22. Word At Last
 

It was a long, hard drive to Dexter's Corners, and by the time the boys arrived there they were chilled through and through and the team was pretty well winded. They went directly to the postmaster's house, for the office was in a room of the building.

"I'll see if there are any letters," said the postmaster, and went off. He returned with a picture postal for Mrs. Randolph Rover and two advertising circulars for her husband. There were also a newspaper and a magazine for the boys' father.

"And is that all?" asked Dick, his heart sinking.

"That's all."

"Not worth coming for," muttered Tom as they turned away.

"The mail didn't come in this morning," shouted the postmaster after them. "You'll have to wait for more stuff until the train arrives at Oak Run."

"Let us go over to the Run and see if we can learn anything about the trains," said Sam, a spark of hope springing up in his breast.

They drove over the river, and as they did so they heard the whistle of a locomotive.

"Something is coming," cried Dick.

"Perhaps it's only the night freight," returned Tom.

When they reached the depot the train was standing there. It was the morning accommodation, nine hours late. They saw some mail bags thrown off and also several express boxes and packages.

Curiosity prompted Dick to inspect the express goods. He uttered a cry of joy.

"A box for us!" he exclaimed. "And from Cedarville!"

"Where?" cried Tom and Sam, and ran forward to look the box over. It was two feet long and a foot high, and equally deep, and was addressed to r., t. and s. Rover.

"From the girls, I'll bet a snowball!" cried Tom joyfully. "Hurry up and sign for it and we'll see what it contains."

The agent was at hand, for he was the ticket agent and station master as well, and they soon signed for the box. Then they took it to a secluded corner of the station, and with a borrowed hammer and chisel pried off the cover.

The sight "that met their gaze filled them with pleasure. There were several packages for each of the boys, from the girls and from Mrs. Stanhope and Mrs. Laning. There were some beautiful neckties, some books, and some diaries for the new year, and a box of fudge made by the girls. Dora had written on the flyleaf of one of the books, wishing Dick a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and similar sentiments from Nellie and Grace appeared in the books for Tom and Sam.

"Say, I reckon this was worth coming for," remarked Sam.

"Rather," answered Dick.

"Wouldn't have missed it for a million dollars," added Tom.

"Maybe the mail bag has some letters for us," went on Sam. He was disappointed that no note had accompanied the gifts.

"We'll take the bags to the office and see," said Dick, and this was done a little later, after the box had been closed and put in the cutter and carefully covered with a robe. In the bags were found letters from their old friends, Hans Mueller and Fred Garrison, and a postal from Dave Kearney, but that was all.

"Well, we mustn't expect too much," said Dick. "Remember, we didn't send any letters."

"But we will now, thanking them for all these nice things," said Sam quickly.

It was nearly midnight before the boys got home again, and their folks were much alarmed about them. They were almost exhausted, but very happy, and they showed their new presents with great pride.

"They are dear girls!" said Mrs. Rover. "It was splendid of them to remember you this way, and splendid of Mrs. Stanhope and Mrs. Laning, too."

The next morning was spent in writing letters. It was rather hard at first to say just what they wanted to, but after they had started the letters grew and grew, until each was ten pages or more. They told about meeting Minnie Sanderson and the other girls by accident, and about not getting the notes until that night, and Dick added the following to his letter to Dora:

"And now let me tell you something in secret. Songbird Powell has developed a very, very strong liking for Miss Sanderson, the girl Tom and Sam and I aided when first we came to Brill. He talks about her a good deal, and took her to a concert at Ashton one evening. He said he was going to give her an autograph album for Christmas and write in it an original poem sixteen verses long, on 'The Clasp of a Friendly Hand,' That is pushing matters some, isn't it? We all wish him luck."

"There, that ought to make her understand how I feel about Miss Sanderson," said Dick to himself. And then he ended the letter by stating he hoped they would meet again soon so that they could have a good long talk.

On the day after the letters were mailed the storm cleared away and the sun came out brightly. The boys went for a long sleigh ride, and visited some friends living in that vicinity. Then they helped to clear off a pond, and on New Year's day went skating.

"And now back to the grind," said Tom with a little sigh.

"Never mind. Remember summer will soon be here," answered Sam. "And then we can go on a dandy trip somewhere."

The next day found them back at Brill. This was Saturday, and the school sessions were resumed on Monday. They went at their studies with a will, resolved to get marks that would be "worth while" at the June examinations. They were asked to join the college basketball team, but declined, and took regular gymnasium exercise instead. Much to their surprise, Dudd Flockley was put on the team.

"I don't think that dude will make good," said Tom, and he was right. Flockley made some bad errors during the first game played, and was lectured so severely that he left the team in disgust, and Songbird Powell was put in his place. Then the team won three games straight, which pleased all the students of Brill greatly. Minnie Sanderson was at two of the games, and she applauded Songbird heartily. The two were certainly warm friends. Dick spoke to Minnie, but did not keep himself long in her company.

At last, after waiting much longer than they had expected, the boys received letters from Dora and the Lanings. The girls had been on a visit to some relatives in Philadelphia, and had just received the letters mailed from Oak Run.

The three Rovers read those letters with deep interest. They told about what the girls had been doing, and related the particulars of the trouble at Hope Seminary. It was all Tad Sobber's work, they said, and added that Sobber had written that he would not only get the treasure, but also disgrace them all he possibly could.

"The rascal!", muttered Dick when he read this. "He ought to be put in prison!"

Dora's letter to Dick was an especially tender epistle, and he read it several times in secret. He was glad that the misunderstanding between them was being cleared away. He wished she might be near, so that he could go and see her.

"I'd take a run to Cedarville if it wasn't so far," he told his brothers.

"I'd go along," answered Tom, and Sam said the same.

"Perhaps we can run up there during the spring vacation," went on Dick.

There was little more snow that winter, but the weather remained bitterly cold until well into February. The boys had considerable fun snowballing, and skating on the river. Racing on skates was a favorite amusement, and Sam and Tom won in a number of contests.

One day Tom was skating by himself. He was doing some fancy figures, and he did not notice the approach of Jerry Koswell, who was skating with a young lady from Ashton. Tom came around in a circle, and Jerry, who was looking at the young lady instead of where he was going, bumped into Tom. Both of the students went down, Tom on top.

"Hi! What do you mean by this?" burst out Koswell in a rage.

"What do you mean?" retorted Tom, getting up.

"You knocked me down on purpose!" howled Jerry.

"It was as much your fault as mine."

"It wasn't my fault at all. I've a good mind to punch your face!" And having gotten to his feet, Koswell doubled up his fists threateningly.

At this the young lady let out a scream.

"Oh, please don't fight!" she cried. And then she skated to a distance and disappeared in a crowd.

"You keep your distance, Koswell," said Tom coldly. "If you don't--"

He got no further, for just then Koswell let out with his right fist. The blow landed on Tom's shoulder and sent him spinning away a distance of several feet.