23. The Springtime Of Life
 

"A fight! a fight!" came from the crowd, and soon Tom and Koswell were surrounded by a number of students and some outsiders.

The blow from the bully angered Tom greatly, and skating forward he made a pass at Koswell. But the latter ducked, and then came back at Tom with a blow that sent the fun-loving Rover into several students standing by.

"Say, Rover, look out, or Jerry Koswell will eat you up!" said one of the seniors.

"Koswell is a good scrapper," came from another.

"I gave him one lesson and I can give him another," answered Tom. "There, take that!"

He turned swiftly and rushed at Koswell. One blow after another was delivered with telling accuracy, and Koswell went flat on his back on the ice. When he got up his nose was bleeding.

"I'll fix you!" he roared. "Come on to shore and take off your skates!"

"I'm willing," answered Tom recklessly. He knew fighting was against the rules of the college, but he was not going to cry quits.

The pair moved toward the shore, the crowd still surrounding them. They soon had their skates off.

"Now, Jerry, do him up brown!" came from Larkspur, who was present.

"Give him the thrashing of his life!" added Flockley, who had come up.

"He has got to spell able first, and he doesn't know the alphabet well enough to do it!" answered Tom.

"What's up?" cried a voice from the rear of the crowd, and Dick appeared, followed by Sam.

"Koswell attacked me, and wants to fight, and I am going to accommodate him," said Tom.

"Don't you butt in!" growled Koswell.

"I won't," answered Dick. "But I want to see fair play." He knew it would be useless to attempt to get Tom to give up the fight.

Without preliminaries the two faced each other, and Koswell made a savage rush at Tom, aiming a blow for his face. Tom ducked, and landed on his opponent's chest. Then Koswell hit Tom on the arm and Tom came back at him with one on the chin. Then they clinched, went down, and rolled over and over.

"Stop, you rascal!" cried Tom suddenly. "Can't you fight fair?"

"What's up?" asked Dick, leaping forward.

"He bit me in the wrist!"

"I--I didn't do anything of the kind!" howled Jerry Koswell.

"Break away, both of you!" ordered Dick. "We'll see into this."

Tom let go, but Koswell continued to hold fast. Seeing this, Dick forced the two apart and both scrambled up.

"See here, this isn't your fight!" said Larkspur to Dick.

"It will be yours if you don't shut up!" answered Dick, so sharply that Larkspur shrunk back in alarm.

"I didn't bite him!" grumbled Koswell.

"He did--right here!" answered Tom positively. "Look!"

He pulled up his sleeve and showed his wrist. There in the flesh were the indentations of a set of teeth.

"You coward!" said Sam. "You ought to be drummed out of Brill!"

"That's worse than using a sandbag," added Dick.

"I--I didn't do it," muttered Koswell. He looked around as if he wanted to slink out of sight.

"You did!" cried Tom. "And take that for it!" And before the brute of a youth could ward off the blow he received Tom's fist in his right eye. Then he got one in the other eye and another in the nose that made the blood spurt freely. He tried to defend himself, but Tom was "fighting mad," and his blows came so rapidly that Koswell was knocked around like a tenpin and sent bumping, first into Flockley, then into Larkspur, and then into some bushes, where he lay, panting for breath.

"Now have you had enough?" demanded Tom, while the crowd marveled at his quickness and staying powers.

"I--I--" stammered Koswell.

"If you've had enough, say so," went on Tim. "If not, I'll give you some more."

"I--I'm sick," murmured Koswell. "I was sick this morning when I got up. I'll--I'll finish this with you some other day."

"All right, Koswell," answered Tom coolly. "But when you go at it again, do it fairly, or you'll get the worst of it. Remember that!"

"Hurrah for Tom Rover!" was the cry from Stanley, and the cheer was taken up on all sides. Jerry Koswell sneaked away as soon as he could, and Flockley and Larkspur followed him.

"He'll have it in for you, Tom," said Sam as he and his brothers got away from the crowd. "Most likely he is mad enough to do anything."

"Oh, he was mad before," declared Tom. "I am not afraid of him."

Everybody thought there might be another fight in the near future, but day after day went by and Koswell made no move, nor did he even notice Tom. He kept with Flockley and Larkspur, and the three were often noticed consulting together.

At last winter was over, and the warm breath of Spring filled the air. Much to the pleasure of the boys, they got news that Dora, Nellie and Grace were going to return to Hope, regardless of the reports that had been circulated about them.

"Good! That's what I call pluck!" cried Dick.

They learned when the girls would arrive at Ashton, and got permission to go to town to meet them. It must be confessed that all of them were a trifle nervous, in spite of the warm letters that had been sent.

When the train came in they rushed for the parlor car, and then what a handshaking and greeting followed all around! Everybody was talking at once, and after the first minute or two there was nothing but smiles and laughter.

"I am so sorry that--you know," whispered Dick to Dora.

"So am I," she answered, "What geese we are, aren't we?"

"Well, we won't have any more misunderstandings, will we?" he went on, squeezing her hand.

"Never!" she declared, and gave him an arch look. "And you say Songbird is--is--"

"Going with Miss Sanderson? Yes; and they are as thick as two peas. But, Dora, I never was--er--very friendly with her. I--I--"

"But you--you talked to her at that football game, Dick. And you didn't meet me when Sam--"

"I know. But I had to find her a seat, after she about asked me to. I wanted to be with you, I did really, dear."

"Who said you could call me dear?" And now her eyes were as bright as stars.

"I said so, and I'm going to--when we are alone. The future Mrs. Dick Rover deserves it," he went on boldly, but in a very low voice.

"Oh, Dick, you're awful!" cried Dora, and blushed. But somehow she appeared mightily pleased.

The boys drove the girls to the seminary, and by the time the boarding-school was reached all were on the best of terms once more.

"Mamma wanted us to come back," explained Dora. "She says, even if we do lose that fortune she wants me to have a better education, and she will pay the bill for Nellie and Grace, too."

"It will make the Lanings quite poor, I am afraid, if the fortune is lost," replied Dick gravely.

"I know it, Dick, but we'll have to take what comes."

"Have you heard from Sobber or his lawyer lately?"

"Nothing since he threatened to disgrace us."

"You must watch out for him. If he attempts to bother you while you are here let us know at once."

"We will."

"I hope the case in court is decided soon, and in your favor."

"Say, stop!" cried Tom, as they were turning into the gate at the seminary.

"What's up?" asked Sam, while Dick halted the team he was driving.

"Here comes a buggy along the side road. Just look who is in it!"

All turned to look in the direction of the turnout which was approaching. As it came closer the Rover boys recognized it as one belonging to Mr. Sanderson. On the front seat sat Songbird, driving, with Minnie Sanderson beside him. On the rear seat was William Philander Tubbs, in company with one of Minnie's friends--a girl the Rovers had met while nutting.

"There's a happy crowd!" cried Tom after they had passed and bowed and smiled.

"No happier than we are," said Dick as he looked meaningly at Dora.

"You are right, Dick," she answered very earnestly.