4. A Four-hundred-dollar Ring
 

"Did you see this ring, Nellie?." questioned Tom, after a painful pause.

"Why, yes, it was lying in the middle of a flat-top desk," responded the girl, wiping her eyes with her handkerchief.

"Didn't somebody go into the office after you were there?"

"I don't know, Tom. In fact, nobody seems to know."

"I was in the office with another girl about five minutes before Nellie went there," came from Grace. "I saw the ring there, too, and I thought it was very foolish to leave it so exposed. Why, anybody could have run off with it."

"It certainly was careless," put in Sam.

"Miss Harrow said she was on the point of putting it in the safe when she was called by 'phone to one of the other buildings. She had a dispute to settle between some of the hired help, and she did not think of the ring until some time later. Then, so she says, she rushed back to the office to find it missing."

"Well, I think it is a shame that she accused Nellie," said Tom, stoutly and with something of a savage look in his eyes. "Nellie, if I were you, I wouldn't stand for it."

"She-- she hasn't accused me, exactly," returned the suffering girl. "But she intimated that I must have taken the ring, so it's just as bad."

"What does the seminary management have to say about it?" asked Sam.

"They seem to think it lies between Nellie and the teacher," answered Grace.

"In that case, how do we know the teacher didn't take the ring herself?" broke in Tom, quickly.

"Oh, do you think that possible?" questioned Nellie, in surprise.

"It's more reasonable to think she took it than you did. Anyway, she hasn't any right to accuse you," went on Tom, bluntly.

"As I said, Tom, she hasn't accused me-- that is, openly; but I know what she thinks, and I know what she will make others think," returned Nellie. And now she showed signs of bursting into tears again. "Oh, I feel as if I must pack up and go home!"

"Don't you do it, Nellie. That would make it look as if you were guilty. You stay here and face the music." Then, as Nellie began to cry again, Tom took her in his arms and held her tightly.

"Come on!" said Sam, in a low tone of voice. "I think some people at the window are listening." And he led the way to a distant portion of the seminary grounds. After that, Grace told all she knew of the miserable affair, and Nellie related just how she had seen the diamond ring on the teacher's desk.

"Was the window open at the time?" questioned the older Rover boy.

"If I remember rightly, the window was tight shut," replied Nellie.

"Yes, it was shut when I was in the office," put in Grace. "I have been trying to think out some way by which the ring could have disappeared, but without success."

The matter was talked over for some time, and then the girls questioned the boys regarding the happening at the broken bridge. Nellie, and Grace also, wanted to know the latest news from Dick and Dora.

"So far as I know, Dora is in fine health and enjoying herself in the city," said Tom. "But Dick is having his hands full, and I rather think that, sooner or later, I'll have to pack up and go to his assistance."

"Then you'll leave Brill for good?" questioned Nellie.

"I think so. I can't be breaking in on my college course every now and then as I have been doing, and pass my examinations. More than that, I begin to believe that I was not cut out for a college man. I am like Dick; I prefer a business career rather than a professional one. It is Sam who is going to make the learned one of the family."

"Oh, come now, Tom! Don't pile it on!" pleaded the younger brother. And yet he looked greatly pleased; and Grace looked pleased, too.

"But if you leave Brill, you won't be able to get here very often, Tom," remarked Nellie, wistfully.

"That is true. But if I have to go to New York, why can't you go, too?"

"Oh, Tom!"

"Well, that is what Dora did when Dick gave up his college career. I think the folks understand----"

Just then a bell in the tower of the main seminary building began to clang loudly. At the first stroke both girls started.

"There goes the first bell!" cried Grace. "We must go."

"Oh, hang the bell!" muttered Tom, and then, as Grace ran towards the building, with Sam beside her, he once more caught Nellie by the hand.

"Now say, Nellie, don't you think----"

"Oh, Tom, I must get in before the second bell rings!" pleaded Nellie.

"Yes, but won't you promise----"

"How can I promise anything, Tom, with this affair of the missing ring----"

"Missing ring! You don't suppose for one minute that that is going to make any difference to me, do you?"

"Oh, no, Tom. I know you too well for that." And now Nellie gave him a look that thrilled him through and through. "But I think I ought to clear my name before-- before I do anything else."

"All right. I suppose it has got to be as you say," returned Tom, hopelessly. "But listen! If they make any more trouble for you, promise me that you will let me know."

"All right, Tom, I will." And then, after Tom had stolen a quick kiss, Nellie hastened her steps, and a few seconds later she and her sister disappeared within the building.

"Do you know what I'd like to do, Sam?" muttered Tom, as the brothers turned away from the seminary grounds in the automobile. "I'd like to wring that Miss Harrow's neck! What right has she to accuse Nellie?"

"No right at all, Tom. But one thing is certain, the ring must be missing. I don't think that the teacher had anything to do with taking it. They don't have that sort here."

"Possibly not. At the same time, to my mind it is far more reasonable to suppose that she took it than that Nellie had anything to do with it," declared Tom, stoutly.

"If the window was closed down, it seems to me that the ring must have been taken by somebody in the building," pursued Sam, thoughtfully. "Perhaps one of the hired help did it."

"Maybe." Tom gave a long sigh. "I certainly hope they clear the matter up before long. I shall be very anxious to hear from the girls about it."

As the young collegians had received permission to be out after hours, they did not attempt to take the short cut through The Shallows on returning to Brill. Instead, they went around by another road, over a bridge that was perfectly safe.

"It's not so late, after all," remarked Sam, as they entered their room. "Perhaps I had better, finish that theme."

"Oh, finish it in the morning," returned Tom, with a yawn. "You'll feel brighter."

"All right," answered Sam, who felt sleepy himself; and a few minutes later the brothers retired.

The next morning found Sam at work on the theme long before the hour for breakfast. Tom was also up, and said he would take a walk around the grounds to raise an appetite.

"As if you needed anything of that sort," grinned Sam. "The first thing you know, you'll be eating so much that the college management will be charging you double for board."

Down on the campus, Tom ran into Songbird. and, a few minutes later, William Philander Tubbs. Songbird, as usual, had a pad and pencil in his hand.

"Composing verses, I suppose," remarked Tom. "What have you got now?"

"Oh, it isn't so very much," returned Songbird, hesitatingly. "It's a little poem I was writing about dogs."

"Dogs!" chimed in William Philander. "My gracious me! What sort of poetry can you get up about dogs? I must confess, I don't like them. Unless, of course, they are the nice little lap-dog kind."

"This isn't about a lap-dog, exactly," returned Songbird. "It's about a watchdog."

"Um! By the way, Songbird, haven't the Sandersons a new watchdog?"

"Yes." And now Songbird reddened a little.

"Well, let us have the poem, anyway. I love dogs, and some poetry about them ought to run along pretty good."

  "The sun sinks low far in the west--

      The farmer plodeth home to rest,

   The watchdog, watching in the night,

      Assures him ev'ry thing is right."

Thereupon, rather hesitatingly, Songbird held up his writing-pad and read the following:

   "The sun comes up and it is morn,

      The farmer goes to plow his corn,

   The watchdog, watching through the day,

      Keeps ev'ry tramp and thief away."

   And be it night or be it day----"
"The watchdog's there, and there to stay!"

"Fine!" cried Tom. "Real, dyed-in-the-wool poetry that, Songbird. Give us some more." And then the would-be poet continued:

  "The watchdog, watching in his sleep,

      Catches each flea and makes him weep!"

continued Tom, and then on:

"Catching fleas indeed!" interrupted Songbird. "Now, Tom, I didn't have any fleas in this poem."

"But all dogs have fleas, Songbird-- they own them naturally. You wouldn't deprive a poor, innocent dog of his inheritance, would you?"

"But, Tom, see here----"

"But I wanted to say the poem couldn't be better," went on the fun-loving Rover. "Why don't you send it to some of the dog journals? They would be sure to print it."

"Dog journals?" snorted the would-be poet. "Do you think I write for such a class of publications as that?"

"Well, you might do worse," responded Tom, coolly. "Now, for a first-class journal, they ought to pay you at least a dollar a foot."

"Oh, Tom, you are the worst ever!" murmured Songbird, as he turned away. A few minutes later, Tom saw him sit down on a bench to compose verses as industriously as ever.

"I think I must be going," said William Philander, who had listened to Songbird's effort without making any comment.

"Wait a minute, my dear Billy, I want----"

"Now, Tom, please don't call me Billy," pleaded the dudish student.

"Oh, all right, Philly. I was just going to say----"

"Now, Tom, Philly is just as bad as Billy, if not worse. You know my name well enough."

"All right, Tubblets. If you prefer any such handle to the tub, why I----"

"Tom, if you are going to talk that way, I'll really have to leave you, don't you know," cried William Philander. "I am not going to stand for it any longer. I have told you at least a hundred times----"

"No, not a hundred times, not more than sixty-eight times at the most," interrupted Tom.

"Well, I've told you enough times, anyway, Tom. So if you----"

"Don't say another word, or you'll make me weep," said Tom, and drew down his face soberly. "Why, my dear fellow, I wouldn't hurt your feelings, not for the world and a big red apple thrown in. But what I was going to say was this: Are you going to play on our baseball team this Spring? Somebody said you were going to pitch for us," and Tom looked very much in earnest.

"Me pitch for you?" queried William Philander. "Why, who told you such a story as that?"

"It's all over college, Tubbs, all over college. You must be practicing pitching in private."

"But I don't know a thing about pitching. In fact, I don't know much about baseball," pleaded the dudish student."

"Oh, come now, Tubbs-- you can't fool me. Most likely you have been practicing in private, and when you come out on the diamond you will astonish everybody. Well, I am glad to know that Brill College is really to have a first-class pitcher at last. We need it if we are going to win any baseball games.

"Now, Tom, I tell you that I don't know----"

"Oh, you can't fool me, William," declared Tom, positively. "I got the information straight, and I know it is absolutely correct. You are booked as the head pitcher for Brill this season." And thus speaking, Tom turned on his heel and walked off, leaving William Philander Tubbs much perplexed.