1. At The River
 

"Sam!"

No answer.

"I say, Sam, can't you listen for just a moment?"

"Oh, Tom, please don't bother me now!" and Sam Rover, with a look of worry on his face, glanced up for a moment from his writing-table. "I've got to finish this theme before to-morrow morning."

"Oh, I know! But listen!" And Tom Rover's face showed his earnestness. "Last night it was full moonlight, and to-night it is going to be equally clear. Why can't we get out the auto and pay a visit to Hope? You know we promised the girls that we would be up some afternoon or evening this week."

"Sounds good, Tom, but even if we went after, supper, could we get there in time? You know all visitors have to leave before nine o'clock."

"We can get there if we start as soon as we finish eating. Can't you finish the theme after we get back? Maybe I can help you."

"Help me? On this theme!" Sam grinned broadly. "Tom, you don't know what you are talking about. Do you know what this theme is on?"

"No, but I can help you if I have to."

"This is on 'The Theory Concerning the Evolution of----'"

"That's enough, Sam; don't give me any of it now. Time enough for that when we have to get at it. There goes the supper bell. Now, downstairs with you! and let us get through as soon as possible and be on our way."

"All right, just as you say!" and gathering up a number of sheets of paper, Sam thrust them in the drawer of the writing-table.

"By the way, it's queer we didn't get any letter to-day from Dick," the youngest Rover observed.

At the mention of their brother's name, Tom's face clouded a little.

"It is queer, Sam, and I must say I don't like it. I think this is a case where no news is bad news. I think if everything was going along all right in New York, Dick would surely let us know. I am afraid he is having a good deal of trouble in straightening out Dad's business."

"Just the way I look at it," responded Sam, as the brothers prepared to leave the room.

"One thing is sure, Pelter, Japson & Company certainly did all they could to mix matters up, and I doubt very much if they gave Dad all that was coming to him."

"I believe I made a mistake in coming back to college," pursued Tom, as the two boys walked out into the corridor, where they met several other students on the way to the dining hall. "I think I ought to have given up college and gone to New York City to help Dick straighten out that business tangle. Now that Dad is sick again, the whole responsibility rests on Dick's shoulders, and he ought not to be made to bear it alone."

"Well, if you feel that way, Tom, why don't you break away and go? I think, perhaps, it would be not only a good thing for Dick, but it would, also, be a good thing for you," and, for the moment, Sam looked very seriously at his brother.

Tom reddened a bit, and then put his forefinger to his forehead. "You mean it would help me here?" And then, as Sam nodded, he added: "Oh, don't you worry. I am all right now, my head doesn't bother me a bit. But I do wish I could get just one good chance at Pelter for the crack that rascal gave me on the head with the footstool."

"It certainly was a shame to let him off, Tom, hut you know how father felt about it. He was too sick to be worried by a trial at law and all that."

"Yes, I know, but just the same, some day I am going to square accounts with Mr. Jesse Pelter," and Tom shook his head determinedly.

Passing down the broad stairway of Brill College, the two Rover boys made their way to the dining hall. Here the majority of the students were rapidly assembling for the evening meal, and the lads found themselves among a host of friends.

"Hello, Songbird! How are you this evening?" cried Tom, as he addressed a tall, scholarly-looking individual who wore his hair rather long. "Have you been writing any poetry to-day?"

"Well,-- er-- not exactly, Tom," muttered John Powell, otherwise known as Songbird because of his numerous efforts to compose what he called poetry. "But I have been thinking up a few rhymes."

"When are you going to get out that book of poetry?"

"What book is that, Tom?"

"Why, as if you didn't know! Didn't you tell me that you were going to get up a volume of 'Original International Poems for the Grave and Gay;' five hundred pages, fully illustrated; and bound in full leather, with title in gold, and "Tom, Tom, now please stop your fooling!" pleaded Songbird, his face flushing. "Just because I write a poem now and then doesn't say that I am going to publish a book."

"No, but I'm sure you will some day, and you'll make a fortune out of it-- or fifteen dollars, anyway."

"The same old Tom!" cried a merry voice, and another student clapped the fun- loving Rover on the shoulder. "I do believe you would rather joke than eat!"

"Not on your life, Spud! and I'll prove it to you right now!" and linking his arm through that of Will Jackson, otherwise "Spud," Tom led the way to one of the tables, with Sam and several of the other students following.

"What is on the docket for to-night?" asked Songbird, as he fell to eating.

"Tom and I are going to take a little run in the auto to Hope," answered Sam.

"Oh, I see!" Songbird Powell shut one eye knowingly. "Going up there to see the teachers, I suppose!"

"Sure, that is what they always do!" came from Spud, with a wink.

"Sour grapes, Spud!" laughed Sam. "You would go there yourself if you had half a chance."

"Yes, and Songbird would want to go along, too, if we were bound for the Sanderson cottage," put in Tom. "You see, in Songbird's eyes, Minnie Sanderson is just the nicest girl----"

"Now stop it, Tom, can't you!" pleaded poor Songbird, growing decidedly red in the face. "Miss Sanderson is only a friend of mine, and you know it."

Just at that moment the students at the table were interrupted by the approach of a tall, dudish-looking individual, who wore a reddish-brown suit, cut in the most up-to-date fashion, and who sported patent-leather shoes, and a white carnation in his buttonhole. The newcomer took a vacant chair, sitting down with a flourish.

"I've had a most delightful ramble, don't you know," he lisped, looking around at the others. "I have been through the sylvan woods and by the babbling brook, and have----"

"Great Caesar's tombstone!" exclaimed Tom, looking at the newcomer critically. "Why, my dearly beloved William Philander, you don't mean to say that you have been delving through the shadowy nooks, and playing with the babbling brook, in that outfit?"

"Oh, dear, no, Tom!" responded William Philander Tubbs. "I had another suit on, the one with the green stripe, don't you know,-- the one I had made last September-- or maybe it was in October, I can't really remember. But you must know the suit, don't you?"

"Sure! I remember the suit. The green-striped one with the faded-out blue dots and the red diamond check in the corner. Isn't that the same suit you took down to the pawnbroker's last Wednesday night at fifteen minutes past seven and asked him to loan you two dollars and a half on it, and the pawnbroker wanted to know if the suit was your own?"

"My dear Tom!" and William Philander looked aghast. "You know well enough I never took that suit to a pawnbroker."

"Well, maybe it was some other suit. Possibly the black one with the blue stripes, or maybe it was the blue one with the black stripes. Really, my dearest Philander, it is immaterial to me what suit it was." And Tom looked coldly indifferent as he buttered another slice of bread.

"But I tell you, I never went to any pawn-broker!" pleaded the dudish student. "I would not be seen in any such horrid place!"

"Oh, pawnbrokers are not so bad," came from Spud Jackson, as he helped himself to more potatoes. "I knew of one fellow down in New Haven who used to loan thousands of dollars to the students at Yale. He was considered a public benefactor. When he died they closed up the college for three days and gave him a funeral over two miles long. And after that, the students raised a fund of sixteen thousand dollars with which to erect a monument to his memory. Now, that is absolutely true, and if you don't believe it you can come to my room and I will show you some dried rose leaves which came from one of the wreathes used at the obsequies." And a general laugh went up over this extravagant statement.

"The same old Spud!" cried Sam, as he gave the story-teller of the college a nudge in the ribs. "Spud, you are about as bad as Tom."

"Chust vat I tinks," came from Max Spangler, a German-American student who was still struggling with the difficulties of the language. "Only I tinks bod of dem vas worser dan de udder." And at this rather mixed statement another laugh went up.

"I wish you fellows would stop your nonsense and talk baseball," came from Bob Grimes, another student. "Do you realize that if we expect to do anything this spring, we have got to get busy?"

"Well, Bob," returned Sam, "I don't see how that is going to interest me particularly. I don't expect to be on any nine this year."

"I know, Sam, but Tom, here, has promised to play if he can possibly get the time."

"And so I will play," said Tom. "That is, provided I remain at Brill."

"What, do you mean to say you are going to leave!" cried several students.

"We can't do without you, Tom," added Songbird.

"Of course we can't," came from Bob Grimes. "We need Tom the worst way this year."

"Well, I'll talk that over with you fellows some other time. To-night we are in a hurry." And thus speaking, Tom tapped his brother on the shoulder, and both left the dining-room.

As my old readers know, the Rover boys possessed a very fine automobile. This was kept in one of the new garages on the place, which was presided over by Abner Filbury, the son of the old man who had worked for years around the dormitories.

"Is she all ready, Ab?" questioned Tom, as the young man came forward to greet them.

"Yes, sir, I filled her up with gas and oil, and she's in apple-pie order."

"Why, Tom!" broke in Sam, in surprise. "You must have given this order before supper."

"I did," and Tom grinned at his younger brother. "I took it for granted that you would make the trip." And thus speaking, Tom leaped into the driver's seat of the new touring car. Then Sam took his place beside his brother, and in a moment more the car was gliding out of the garage, and down the curving, gravel path leading to the highway running from Ashton past Brill College to Hope Seminary.

As Tom had predicted, it was a clear night, with the full moon just showing over the distant hills. Swinging into the highway, Tom increased the speed and was soon running at twenty-five to thirty miles an hour.

"Don't run too fast," cautioned Sam. "Remember this road has several dangerous curves in it, and remember, too, a good many of the countrymen around here don't carry lights when they drive."

"Oh, I'll be careful," returned Tom, lightly. "But about the lights, I think some of the countrymen ought to be fined for driving in the darkness as they do. I think----"

"Hark! what sort of a noise is that?" interrupted the younger Rover.

Both boys strained their ears. A shrill honk of a horn had been followed by a heavy rumble, and now, around a curve of the road, shot the beams from a single headlight perched on a heavy auto-truck. This huge truck was coming along at great speed, and it passed the Rovers with a loud roar, and a scattering of dust and small stones in all directions.

"Great Scott!" gasped Sam, after he had recovered from his amazement. "Did you ever see such an auto-truck as that, and running at such speed?"

"Certainly some truck," was Tom's comment. "That must have weighed four or five tons. I wonder if it came over the Paxton River bridge?"

"If it did, it must have given the bridge an awful shaking up. That bridge isn't any too strong. It shakes fearfully every time we go over it. Better run slow, Tom, when we get there."

"I will." And then Tom put on speed once more and the automobile forged ahead as before.

A short run up-hill brought them to the point where the road ran down to the Paxton River. In the bright moonlight the boys could see the stream flowing like a sheet of silver down between the bushes and trees. A minute more, and they came in sight of the bridge.

"Stop!" said Sam. "I may be mistaken, but that bridge looks shifted to me."

"So it does," returned Tom, and brought the automobile to a standstill. Both boys leaped out and walked forward.

To inspect the bridge in the bright moonlight was easy, and in less than a minute the boys made a startling discovery, which was to the effect that the opposite end of the structure had been thrown from its supports and was in danger of falling at any instant.

"This is mighty bad," was Sam's comment. "Why, Tom, this is positively dangerous. If anybody should come along here----"

"Hark!" Tom put up his hand, and both boys listened. From the top of the hill they had left but a moment before, came the sounds of an approaching automobile. An instant later the rays of the headlights shot into view, almost blinding them.

"We must stop them!" came from both boys simultaneously. But scarcely had the words left their lips, when they saw that such a course might be impossible. The strange automobile was coming down the hill at a furious rate. Now, as the driver saw the Rovers' machine, he sounded his horn shrilly.

"He'll have a smash-up as sure as fate!" yelled Sam, and put up his hand in warning. Tom did likewise, and also yelled at the top of his lungs.

But it was too late. The occupant of the strange automobile-- for the machine carried but a single person-- tried to come to a stop. The brakes groaned and squeaked, and the car swept slightly to one side, thus avoiding the Rovers' machine. Then, with power thrown off and the hand-brake set, it rolled out on the bridge. There was a snap, followed by a tremendous crash, and the next instant machine and driver disappeared with a splash into the swiftly-flowing river.