9. Tom In Trouble
 

"Look out, the flagpole is coming down!"

"Stand from under, or you'll be killed!"

Crack! came from the pole, and now many saw that it was breaking off close to the ground. Some of the students had clung to it during the contest, and the strain had been too much for the stick, which was much rotted just where it entered the ground.

Those on the outside of the crowd ran away with ease, but not so those who were hemmed in. Two of the smallest of the freshmen, Billy Dean and Charley Atwood, could not move fast enough, and one fell over the other, and both went down.

"Save me!" gasped one of the lads.

"Don't let the pole come down on me!" screamed the other.

The flagstaff was falling swiftly, and Dick and many others saw that it would fall directly across Dean and Atwood unless its progress was stayed.

"Hold it up! Hold it up!" yelled Dick. "Hold it up, or they'll be killed!"

He put up his hands to meet the pole, which was coming down across the front of the campus. Tom did likewise, and so did Frank Holden, Stanley Brown, and several others, including an extra tall and powerful senior.

It was a heavy weight, and for the moment the boys under it thought they would have to let it go. Over came the pole, and when it rested on the boys' hands the top overbalanced the bottom and struck the ground, sending the lower end into the air. As this happened Billy Dean and Charley Atwood were hauled out of harm's way. Then the pole was dropped to the campus with a thud.

For several seconds all who stood near were too dazed to speak. Then a cheer arose for those who had held the flagstaff up long enough for the small youths to be rescued.

"Say, that was a close shave!" exclaimed Sam, He, like a good many others, was quite pale.

"It was indeed," said a senior who had come up. "The fellows who held the pole up deserve a good deal of credit."

"Dick Rover suggested it," said Songbird, "Good for you, Dick!" he added warmly.

The falling of the flagstaff sobered the whole party of students, yet the freshmen were jubilant over the fact that they had won in the colors contest.

"And we'll wear the colors this term," cried Tom proudly.

"So we will!" called out others in a chorus. "We'll wear 'em good and strong, too!" And they did. The very next day some of the lads came out with neckties twice the ordinary size, and with hat bands several inches wide, all, of course, in the Brill colors.

Billy Dean and Charley Atwood were much affected by what had occurred, and quickly retired from the scene. But later both of the small students thanked Dick and the others for what had been done for them. The broken flagstaff was hauled away by the laborers of the place, and inside of a week a new pole, much larger than the old one, and set in concrete, was put up.

For several days after the contest over the colors matters ran along smoothly at Brill. The Rover boys made many more friends, and because of his work during the necktie rush Dick was chosen as the leader of the freshmen's class.

"On Friday I am going to fix Tom Rover," said Jerry Koswell to Dudd Flockley. "Just wait and see what I do--and keep your mouth shut."

"I'll keep my mouth shut right enough," answered Dudd, "but what's in the wind?"

"I'm going to pay off Professor Sharp for some of his meanness--and pay off Tom Rover at the same time."

"Give me a map of the proceedings. I'm too tired to guess riddles, Jerry."

"Well, you know how Sharp called me down to-day in English?"

"Sure!"

"Well, I've learned that he just received a new photograph of some lady--I think his best girl. He has it on the mantle in his room. I'm going to doctor that picture, and I'm going to lay the blame on Tom Rover."

"How will you do it?"

"By using something I got out of Rover's dress-suit case."

"Oh, I see!"

"Sharp will suspect Rover at once, because he and Rover had a few words yesterday."

"Good! I hope he catches it well--Rover, I mean," answered Dudd Flockley.

Saturday was more or less of a holiday at Brill, and the three Rover boys planned to go to town. Incidentally, they wished to learn if Dora Stanhope and the Laning girls had as yet arrived at Hope Seminary. They had received no letters from the girls since coming to Brill, and were growing anxious.

Tom was dressing to go to town when there came a knock on his door, and one of the proctors presented himself.

"Thomas Rover, you are wanted at the office immediately," said the man.

"What for?" asked Tom.

"Don't ask me, ask Professor Sharp," answered the proctor, and looked at Tom keenly.

Wondering what could be the matter, Tom finished dressing, and in a few minutes presented himself at the office. President Wallington and Professor Sharp were both waiting for him.

"So you've come at last, have you, you young rascal!" cried Abner Sharp angrily. "How dare you do such an outrageous thing?"

"Gently, professor," remonstrated the president of Brill. "You are not yet certain--"

"Oh, he did it, I am sure of it!" spluttered Professor Sharp. "I declare I ought to have him locked up!"

"Did what?" demanded Tom, who was much mystified by what was going on.

"You know well enough, you young reprobate!" stormed the instructor.

"See here, Professor Sharp, I'm neither a rascal nor a reprobate, and I don't want you to call me such!" cried Tom, growing angry himself.

"You are, and I will have you to understand--"

"I am not, and if you call me bad names again I'll--I'll--knock you down!" And Tom doubled up his fists as he spoke.

"Rover, be quiet!" exclaimed Doctor Wallington, so sternly that both Tom and Professor Sharp subsided. "I'll have no scene in this office. You must behave yourself like a gentleman while you are here. Professor, you must not call a student hard names."

"But this outrage, sir!" spluttered the instructor.

"We'll soon know the truth of the matter."

"I'd like to know what you are talking about," said Tom. "I haven't committed any outrage, so far as I know."

"Didn't you do this?" cried Abner Sharp, and thrust under Tom's nose a photograph of large size. The picture had once represented a fairly good-looking female of perhaps thirty years of age, but now the hair was colored a fiery red, and the end of the nose was of the same hue while in one corner of the dainty mouth was represented a big cigar, with the smoke curling upward. Under the photograph was scrawled in blue crayon, "Ain't she my darling?'"

The representation struck Tom as so comical that he was compelled to laugh outright; he simply couldn't help it. It was just such a joke as he might have played years before, perhaps on old Josiah Crabtree, when at Putnam Hall.

"Ha! So you are even willing to laugh in my face, are you!" almost screamed Abner Sharp, and rushing at Tom he caught the youth and shook him roughly. "Do you--er--know that this lady is my--my affianced wife?"

"Let me go!" cried Tom, and shook himself loose. "Excuse me, sir. I know I hadn't ought to laugh, but it looks so--so awfully funny!" And Tom had to grin again.

"Rover!" broke in the president of Brill sternly, "aren't you ashamed to do such a thing as this?"

"Why--er--what do you mean, sir?"

"Just what I said."

"Oh!" A light began to break in on the fun-loving Rover's mind. "Do you think I did this?"

"Didn't you?"

"Of course he did!" fumed Professor Sharp. "And now he is willing to laugh over his dastardly work!"

"I didn't do it, sir," said Tom firmly.

"You are certain?" It was the head of the college who asked the question.

"Yes, sir. I never saw that picture before."

"But I have the proof against you!" fairly shouted Abner Sharp. "It is useless for you to deny your guilt."

"I say I am not guilty."

"Isn't this your box, Rover?"

As Professor Sharp uttered these words he brought to light a German silver case which Tom had picked up in a curiosity shop in New York. The case had his name engraved on it, and contained pencils, crayons, and other things for drawing.

"Where did you get that?" demanded the youth.

"Never mind where I got it. Isn't it yours?"

"Yes."

"Ha! Do you hear that, Doctor Wallington?" cried Abner Sharp in triumph. "He admits the outfit is his!"

"So I see," said the president of Brill, and if anything his face grew a trifle more stern. "Then you admit your guilt, Rover?" he questioned.

"What! That I defaced the photograph?"

"Yes."

"No, sir! Didn't I say I had never seen the picture before?"

"This photograph was in Professor Sharp's room, on the mantel. The room was locked up, and the professor carried the key. This box was found on the table, beside some books. You had some difficulty with the professor a day or two ago in the classroom."

"I didn't touch the picture, and I haven't been near Professor Sharp's room," answered Tom stoutly. "If I was there, would I be fool enough to leave that box behind, with my name engraved on it? And if the door was locked how would I get in?"

"Did you lend the box to anybody?"

"No. The fact is, I--er--I thought I had left the box home. I--Oh!"

"Well?"

"I think maybe the box was in my dress-suit case, the case I lost. But it wasn't in the case when it was left at my door that morning."

"Oh, nonsense!" muttered Professor Sharp. "He is guilty, sir, and he might as well own up to it first as last."

"I have told the strict truth!" cried Tom hotly. "I am not in the habit of telling falsehoods."

"Have you any other proof against Rover, Professor Sharp?"

"Not now, but I may be able to pick up more later."

"Hum! This is certainly a serious matter. Rover, you will go to your room and remain there until I send for you again."

"Can't I go down to town?" asked Tom.

"Not for the present. I intend to get to the bottom of this affair, if I possibly can. If you are innocent you shall not suffer. But at present it looks to me as if you were guilty. You may go."

"But, sir--"

"Not another word at present. I have other matters to attend to. I shall call on you later. But remain in your room until I send somebody for you."

An angry answer arose to Tom's lips, but he checked it. In the college Doctor Wellington's word was law, and he knew he would only make matters worse by attempting to argue. With a heavy heart he turned, gazed coldly at Professor Sharp, and left the office.