12. Tom Speaks His Mind
 

"Tom, Miss Harrow would like to see you."

It was an hour later, and the Rovers and the Laning girls had spent the time in watching the efforts of the others to put out the last of the fire. In the meanwhile, some of those present had gone through the addition to the main building and opened the various windows and doors, thus letting out the smoke. An examination proved that the damage done there was very slight, for which the seminary authorities were thankful.

"Wants to see me, eh?" returned Tom, musingly. "Well, I don't know whether I want to see her or not."

"You might as well go, Tom, and have it over with," suggested Sam.

"If I go, I want Nellie to go along," returned the brother. "I want her to know how I stand on this missing-ring question. By the way, how is she, all right?" continued the youth, addressing Stanley, who had brought the news that he was wanted.

"She seems to he all right, although she is very nervous. She says the reason she didn't hear the alarm and get out of the building in time, was because she had had a toothache and had taken a strong dose of medicine to quiet her nerves. Evidently the medicine put her into a sound sleep."

"How about the toothache?" asked Sam, slyly.

"Oh, that's gone now; the fire scared it away."

"Where is she?" questioned Tom.

"She is in the office with some of the other teachers."

"All right, if I've got to go, I might as well have it over with. Come along, Nellie."

"Oh, Tom, do you really think I ought to go?"

"If you won't, I won't."

"All right, then," and arm in arm, Tom and Nellie proceeded into the main building. Nellie showed the way to the office, which was located at the end of a long corridor.

"Oh, so here is the young gentleman!" cried Miss Harrow, as they entered. She was very pale, but did her best to compose herself.

"You sent for me?" returned Tom, bluntly.

"Yes. I wish to thank you for what you did for me. You are a very brave young man. Were I able to do so, I should be only too pleased to reward you liberally. But I am only a poor teacher, and----"

"I don't want any reward, Miss Harrow. What I did anybody could have done."

"Perhaps, but----" And now the teacher stopped short, for the first time noticing Nellie's presence. "What do you want here, Miss Laning?" she demanded, stiffly.

"I came in with Mr. Rover; he wanted me to come," was the answer. And as the teacher continued to glare at her, Nellie clung tightly to Tom's arm.

"I-- I don't understand----" stammered Miss Harrow. She was evidently much surprised.

"It's this way, Miss Harrow." answered Tom, with his usual bluntness. "Miss Laning and I have been friends for a great many years. The fact is, we hope-- that is, I hope"-- and now Tom looked a bit confused-- "we'll be married before a great while. I have been told about the diamond ring that is missing, and I know all about how you have treated Nellie. I don't like it at all. I think you are doing her a great injustice."

"Oh!" The teacher paused abruptly and bit her lip. She glanced from Tom to Nellie and then to the others who were in the office. "I-- I have not accused Miss Laning of anything," she went on, rather lamely.

"Perhaps not in so many words. But you have acted as if you felt certain she was guilty. Now, that isn't fair. She wouldn't touch anything that wasn't her own. It's a terrible thing to cast suspicion on any one. What would you say if I were to intimate you had taken the four-hundred-dollar ring?"

"Sir!" and now the teacher's face grew red. "Do you mean to insult me?"

"Not at all. But I mean to stand up for Miss Laning first, last, and all the time," replied Tom, earnestly. "I think it is an outrage to even suspect her."

For a few seconds there was an intense silence, broken only by a certain nervous movement among the others in the office. Miss Harrow bit her lip again.

"I-- I am sorry if I have done Miss Laning an injustice," she said, slowly. "But the diamond ring is gone, and if the ring is not recovered, I may be held responsible for it."

"Now, my dear Miss Harrow, pray do not agitate yourself too much," broke in another of the teachers. "This is all very painful. You had better drop the matter."

"I am willing to drop it," answered Tom, before Miss Harrow could speak. "Only I want it understood that Miss Laning is to be treated with the consideration she deserves. Otherwise I may suggest to her father that she be taken away from this institution and a suit for damages be instituted."

"Oh, no! Not that! Not that!" came from Miss Harrow, and now she was plainly much frightened. "I did not accuse Miss Laning of anything, and I do not accuse her now. The ring is missing. That is all I can say about it."

"I think we had better go, Tom," whispered Nellie.

"You may leave, Miss Laning," said one of the other teachers. "We have had trouble enough for one night."

"Nellie started for the door, and Tom did the same; but before the youth could leave, Miss Harrow clutched him by the arm.

"Mr. Rover, just a word," she said in a low voice. "You did me a great service and I shall not forget it. If I have done Miss Laning an injustice, I am very sorry for it." And having thus spoken, she turned back and sank down on a couch. Tom and Nellie left and hurried to the campus, where they were speedily rejoined by Sam and Grace.

"How did you make out?" asked the younger Rover. And then Tom gave the particulars of what had occurred.

"Oh, Tom, I am glad you said what you did," cried Grace, heartily. "Now, maybe, Miss Harrow will be more careful in her actions."

"Well, I simply said what I thought," answered Tom. "They are not going to lay anything at Nellie's door if I can help it."

"Oh, Tom, but you told them that-- that And Nellie grew red and could not go on.

"Well, what if I did? It's the truth, isn't it?"

"What was that?" asked Sam, curiously.

"Why, I told them that Nellie and I had been friends for years and that, sooner or later, we were going to be married."

"You did!" shrieked Grace. "Oh, Tom Rover!"

"Folks might as well know it," returned Tom. "They've got to know it when the affair comes off."

"Don't you think it's about time you boys started back for college?" came from Nellie, who was blushing deeply over the personal turn which the conversation had taken.

"Oh, there's no great rush," answered Tom, coolly.

Nevertheless, now that the conflagration was over, it was thought best by all the students to get back to the college, so a little later the crowd was rounded up by Spud and Stanley, and all climbed into the automobile. Sam ran the car, and the return was made without special incident.

"Say, Tom, if that wedding is to come off so soon, perhaps I had better be saving up for a wedding present," remarked Sam, dryly, when the two brothers were retiring for the night.

"I wouldn't advise you to start saving up just now," answered his brother. "Better get some sleep first." And then he playfully shied a pillow at Sam's head.

The next day nearly all the talk at Brill was about the fire and what Tom had done towards rescuing Miss Harrow. Many insisted upon it that Tom had enacted the part of a real hero, and he was interviewed by a local reporter, and a number of newspapers printed quite an item about the conflagration and the part he had played.

But the students had little time just now for anything outside of their final examinations. Many papers had to be prepared, and poor Tom often wondered how he would ever get through with any satisfaction, either to himself or his instructors. With Sam, the task seemed much easier, for, as Dick had once declared, Sam was "a regular bookworm," and no studies seemed to worry him in the least.

"If I get through at all, I shall be lucky," vouchsafed Tom, after passing in a particularly hard paper.

"We'll hope for the best," returned Sam.

During those days came another letter from Dick, in which he stated that he had moved into the offices vacated by Pelter, Japson & Company, and was doing his best to get everything into working order. He added that, on the request of their father, he had disposed of some stocks, and in their stead, had purchased sixty-four thousand dollars' worth of bonds.

"My, that's some bonds!" remarked Sam, on reading the letter.

"Well, bonds are usually much safer than stocks, even if they don't pay so well," answered Tom.

There was a letter from their Aunt Martha, who stated that their father did not seem to be quite as well as he had been the week previous. She added that they had called in another doctor, who had stated, after an examination, that there was no cause for alarm-- that Mr. Rover must be kept quiet and not worried, and probably, he would be his old self in another month or two.

"I am glad that the college is to shut down soon," said Sam, when he and his brother were discussing this communication. "I want to see dad and make sure things are not worse than Aunt Martha pictures them."

"Exactly the way I feel about it, Sam. They may be holding back something on us just so we won't be worried."

Two days later came the final examination for, both the Rovers, and they felt much relieved. Songbird was also "out of the woods," as he expressed it, and asked them if they did not want to join him and Spud in a short row on the river.

"That suits me," cried Tom. "I want to get out into the air somewhere. I am done with classrooms forever. If it was not for the look of things, I would be turning handsprings on the campus."

"Ditto," added Sam.

"Well, come on," said Songbird. And a few minutes later the four students were down at the boathouse, getting out one of the four-oared boats.

"Say, Songbird, I should think this would put you in the rhyming fever," said Sam, as the four lads rowed out on the river.

"It does," returned the would-be poet.

"All right, turn on the verse spigot and let us have the latest effusion," cried Tom, gaily.

  "The term is passed,

   Away we cast

      Our books and papers with great glee.

   No more we'll train

   Each tired brain----"

  "Instead, we'll cheer because we're free!"

"The verses aren't finished yet," answered Songbird. And then resting his oar, he drew from his pocket a slip of paper and began to read:

concluded Tom.

"Say, that isn't half bad," broke out Songbird, enthusiastically. "I was going to put in something about flee----"

"For gracious sake! What have fleas to do with this poetry?" interposed Tom.

"Fleas! Who said anything about fleas?" snorted Songbird. "I said 'flee,' f-l-e- e."

"Oh, I see!" That's the flee that fled, not the flea who refuses to flee," went on Tom. And at this sally, the other boys laughed.

"Never mind, give us the rest of it," put in Spud.

"There isn't any 'rest'-- not yet," answered the would-be poet. And then the bays resumed the row up the river.