14. A Startling Scene

"Dear old dad! Isn't it awful to see him propped up in that chair, unable to leave his room!"

"You are right, Sam. And yet it might be worse-- he might be confined to his bed. I hope we didn't excite him too much."

"He was very much surprised at your determination to give up Brill, and join Dick. I guess he was afraid Dick would have to shoulder the business alone. And by the way, Tom," went on the youngest Rover, earnestly, "somehow it doesn't seem just right to me that I should put all this work off on you and Dick."

"Now, don't let that bother you, Sam. You can go to New York with me this Summer, and then you go back to college, and come out at the head of the class. That will surely please us all."

This conversation took place while the two boys were retiring for the night. They had not remained very long with their father, fearing to excite him too much. Aunt Martha had, as usual, had a very fine repast prepared for them, and to this, it is perhaps needless to state, the youths did full justice.

"It's a grand good thing that we have Aleck Pop with us," went on Sam, referring to the colored man, who, in years gone by, had been a waiter at Putnam Hall, but who was now firmly established as a member of the Rover household. "Aunt Martha says he waits on dad, hand and foot; morning, noon and night."

"Well, Aleck ought to be willing to do something for this family in return for all we have done for him," answered Tom.

Despite the excitement of the day, the two boys slept soundly. But they were up at an early hour, and, after breakfast, took a walk around the farm in company with their Uncle Randolph, who wished to show them the various improvements he had made.

"We have a new corncrib and a new root hovel," said their uncle, as they walked around. "And next week we are going to start on a new pigsty."

"Going to have one of those new up-to-date, clean ones, I suppose?" returned Sam.

"Yes. I do not think that it is at all necessary to keep pigs as dirty as they are usually kept," returned Uncle Randolph.

"Say, Uncle," put in Tom, with a sudden twinkle in his eye, "are you going to sell pork by the yard after this?"

"By the yard?" queried Uncle Randolph, and then a faint smile flickered over his face. "Oh, I see! You mean sausage lengths, eh?"

"Not exactly, although that is one way of selling pork by the yard," returned Tom. "I was thinking of what happened in our college town. One of the boys went into a butcher's shop, and asked for a yard of pork, and the butcher handed out three pig's feet."

"Oh, what a rusty joke, Tom!" exclaimed Sam.

"Well, I didn't ask for the yard of pork; it was Dobson who did that," returned Tom, coolly.

Having inspected the various improvements, the boys returned to the house, and then went upstairs for another short talk with their father. In the midst of this, the family physician arrived. When he had waited on the invalid, the boys called the doctor to one side, and asked him to tell them the truth regarding their parent.

"Oh, I think he'll pull through all right," said the doctor. "But as I have told your uncle and your aunt, he must be kept quiet. If you talk business to him, or excite him in any way, it is bound to make matters worse."

"Then we'll keep him just as quiet as possible," returned Tom. "If anything unusual occurs in his business, we won't let him know anything about it."

"That would be best," answered the doctor, gravely; and took his departure.

Several days passed, and by that time the boys felt once more quite at home. Once they went out in the touring car, taking their aunt and uncle along.

"It's too bad we can't take dad," was Sam's comment, "but the doctor says it won't do. We'll have to leave him in charge of Aleck." The ride proved a most enjoyable one, and the older folks were much pleased by it.

"What do you say, Tom, if we go down to the river and have a swim?" proposed Sam, the next morning. It was an unusually hot day, and the thought of getting into the cool water of the old swimming hole appealed strongly to the youth.

"Suits me," returned his brother. "We haven't had a swim down there since last year."

"You young gents want to be careful about that there swimmin' hole," put in Jack Ness, who had heard the talk.

"Why, what's the matter now, Jack?"

"I dunno, exactly, but I hear some of the fellers sayin' as how that swimmin' hole wasn't safe no more. I think it's on account of the tree roots a growin' there."

"We'll be on our guard," answered Sam, and a little later the two lads set off. It was a long walk over the fields and through the patch of woods skirting the stream, and on arriving at the old swimming hole, Sam and Tom were glad enough to rest awhile before venturing into the water. As my old readers know, the stream was a swiftly-flowing one, and the water was rather cool.

"Remember the day we flew over this way in the biplane?" said Tom. "That sure was some adventure!"

"Yes, but it wasn't a patch to the adventure we had when the biplane was wrecked," returned his brother, referring to a happening which has been related in detail in "The Rover Boys in New York."

Having rested awhile, the two boys started to get ready for their swim. Both had just thrown off their coats, when there came a sudden cry from up the river.

"What's that, Tom?" questioned Sam.

"Somebody is calling. Listen!" and then both boys strained their ears for what might follow.

"There! Stay where you are! Don't move!"

"I can't stay here," said another voice.

"Shall I shoot him now?" put in a heavy bass voice.

"No, wait a minute, I am coming over," said still another voice, and then there was silence. The Rover boys looked at each other in amazement. What did the talk mean?

"Say, sounds to me as if somebody was in trouble!" exclaimed Sam.

"Perhaps we had better go and see," returned Tom.

"All right, but we don't want to get into trouble ourselves. Those fellows, whoever they are, or at least one of them, seems to be armed."

"We'll take a few stones along, Sam, and a couple of sticks, too, if we can find them."

Stones were to be had in plenty, and having picked up several of them, and cast their eyes around for a couple of clubs, the lads lost no time in making their way towards the spot from whence the voices had proceeded. This was at a point where the river made a turn and was divided by a long, narrow island into two channels. The island was covered with brushwood, while the banks of the stream were lined with overhanging trees.

"Now, I am going to shoot him!" cried one of the voices which the boys had heard before.

"No, don't do it, just wait a minute!" answered some one else.

"Maybe they have got some poor fellow, and have robbed him," suggested Sam, as he and his brother hurried forward as quickly as the trees and tangled brushwood would permit.

"One thing is certain, that fellow, whoever he is, is in trouble," returned Tom. "Perhaps we had better yell to those other fellows to stop."

"If we do that, they may shoot the poor chap, and then run away."

"That's so, too! Well, come ahead, let's hurry and see if we can catch sight of them." And then the two boys pushed ahead faster than ever.

Presently the youths came to where there were a number of high rocks covered with trailing vines. As, to avoid these, it would have been necessary to wade in the stream, and thus get their shoes and stockings wet, they began to scramble over the rocks with all possible speed.

"Listen! They are talking again!" exclaimed Sam.

"Grab him! Grab him by the throat!"

"That's all right, Jim, but I don't want the boat to upset," growled another voice.

"Say, you fellows make me tired!" roared the heavy bass voice. "Do you want to keep us here all day?"

"What do you know about this gun? Maybe it will explode."

"Say, Sam, I don't know what to make of this!" panted Tom, who was almost out of breath from the violence of his exertion.

"Maybe they are tramps, and are holding somebody up. Anyway, it sounds bad," returned his brother.

Hauling themselves at last to the top of the rocks, the Rover boys looked ahead. Down in the swiftly-flowing stream, they saw a flat-bottom boat containing two men. One man, a tall, burly individual, had a much smaller fellow by the throat, and was bending him backward. Close at hand, on the shore, stood another man, gun in hand, and with the weapon aimed at the burly individual.

"Now then, shoot!" yelled somebody from the shore of the island opposite, and an instant later the gun went off with a bang. As the report died away, the burly man in the boat relaxed his hold on the other fellow, threw up his arms, and fell over into the river with a loud splash.