters this afternoon we might have gone to Hope instead of nutting," said Tom bitterly.

"They must have expected to see us, either there or at the depot," said Sam. "Otherwise they wouldn't have been so particular about mentioning the time of departure from both places."

"Yes, I guess they expected to see us, or hear from us," said Dick, and breathed a deep sigh.

"Well, they did see us--when we were with Miss Sanderson and her friends."

"What must they have thought--if they imagined we had received the letters?" groaned Tom.

"They thought we cut 'em dead," replied Sam. "Isn't this the worst ever? And all on Flockley's account! I'd like to punch his nose!"

"I'd like to be sure of one thing," said Dick, a hard tone stealing into his voice. "Did Flockley just happen to be in Ashton when the girls got there, or did he open and read these letters and then go on purpose, with Koswell and Larkspur?"

"Say, that's something to think about!" cried Tom. "If he opened the letters I'd like to make him confess."

"Well, one thing is certain," said Dick after the matter had been talked over for a while, "we missed a splendid chance to talk matters over with the girls. It is too bad!" And his face showed his concern.

"And you didn't even want to go to Hope with me," commented Tom, with a humor he could not repress.

"Wish we had gone yesterday," answered Sam bluntly. He could read "between the lines" of the note he had received, and knew that Grace wanted to see him just as much as he wanted to see her.

Sam said he was going to write a letter that night, and finally Tom and Dick agreed to do the same.

"But I shan't write much," said Dick. "I am not going to put my foot in it." Nevertheless he wrote a letter of four pages, and then added a postscript of two pages more. And the communications Sam and Tom penned were equally long.

"We'll not trust 'em to the college mail," said Tom. "We can take 'em to the post-office when we go to church to-morrow," And this was done.

After the letters were posted the brothers waited anxiously for replies, and in the meantime buckled down once more to their studies. It was now well along in December, and one morning they awoke to find the ground covered with snow.

"Snowballing to-day!" said Tom with a touch of cheerfulness, and he was right. That day, after class hours, the students snowballed each other with a will. The freshmen and the sophomores had a regular pitched battle, which lasted the best part of an hour. All of the Rovers took part in the contest, and it served to make them more cheerful than they had been for some time.

"What's the good of moping?" said Tom. "We are bound to hear from the girls sooner or later." Yet, as day after day went by, and no letters came, he felt as downcast as did his brothers.

The boys were to go home for the Christmas holidays, and under ordinary circumstances they would have felt gay over the prospect. But now it was different.

"Going to send Dora a Christmas present?" asked Tom of Dick, a few days before the close of the term.

"I don't know. Are you going to send anything to Nellie?"

"Yes, if you send something to Dora."

"Sam says he is going to send Grace a writing outfit and a book of postage stamps," went on Dick.

"That's what they all need," growled Tom. "It's a shame! They might at least have acknowledged our letters."

The boys did not know what to do. Supposing they sent presents to the girls, and got them back? They held a meeting in Dick's room and asked Songbird's advice.

"Send them the nicest things you can buy," said the would-be poet. "I am going to send a young lady a gift--a beautiful autograph album, with a new poem of mine, sixteen verses in length. It's on 'The Clasp of a Friendly Hand.' I got the inspiration once when I--er--But never mind that. It's a dandy poem."

"Who is the album to go to?" asked Tom indifferently.

"Why--er--Minnie Sanderson," answered Songbird innocently. "You see, we have gotten to be very good friends lately."