3. Something Of A Surprise
 

It did not take the Rover boys long to reach Ashton; and once in town, they lost no time in running their auto to where Doctor Havens resided. They found the house well lit up, and the old doctor in his study, poring over some medical works.

"Saved a fellow from drowning, eh?" he queried, after the lads had explained matters. "Got him out in your auto? All right, bring him right in if you want to-- or wait, I'll go out and take a look at him. Maybe I know who he is and where he belongs." And thus speaking, the doctor went outside.

Sam still had the searchlight in hand, and as the physician approached the automobile, the lad flashed the rays on the face of the stranger, who was still unconscious.

"Why, I've seen that young chap before!" exclaimed Doctor Havens. "He is stopping at the hotel. I saw him there only this afternoon."

"Then perhaps we had better take him over there," suggested Tom.

"By all means, and I'll go with you."

Running into the house, the doctor procured his hand case, and then joined the boys in the automobile. A run of a few minutes brought the party to the hotel, and Sam and Tom lifted the young man out and carried him inside.

The arrival of the party created some consternation, but as only the proprietor of the hotel and a bellboy were present, the matter was kept rather quiet. The young man had a room on the second floor, and to this he was speedily taken, and placed in the care of the doctor.

"No bones broken so far as I can ascertain," said Doctor Havens, after a long examination. "He has cut his forehead, and he also has a bruise behind his left ear, but I think he is suffering more from shock than anything else."

"Did you say you knew him?" questioned Tom.

"Oh, no, only that I had seen him around this hotel."

"What is his name?" asked Sam, of the hotel proprietor, who had followed them to the room.

"His name is Pelter."

"Pelter!" The cry came from Tom and Sam simultaneously, and the brothers looked at each other questioningly.

"Yes, Pelter. Do you know him?"

"What is his first name?" demanded Tom.

"Why, let me see," The hotel man mused for a moment. "I have it! Barton Pelter."

"I never heard that name before," said Tom. "We know a man in----" And then, as Sam looked at him in a peculiar way, he added, "Oh, well, never mind. We don't know this fellow, anyway. I hope he gets over this trouble."

By this time the sufferer had again recovered consciousness, but he was evidently very weak, and the doctor motioned for the Rover boys and the hotel man to leave the room.

"All right, but let us know in the morning by telephone how he is, Doctor," returned Tom; and then the Rover boys and the hotel man went below.

"Can you tell us anything about this Barton Pelter?" questioned Sam, of the proprietor.

"I know very little about him, excepting that he is registered as from Brooklyn, and that he came here three days ago. What his business is in Ashton, I haven't the least idea."

"Is he well off-- that is, does he appear to have much money?" asked Tom.

"Oh, he hasn't shown any great amount of cash around here," laughed the hotel man. "My idea is that he is some sort of a commercial traveler, although he hasn't anything with him but his suitcase."

This was all the hotel man could tell them, and a few minutes later the Rover boys were in their automobile once more and headed back for the scene of the accident.

"We ought to have put up some danger signal, Tom," remarked Sam, while on the way.

"I know it, but we hadn't any time to waste while we had that poor chap on our hands. By the way, do you think he can be any relative of Jesse Pelter, the rascal who knocked me out with the footstool, and who tried his best to rob dad?"

"I'm sure I don't know. One thing is certain: The name of Pelter is not common. Still, there may be other Pelters besides those related to that scoundrel of a broker."

Arriving at the vicinity of the broken bridge, the boys found a farmer with a wagon there. The countryman was placing some brushwood across the road.

"The blame bridge is busted down," said the farmer, "and I thought I ought to put up some kind of a thing to warn folks of it."

"That is what we came for," answered Sam; and then he and his brother related some of the particulars of what had occurred.

"Gee, shoo! You don't mean to tell me that one of them automobiles is down in the river!" gasped the countryman. "I don't see nothin' of it."

"It most be down on the bottom, close to where that end of the bridge settled," answered Sam "I suppose there will be a job here for somebody to haul it out."

"If they want a man for that, I'm the feller to do it," returned the countryman. "Maybe I had better go down to the hotel and see about it."

"Better wait till morning," suggested Tom. "The young man who owns the machine can't see anyone now."

"All right, just as you say."

"Now that this bridge is down, how can we get over the river?" mused Sam.

"Where do you want to go?"

"We were on our way to Hope Seminary. I suppose we can go around to the Upper Road, but it will be four or five miles out of our way."

"It ain't necessary to go that far. You go down stream about half a mile on the Craberry Road, and you can cross The Shallows."

"Isn't it too deep for an automobile?" questioned Tom.

"No, not now. It might be, though, in wet weather."

"I don't know about that," said Sam, and shook his head. "We don't want any accident in the water, Tom."

"Oh, come ahead, we can try it, anyway," returned Tom, who, in spite of the recent happenings, was as anxious as ever to get to the seminary and see Nellie.

Leaving the countryman at his self-appointed task of putting a barrier across the road-- and he had said that he would also, get over to the other side of the river somehow and put a barrier there-- the Rover boys swung around once again in their touring car, and headed for the side road which had been mentioned to them. Soon they reached what was known as "The Shallows," a spot where the river broadened out, and was filled with loose stones and sandbars.

By the rays from the headlights, which they now turned on to their fullest extent, the car was guided into the water. At the edge, they saw several tracks made, undoubtedly, by wagons, and one track evidently made by the anti-skid tires of an automobile.

"Well, if one auto got through, we ought to be able to make it," remarked Tom, grimly.

"Better take it on low gear," suggested his brother. "We can't see in this water, and we may go down in a hole before we know it."

Slowly and cautiously, Tom guided the machine along, trying to keep as much as possible to the high points of the various sandbars which ran in a diagonal direction to the stream itself. Once or twice they bumped over some rather large stones, and once they went into a hollow which was somewhat deeper than expected, but, with it all, they managed to keep the working parts of the car above the surface of the stream, and inside of five minutes found themselves safe and sound on the opposite shore, and headed for another side road which joined the main highway less than a quarter of a mile beyond.

"I am mighty glad we are out of that," remarked Sam, as they left the rather uneven side road and came out on the smooth highway. "I must say, I don't like autoing in the water."

"Pooh, that wasn't so bad!" replied Tom. "But it would be, I think, after a heavy storm, when the river was swollen. It must be getting late," he added. "Better speed her up a little, or we'll get to Hope just in time to say 'good- night,'" and he smiled grimly.

Fortunately for the boys, there was very little traveling that night. They met but two wagons and one automobile; and these on straight stretches of the road where there was little danger of collision. Tom was now running at thirty-five to forty miles an hour, and this was rather dangerous where the highway curved, and where what was ahead was partly hidden by, trees and bushes.

"Here we are at last!" cried Tom, presently, as they came in sight of Hope Seminary, a fine collection of buildings nestling in a pretty grove of trees. All the dormitory windows showed lights, and there was also a light in the reception parlor of the main building, for which the lads were thankful.

"Give 'em the horn, Tom," suggested Sam.

"Sure! I was only waiting to get a little closer," was the answer, and then, as the automobile turned into the seminary grounds and ran along the road leading up to the main entrance, Tom sounded the horn in a peculiar fashion, a signal which had been arranged between the boys and the girls long before.

"Tom!"

"Sam!"

The cries came from two girls dressed in white, who had been seated on a rustic bench near a small fountain. Now, as Tom brought the car to a quick stop, the girls hurried forward.

"Hello, here we are again!" sang Tom, merrily, and leaping to the ground he caught Nellie Laning by both hands. "How are you?"

"Oh, I am pretty well, Tom."

"And how are you, Grace?" came from Sam, as he, too, left the automobile.

"Oh, Sam, I am so glad you have come!" cried Grace Laning. "Nellie and I have been waiting for you."

"Well, we are glad we are here. We have had quite an adventure to-night."

"Oh, did you have a breakdown?" questioned Grace, anxiously.

"No, but we had to go to the rescue of a fellow who ran into the river."

"Oh, dear! Troubles never seem to come singly," sighed Nellie.

"What do you mean!" demanded Tom, quickly. "Is something wrong here?"

"Indeed there is, Tom!" answered Grace. And then, with a look at her older sister, who had turned her face away, she continued: "I think it is a shame! If it was not that it would make it look as if Nellie were guilty, we would pack up at once and leave this place."

"Why, what do you mean?" came from both of the Rovers.

"Oh, Grace, perhaps you had better not tell them," cried Nellie, with almost a sob.

"Nellie!" And now Tom caught the girl tightly in his arms. "What has happened?"

"I-- I-- can't tell!" sobbed the girl. "Grace will tell you."

"I don't suppose it is necessary to go into all the details," said Grace, "but the long and short of it is, that Nellie is suspected of stealing a four- hundred-dollar diamond ring."

"What!" ejaculated Tom.

"It was this way, Tom," pursued Grace. "One of the teachers here, a Miss Harrow, who assists the seminary management by keeping some of the books, had a diamond ring said to be worth four hundred dollars placed in her possession by a Miss Parsons, another teacher. It seems that Miss Parsons had an eccentric old aunt, who wished to give the seminary some money, and so turned over the ring, to be converted into cash. This ring Miss Harrow left on her desk in the office. Nellie went into the office to see the teacher, but finding no one there, came away. Then Miss Harrow came back a few minutes later, and found the diamond ring gone. She at once made inquiries, but as she could find nobody who had been in the once after Nellie had left, she called Nellie in and wanted her to tell what had become of the piece of jewelry."